Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Wine-Dark Sky, Session 1: Naxos

Yes, I've given the Full Light, Full Steam/Spelljammer game a pretentious name. Get over it.


Low on food and air, the exhausted crew found their way out of the phlogiston to the ring-colony of Naxos. On approach, Naxos appeared to be a series of asteroids circling a water planet and connected by huge plants hundreds of feet long. The center of the colony was an ancient Elven Armada that had “gone wild” and grown around the largest asteroid. Although there were a substantial number of Flitters on the Armada’s landing deck, the elves did not appear to be part of the Elven Empire. In fact, the colony looked to be populated by a mix of humans and elves, all of whom dressed in extremely simple styles. Reassured that the locals wouldn’t be interested in killing them for their ship, the crew decided to land in order to take on supplies.

The ensuing first contact went humorously awry. Due to some Thematic Battery charging and bad die rolls, the human governor, a man named Demos, become convinced the crew was part of the Empire’s strike force sent to wreck vengeance upon the colony for not supplying troops to the Empire. There was already an Imperial Military Envoy, an elf named Einar, on the asteroid who had been stirring up trouble, and Demos was convinced the crew was part of the retribution Einar had promised. While Guillaume, Reg, and Piter were unable to calm the governor down, they were able to convince him that they weren’t going to start killing people right away, and they arranged a meeting with Einar.

Fortunately for the crew, Einar was easily confused, so even though Piter’s title (pronounced perfectly by Guillaume, whom Einar took to be some sort of footman or valet) was more than slightly archaic, Einar reported the details of his mission to who he believed was a superior officer. The Empire’s primary concern in the area was bringing elves lost in the Diaspora back into the Imperial fold, so as to bolster their forces. In this, Einar had failed completely, as the local elves had so “debased” themselves as to put the humans in charge of the colony, as this particular band of elves though that the primary failing of the Elven Hegemony was that they were too inclined to take the long view. Einar had nothing but contempt for colonists. He had also discovered that the Governor had some sort of secret agreement with local pirate captain who was searching for lost elven artifacts. Most disconcerting to Guillaume was that this pirate, Antoine le Flamboyant, was none other than the previous owner of the crew’s last ship (which was stolen, of course).

Meanwhile, Kami, Reg, and Kaira were seeing the town. While the idea of human/elven harmony was reassuring, and their mastery of agriculture was impressive, the notable absence of young men was a bit disconcerting. They soon discovered that the colony was afraid some external threat and that the governor had conscripted all of men capable of military service and sent them on patrol to protect the outlying settlements. They also encountered a rather disgruntled and suspicious Einar, but before he could spot their ship, Reg’s “new friends” carried the elf off.

Kaira and Kami (especially Kami) still wanted to learn more about the Imperial Military Envoy, however, so they followed him back to his ship. Einar spotted Kami just as he was about to board his Flitter, but as he drew his sword on her, Kaira turned his rapier into rope. Embarrassed by this turn of events (discharging three levels of his Grace Condition Battery), he invited Kami into the ship to speak to her in private.

Meanwhile, Antoine’s Hammership landed at the colony. While Piter headed off the market to buy some unusual supplies for their ship, Reg decided that seeing what Antoine was up to would be a good idea. He was able to overhear a conversation between Antoine and Demos in which Demos thanked Antoine for protecting the colony from the Neogi. In fact, Demos said, as there had been no additional sightings of the Neogi ship since Antoine’s arrival, perhaps it was time to bring the patrols back. Antoine counseled against this action, saying it was still too soon. He and his men were still “investigating” some of the outlying asteroids where the Neogi might be hiding. Before Reg could hear any more, however, Antoine spotted and recognized him. Both men took aim at each other (Reg with one of his many pistols, Antoine with a blunderbuss tossed down from the ship), and the exchange of volleys ended with Reg gravely wounded and limping back toward the ship.

While Kaira, who had by now returned to the ship, tended to Reg’s wounds, Guillaume challenged Antoine to cross blades with him. While the duel lasted mere seconds, with Guillaume handily disarming Antoine, the post-duel posturing for the assembled masses and crews took considerably longer. Antoine gave Guillaume the opportunity to kill him and “expose these poor people to the terrors of the Neogi,” but Guillaume declined. Instead, he was able to gain access to Antoine’s charts and maps, giving him a clearer idea of how to get home. And to add insult to injury, he convinced Antoine to fly Guillaume’s personal jack until they left the system. Angry and embarrassed, Antoine agreed, but he swore revenge upon Guillaume and his crew.

In the meantime, Kami had grown tired of Einar’s imperious demeanor and had used his sword/rope to tie him in his own ship. With help of the recently-arrived Piter, she absconded with the crystal he used to communicate with his superiors. Piter, while ostensibly letting Einar go, in fact sabotaged his spelljamming helm, which would leave him stranded in the phlogiston, much as the crew had been.

With the ship’ stores restocked, a new course home plotted, and an escort out of the sphere provided by Antoine’s Hammership, the crew sailed on, in search of home.


As expected, passing Scrips took a little getting used to, but people seemed to catch on reasonably quickly. I suspect we’ll get better at it.

Josh has said that Full Light, Full Steam is a system where the players get to decide when they want to win. I agree, and I like the shape that gives the game. The way the player characters’ Thematic Batteries charge and discharge (and how the NPCs’ Batteries work the other direction) mean that the players will take it on the chin early but then win in the end. That’s exactly the sort of feeling I want from this game.

The inability of the GM to end a scene leads to the players having a lot of power in Risky conflicts. If they win big and get a situation modifier out of it, they can keep asking for more. If they lose and give the NPC a bonus, they can end the scene. The scenes with Antoine vs. Reg and Antoine vs. Guillaume were excellent illustrations of this.

Because the GM doesn’t have the usual scene framing control, I need to be more aggressive about introducing things during scenes. I need to be more willing to throw in “two guys with guns burst through the door” type developments. I wasn’t, and that lead to not enough Situation getting exposed during the game. There were a lot of elements of the underlying Conflicts that didn’t really come up because the players didn’t really investigate them, and I didn’t really put them out there.

Switching from Full Light, Full Steam’s usual “you need to defend the Imperial Navy’s interests” setup to “you’re a group of outsiders trying to get home” situation means that I need to pull harder on people’s Thematic Batteries to tie them into the Situation.

I could have sworn there was something else, but I’ve forgotten it.

And of course, it was fun!

Andrew, Teisha, Christina, Ted, Roy: Comments?


Blogger Josh said...

Wow, sounds like the translation worked really well! I'm really happy!

You're spot-on with the analysis, Paul, and I think you're absolutely right about the GM's need to be pushy absent the Navy-Duty PC motivation in the default setting. Instead of saying, "Here's a thing happening: fix it!" You're saying, "Here's a thing happening: do whatever you like with it en route to home." By necessity, the 'thing' needs to get foisted on the PCs with a little more vigor.

And, yeah, the PCs totally pick when they win. Just wait till they start paying attention to Situation Effects on Set cogs and start framing scenes in places where they'll have an advantage in doing whatever it was they wanted to do. ;)

5:06 PM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

I remembered the other thing, which is related to the change of dramatic structure. I set up the Situation too much like a town from Dogs. That is, I assumed that the PCs would want to "get to the bottom of things" when in fact, they didn't necessarily want to be involved at all. Instead, I need to use the Situation to threaten them more directly.

9:50 AM  
Blogger WillH said...

Josh suggested that I should get in on the scrip passing by as a solution to an entirely different problem I was having when I ran FLFS. If you did this it would probably give you the opportunity to frame some scenes and bring in things that may not come up if it was left just to the players.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

Will, I don't quite understand what you mean. Could you explain a bit more?

10:56 AM  
Blogger WillH said...

That was pretty vague. What I meant was in scenes where you have the captain, or other important NPCs, include them in the scrip circle. If you did this you would occasionally be the one to close the circle and then be the one who frames the next scene. Does that make a little more sense? I don't think this is something you would want to do all the time, only as needed and one thing I think you need to watch out for and avoid would be having a lot of scrips tied up in the GM's hands and then having a scene that didn't include an important NPC.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

One of the things that we were talking about as players recently was to start calling on the ship's Thematic Batteries more often. If Paul gets a chance to frame a scene as often as the rest of us, that would help.

I definitely noticed the "we don't really care" aspect of the game. Part of it is that we're pirates, and we expect that people might be after us. We don't have much reason to help out small planetoids in the ass-end of the galaxy. (There's an argument that we should have just plundered the place and left, really) If we were members of the Royal Navy, and they were British subjects, we'd be obligated to, but as pirates, we just want to fill our coffers and move on.

One way that I think would be a good way to motivate us is to emphasize our poverty. I don't know if any of the other characters have any money or valuable goods, but my character certainly doesn't, other than the ship itself, of course.

Also, there's an interesting dynamic contrasting the passing of scrips and role-playing. If I'm concentrating on passing scrips (and thus getting experience), I'm not concentrating on my character and on being in character. Instead I'm trying to find a way to involve the other characters. That makes dramatic, character-focused scenes harder, or at least discourages them. In last night's game, the two most RP-heavy scenes (Roy and I with the Elf, and Roy and co. with the pirate leader) had very little scrip passing, as people were playing themselves, rather than playing to the other characters.

In some ways, it might be interesting to do a reverse scrip system, where I hand you a scrip when I think you're doing something that tags one of your Thematic Batteries. Of course, that would mess with the scene-pacing mechanic that the scrips have, but it might work better in dramatic, RP-heavy scenes. It also acts similarly to PTA's fan mail, which we all really liked as a mechanic.

8:20 PM  
Blogger WillH said...

When I ran FLFS my players were really having trouble with the scrip passing mechanic. I finally told them to forget about moving scrips and just play out the scene in a way that seemed natural to them. What happened was they didn't stop referencing each others batteries but started referencing in a much more subtle and natural way.

If another character is in the scene their thematic batteries should show up naturally, because those batteries are what matters most about the characters. You may want to try one or two scenes where you don't pass scrips but instead have Paul or a player not in the scene keep track of the battery referencing with invisible scrips and just let you know when one has gone full circle. Afterwards, discuss when and where the referencing happened. Keep in mind a battery reference can be something very subtle.

The ultimate goal is to watch for when you do reference a thematic battery and then pass the scrip instead of always trying to come up with ways to reference batteries, though you will probably want to do a little of both.

I hope that helps some. It did in my game, but I'm far from being an expert on FLFS. Oh, and if you want to be pirates then be pirates and just plunder the station next time. :)

9:37 PM  
Blogger WillH said...

So I need to pay more attention. I thought I was screwing up the distorted letter thing but I was just posting the same comment over and over. Oops.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Heya, Ted.

I think you'll see a change when Paul refocuses his situation engineering. Any pirate novel/movie/whatever of any worth has the pirates showing up at ports where there is stuff that is related to the pirates' personal lives. Their lost love, their respectable brother, their nemesis, their still-beating heart locked in a chest... you know, the usual.

Which is just another way of saying: Paul, try using character foils in a more straightforward fashion. Plumb character histories for exploitable NPCs. Create PCs' families, ex-lovers, old allies, and old enemies. Tie the situation directly to the PCs.

12:40 PM  

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