11 September 2007

Splitting Heirs: Afterthoughts

With a few sessions still to go Paul, who was playing Scharf/Rudi dropped me an email:

Hey Graham, hope you're psyched for next session.

I'd just been thinking about how much I'd been enjoying this campaign, probably because it has all the elements I appreciate as a player but rarely get. Then I thought, what did you plan to get out of it? I know you really wanted to run Warhammer, in this set-up - it was always your main idea in the suggestions you sent out. What were you looking forward to? Has it turned out as you wanted? What plans and scenes were you hoping to get out?

Just wondering, is all.
To which I responded at the time, but I think it’s a good basis for summing up my feelings about how the game played out.

My primary objective in any game I run is to push for the type of game and play I find myself unable to get (whether through the style of GMing, me not actively pursuing it, or most commonly a combination of the two) when I am a player. That generally means I am shooting for intense, character-centred drama, pushing the protagonists into hard choices and situations which encourage growth and change in the characters, whilst maintaining a backdrop of interesting events. I also like resolution - whether it be total, final, or just a central issue. This game resolved the "how" of succession, assuming the barony survives, if not the war which would determines that survival, whilst we had individual resolutions for the characters, too: Rudi's secrets coming out, and his overcoming his fear of women to end up a husband-to-be having upheld the vows he made to himself and the Barony; Helena's mourning period ended and she has found love, as well as forged a place for herself of right, assuming, that is, the war can be won; Pou meanwhile was forced to live up to his position and take responsibility not just for himself but for all – he was forced into a position where he felt he had to act because it was the “right” thing to do, however much he did not want to take that step. He also married and started to assume more responsibility in his personal life in a mirror to his professional elevation.

By and large, then, the game has delivered what I set out to achieve, with a prime example being the wedding session (one of the reasons I wanted to end it there - nothing else could come close for me). Whilst the game did not progress exactly how I had envisaged when we began, it was not to its detriment. If I had been firmer with pacing, scene framing and such then I may have realised my initial (episodic) vision better, but we wouldn't have had a lot of the time and space, and the smaller events, that helped make the game work.

In some ways I had hoped that the players would pursue more individual agendas; resolvable conflicts between protagonists (read PCs) is something I have realised that I value highly in my gaming, and the set-up of the game was in part designed to encourage this. (That, and I much prefer characters with a degree of gravitas or authority; doing the ordering about is a lot more interesting and open to choice than being told what to do). Bits and pieces of this were seen, but perhaps not as much or as weighty as I would have liked. Perhaps the lack of system was detrimental here (I know I’d like to do similar sorts of conflicts with a solid systemic backing in the form of Mortal Coil or other similar system), but I guess in part a degree of backing down was to be expected: inter-PC conflict as an express element of games is at odds with the usual "party" mode of play and not necessarily to everyone’s tastes.

Beyond that... well, nothing was overly planned. I had initially hoped to have Mörder and his associated underlings appear more - indeed I had envisioned playing out the war - but I could not figure out how to fit them in without rushing into the war situation, and it became clear to me early on in execution that this game would suffer (in my handling, at least) if the war was expressly played out. The conflict with Mörder worked better as a constant threat and pressurizing factor in the end.

I might also have liked to centre more on the council meetings themselves but for two factors - Lady F's physical distance from things when in Drachenmalstein, and more pertinently the difficulties of playing several NPCs in the same scene. Aside from differentiating them convincingly there are issues with giving each screen-time, motivations and so forth, not to mention the ease of forgetting who was doing what with which agenda! The latter is much easier to keep in check if NPCs remain more discrete from each other.

I've thoroughly enjoyed it all told; the first few sessions were about bedding in to GMing again, and there were one or two where it dragged a bit here and there, but for the most part the energy was maintained and I have felt wholly rewarded by the actual play you the players created from the situations I threw at them.

It did feel a little cheap doing the final wrap up as I did, that is to say as a cutscene watched by the PCs, not something they had an active role in, however it was about the only way I could wrap on time – yes, I really, really need to work on my pacing! – and I felt (and I think they did too) that a passive plot resolution was better than none. I skimmed or omitted details in the summary above for ease of reporting, lack of memory and clarity etc., but I think it was generally well received – as indeed the game as a whole was.

I am, however, glad it has ended. As much as I enjoyed it, and as much as the players, characters and events kept me entertained I believe strongly that every game has a shelf-life, and for me this campaign reached it after the high of the wedding session. It had climaxed for me in terms of payoff, and once heights have been reached that will not be re-attained my motivation begins to fade. It became very much about shaping up for a convenient (yet appropriate) ending, and I think it worked out despite that. Although my accounts are more underwhelming since the wedding – a side effect, no doubt, of my desire to close down – the actual play kept its verve and edge until the last.

Enough was left open to allow a return in future but I don’t think the desire will be there. The campaign as it ended up was self-contained and resolved to a point where it doesn’t demand a return; pastures new give rise to different options, whilst a sequel always carries the risk of not living up to its progenitor.


Paul said...

I've already commented on this over on rpg.net, as you no doubt know old bean. It was a great experience for everyone involved. In some ways I wouldn' mind going back - I don't think all that can be done has been done with the characters.

Graham said...

I certainly agree that the characters were vivid enough and deep enough to have lots of gaming life left in them.

But the grass and its perpetual greenness has a tendency to look mighty appealing!

Or maybe we GMs just have too many ideas and the idea of ignoring new ones to return to the old is just that unattractive?