Last weekend's Midwest GameFest was a success. The new venue and setup worked well, and though there are always things to improve upon, it went very well. I kept very busy, as I was slated to do something every slot. It didn't always happen - they had the D&D Adventurers League tables covered so I didn't end up running AL. That wasn't a bad thing, though, since I was still putting aspects of my other games together. I'd been derailed by work, a freelance deadline, and the Royals great playoff run. I ran a session of Numenera, a couple of Savage Worlds The Last Parsec, and a couple of different Star Wars RPG adventures. I also participated in a couple of panels and wrapped up with an Aethercon panel on Sunday. More on that later. For the Star Wars RPG games, though, I tried a few new ideas...
I ran two Star Wars RPG adventures in three slots. My Force and Destiny adventure had more action than some past ones. I stayed away from too much light side, dark side, and internal personal conflict. As it turned out, probably too much so, but I wanted to avoid having every Force and Destiny game become a variation of "find the mysterious holocron." This adventure could have worked with non-Force users. I expected the players to take more advantage of their character's Force powers, but that didn't happen with a couple of exceptions. I'll have to change things up next time. I did have a ton of fun with a major NPC I based probably a bit too closely on the pirate Hondo from The Clone Wars and, more recently, Rebels.
The other adventure was a combined Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion game (with half of the PCs from each game). I pulled from a lot of things I've worked on over the years, from Flashpoint! Brak Sector to the Lords of Nal Hutta and more. The PCs ran a hidden Rebel distribution center on spacestation in an Imperial system. The adventure began with an Imperial shuttle hitting the station, bringing all kinds of unwanted attention from the local government and the Imperials. Making matters worse, a pair of semi-rival Hutts were on board to discuss mysterious business that the PCs soon found out directly applied to them. Throw in some bounty hunters and fleeing slaves and therw was plenty for the PCs to worry about.
I staged the entire adventure around the Distant Outpost maps from Christopher West and Maps of Mastery. I've previously talked about running games using maps and used those ideas here. However, this map was four time the size of a usual map which had certain advantages and some disadvantages as the adventure progressed.
Now, I've refrained from using maps and minis with Edge/Age/FaD games over the past few years because those games don't depend on them, and I didn't want to give people the impression that they were needed. Besides, FFG wasn't making character minis (aside from Imperial Assault). A lot of games I've run were essentially introductions to the game or outright demos.
Using the map meant using minis or tokens. I have just a few of those around, so I pulled together a box of minis, with appropriate ones for the PCs and their enemies and allies. Since I didn't run the adventure ahead of time (having barely written it down ahead of time...) I didn't realize I didn't bring along quite enough minis for what I wanted to do, but I was close. As it turns out, though, this wasn't an entirely bad thing. I ended up filling out the station's crew and other minor NPCs using the Age/Edge/FaD Beginner Box tokens. It that worked better than expected. This was because it made it very easy to tell the PCs and main characters from the minions and, essentially, the extras.
In the future, it would be good to also have tokens for equipment, crates, and so on. If I'd realized this earlier, I could have brought some of the tokens that come as part of Chris' various map packs. Actually, I was having a hard enough time getting the right stuff to my various games for some reason, so they'd likely have been left in the room or something anyway.
One good thing about the map is that everyone could see what was going on where. Since the PCs controlled the station, instead of the more usual invading or sneaking around the station, they already had control of everything they needed to defend themselves. There were various crisis points - the arguing Hutts, the hull damage, the local authorities sending damage inspectors, keeping the Wookiees hidden and so on. Looming over all was the imminent arrival of the Imperials. Did I mention the power outage, and the Imperial cargo floating around the station?
So, how did it go? Generally it went pretty well. The map gave everyone something to respond to and plan their next move. It also gave the players ideas as to repairing and defending their position.
The downside was that the number of crisis points and the amount of map area meant that the PCs tended to suffer from splitting the party. It was great that each PC character type could focus on those things that they excelled at, but it also meant the PCs were split up into at least three groups most of the time. That meant too much time waiting for their turn, at least in my view. On the plus side, it also gave them time to think up a response to a situation as it developed:
The PCs are trying to diffuse the brewing argument between the Hutts. It's been taking awhile and the smuggler character controlled by a young kid playing in his first tabletop RPG wants something to happen. He declares that the smuggler jumps up on the table in the center of the room and fires a stun bolt into the ceiling. He yells at the room that there was no time for this arguing when there are more important matters pressing (i.e., the Imperials). He then totally blows his Coercion skill check. This is turns out to be very amusing as all of the characters stop and look at him like, "who is this guy?"
Taking advantage of the suitable cliffhanger moment, the focus of the game turns to others.
Coming back awhile later, I ask the smuggler player what he says in this awkward moment....
He declares "Free Drinks!"
So having time to think can be a good thing, and in this case, all of these actions - successful or not - were totally believable for a smuggler character. He totally diffused the situation...at least temporarily. Even better, it got a good laugh from all of the players.
Someone asked on Twitter if using maps cut down on the immersion and theatre of the mind. I would say yes and no. Obviously, putting minis and maps on the table defines a lot of details. However, I let the players know ahead of time not to get hung up on exactly where their minis were most of the time. The grid wasn't required and this wasn't a Star Wars Miniatures game in terms of tactical positions. I also told them that if they saw it on the map, it was fair game (except a couple of ships that arrived later). I didn't have to spend much time describing the character positions, which freed me up to cover other details.
Ultimately, it depends on the group as to how much minis and maps may or may not be a distraction. When I use them I try to make them match up with the situation as much as possible. I hate it when I have to have a token or mini stand in for something I don't have. It also helps keep the players in the moment. Then again, every player asked about the Wookiee dance party....
If I run this again, I'll certainly change a few things. The government and Imperial teams need to arrive much sooner. There is a balancing act here - the PCs need enough time to do a few sneaky things before the authorities arrive (No, officer, I don't know where that box of military grade sensors went...it must still be floating around out there somewhere), but not so long that things drag. Part of the issue is that the pressure of the incoming enemies only builds up to a certain point. The real pressure comes when the PCs have to act in the face of danger, more than before it arrives. However, adding a few probe droids in advance of the Imperials would provide some unexpected surprises without bringing in a squad of stormtroopers immediately.
Another issue is when combat breaks out in one area of the station, but not the rest. I just put everyone into the combat rounds since any of the PCs could (and often did) run to the rescue. Still, there were certain conversations that didn't work as well in that format. We made do.
With the rushed characters, I didn't have the Obligations and Duties tied in as much as I would like. Normally, I would have connected the PC backgrounds to various NPCs. Someone would probably owe one of the Hutts, or be running from the bounty hunters, and so on.
And finally, I need to increase the danger to the individual PCs. This is actually something I should do more often. The Hutts were great, since any time someone would try an opposed check against on of them, the player would just gasp at the difficulty. That said, I did hand out three Critical Hit cards to one PC that went toe-to-toe with the bounty hunters, so it wasn't a cakewalk either.
Just to wrap things up - FFG posted a new preview to the Force and Destiny Keeping the Peace Guardian sourcebook I worked on. It covers the Fated Duel, which is very dramatic (not one of my sections).
Oh...and it's ONE MONTH to The Force Awakens!