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Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005, 11:40 am
Gloria Mund Report

So I'm going to try writing about last night's GM session. It's going to take me a while, I think, to figure out what's both useful and entertaining to write about, so please feel free to give me feedback, ask questions, etcetera.

Last night's session was downtime. Now, downtime is always complicated for two reasons. First, we're trying to run an epic game, one which began with the death of Augustus and ends with the fall of Rome. That means that a single downtime session can cover twenty years or more of time. It's complicated by the fact that we rarely know when the next story arc is going to be set when the previous one ends. This story arc, for example, focused on the murder of Commodus (actually, everyone was trying to murder him, it was just a question of who got there first) and the consequences for the Judecci, supposedly neutral Kindred whose job was to ensure Kindred non-interference with the emperor. I'm strongly debating when to set next story arc, but I don't really want to post about the two choices I'm debating between where my players can see. Sorry, guys. :)

The other thing that makes downtime hard is that players generally need a lot of specialized ST attention. True, we have six players and three STs, but last night maastrictian got delayed at work and thran was sick so the whole session was an ongoing exercise in logistics. Add to that the particular faults of each ST (maastrictian and I both tend to own certain parts of the plot to a point where other STs can't easily fill in; thran has a hard time improvising if she hasn't had a chance to prepare) and you've got a recipe for a very, very busy session.

On the other hand, I thought a lot of good - and necessary! - stuff happened last night. One of the PCs (Remius) spent much of the downtime in exile, so getting his activities in order was quite important. Aniketos Embraced a new childe, which is particularly complicated because he's under a curse which has resulted in the death of his previous childe and his wife (well, one of them - it's kind of a long story involving a psychotic Assamite, life debt, and tax breaks), so we had to establish what their relationship was going to be like. Considering that he murdered her, and only then changed his mind and Embraced her - and that she's a devout Christian - this turned out to be quite interesting. I spent most of the rest of the session brain-dumping on Idir and Balachandra about the Families in the Six Springs, their new alliance. My policy when filling people in on things that they would learn over a long period of time is that I will give them the basics, but then they are responsible for asking me about things they want to know and, if necessary, justifying why they could know it. So I pretty much dumped a bunch of stuff on them, partly guided by me and partly by them, in order to give them the ability to act, in the next story arc, as if they had actually been a part of this alliance for twenty years. I think of it as "simulating expertise." It's not so much what the players actually know, as that they have enough information to ask me questions and get answers that they might plausibly have, and that they can make reasonable assumptions and plans based on the outline that I've given them.

What's making me especially happy is that I can see the focuses of the game changing. At different times in the story, different characters are central. For example, at the beginning of the game the House of Haravas (Idir, Actaia and Aniketos) was central to the story, and the other three PCs were involved because of their relationship to them. Right now we have two constellations of characters, which is particularly good because several people are playing their secondary characters and they need good reasons to be integrated. The Remius-Ze'ev-Aniketos group is involved with social change in the Empire, and is particularly interested in the rise of Christianity. They also have a significant antagonist in the form of Bar Kochba, who may or may not be immortal and may or may not be organizing wide-spread hunts for Kindred. The Idir-Actaia-Balachandra group is much more politically oriented, and their three Families (organizations of Kindred - to be explained at a future time) are now part of the same alliance, the Six Springs. The three of them have political interests, antagonists and allies in common, though their goals are much less clear than the other group. Fortunately, the Idir-Actaia-Aniketos Haravas alliance, as well as the fact that Idir owes Remius his life (more or less) will help us create plot that will tie both groups together. It's also good that there's one secondary in each group (Ze'ev and Balachandra), which means that both groups are about equal in capacity, power and connections. By the nature of things, secondaries tend to be less well-connected in the game just because they don't get played as much.

Secondary characters, by the way, are something that we instituted because this is a long-term game. Characters may die, and will certainly go into torpor, and often are removed from the game for plot reasons. (For example, Quintus has just fled the Empire with an angry mob after him; Remius has spent some time in exile; Marcus was informed by the other PCs that if he came back, they would kill him.) We didn't want players to have to leave the game temporarily when this happened, but we also didn't want to just elide over the fact that shit happens, particularly when you live a very long time. Instead, we asked players to create a backup character that they would be willing to play as their primary PC if and when something happened to their primary PC. So far this has worked pretty well; it allows players to see multiple sides of what's going on (since their primary and secondary characters might be on opposite sides of a conflict!) or to explore different aspects of the world, while it means that we don't have to fear removing characters from the story. Integrating a secondary is hard, but much less hard than having the players know that we won't seriously inconvenience their characters. :)

Maybe I'll post a character list (primaries and secondaries) later on today. 'Cause nothing's more fun than procrastination!

PS: The more you comment, the more incentive I have to do this again next week!

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 04:06 pm (UTC)

Maybe I'll post a character list (primaries and secondaries) later on today.

Ah, nothing like a rousing game of Kindred: The Polyamorous...

What? Wilfully misinterpreting? Moi? :-p

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 04:16 pm (UTC)

Well, Aniketos does have two wives . . . er, I mean, had, before one of them died horribly.

(One was a legal formality; he married one of the other PCs for the tax breaks, which I totally love. The other was to satisfy the tribal customs of a rather primitive Assamite who saved his life. They spent a lot of time making sure his Assamite wife never found out he was already married!)

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 04:17 pm (UTC)

The "secondaries" idea sounds fantastic to me, even if it's a pain to run; that way, people aren't resetting to zero if something happens to their character. Out of curiosity, how do you handle XP for that? Is XP you earn by playing the secondary spent only on the secondary, and same for primary? And how do you handle that over downtimes? (Alternatively, are you running this without specific XP, but with a different means of advancement?)

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 04:21 pm (UTC)

Secondaries get our standard XP measure, which is .5 to 1 XP per year. (The actual amount varies by how much you're doing during that time, but you can't get less than .5 per year of game time, since you've got to be doing something.) We tend to be pretty lenient with secondaries and give them closer to .8 or .9 even if they're not that active, since the players tend to backtrack and fill in the secondary's past activities when that character comes into play. We only have one player who actively keeps up what his secondary character is doing, though we really appreciate that he does it and we wish we could get the other players to do the same. What secondaries don't get is story XP, unless they were actually involved in the story. Since you can only spend a character's XP on the character who earned it, secondaries tend to be a bit less powerful than primaries. Of course, we also insisted that secondary characters be younger than any character in play at the time they were created, because we wanted the secondaries to be less powerful. It seemed a good way to create some fear associated with the primary dying or being removed from the game.

Yes, it is a giant hassle to keep up, especially when secondaries get brought into the game while the primary is still active, but it's definitely worthwhile.

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:05 pm (UTC)

XP, its worth noting, is very non standard in GM (well, non standard for most groups, its very standard for Ars Magica). XP comes from 6 sources, attendance (1 per session or .5 to 0 per session not attended), downtime (1.5 to .75 per year), player award (1 for one player per session), ST award (1 for one player per session) and extrodinary general awards (xp given by ST fiat) and extrodinary specific awards (xp used by purchaes ST dictated things by ST fiat).

Each of these categories is designed to reward a specific behavior, by the players or by the characters.

Attendance (20% of all awards) -- This rewards showing up. Half-XP is still given if the player lets us know he will be absent 24 hour in advance, giving us time to account for his absense. With no players we have no game.

Downtime (65%) -- More XP is given for doing more detailed blue blooking. A player who initates nothing in downtime does not drive the story and so receves less award. A character who is not played automatically gets 1.5 XP per year to make up for them not getting attendance XP.

Player Award (5%) -- This rewards the player who brings the most enjoyment to other players.

ST Award (5%) -- This rewards the player who did the most off stage. We don't want to overly reward spotlight hogging (as the player award encourages), so we have this award to reward the wallflowers who still drive the plot.

Extrodinary General Awards (2%) -- These reward the players for in-story success. The only example I can think of here is diablorie, which gives a 10XP bonus. There was not enough diablorie or threat of diablorie in the story for our tastes, so we upped the incentive.

Extrodinary Specific Awards (3%) -- These reward the players for in-story success as well. If a player gains backgrounds politically they may be given free background dots (rather than paying XP for them). Though no XP is given to the player, this is still an XP grant.

I keep obsessively detailed XP charts and periodically data mine them the ensure that the above percentages are (roughly) maintained.

Note that we do not reward good roleplaying strongly. This is both because we have good players and because we reward good roleplaying with drama dice, which can be spent to roll an extra die during session. We prefer this immediate and low impact method to giving extra XP.


(Yes, XP is tracked in half-point increments.)

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:46 pm (UTC)

Well, the other reason that good RP gets such a small percentage of the awards is because most of the experience comes from the simple passing of time. When you've got 400 years passing during the course of the game, it doesn't make any sense to have the majority of the XP come from the small percentage of that we can actually play out. It's a plausibility thing as well as a drama dice vs. XP thing, though I agree that I strongly prefer drama dice because you can reward people on-the-spot.

(Also: we're now giving secondaries 1.5 XP per year? Huh, I didn't know that. Fortunately XP isn't my problem. -g-)

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:51 pm (UTC)

Also: what about the awards we give for players doing things outside of game that contribute to the game's fun? Like the XP we give out for writing stories, doing art, inventing NPCs or handling the music? We haven't done much of that in the past few months, but don't forget that that used to be a major source of end-of-story XP. I don't know if you were recording it separately, though, so it might already be counted in some other context.

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 06:17 pm (UTC)

Good point. That's another 2% or so probably.


Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 06:53 pm (UTC)

For a total of 102%? ^_~

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 05:59 pm (UTC)

We've been doing that for about two years actaully :)


Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC)

Funny, I think this is the first time we've talked about XP assignment since then. :)

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 04:53 pm (UTC)

Ohhh... Ahhh...

I've been dying to read about the game for some time. This is like 4th of July fireworks, ya know?

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 06:43 pm (UTC)

*waves her stick*

Yay! Writing! This is very interesting to me because, while I get to see what everyone is up to during session from the player's POV, the ST's POV is a much more elusive beast. (And, as has been pointed out, I am determined to voyeuristically suck up as much of the RP experience as possible without actually RPing.)

You know, it's funny but I'm almost tempted to continue my role as scribe to the primary games (ie: Noct and GM) for our little troupe, and continue to encourage you, Chris, and any other STs to contribute your own thoughts, not only because it's incredibly fun to be in on everyone's little plots, but as a means to build a resource of records for the future. I am rather sorry that I missed out on Noct and the beginning of GM, because it would have been fascinating to chart the progress and adaptation of the games, the players and the PCs over time.

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)

I definitely agree with you that having records of the game is really important - not just what happened, but the process of HOW it happened and why certain decisions got made. We're really happy to keep you scribing as long as possible. Also we loves you. :)

With just a little gentle encouragement I can easily be persuaded to keep posting my own thoughts/reactions/ideas in this space . . . .

Tue, Aug. 2nd, 2005 10:54 pm (UTC)

I am always available for talking noct up.

heheh...I said knocked up....

But seriously. It may have been ridiculous at times...between a trio of Neonates killing a Nictuku, a Diablerie cult that managed to become the hero of the story, and the madness that was the New York Tremere...

Who am I kidding? Those were the days, man.

Fondly remembering the very early 21st century.


Wed, Aug. 3rd, 2005 09:46 pm (UTC)

Fascinating. Also mostly Greek to me. The few games I've been involved in, I've been very much a rider and not a driver. Perhaps as I experience more games I will assert myself more in them?