Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gamex 2011 Wrap-Up: FATE Edition

(For my non-FATE Gamex experience, see Roll Some Dice.)

First, an overview: This was a good Gamex. From 2:00 on Friday through midnight on Sunday, I ran two games (three if you count the one off-the-books non-convention game I ran that just happened to occur during the weekend) and played in four (five if you count an overlong game of Descent). Every GM was great, and only two or three players were annoying, so that's a pretty good percentage. Of course, part of this is that I hardly ever play or run games for people I don't know -- I've been attending Strategicons long enough that just about everyone I end up sharing my time with in four-hour chunks is someone I've gamed with before. This is theoretically bad in the sense that I'm not meeting new people (and/or they're not meeting me), but practically good in the sense that everyone at my tables bathes regularly.

So! Saturday morning was Morgan's DFRPG game, "Showdown at Camp Kaboom." We played recent Warden-school graduates who'd just gotten their cloaks and swords, and were then [spoiler alert?] framed for an attack on the very training facility (the aforesaid Camp Kaboom) that we'd been attending for God knows how long. It should be said again that I don't really know the Dresdenverse very well, or at all -- apart from stuff I've learned playing in a handful of Dresden Files games, I've had no exposure to it -- but that doesn't stop me from enjoying Morgan's games nonetheless. I played a snooty rich-kid type with the aspect "Born with a Silver Wand in my Hand," which you're not going to beat in an aspect-coming-up-with contest, so don't even try. The early game was marked by a lot of people trying to figure out or even just understand spellcasting in DFRPG. I'll admit, it's crunchier than I'd realized. I've never played a proper wizard before, so in the interest of not slowing things down I stuck with my rotes -- a defensive tornado-type-thing and a full-on Lightning Bolt! -- and kicked a fair amount of ass.

(Morgan, if you're reading this, it's probably not news to you that you seemed a bit flustered or something. That doesn't change the fact that you're still my platonic FATE-mate.)

In the end, we were all screwed not by crafty South American Red Court vampires, but by the hotel's fire alarm, which some jackass pulled in the course of being a jackass. The entire hall's worth of conference rooms cleared out into the lobby -- all except ours, because c'mon, it's obviously not real. This happened at about 12:30, effectively robbing us of the game's perfectly timed climax. Ah well. Morgan described to us what would've happened, and we all agreed that it would've been good. You're running it at GenCon, right?

Sunday morning I finally ran the long thought-about, only-recently-realized Agents of F.A.T.E. game I've been talking about here lately. Despite a full roster of six players and two alternates signed up, we only had five players for the actual game. Fine by me, says I -- I only wanted five PCs anyway. So Lars Thorsson went unplayed. No matter.

I'll split this into what worked and what didn't.

What worked:

  • The +XdF Areas of Experience. Change nothing. Predictably, this roll-and-keep dice mechanic worked fine, because I'd already used it for the swashbuckling game, so no surprise there. Denys almost engaged the table in a discussion of its mathematical rigor, but I shut him down, because let's go
  • Player-contributed locations. Earlier, I'd planned to rip off Morgan's Spirit of the Shattered Earth and have the players come up with a bunch of details for me, including various cities the story would visit, what the badguy was up to, and so forth. In the end, I cut all of that except for the locations. Each player wrote a location down on an index card; these told us the basic geography of the story and where it would go. In our case, we had Hong Kong, Paris, Hoover Dam, Lincoln Memorial, and Volcano. Three of those were explicitly used (as in "Now we're in Paris"), while two of them were only obliquely referenced. Unfortunately, Volcano was in the latter category, but that's down to me (see below). Regardless, it gave things an appropriately globe-trotting feel, I think.  
  • Cool Points. Likewise, I've used this mechanic plenty, and it worked fine here, too. No complaints. Morgan pulled out a classic 4d6 roll, spending all his Cool at once to crush the opposition, who was, indeed, duly crushed.
  • The Challenge Point thing. The only thing wrong with this was that I didn't have the foresight to assign each scene a Challenge Point rating from the start. This meant that I quickly racked up four Challenge Points in the early game before the players had earned Cool, but had almost none later once they'd gotten some momentum. In future -- because I'll probably use this again somewhere -- I'll keep that in mind. Every scene has a Challenge Rating from one to four. The players totally picked up on the introduction of complications, though; as expected, this took some of the burden off me to come up with stuff on the fly, but it also lulled me into a sense of complacency, such that I was forgetting to introduce scene aspects, or even spend Fate Points for my NPCs. (Running Dungeon Patrol the night before didn't help. That thing runs itself.)
  • Gadgets. They didn't get used as much as I'd expected, but that's fine. When they were used, they were used well. Nobody did anything too insane with their gadgets. The craziest thing was probably Laura turning her briefcase into a laptop with wireless access to reroute an important bank transfer without anyone noticing. This wouldn't be so crazy if the game weren't set in, like, 1965. But later seasons of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were like ten times crazier than that before even getting out of bed in the morning, so I have no objections.
  • The players getting the tone of the game. Nailed it. I mean, my Platonic Ideal of it would've been more serious, but I am physically incapable of pulling that off, so it was pretty jokey all around. Again, no objections.

What didn't work:
  • My ability to communicate vital information without resorting to heavy-handed OOC exposition. Seriously, I don't know what's wrong with me lately, but at some point, after Morgan fairly begged for something concrete to hang onto, I just had to come out and say, "Look, I don't know how to smoothly couch this in the narrative, but here's what you discover is going on." They'd made plenty of investigation-type rolls and so forth, so they'd earned the details, but it irritates me that I wasn't able to deliver them in a prettier package. On the plus side, we had a lot of cool espionage-type non-combat scenes in which clues were dropped and gathered, and that was great, but it was helping them put everything together that stymied me. Hrm.
  • The end. True to form, I wasn't happy with the rather anti-climactic ending I forced on them. I mean, we could've ended up in a volcano; instead, the last scene took place in the basement of a rather non-descript house in Hong Kong. Boo. I even wrote down in advance what that final scene would entail, but almost none of it was there. I incorrectly assumed things would work themselves out and we'd just get there somehow. Let me tell you about things: They often don't work themselves out.
At any rate, it's a pretty good hack, and I may run something with it again. Of course, it didn't hurt that everyone at the table was a FATE veteran, so there was no need to set anything up or explain what aspects were or any of that. We just got into it and went.

So that's another Gamex in the can. And now I take a break from all of this game planning oh no wait GenCon.
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