Do you remember that little experiment I was planning? You know the one where I was going to thrust the socially reticent player into the collaborative story-telling spotlight. How did it turn out your wondering? Hmm I guess about as well as having some kind of rectal exam. Overall, it was one of the more garbled, incoherent, garbage sessions I have ever run.
As I dissect the session in my head several factors come into play that contributed to this massive steaming pile of a session. The scene began with the players climbing out of the Tarek pit of pleasure after killing the pack of rabid –insert name for a Dark Sun lizard type creature- and earning the right to walk amongst the Tareks without being killed on sight. I gave a brief history of the Tareks transmitted through song by the head shaman during a campfire on the eve of the “Great Hunt”, a kind of Tarek bar mitzvah where they send the young out into the desert to slay a great beast and claim their place as an adult in the society. The song told of the great Tarekian empire during the green times and how society was split into three castes (warrior, shaman, and tinkerer/engineer). Much knowledge was lost as the empire was shattered during the brown times and Ranjaat’s racial cleansing war.
The newly reformed “empire” consists of several of the elder houses and the conclave of shamans. The major player’s involved were the Emperor, head Shaman, Tar Ugu (a former pc), and the Tarek player’s hidden brother. Each major npc had some motivations and possible moves. In terms of the emperor I went with the Son of Mogh story line from STNG where he had falsely accused the Tarek player’s father of selling the newly reborn empire out to the sorcerer king Kalak, thereby seizing control of the empire and having the player’s father executed and house stricken from the stories.
So what went wrong? Well overall my mood was a little off as I had just gotten word that I would not be accepted into medical school for the fall. I was a little bummed and it kind of took some wind out of my sails. Now in the grand scheme of life this is not a major disappointment. I already have a doctorate in clinical psychology and a full time job plus a part-time private practice, so it’s not like I am in my mid-twenties and trying to figure out what to do with my life or stuck in some dead end job that I loathe. I also only applied to one school so I new the odds were slim. None the less I was a little bummed with a sense of loss at missing out on a new challenge. So blabity blah blah basically I was a little flat.
I also think I didn’t frame the scene as well as I could have in terms of layout and positioning of the NPC’s and Tarek faithful. This made the exploration at the beginning of the night a little awkward as things became jumbled with people going off and talking to different factions. It also made coming up with a plan or strategy on how to deal with any potential threats or desired shenanigans more difficult and less clear. Sometimes I forget how dependent we have become on maps and tokens in 4th edition, particularly when playing online, to set the scene adequately compared to the olden days. I can get a little lazy and forget to put tokens out to help frame the scene. Often this is because I haven’t planned anything out, partly due to said laziness and partly due to a desire to be reactive to player choice.
Now in terms of the socially reticent player who I thrust into the narrative limelight, he reads this blog and was game for it but….perhaps it was a bridge to far and we need more baby steps and supportive coaching. In improv terms he kept blocking himself at every turn, it was literally like he was pulling a gun on himself while shouting no. In one instance he stated that he was going to intimidate the emperor and before I could say anything he stated that wouldn’t work because the emperor was un-inimitable. He also had some good ideas but they mostly came off as incoherent and not fully formed. He had established that he was going to use the inherent psionic link that Tareks have to do something but then abandoned what he had started (later I would learn that he wanted to see if a member of the tribe had any memories of the betrayal that would be helpful). He eventual just rushed up and slapped the emperor which then prompted a battle royal in the middle of the camp that essentially ended with him being dead..again (unconscious and the emperor threatening to coup de grace him if the others didn’t stand down). In talking with him after the game he explained his intent wasn’t to fight the emperor but it was more of a klingon challenge type thing. Which my response was “awesome but how would I know that unless you tell me”. I think I really needed to ask more questions to try and draw his ideas out, but like I said I was a little flat. I think this is important to remember when trying to impose collaborative story telling on less experienced players or those that it doesn’t come as naturally to.
Overall, I also think I need to be more prepared in terms of potential skill challenges, even though I loathe them. At a minimum I need to think/be prepared for the use of skills to overcome challenges or adjudicate player driven hi-jinks on the fly. I feel like I have sort of hit the proverbial wall in terms of running the campaign and need to bear down and push through it. I figure I have 6 to 8 session left to wrap everything up for the end of the heroic tier and I need to end strong…or at least crawl through the finish line like one of those depleted nut jobs at the end of an Iron Man Triathlon.