I recently ran two games at our local gameday: fantasy in the first session, and Star Wars (using a VERY simple version of FUDGE) in the second. I wanted to sit down and evaluate what went well and what needed improvement in case I get to run those scenarios again. I’m not going to bore you with a blow by blow account (“Let me tell you about my game..”). Rather let’s focus on some of the big issues that come to mind, and may have application for your planning as well. Even if you don’t run these particular systems or genres, well, good design is good design. And the same goes for bad design.
THE FIRST SESSION
This was an old school fantasy session using the Basic Fantasy Roleplaying game. Overall, the gameday had low attendance, so I only had two players at this session.
What Went Well
Length – We had just enough encounters for the session, with one extra fight that wasn’t needed. The session took about three and a half hours of the four hour slot. I suspect with a larger group and more deliberation, we would have easily filled the full time.
Fun encounters – The players got to talk with grumpy gnomes (garden variety with pointy hats), a mechanical man like Tik-Tok, and a talking portrait. They seemed to really enjoy those lighter moments.
Areas Of Concern
Difficulty – Though I scaled the encounters back, the adventure was still too difficult for a party of two. They were successful, but some of that was due to my bad dice rolling that session. Obviously NPC’s and henchmen are a way around that, but I need to look at making it a little easier for smaller parties.
Roleplaying encounters – While there were a number of fun moments, overall the roleplaying encounters seemed too short. I suspect that a larger group would have talked more to the NPC’s. Also, adding some more quirks to the NPC’s or having them question the players about their intentions could have deepened those encounters.
The shortcut – It was a bit too easy to get to the final encounter. In some ways, that is not really a problem. RPG’s are supposed to be fluid experiences. However, to help fill out the session next time, I’m going to move the cave entrance so they don’t rush to the end.
THE SECOND SESSION
This session used a very simple FUDGE hack. There were six players at the table, probably due to the popularity of the source material, that galaxy far, far away.
What Went Well
The system – This simple system helped emulate the fast pace of the movies. One player even wanted a copy of the system for his own use. For a one-shot like this, a simple system is great. Admittedly, though, it may not be the best option for a long-term campaign.
The trappings – Players seemed to enjoy flying X-Wings, swinging lightsabers, and exploring Tatooine. For a few moments, they got to be a kid again. The highlight of the day for me was the excitement our Jedi player got talking to Obi-Wan’s Force ghost.
Areas of concern
Pacing – At times the game moved too fast. It kinda got away from me a few times, and there were some plot points I forgot to give out in the scramble. If I were to run it again, I would cut the number of planets visited from three to two, and try to make the encounters a bit deeper and more detailed.
Gear creep – A couple of the players wanted to upgrade their gear throughout the session. However, I had tweaked the system for a more storytelling approach. If I were to run it again, I would definitely communicate that perspective to the players right at the beginning of the session. Obviously I could add more crunch to the system, though I would probably just switch to a published system if I needed that.
Running two games in one day provided a lot of food for thought. While each had some unique concerns, there was one thing they both shared. Both games could have benefited from more depth in each encounter. It was not so much of a “Less is more” approach, but rather putting more into each encounter. The NPC’s could have been a bit more difficult to get information out of, more physical challenges could have been presented. These are things I need to keep in mind as I revamp these games and plan other sessions. This may have helped with the pacing of each game, and perhaps have made it more memorable for the players.
How about you? Any insight you can share on improving encounters, or these particular genres? Share them below.
Great article. Really like seeing others finding out about how they run adventures and how they can do them better. Is it bad that I kind of want to see the Star Wars FUDGE system too?
We did a playtest for one of our RPGs adventures recently, and had a great moment where the adventure was so scripted that the player actions (which were logical and in-line for the story) messed up the “script”.
The lessons learned:
1) I make-up-on-the-fly (joyfully) most encounters and stories as a GM.
2) Player choice and characters (including NPCs) really are the heart of every story. Their reactions and actions are the best parts of the game, regardless of what events are happening.
I rarely think of a story happening too fast (because I am always rushing to get through the adventure), but I like the idea that the “guts” and character moments of the story could really help dictate it. It makes sense.
Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the kind words, AnSR. The Star Wars game went fast for a couple reasons:
1. The players were really into it (which was good)
2. The mechanics resolve things VERY quickly. Now, it may have been too quickly, not sure. If I run SW again, I may use a lighter version of D&D.
3. Star Wars doesn’t lend itself to slow dungeon crawling.
But you are absolutely right, giving the players choices is ALWAYS the key. In fact, I’m trying to wrangle those choices into my campaign right now, set up a few opportunities for future sessions.
Thanks for reading.
I recently reread over the RISUS rules. I thought (in theory) that the mechanic of Roll dice | Loser loses a die | Roll again was pretty neat. Something like that might help slow down the action a bit as they describe what happens to justify a character losing a die. A thought.
If anyone has any experience with RISUS, share share!
I recently ran two games at a local con, both Fate, and they overall went well.
The need for varied encounter and challenge types was highlighted by a great “module”, the Darkstar setting. Clearly figured challenges and evocative scene Aspects really helped make each of the three main scenes feel very different and highlighted different sides of the character personalities.
The Spirit game on Sunday would have benefited from a notes reread immediately before the game; instead I was wrestling with a printer. That left the scenes a little more muddled, and introduced “the big bad” in a less impressive light. The session still turned out to be a lot of fun, but setting up a scene where it was logical to split the party led to diluted screen time for too much of the adventure.
Scott, what’s the Darkstar setting? Is that a FATE setting?
Also, hope your games continue to go well. Con games can be a chance to really do some nice things, or a train wreck. And I’ve had both.