Sundog Millionaires: Lofwyk

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Here’s the latest session’s adventure log.

Two things stand out about this session in my mind. First, the crew decided that they would employ what was essentially a heist strategy to free the wookiee slave. They set up a plan, created a bunch of advantages for use, and1 stuck to it, accomplishing their objective without actually killing anyone. Or even hurting anyone. Even the bit with HK-86 going off-book was non-fatal, and actually wound up helping sell the image of the ruthless, arrogant Imperials.

Second, we ran this session using the Deck of Fate. This is a deck of cards that has the same distribution of rolls as 4dF, so you can draw a card instead of rolling the dice. Why bother, then? Because the cards have some little extras to them. The one that mainly concerned me was that each card has two different phrases on it, relating to how good the “roll” that card represents is.

See, Fate Core is a very narrative system, and it puts a lot of narrative control in the hands of the players. My group is mostly casual gamers that have generally just played D&D. That means that they don’t have the mindset for taking narrative control in games, yet. I thought that the prompts on the cards would be helpful to them, giving them some ideas about how to narrate their success and failure2.

“But why,” asked one of my players, “would I want to narrate failure by bringing in a problem, like the prompts on the cards say?”

“Because,” I replied, “if you don’t choose what the negative outcome is, I will choose.” And then I grinned.

“Ah. I understand.”

For this session, I asked that everyone use the cards instead of dice, to make sure everyone got a good chance to try them out. I promised them that, after this first session, I’d let them go back to their dice or their apps if they preferred. By the end of the session, I think they were all big fans of the cards.

There are other little tricks you can implement with the cards that I may explore as we go along. The cards can be used as fate points, as well, and I have an idea about letting the players hold a hand of them based on their refresh, and allowing them to spend them either for the normal fate point function or for the “roll” value on the card. Their are also other graphical elements on the cards – moons and suns and eclipses – that could be tied to effects in game. And their are two smaller decks included, one with the various Fate Accelerated approaches, and one with the Core Arcana, a set of archetypes to help out with character creation.

All in all, the Deck of Fate is a really flexible, useful product, and I think it’s going to be the standard in Sundog Millionaires.

  1. Mostly. []
  2. Especially failure. That’s the bit that D&D and other such games really puts in the GM’s bailiwick. Not so much with Fate. []

Sundog Millionaires: Jailbreak

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Here’s the adventure log for the past session.

Not much there, right? Yeah. There are two reasons for that: first, it’s been way too long1 since the session. I’ve been lazy getting things updated, and that means details fade a bit. Second, it was not a great session, and that’s all my fault.

What did I do that caused it to not be a great session? I made the players2 afraid to do stuff. I went too big on the described threats and obstacles, which made the players decide to not engage with them. This led to them mostly sitting in Sundog and slicing the station systems to free Jopsi, and Jopsi trying to make his way through the station pretty much alone, dealing with obstacles on his own.

That made for a sucky, not-very-Star-Wars-like game session. The players were too convinced that they couldn’t be heroic, or that there was too big a risk, to try the fun stuff. There was no infiltration of the station, no diversionary space battle, no desperate leaps into vacuum to escape3, no… Well. You get the idea.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about what I need to do to avoid that problem in the future. Here are the things I’ve come up with:

  • Emphasize the heroic, cinematic nature of both the Star Wars universe and the Fate Core system. Make sure the players know that they can go big with their actions.
  • Make it clear that, when I’m describing how overwhelming the opposition is, it’s partially to help the gang think about options other than combat, and partially so that, when the good guys triumph, they’ll know they’ve done something AWESOME.
  • Talk about how the action in games doesn’t have to be combat. Chases, infiltration, cons, heists, investigation – these can all be rendered as active, interesting things if approached the right way.
  • Make sure everyone’s well-versed in the Fate Core combat paradigm. The system lets you control how much you’re risking in play. Conceding when the fight isn’t vital to your character gets you a setback, not death. Death only enters the play when you decide it’s important enough.
  • Be more careful in building scenarios to make sure there are always action-filled ways forward, and that they are more apparent to the players.

So, that’s what’s on my mind as I think about the next session.

Hopefully, I’ve learned my lesson.

 

  1. Like, about six weeks. []
  2. That’s the PLAYERS, not the characters. []
  3. I swear, one day I’ll get them to try that. []

Sundog Millionaires: Pirates of the Mollek Nebula, Part Two

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Here’s the adventure log for the past session.

We had a bit of an awkward change of characters in the middle of the adventure: Hal’s player wasn’t able to make the previous session, and Jopsi’s player couldn’t make this one. To deal with this, I rather heavy-handedly changed the last moments of the previous session, and said that Jopsi was arrested by station security when he was trying to sneak back to Sundog1. As for Hal, I gave his player the option of just joining the group where they were on Kyra’s Wheel or having spent the last session infiltrating the pirates the group was seeking and starting aboard The Shadowed Hand. With visions of Lando Calrissian hiding in Jabba’s retinue at the start of Return of the Jedi, he leaped at the undercover option.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good and communicating this stuff to the rest of the group. The gang spent some time debating how to get Jopsi out of jail until I came out and said that I had done it just because the player wasn’t here. And then there was some discussion about whether they should be trying to catch the pirates in a complex sting, or just try and buy the box from them. This went on for a while before I clued in on two things:

  1. The group took my statement about how the pirates totally outgunned them to mean that they could not confront the pirates or else they’d die.
  2. I hadn’t bothered to tell anyone else that Hal was now undercover on the pirate ship, and Hal hadn’t mentioned it.

This is the old, old problem of GM perspective. The GM has more information than the players, and knows how it all fits together. Giving too much information to the players can ruin their fun – they like to earn their victories, and figure things out in play2. So, GMs are parsimonious with information, trying to provide just enough to let the players have fun figuring things out and point them in the right direction. But the information we give the players doesn’t have the same context for them as it does for us – we see the whole elephant, but we’re only letting them feel the trunk.

So, I clarified things a bit. First off, I restated that the pirates totally had the PCs outgunned – in a straight-up, head-on conflict. But no one said that any confrontation had to be a straight-up, head-on conflict. Second, I told Hal’s player to let the others know where he was and what he was doing.

You could see the lights go on behind everyone’s eyes. Within minutes, they had a plan to locate the pirate ship, dock with it, and steal the MacGuffin from under the pirates’ noses.

That’s when things began to rock and roll. Some highlights:

  • Stealth docking with The Shadowed Hand in the middle of a nebula.
  • Slicer battles to keep the fighter bays locked down and the power systems off.
  • Creeping through the dim corridors trying to dodge pirate patrols.
  • Trask igniting his lightsaber for the first time in the game, the blade burning through the piece of rebar he had attached to the hilt to hit people with.
  • Jowkabukk valiantly holding off the pirates so Trask could duel with Jyn Starfell3.
  • Hal deciding to start firing Sundog‘s guns at The Shadowed Hand while they were still connected to each other.
  • The discussion between the players about maybe the best way for Hal and HK-86 to rescue Trask and Jowkabukk would be to blast a huge hole in the hull and then catch them in the Sundog as they were blown out into space4
  • HK-86 showing up in full-on maniac-killer-droid mode, shredding the pirates to rescue the critically injured Jowkabukk.
  • Sundog flying away into the nebula, leaving the crippled Shadowed Hand to the tender mercies of the Imperial cruiser that Hal had called in with a distress signal.

After the escape, the gang decided to open the box to see what the MacGuffin was5. It turned out to be Mace Windu’s lightsaber. This had pretty much the effect that I hoped for – they stared reverently at it for a bit, then locked it back up for delivery to their client6.

The next session is tomorrow, and it will involve freeing Jopsi from jail, and possibly taking some revenge on Yan Retwin, the smuggler that sold them out.

Should be fun.

  1. I’ll be giving Chris an extra fate point next session for messing with his character like this. []
  2. Your mileage, of course, may vary. I’m generalizing here, based on my experience as a player and my player groups. []
  3. I should have written this sooner, because I cannot for the life of me remember is Jyn Starfell was defeated or if he scarpered. I think he scarpered, but I can’t be sure. Erik? You remember? []
  4. Which sounded awesome! Note to my players: if you come up with a cool enough plan, no matter how bad an idea it would be in actuality, I will give it at least a chance of success. Think about what the movie scene would look like and, if it makes you go, “Whoah!” then it’s worth a try. []
  5. I had told them it was just a MacGuffin, but that I also knew what it was. And it was not Marcellus Wallace’s soul. []
  6. I had some ideas of what to do if they decided to keep it – consequences are important in my games – but they decided to stay honest. Not that that doesn’t have its own consequences. []

Sundog Millionaires: Pirates of the Mollek Nebula, Part One

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Here’s the Adventure Log entry for this past session.

This past session was a little1 less focused than the previous one. I presented the group with a fairly open plot – seek out the stolen MacGuffin – and let them decide how they wanted to solve it. Now, with most of the group coming from the D&D-style gaming experience, it’s taking them a little time to shift over to the more player-directed style of play that I’m using in Sundog Millionaires. I think I made a mistake in jumping right into such an open scenario so soon; a few more missions that get progressively more open may have been the way to go.

What I’m saying here is that I should have been providing a more clear path forward for the group, instead of dropping hints and waiting for them to construct their own path forward. The paradigm shift from D&D-style location-oriented adventures to player-directed adventures is a tricky one to make, and I should have been more on top of that.

All that said, the gang rose to the challenge. They took to the idea of creating advantage to give them help both solving the core mystery and arming themselves against future problems – essentially using create advantage for both investigation and planning.

I had a loose set-up of scenes that I could use to throw in the path of the characters, but I let the characters determine how they would pursue their goal, and they managed to dance around most of the early scenes. That’s okay, though, because they created their own interesting scenes – the entire Yan Retwin character and subplot2 was a PC creation, as was the idea of a broker and setting up a meeting with the pirates.

As I say, the gang moved forward, but there was a lot of flailing about between things, as the group sifted everything they had just done and all the new information, looking for the “right” way to proceed. When I finally clued in that this is what was going on, I brought in the ninjas.

The ninjas in this case were a gang of thugs that I threw in to emphasize that time was passing, and that they had yet to actually come up with a complete plan3. They made short work of the thugs, though the fight was a little more static than I expected. This was mainly because I had the bad guys box them in, so they stood there and fought, despite the fact that I had sketched in some interesting areas nearby4. I have to be a little more careful with the set-up of the conflicts, I think, to make sure that I provide enough opportunity for the characters to do cool, cinematic stuff.

They kept one thug to question, and managed to get information out of him. That meant I had to decide who had sent them, and why5. I looked at the notes, and decided that Yan Retwin, whom the players decided was untrustworthy right from the start, had hired the legbreakers because he had an arrangement with Jyn Starfell, captain of the pirates.

That was about time to stop for the evening. I hadn’t planned on this adventure stretching over two sessions, but that’s what happened. For the second session, I’m going to try and provide a clearer path forward6, and throw in some more action.

And that session happens tomorrow. Wish me luck.

  1. By which I mean a lot. []
  2. Which evolved into the main plot, or at least unified with it, along the way. []
  3. Also because they were feeling a bit stymied, and I thought they could use a simple fight where they could be awesome and have fun. []
  4. An open market, full of stalls of stuff to get tipped over, and a loading bay with some crates and power loaders. []
  5. I didn’t bother deciding that beforehand because, if they took them all out, it wouldn’t matter. But they grabbed one even as they ran away from station security. []
  6. Without railroading – that’s always the balancing act. But making the session about the opposition being proactive should do that fairly well. []

Sundog Millionaires: Escape From Soab

sundogbannerLast Sunday, we finally managed to get the gang together for our first Fate Core Star Wars session. I spent the first part of the session going over how the system worked – the Ladder, rolling Fate dice, the different outcomes, the different action types, using Fate points, and compels. Then, we jumped into the actual adventure.

Those of you interested in a narrative account of what went on in the session, you can see it in the wiki Adventure Log. This post is going to be more of an analysis of the game from the GM’s point of view1.

Done reading? Okay. Here we go.

The first important thing I wanted to teach the group2 was compels worked narratively. They understood the mechanics of compels, but I wanted to make clear that accepting compels3 was shining a spotlight on that bit of the game that they felt was important. So, my plan4 was to have the gang retrieving something valuable from an archaeological site, and then compel Jopsi’s aspect Always Mixed Up With Smugglers to have some smugglers show up and try and take it from them. And then I’d wing the rest of the adventure.

It was a decent plan, as plans go. And, as plans go, it went almost immediately upon encountering the PCs. I started by saying that they were on a planet, and asked them where it was. They said it was in the Soort Cloud, and then Jowkabukk’s player jumped in with the idea that they’d had to drop out of hyperspace here because of the Sundog‘s Trouble aspect of Maintenance Backlog. That made me rather happy, as I tossed him a Fate point and changed the narrative to show that they had made an emergency landing on an unidentified planet to try and scavenge parts.

So, instead of a relic of a lost time, they were salvaging an ancient reactor set-up to get Sundog off the ground again. That didn’t mean I needed to abandon the idea of bringing in the smugglers, though; I had them start talking about hauling it back, and then had the smugglers show up, calling Jopsi out. I tossed Jopsi’s player a Fate point when I brought in the smuggler and, instead of waiting for me to tell them about who the fellow was, he started off telling me who the smuggler was. This was approximately the conversation:

Me, as smuggler: “Jopsi! I know you’re in there! Why don’t you come out and show me what you’ve found for us?”

Hal: “Is that Drago?”

Jopsi: “Nah, that’s Kaylan.”

Trask: “Why’s he after you?”

Jopsi: “I… might have… slept with his wife.”

And so I immediately added the aspect I Will Destroy Jopsi Tanoor! to Kaylan’s character, and Jopsi suddenly had a nemesis5. That gave the whole fight a nicely personal touch. It also really drove home for the group how being compelled can make things awesome for your character.

And that, I think, was the final bit that made the game click for the group. The gang opened up, playing with compels and aspects, and really going to town in a fun, cinematic way. A few other highlights:

  • Jowkabukk using a forklift to push some smugglers into a radioactive fissure, then getting stuck in the driver’s cage as the forklift started following them, thanks to a compel of his Big For A Wookiee aspect.
  • HK-86 taking a Shorting Out moderate consequence in order to put the Supercharged6 aspect on himself at the beginning of the fight.
  • Hal invoking the Soort Cloud aspect Here There Be Dragons to add the security droids to the mix.

They tied things up for the initial battle in pretty quick order, and I got to show them the concession rules, with Kaylan conceding when things turned dramatically against him, and again during the showdown at the Sundog, when Trask used the Jedi mind trick on him.

The final challenge in the scenario was escaping the now-activated defence platforms that were firing on them. I set it up as a zone they had to pilot through, with ten shifts of damage in it. For every shift generated by a piloting check, one shift of damage would be offset.

I have to say that I was thrilled at the way the group pulled together for this bit. Everyone did something to create advantage for the final piloting check. By the time the pilot7 rolled the dice, there were four or five aspects in play for him to invoke – for free – in his attempt. He managed the roll pretty handily, and the ship flew through the enemy fire without taking any damage.

We called it a night at that point, having had a pretty full evening. All in all, I am tremendously pleased with the way the game went. Everyone got into the spirit of Fate Core pretty quickly and, if there were a few moments of confusion and some missteps in the mechanics, well, that’s par for the course with a new system.

The best part was the almost audible click as they got it. That moment when they realized the power of aspects and the coolness of compels – the beating heart of the Fate Core system. When, led by the two DFRPG veteran players, the whole group made the realization that, in a conflict, Create Advantage is often a better tactical choice than Attack. And that unlocked a plethora of cinematic stunts and general coolness.

I’m looking forward to the next session.

  1. And, with the way the Obsidian Portal wiki is set up, I think this is going to be my pattern for this game. []
  2. Because only two of them had played any real amount of Fate games before. []
  3. And compelling themselves and each other. []
  4. Which I had discussed ahead of time with Jopsi’s player. []
  5. Which reminds me, I should talk to Jopsi’s player about the option of using the minor milestone from this session to reflect this. Not that he has to, but I need to make sure he’s aware of the possibility. []
  6. I think it was a different aspect, but close enough. []
  7. Jowkabukk, if you care. []

Sundog Millionaires: Scum and Villainy

Last week, we got together to do the character creation for our new Fate Core Star Wars game. It had been over a month since we did the game creation session, which is a little longer than I had originally wanted, but life gets in the way sometimes.

And, because life gets in the way sometimes, we got started late and didn’t get as much done as we might have. But we made it through the high concept and trouble aspects, through the phase trio, and through the skill assignments. By the time we got to the stunts1, it was pretty late, and we were getting kind of punchy2, so I gave a brief explanation of what stunts were, and how they worked, and we decided to finish up the characters via e-mail and using our forum3.

As of this point in time, characters aren’t finished yet. Still, I wanted to get a short post about it, because I’m a bit behind on the blog.

So, we’ve got a hidden human Jedi4, a besalisk archaeologist, a human former Imperial diplomat, a wookiee mechanic/slicer, and a messed-up former assassin droid.

It looks like an interesting group. I hope to finish up the characters this coming week, and maybe even start play next weekend.

Oh, yeah. We still need to decide on what kind of ship the gang has.

  1. Arguably one of the most complex parts of character creation. []
  2. To be fair, we always start kind of punchy. []
  3. We have a forum now? []
  4. I knew at least one of the players would go for this option. And I correctly guessed which one. []

Sundog Millionaires: The World We Made

This weekend, I finished typing up the first version of our setting bible for the Sundog Millionaires campaign that I talked about back here. We’re experiencing a few delays in getting to the character creation part of the festivities, so the document is not complete – I expect to add a few more entries1 for things that get created during character creation.

But I wanted to get the setting bible out to my players to make sure we didn’t lose the momentum and the excitement that was generated during the game creation session, so I sent it out only partially complete.

I have to say, I’m pretty pumped about this setting the group has come up with. It has a bunch of cool Star Wars stuff, but also some neat tropes from other science fiction2 sources, so it’s not plain vanilla Star Wars3. Sure, we’re playing during the Imperial period, but it’s much earlier than the movies – more the time of the Dark Times comic series, which is less constrained by readily-available sources. This means that there’s plenty of space4 for the characters to carve out their own stories and decide what’s important, rather than being either tied to or overshadowed by the canon narrative.

An important note about canon, both for the audience and for my players: I know a fair amount – not a huge amount – about the Star Wars universe, expanded and otherwise, and I’m a decent online researcher5. However, I fully accept that there are others in the audience and among my players who know the stuff far, far better than I ever will. I am not going to worry about canon. I am going to use whatever seems fun that I discover, and make up the rest. If I tread on the toes of those who care deeply about some aspect of the universe, well, that’s just the way it’s going to be. I’m not going out of my way to break from canon, but nor am I going out of my way to follow it.

Govern yourselves accordingly. 😉

I am far more interested in the world my players created, and in how they got excited during its creation. I had to rein in a couple of folks from talking out an entire story that would be more interesting to play through than just have in the background. I had people throwing out ideas for the game left and right. I had people starting to get excited talking about what characters they made. And everyone cheered when, in the final minutes of the session, they picked the name of their ship and thence the name of the campaign.

Man, I love collaborative game creation.

Anyway, for those who are interested, I’m linking to both the setting bible and the Obsidian Portal wiki for the game. You can find them both below.

One last note about the bible: I’ve put in a bunch of pictures that I have collected over the years from the Internet. I didn’t keep track of the sources, and so have not credited the artists, nor obtained permission to use them – I didn’t know I’d be putting them in anything public when I collected them. I just thought they were cool.

If you see some art in the document and you know who it belongs to, please let me know. That way, I can ask for permission to use it, and credit the artist if they grant that permission, or remove it if they don’t. This isn’t the best way to gain permission, I realize. I apologize for that. I should have kept better track of the sources of the pictures when I collected them.

Anyway, here are the links I promised:

  1. Like one on Sundog, the characters’ ship, but they haven’t decided what kind of ship it is, so that’s blank right now. []
  2. And action/adventure sources. []
  3. Nothing wrong with plain vanilla, but I prefer that the characters have room in the narrative to put their stamp on things. []
  4. See what I did there? []
  5. At least for the level of information you need to run a game. []

Sundog Millionaires: In The Beginning

Last Sunday, we got the old Storm Point gang together to run the game creation session of our new Star Wars game, using the Fate Core system. We were supposed to meet a week prior, but I really wanted the entire group together for this, and life intervened.

I have to say, that extra week was taxing on me. When I’ve got a new game coming up, I often immerse myself in preparing for it – working out background, roughing in some scenarios, and generally getting ready for play. But with the game creation being a collaborative process1, I couldn’t do any of that, because I didn’t know what kind of game this was going to be.

That is, however, a pretty minor complaint.

I had prepped all the players by letting them know what the steps in game creation would be, and by sharing with them Lenny Balsera’s game creation tips article from the first issue of the Fate Codex. They all came prepared, and we had a bit of a discussion2 before jumping in.

I started with getting each player to give me an individual Want / Do Not Want list, with three items in each category. That’s significantly more than Lenny recommends in his article, but I had a couple of specific reasons for doing that. One was that, as I got these lists from them without them discussing the various items, it allowed me to see what sort of overlap there was, and thus what things most of the group agreed on. Another was that this brainstorming approach would allow us to have a productive discussion about the similar – and dissimilar – items that would lead us to find common themes.

So, once we got our big list, we talked through it, finding similar entries, and talking about what it was about them that made us want or not want them. This allowed us to sort of boil down the list by consensus, coming up with a shorter list that addressed pretty much everything3 the group cared about. That gave us the basis for coming up with the framework for the game.

What we decided on was a game where the characters were the crew of a somewhat run-down freighter in the Outer Rim, taking odd jobs and exploring strange places. In conversation, the vibe we wanted for the game settled out at about half-way between Firefly and The A-Team. With, of course, all the tropes of Star Wars thrown on top.

So, with that done, we pressed on to the Issues, Locations, and Faces of game creation. I’m not going to go through the details of setting creation; I’ve put the initial results up in the Obsidian Portal wiki. I’m working on putting together a setting bible for the gang, but that’s going to have to wait until character creation is done, so that I can incorporate the things they come up with then.

The game got it’s name from our last little discussion on that evening – after much debate4, they settled on the name Sundog for their ship. And one of the players said, “So, obviously, the name of the campaign has to be Sundog Millionaires.” And the name stuck.

Soon, we’ll have the character creation session. I’ll post about that when it happens.

  1. And I want to be clear here that I think collaborative game creation is awesome. []
  2. And some dinner. []
  3. The main thing that didn’t get settled was the inclusion/exclusion of Jedi PCs, but I’ll get to that a little later. []
  4. And some god-awful stupid suggestions. []