Monday, 23 April 2012

Games Night: To The Stars/IAWA

Before I went on holiday I GMed a hacked together version of In A Wicked Age set within the shared game universe that our gaming group have put together, To The Stars. The setting for all of this is Zero Point Way Station, a giant space habitat that sits right at the very edge of the solar system in the Oort Cloud. While I didn't have time to write this up two weeks ago and post about it, I did make plenty of notes on my phone the next day while I was waiting for my flight to Spain.

After running In A Wicked Age previously, I knew that I had to think about preparation a little more. In that respect, I think that I did well by producing a list of names (mostly populated by the names of space scientists via Wikipedia), and also by manually writing out the six combinations of NPC form dice, just to make things neater.

The Oracle for the game was something that the four people in our regular group put together, each of us taking a suit and writing thirteen game seeds. It was a really great set of things, and there were so many provocative images and ideas that I could see it really being quite a valuable little resource. I might ask the others and see what they think about me putting a simple pdf up. For the purposes of that particular session we decided to fudge things ever so slightly to make sure that we used one card from each person's suit.

The four seeds were
  • A brave rogue, dared by friends to attempt the circumnavigation of the station.
  • A gardener tends megafauna in enclosed biomes under the light from an artificial sun.
  • Four old men plotting abduction.
  • News of a predator stalking the Undercyst reaches a princeling looking for a challenge.
From these we got the three player-characters:
  • Hyatt-Wang, a two-headed philosopher trying to keep knowledge secret;
  • Krupp, an old man plotting to kidnap Hyatt-Wang with three other old men;
  • Janus, a lovable rogue who is trying to circumnavigate Zero Point;
and a host of others including the mayor of the Undercyst; Ecumenides, a massive Amazonian woman who wants Hyatt-Wang for a husband; Scorsese, an uplifted-velociraptor and shepherd to giant land squid; and Stross, Roth and Falken, the other three old men who want to kidnap Hyatt-Wang for their own purposes.

It's safe to say that nothing happened as any of us planned. PCs seemed perpetually at loggerheads with each other. I think that at times I was too vague with foreshadowing, and at others I gave descriptions that I thought were really clear, but which clearly (after the fact) weren't. Still, second time GMing and all that!

Two things: first, in the final moments of gameplay all three players finally got on to the "Owe" list for the game, which means that all three of them could potentially come back as characters in a future game of Tales From Zero Point (he calls it, not having a better name in mind). This was interesting, as it was something which didn't come up at all in the first game of In A Wicked Age that I ran; it seemed like the PCs were rolling against lower dice throughout, until the very end.

Secondly, while we all had a much better handle on the dice mechanic for resolving things this time, it also felt at times like the mechanic was a bit hit-and-miss. That's not to say that some intriguing stuff didn't happen with the dice-leading-to-story aspect of things. I guess there were two areas where it didn't feel quite right. In the third round of rolling the player with the high roll automatically wins. I can understand there needing to be some kind of cutoff point, but in some cases this felt a bit flat.

Another thing was there not seeming to be a good way of rolling for things which were not due to interaction between characters. If a PC is trying to stab someone, that's a roll of (say) with violence and for myself against (say) NPC self-protection. If a PC is trying to use their knife to pick a lock... What do you do? Do you always let them have it, make them roll some way, flip a coin, have "environment dice" that they are rolling against? What works best? More importantly, what would be simple, clear and consistent?

All-in-all, a great session; I'm looking forward to the next time that I can GM something, and hope that we get back to Tales From Zero Point at some point in the not too distant future. I'm still noodling on various things related to the maths and probabilities of the dice mechanic of In A Wicked Age. When working on it before my holiday some results jumped out at me, so I'm hoping that I can take those and forge on with getting some numbers for the maths side of the blog.

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