Last Friday night was the latest installment of Feints & Gambits. Five of the players were able to make it, which gave us almost a full house.
While we had fun with the game, this session was a little more muddled and directionless than previous ones. The problem was that I had incorporated a technique I’ve been using to great effect in other, smaller games ((Like Fearful Symmetries and Armitage Files, for example.)), and it split the focus waaaay too much in this larger group. So much so that what I had intended to be another single-session adventure is going to stretch to two sessions ((I say this like it’s a problem, but it isn’t really. It’s just not what I had planned, and I had to choose my stopping point carefully so as to allow for the attendance or non-attendance of the various players next session. What I mean is that I had to stop somewhere that it was easy for characters to enter or exit play if the number of people who can make it next session changes.)).
What I’ve been doing in the smaller games that I tried in this one is throwing out leads to multiple storylines, and seeing which ones appeal to the players. These threads often deal with consequences of their past actions, fallout from previous adventures, friends and enemies made, and that sort of thing. When I threw in a bit of a teaser about the Winter Squire letting one of the characters know that Winter was aware of the characters’ meddling, the players immediately started seeing if they could find out where the Squire hung his hat and apply a little pressure of their own. They also started trying to find out what the rules of the game between Summer and Winter were.
This play started to drag a bit, turning into the players making rolls and trying to unlock the exposition dump they needed to ask the next question ((This is an approach much used in video games, and it works well there. In a table-top roleplaying game, I want to encourage a more dynamic, interesting approach, where the characters actually do stuff to find things out, and I need to figure out how to advance that idea more in play. For example, instead of “I ask around to see what I can find out. Is that a Contacts roll?” I’d prefer to see something like, “Okay, well, Seamus down at the Cobblestone used to be in The Sunshine Boys. I’ll try and track him down so I can ask him about the Snow Birds.”)), so I decided to pull in one of the other threads for the game, having an old squad-mate of Aleister’s show up an ask him to get some handguns. A little investigation on this led to the discovery that there had been an escalation in violence against Asians in a neighbourhood in the South Dublin suburbs, with the locals of the opinion that it’s part of a plan to get the owners to sell off their homes and businesses to a developer.
In the midst of it all, Kate had had a chat with Mad Mary, and got a cryptic little prophecy that they’ve been trying to decipher, seeing where it applies ((And I’m not telling. Not yet, anyway.)).
The violence in South Dublin seemed to be the more pressing concern – everyone figured that the Winter Court wasn’t going anywhereÂ – so they headed off on a two-pronged approach. One team would walk through the area disguised as young Pakistani men, while the other would try and break into the offices of the lawyers handling the offers to purchase to try and find out who was behind them.
I jumped back and forth between these two scenes, intercutting to try and keep everyone involved and interested. The bait team got jumped and quickly took out their attackers, but the police showed up, so they were unable to interrogate their prisoners. The burglary team got in and got the files, but left some pretty obvious evidence of their presence because of the necessity of using evocation to get through a couple of barriers.
That’s where we wrapped things up. We hadn’t got all that much done, but again that was a result of the way I had split the focus. If I want to keep a more episodic style of game, I need to present a more obvious path forward for the characters, rather than a myriad of possible options, none of which look better than the others ((There’s a fine line between this and railroading. I want the characters to have freedom to choose what they want to do, and which approach they want to take, but I know the group likes some direction – they want there to be a story there for them to find, not just wander around hoping something interesting happens. And they don’t want to spend hours debating between options that look equally good or bad to them. So, providing a clear path forward, or maybe a couple that have very obvious pros and cons, gives them the support to make decisions and drive the story.)). I was very happy that they split the party the way they did; that’s usually a big mistake in roleplaying games, but works fine in DFRPG, due to the emphasis on narrative systems and the empowerment of players in determining when they’re in real danger.
Next time, though, I’m gonna run it a bit tighter.