Last Friday was the latest session of our BASH superheroes game, run by Clint. I have to say that I think everyone – players and GM alike – found it a little frustrating.
For a change, though, it wasn’t the system. In fact, I think that the system ran pretty smoothly, and generally got out of the way of the adventure, when it wasn’t making the adventure possible. It also wasn’t the adventure itself that caused the problems, nor anything that Clint did.
No, what I think we’ve run into now is the fact that, after four sessions, we’re finally able to start sorting out what our characters are and can do – something that generally happens in the first couple of sessions of a game. What with the system change and the tweaks and the growing cast of players, we’ve been resetting our experience with the game pretty much every session. Now that we’re somewhere fairly stable, we’ve gotta start figuring out who we are and how to make our characters work.
What was so frustrating about this game? Well, we couldn’t seem to advance the plot, is what it comes down to. As players, we couldn’t find a clear path forward, because we kept flailing around in different directions. We uncovered some clues to things, but many of them pointed us to the problem of the sinkholes that started the game. While useful, and the two things may be linked in some manner, we couldn’t find any connection between those events and our main mission – to retrieve the suitcase of cash before the time limit expired ((Speaking as someone who GMs a lot, I know how frustrating it is as a GM to see the players floundering. Judging the clues is a tough call, because the GM sees them in context, but the players don’t. What may seem like a complete giveaway to the GM can still be completely opaque to the players. Kudos to Clint for keeping things moving at all.)).
So, the session was spent interrogating criminals, exploring old theatres, trekking through sewers following trails of black blood, negotiating with mob bosses, and hitting up contacts. All these things were interesting and valid aspects of the adventure, but they felt like what they were – five characters pulling in different directions, flailing around to find a loose thread to pull on in order to unravel the mystery. In fact, near the end of the session, we realized that we had no hope of solving things within the time limit, so we wound up going to a mob boss and negotiating an extension, and that, to me, felt like a failure.
Again, I want to stress that this is not anything anyone has done in the game; it’s not anyone’s fault, and it was still a nice evening out with friends. But I really think we need to get a handle on what our characters are, and what the game is, to make sure we get the enjoyment out of playing that we expect. And that’s something we’re all going to have to work at.
I also want to point out that there was a lot of neat roleplaying in the session, and some great character development. Despite our frustrations, I think we all had fun. The only thing really missing was a sense of accomplishment. I think if we can get a grip on the characters, and get focused on what we want to accomplish in the story, the game will take off in a big way. It’s the fact that we’re four sessions in, and every session feels like we – the players and GM – are fighting an uphill battle to find the fun, that leads to the frustration.
And, at the end of the session, we still didn’t have a solid line on where the stolen briefcase was. Just a lead to someone who might be able to get us to someone who might be willing to tell us where the person who snatched it is. But first, we have to talk to the gang who has us looking for the briefcase to let them know we got them an extension on their payoff, at the low, low price of an extra 50k. I’m sure they’ll understand.
This session didn’t go all that well. Next session will be better, because we’ll figure things out.