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PostPosted: Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:32 pm 
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This is more a few personal observations for myself, but given the number of things I encountered in planning I thought sharing the entire thought process and analysis might help other GMs that will be in my boat and with the Iron Kingdoms system or just a con game in general.

So, I ran my first 4 hour con-session of Iron Kingdoms. The scenario was based around hunting a Bronzeback Titan and with a planned number of encounters and players (maximum seven players). We started with 5 players, but half-way through 1 had to drop out.

The original scenario was the group meeting up with a group of farmers fleeing an invasion of their village a short ways down the road by Skorne (whom controlled the Titans they were hunting), followed by an encounter with a small number of troops. Then they'd come to a fork where they could choose between pursuing the warbeast and skorne group OR pursuing what might be a friendly (or neutral) group. Depending on choices, they could then assault the Skorne camp with reinforcements or on their own to free slaves and acquire the Bronzeback.

What actually happened was that when they were on the road they spotted the smoke of Warjacks in the distance. The scouts split off from the group to see a fight going on while the group themselves came down. The split-up party rejoined together at the tail end of the battle, finishing off the last enemy and then recruiting the last few remnants of the aforementioned group to join them in the hunt. Then when they made night to camp, they had some eldritchian / undead encounters, being assaulted by a void spirit / ghost and a lot of undead. The group decided to scout out the camp and then spent over a half hour agonizing over planning said assault.

Said assault went on when one of the players got fed up and just charged his character in a long LEEERROOOOOY JENNKIIIIIIIIIIINS moment, getting everyone to run after. Fortunately it was not a botched assault as the willbreaker warcaster that was running the camp was killed in a decapitating strike, while player managed to run off into the woods with the majority of Titans in tow. Another player sneaked into the pen and attacked the Bronzeback, sedating it. Though the Bronzeback - murderous of a warbeast as it is - turned around before it was sedated, picked up said character and throw him back over a building and into the thick of the fight. Most of the ending and remaining combat had to then be rushed as we were out of time, but the objective was completed.

The bad stuff that happened, both decisions I made and reactions I did to players:

  • I didn't stick to the plan. I had developed a plan and NPCs, etc around scenarios that would be run for seven to eight players. A full list of encounters with pacing - but which I strangely threw out of the door the moment because it slipped my mind. This move wasn't as bad as one would think - the players still had fun with the ad-hoc scenarios that were present which were based loosely on the planned one, but it slowed things down significantly and I had to ad-hoc many enemies that were not matched to the levels of the characters.
  • NPCs need to be more involved in assault planning I gave too many threats and too few options to the players, creating a fair bit of indecision. NPCs did not encourage communication or suggest default plans to discuss either, creating a stalling point that wasted all the more time. If NPCs had proposed plans or even better, ordered one, then it would have created a more focused game - even if the drama of it was defying suicidal orders it would give PC plans a starting point.
  • Vocabulary improvement: Not entirely related to just this session, but something tells me if I'm going to describe a monster from a horrible void of agony and suffering, I need to read more HP Lovecraft to expand the vocabulary I use to describe such creatures.
  • Better game-Planning: In general, there were many loose threads and overall looseness in the very scenario itself. A few pot holes here and there were hastily covered up but I needed to start planning these things earlier and in far more detail - including adding much more variety of enemies. My paper's please! game was far more tightly planned and had all the opponents listed out and potential scenarios - it was also much more on the rails. But for a Con game, you need those rails more than anything else.
  • Not enough Rails: Speaking of rails, there simply was not enough control in the scenario for the Con. It was a fine amount of control if it were a campaign long game, but the players were put in charge of the entire effort -rather than being part of a detachment, which in turn led to conflicts and a lack of focus on what needed to be done, ending up wasting time on many occasions. In Paper's Please, the group was somewhat in charged, but had a direct higher authority to report to that acted on them both in and out of combat.
  • Difficulty Level: one thing I failed to do is playtest. I needed to playtest the difficulty of the opponents involved and see if they were just right, too easy or too difficult. Admittedly this needed more time than I had, but it should have been arranged for. One of the most critical parts of the Gaming Industry is QA and Testing; con-games should be no different. For the next Con game I have to playtest the party against all opponents, fine tune, play test again and then fine tune some more till it's a reasonable balance.
  • Dont Split the Party: The party had too little syngery amongst each other. While I thought I was making a diverse list, the truth was that there was too little in common between the group. The rogues and sneakier elements would often end up separating from the group and disrupting pacing. At one point I had a three-scene split,w here I had one group that was facing the main assault brunt, another single individual attacking from a different flank and the sneakier doctor going for the Bronzeback - all in completely separate areas. While I managed to keep a good pace between them, it was a struggle to keep it going and keeping everyone entertained in the interim gaps

Now, the things that went well:

  • The System Worked: Overall the combat in Iron Kingdoms actually worked very well. We were able to resolve turns very quickly and initiative orders allowed people to keep moving onwards with very little slowdown. Given the amount of time involved, people actually managed to accomplish a lot overall, leaving ample oppurtunity for roleplaying in the ranks.
  • Variety in the encounters There were social encounters and physical ones, with a fair bit of talking and a few social rolls too, so I'm counting that as a minor victory.

    Three scenes at once: pretty much what it said on the can. At one point we had three scenes at once. Though it was a bit cumbersome, we managed to get through them all in a specific order and pace that didn't leave people leaving too long.

    Most importantly, everyone had fun.: Despite the inefficiencies and things to improve, ultimately everyone seemed to have fun with the encounter and mission. This is what is the most important factor of it all, I think.

Overall, I think I'm going to focus my next con-game a little bit tighter, going with a different system as well. Part of why I deviated off the trails was that I wanted a tiny bit of horror into it - which wasn't planned into the scenario. Thus I think if thats what I want to focus on generally, my next con game will either be Call of Cthulhu or a game based on the SCP Foundation and be a bit more focused in it's scope and dimensions.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 25, 2014 3:03 pm 
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It's very useful to do this kind of post-game analysis. Kudos to you for doing it in public. It may encourage me to do the same with my current game...

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 8:20 am 
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Still think that this is an ace piece by Kevin Martin:

viewtopic.php?f=13&t=4&p=65&hilit=convention#p65


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 9:41 am 
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KISS and tell

Anandraj,

You were well prepared and had tonnes of handouts for players (which I loved). You knew your setting and rules. This is all good. To improve you must: Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS).

Generic points

2-4 hours is almost no time at all in a RPG. And so all convention scenarios must be short. In a dungeon bash it is: one room with a sneak encounter, one corridor to check for traps, one obvious trapped room and one fight. In an overland it is: an opening encounter, a plan and a fight/encounter. In yours it should have been: an encounter with a merchant on the path (elephant-creatures are at x – more information depends on how the PCs behave), scout the enemy camp, plan and attack. Look at MoKhan’s Barroom Brawl scenario: you are in a bar, there is a brawl, survive!
The action must be contained. You are on path x to get to y. You are in dungeon x. You have agreed to y and are in the village already.
So let’s look at some examples from movies. In the Seven Samurai your scenario would be that the PCs are samurai who have agreed to defend a village and are doing so right now. In Saving Private Ryan they have been sent on a mission to retrieve a soldier, have found him but are cut off and need to keep him alive. In Starship Troopers the PCs are troopers and are dropping to the planet -- right now -- to fight bugs. In your game we didn’t need the fight with the Scorne (?) and the undead bash. Putting us one day behind a marauding elephant beast (your cool and well painted mini was an ace brief as to the [literal] scale of our task) would have been enough.
I wont say too much about achievable as I didn’t get to see the end of your game. But the players should always have the chance to win – and critical to this is you making sure that you have left enough time to run the game.

PCs

You had too much information on the PC sheets: too many rules and too much background. You need something like this:

Thrumax the Wise. You are a young elven scout who has hired himself to an eccentric collector of rare beasts. Which is why you are currently tracking a giant-elephant-beast. You are abrupt and rude and will speak in short and rapid sentences. You fight with sword and crossbow, but prefer to sneak and attack from behind.

I would also suggest that you link each PC to another PC.

e.g. Thrumax likes Skullar the leader of the group and is polite to her. He dislikes the Halfling scout and will bicker with him.

A great aid for the players is a cheat sheet with a pic of all the PCs or miniatures and their relationships.

Setting

You love your setting. That came across very strongly. But you need to KISS.

“Iron Kingdom is set in fantastical world loosely based upon 18th century politics, and has elves, dwarves and undead. But what sets it apart from other scenarios is that there is fusion of magic and steam technology which produces juggernauts controlled by mages (cue a picture or a showing a warjack miniature). You are far from these mighty kingdoms and are in the wilds where the only law is that which comes from your sword or pistol. You have trekked for 3 weeks in search of the blue-elephant. Now, judging from the tracks you have found, you are just one day from finding it. Which is a relief as the woods you are in are tangled, dark and oppressive.”

Your introduction was too long. You will either bore those who already know it, or overwhelm those who don’t. All you needed to do was to point at your evocative GM screen and say: look, big steam powered robots and orcs with guns, oh and a sailship.

Props

Warmachine has ace minis. You used them. Double plus good. But you mucked around with terrain and got yourself confused. Here is the best top tip ever. Get two cheap whiteboards. The first is small (about rules book sized). The second is regular sized. Buy a rag, some removal fluid and some white-board markers. Draw the overall scenario on the small board. Allow the players to plan off that. Quickly sketch out the ground on the large board and place the miniatures on that. Et volia: cheap terrain that can be reused over and over again.

Descriptions

Roleplaying is cool. That’s why we do it. Every PC does something cool. It’s your job as a ref to make it as cool as you can. Think about what makes a PC cool and figure out how you will describe it in advance. e.g.

“You summon the energy to fire the engines in the warjack. As the coals ignite and the water begins to boil your become aware of the jack; its vast size, its immense strength and power. As the steam courses through its metal veins the clacking of its engine resounds in the forest. At your direction it moves a vast foot which sinks deep into the moss of the forest. The dappled forest-light catches on its rivets – each as large as a man’s fist – so that the machine glows. Fully fired up and belching out smoke the warjack awaits your bidding.”

Overall Anandraj you have a vast amount of enthusiasm for RPG. You love your scenarios and you want to run a great game. KISS and you’ll achieve that.

PS I would not advise doing horror at a con. Do a game like you did where the braying and cries of ecstasy from other tables wont ruin the mood.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 5:48 pm 
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Thank you Russell for all the tips - greatly appreciate them. Taking into account what you've said and what I've seen, I think I need to refine the adventure in the following ways:

a) Tighten it up significantly. A single or at most a pair of obstacles between the PCs and the Bronzeback, perhaps.
b) Turn it into a true hunt. "Find the camp that may have a bronzeback" to "We're hot on the trail of this wild Bronzeback and have to HOLY SHIT IT'S RIGHT THERE"
c) Keep at least 1 role-playing focused obstacle and one fighting-focused obstacle. Role-playing focused obstacle would be information or a semi-hostile group that can be negotiated with for passage or similar. A bridge over a raging river being held by a few Khadoran troops or the like might be a good one.
d) Keep the party speed-consistent and similar. No slow jack marshals and speedy rogues to cause that divide.
e) Obfuscate many of the rules. Pare down the entire system to just the absolute basics one needs. A few simple, unique abilities, a few important statistics and nothing more. Gloss over most of the skills not needed. Healing, primary weapon related, secondary weapon related and non-combat social ones.
f) Cut down the backgrounds to a single para as you suggested.
g) Add on some connections between the characters. Instead of people of varying retinues and archetypes, perhaps all soldiers in the Baron's employ or regular guardsmen-type with few variations.
h) Almost forgot this. Secure whiteboard + hex map if I can. Square tile map is even better, or alternatively merely print out terrain as needed. Basically get something to draw on instead of having to rough things around a lot.

I think with all that, I should have a much tighter and better paced adventure. I just need an opportunity to test it again - but that may not come till the next minicon (at which point I might want to run Paper's Please! again).


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 27, 2014 7:42 am 
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Anandraj,

I can tell from your response that you will run a tighter game. Also -- try and recruit older players into your next session. That way you can have the challenge of more experienced people stretching you,

Rusty


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 9:02 am 
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Late coming to this, I read it when it was first posted and the conversation already sorted most things out. One thing I would recommend.

Do not have more than five people at the table. Ever. Whether a con game or a home game. Yes, I know people run larger games than this all the time. They don't work for me, and they don't work for most players. Take a look at games written as tournament games from the early days (parties of up to six) and more recent material written as intro RPG's. You're unlikely to find a group size more than four. Generally, from the dynamics of groups of people, I prefer a table of either three or five people.

But, with the changes you're already looking at, you likely can manage a larger group and still have fun. The biggest remaining suggestion is to keep track of what you want it to be about. Combat? RP? A mix? A risk for the IKRPG is to become too combat heavy. It is the RPG most linked to a wargame since whitebox D&D. This can be as bad as it is good.

Take the feedback, keep running sessions. But, I think you already figured that out. =D


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