Monday, August 15, 2011

DRYH: Car Ride Session [backlog]

In July 2010, three of us played a little Don't Rest Your Head on a long car ride. Mechanically, this worked very well, as there's not much overhead. I used a cup to hold and roll the mini-dice I created previously. I GMed from the back seat. I didn't have a preset story and just planned to improvise.

My two players created some very interesting characters.

Brett: John Hannigan
Surface: Homeless war vet: scraggly, scars, limpy, quiet. 15 years since the war. Has a shopping cart. Carries a book from/by sister Laura (about 28 years old) which he also uses as a sort of journal. It has old letters stuck in among the pages.
Beneath: Memory is slipping away. Feels vague guilt over the death of his brother Tom (fled?). Laura's letters stopped coming recently.
Insomnia: Nightmares about Tom's face. Sees bright/flashing lights while awake. Recently saw a "nice lady" too.
Path/Goal: Find Laura and explain (to her?) about Tom.
Just Happened: A bright light while crossing the street, now shopping cart is gone. Only book remains.
Exhaustion talent: Heightened Senses
Madness talent: Draw something in his book and it becomes real
Respones: 1 fight, 2 flight.

Becky: Eli Fox
Surface: Upper-middle class white architect. Attractive in his business suit. Early 40s. Drives into city for the week. Works long hours. Married for 8 years. (Wife?) married young.
Beneath: Distrusts wife. Has been drinking a lot and has a coke habit. Wants to kill wife and lover. Bought a gun recently.
Insomnia: Walked in on wife and another man (a stranger).
Path/Goal: Revenge and closure on infidelity
Just happened: Hit someone with his car, and ran, taking his gun with him.
Exhaustion talent: Persuasive/smooth-talking
Madness talent: Endurance/resistance/strength
Responses: 2 fight, 1 flight

I was impressed by these characters, but I found it hard to bring them together. They started separately, after Eli crashed through John's shopping cart. John followed a wandering PaperBoy into an old gas-lit subway entrance. Eli got picked up one of Tock's clockwork patrolmen.

Improvising as I went, I had a very hard time bringing these two characters back together. Even after a long roadside break and some pondering, the story never really picked up again. I had some ideas that Eli would get involved with the Ladies-in-Hating--probably through one that looked like his wife--and possibly dealing with Mother When. Mother When would also work for John's story of loss--possibly reached through lost Mad City children and the Finishing School. I also had some interesting custom nightmare thoughts for John: a War Monger and a number of Leaf Tenants (play on the word Lieutenants, in light of the British pronunciation, "leaving", and tenements.) that burn in horrible conflagrations. This would somehow tie into John's war experience.

But these ideas never really picked up steam. I eventually got Eli and John together using a previously conceived nightmare/local of my own design: Benjamin "Button" Bridges, who runs a small warehouse of buttons, each imbued with a different memory or dream experience. As I recall [it's been over a year now], Tock's men came knocking on the warehouse door and John and Eli fled. I think things ended there, because I hadn't yet managed to give them a solid hook to tie them together and drive them into a story.

The main reason I'm blogging all of this now is as a reminder to myself of the agony of improvised GMing. I still think I had some rich characters, willing players, and some decent general ideas here. But I just couldn't pull it all together in time on the fly. Any GM-improvising system/tool should help with this sort of problem: not just generating ideas, but pulling them together too.

Another lesson is a variation on that old chestnut: "Never split the party." In this case, I think starting with the party together and firm goal would have helped a lot. Bouncing narration back and forth between two storylines sucks.

Resurrection (again)

I've been busy this past year finishing up my PhD work. There were few gaming thoughts to report during that time. That work is all behind me now, though, so hopefully I'll get back into things here.

In the past year, I've been working on zilch some more. It has split into two components now: a very lite simple nearly-boardgame core and then a number of cleanly modular optional rules to turn it into more of a lite RPG system. The core portion is pretty much done, though it hasn't been tested much yet. The RPG portion is fairly well sketched out but still largely in pieces.

Last month, B. and I sat down one night after a couple beers and whipped up a quick session. We only made it through a couple combats, but things went fairly smoothly there. I was also trying a card-based dungeon generation idea I had (which is also still largely in pieces). An hour or so wasn't enough to tell whether either zilch or the generation system are any good, but at least they didn't seem obvious broken. (We did have to fix the default zilch character generation rules a bit, though.)

B. and I have also been playing D&D by email. I've found this works out quite well. It takes about 1 hour per round/email. I always group his characters together in the initiative order (which is fine, as they only differ by +1 anyway). Once B. decides what Lacane and Gwulf are doing, the rest of the round is in my hands. The only thing I need to do is actually sit down and do this more often!

I have a couple stray backlog details I've been meaning to report, which I'll post soon. Then I'll report on some of my more recent endeavors.