Iâ€™m running the introductory scenario,Â The Witness of My WorthÂ from theÂ Ashen StarsÂ rulebook. While some things always get changed when the scenario meets the players, I am running it pretty much straight out of the box. There will be spoilers in this post.
***You Have Been Warned***
About a week ago, we finally managed to schedule a session to finish ourÂ Ashen Stars play test. I’d been trying to think how to flesh out the end of the adventure to fill in an entire session – we only had one or two scenes left – and threw together some combat encounters to use. As it turned out, I really didn’t need them.
The Lasers did some more speculating and discussing of the information they had so far, trying to figure out what was going on. They had a number of pieces of the overall puzzle – computer intrusion, rewriting of brains via the headsets, air clearing in a formerly polluted area, stuff like that. What they didn’t know was what was causing this – the Durugh, the Mohilar, someone else.
After going around in circles a few times, they remembered one of the basic tenets ofÂ GUMSHOE games – if you’re stuck, it means you need more information. They had one lead – a set of co-ordinates out in the ruined city that seemed to be at the centre of the strange occurrences. And so off they went.
I spent a little time this session describing things – coming up with descriptions of the surroundings, working a little harder to paint a picture of the world. I also worked harder at smoothing out the use of Investigative abilities in the game – trying to make them more transparent to the players. I had some pretty good success with the first part, but not so much with the second.
The problem with the Investigative abilities not being transparent was two-fold, I think. First, there was the simple fact that all of us – GM and players alike – were new to this game.Now, that’s a problem that will arise with any new game, and it can correct itself after a few sessions. Familiarity and mastery will come.
The second issue was something that compounded the first one: the Investigative abilities inÂ Ashen Stars are not intuitively named. Instead, they are named in keeping with the space opera setting. This is great as far as flavour goes, but it adds an extra level of learning between the players and mastery.
Anyway, our heroes made it to the site, and found that it was a museum devoted to Brian Hudd, native son of Ares-3, and hero of the Mohilar war. Something had restarted the computer that ran the museum, which immediately turned on the air scrubbers, resulting in the clear air around the building.
Investigating further, they found that the computer had achieved sentience, but had been damaged. All the records of the diplomatic, alliance-building Brian Hudd had be been lost, and only the records of Brian Hudd as a ruthless, cunning, and triumphant warrior remained. The building had also lost its holo facilities, so it was making do with reprogramming any sentients that happened by to refight Brian Hudd’s battles.
They found this out the hard way, when Returner-U directly interfaced with the museum computer, and was reprogrammed into Brian Hudd, fighting off the Mohilar and trying to reunite with his crew. So, there was a desperate struggle with Returner-U, as Maxine managed to synthesize a viro deprogramming agent to cleanse Returner-U’s mind.
Once they had their Cybe compatriot back to his regular charming self, the Lasers made their way down to the main computer room in the basement and tried to shut down the computer, only to find that it had a back-up version of itself recorded in the strange electrical activity in Ares-3’s atmosphere.
Now, this is all part of the scenario-as-written, to set up a very specific kind of climax to the adventure: one where the characters, in the best tradition of Captain Kirk, convince the AI that it is flawed and must destroy itself. But, I must admit, as I was giving the characters that last clue, I rebelled against it. It was a little too, well, not to put too fine a point on it, dumb.
Okay, “dumb” is a little harsh. And there are alternative solutions offered in the scenario. Perhaps a less judgmental way of putting things was that the solution seemed to clash with the moderately gritty vision of the setting that our group shared.
Whatever the reason, as I said, I rebelled, especially once I started getting some of the clue out, and felt the resistance to it building in the group. So, I changed things slightly, and explained that, with the ability of the AI to exist in the atmosphere, there was no way to physically destroy it.
And then the group showed me again why I game with them. They convinced the AI to accept a download of the rest of Brian Hudd’s accomplishments, and persuaded it to keep working to clear the air ofÂ Ares-3. They even talked it into spreading itself through the ionosphere and reactivating other air scrubbers on the planet. And they convinced it to create a child AI that they could load into their ship’s computer.
“NowÂ that’s a pilot episode,” was the response from the group.
We faded out on Aron telling the bartender on Ares-3 to be ready for the Combine to come calling. And that they didn’t need to rush into backing the Combine – they had the right to their independence.
The gang talked about how they’d consider playing moreÂ Ashen Stars, but the more they talked about how they had enjoyed this session – specifically the last half of this session – the more I was convinced that this is not the game for this group. Why not? Because the bits they liked most were the bits where I had departed farthest from the game system.
They liked the setting, they liked the characters, they even liked parts of the scenario. But they didn’t like the idea of fiddling with the Investigative abilities, and then trying to figure out the mystery. The more we discussed things, the more certain I became that the game system is the thing they liked least about the whole play test.
This is not to say thatÂ Ashen Stars is a bad system – it’s not. I love it. I would need more practice to run it smoothly, and there are a few things about it that I find irritating, but the same is true of any system.
But not every system works for every game group. And this system does not work with these particular players. And so, I said that I would keep the game in my back-pocket, as it were, for possible future play, but that I didn’t think we should keep going with it as a regular game.
Instead, I offered them aÂ Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game that Clint had suggested at one time: street-level superheroes in Gotham City. Everyone thought that was a splendid idea, so that’s what we’re doing. In discussing it, though, it became clear that there was not a common vision of such a game being shared among the group, so this coming Friday, we’re going to get together and use theÂ Fate CoreÂ game creation rules to create ourÂ MHRPG setting.
I’ll let you know how it turns out.