On Sunday, November 20th, I got to game master a face-to-face session of a tabletop roleplaying game for the first time in probably five or so years! A couple of mates and I gathered at The Wicked Goblin, Cairns’ friendly local game store, and I brought the Star Wars: Force and Destiny Beginner Game with me for us to try out.
In the name of getting better at the craft of game mastering, I want to go over how things went, both before and during the session, and work out what I can change or improve for the next one.
Naturally, when playing a prepared adventure in an RPG, the game master needs to make sure he knows what’s going on. One of the first things I did (yes, I waited a day or two until I had some extra zip lock bags before breaking the counters out of their board) was read through the included adventure; as it’s intended to show both players and game master how the game works, it has pretty much everything you need. The slim rulebook that allows further adventures after the “Mountaintop Rescue” adventure ends isn’t really necessary (although I did break it out once or twice during the game).
As I read the adventure (and the “Lure of the Lost” downloadable adventure that follows) and was introduced to the non-player characters, I found myself casting the Non-Player Characters; the supporting cast of beings with whom my players get to interact. The first character the players meet, known as the Gatekeeper, I wound up thinking of as Ian McKellen, somewhere between Gandalf and Magneto, and the scruffy hunters they encounter shortly afterward immediately called to mind the scruffy humans from the Battlefield Earth movie.
The adventure comes with four characters that the players can take on, and I made sure to take some Post-It notes with me so that the players could make notes directly on the sheets without damaging them.
One discovery about my current style of game mastering is that I’m not the biggest fan of pure improvisation, the kind of off-the-cuff, make it up as you go along creativity that’s encouraged by games like InSpectres – I like having some structure to rely on. That said, I do prefer adventures that have the opportunity to have character – I think the biggest thing that turned me off the Pathfinder module I attempted to run online for some friends and relatives a few months back was that the adventure module I ran was almost a pure dungeon crawl with threats that had no real character of their own. “Mountaintop Rescue” had a good bit of character to it.
We all made it to the Wicked Goblin on time and were able to get stukc in pretty quickly! Alwin was an experienced RPG player, offering some comparisons between the Star Wars Roleplaying system (which his was his first encounter with) and other systems he’d played. Glenn was a first time player, though, so I wanted to make sure he had a good time. Of the four characters available, they leapt on the two who came with lightsabres.
I was wondering how quickly resolving actions would go; instead of adding numbers from attributes, skills, situational modifiers and a dice roll together in order to beat either a difficulty set by the game master or another character’s opposing action, the Star Wars Roleplaying rules get you to gather a handful of custom dice which generate totals of success and failure points; as long as you have more successes than failures, you succeed. If anything outside your abilities and skills would assist you, you add extra dice; if something specific to the situation would aid the game master, he or she gets extra dice.
In the end, gathering dice, rolling, counting successes and failures and subtracting one from the other takes about the same time as rolling and calculating results in more traditional roleplaying games.
The game went more quickly than I thought; this turned out to be a good thing as I hadn’t checked exactly when the Wicked Goblin was closing, but the reason may have been that, while Alwin and Glenn were certainly working together, they weren’t interacting so much as characters, either with each other or me. They tended to play their characters a little more like video game avatars, charging into combat. Maybe that’s not a bad thing; I’ve got another post on the go about how RPGs can be a great place to let your inner badass out to play for a while. And while I could say striking your enemies down without giving them a chance to surrender not exactly Star Wars-y, I do mind me how Luke mowed through a bunch of Jabba’s guards with his lightsabre in the first big set piece of Return of the Jedi… although it was after Luke gave Jabba and his cronies plenty of warning.
I did love getting to play the personalities of the Gatekeeper and Malefax! I think Malefax wound up coming out a bit more David Attenborough than Ian McKellen, but he was still fun to voice. I couldn’t think of a casting for Malefax, so I just played him as menacing and rabidly angry, and that seemed to work. I’m looking forward to introducing more characters next time!
That said, characterising places got a bit loose, toward the end. I let the map do a bit of the talking as they players progressed into the Jedi Temple; “You’re here, here’s what’s in front of you, okay! Here come some characters.”
Speaking of the map, I made sure to take a photo of the board at end of the game (it’s the featured image of this post) so I can set up the same next time and keep going right where we left off. I also have the game’s notes in my notebook which stays in my shoulder bag, so I should be all set for next time!
The main thing, though? It felt great. It was intense, and there were times that I was worried that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I kept it all together and enjoyed myself – and from the compliments Alwin and Glenn gave me afterward, I did a good job ensuring that they did too!
There’s another post in there about my anxieties and gaming which can wait for another day. In the end, while my efforts might not have met some critical standard of perfection, the session was my first time back in the GM saddle for a bit and it was more than enough; it was plenty!
What I want to do next time
We’ve scheduled the next session for Saturday, December 17th; with any luck the two absent players will be coming along and Glenn may also be bringing his young son with him! I’m planning to wrap the fight scene at the end of “Mountaintop Rescue” then press on with “Lure of the Lost,” the downloadable sequel adventure.
As we’re playing on a Saturday, closing time won’t be as much of an issue, although some players will still need to head off around five thirty.
It’s going to be interesting, as I will have two more new players who will have missed the very step-by-step intro to the rules of the game; also, the beginning of “Lure of the Lost” introduces the light and dark sides of the pre-generated characters, which ties into Conflict points. I’ll need to get Alwin and Glenn to help bring the other players up to speed without forcing them to drink fro The Firehose Of Knowledge.
Further to the point about playing the characters above, I want to encourage players to feel safe and interact with each other and me in whatever method they prefer. Sometimes it’s easy to lose in all the rules and dice-rolling that a core part of the charm of RPGs is that you get to pretend to be someone else, and be a little amateur theatre about it. I think one thing I can do is ask the players what they think about the characters in front of them. What sort of people are they, what annoys them, what would make them laugh, how are they likely to react when shit gets serious?
I’d also like to be able to play to the special things that the Star Wars Dice do; come up with Advantages, Threats, Triumphs and Despairs ahead of time so that I can throw them at my players whenever the dice come up for/against them. (Soft of reminds me of the “Cool things that can happen in fight venue X” lists from the Feng Shui roleplaying game…)
Then, as mentioned earlier on, I’d like to try and bring the places to life just as much as the characters. I want to find the balance with helping the players paint pictures in their heads without making their eyes glaze over.
Finally: Paperclips! They’ll be great for letting characters mark their experience advances on the starting sheets without writing on them; my initial idea was Post-It notes, but they didn’t stay stuck.
Featured image taken by me; symbols and dice graphic from downloadable sample character sheet on the Fantasy Flight Games website.