Fall Convergence: Prohibition

Aug 20, 2009

My ponderings for the Fall Convergence began a month or two back.   I was ill prepared to GM for the March convergence but ran an Old West game off the top of my head.   It was mostly ad-hoc and as such suffered from the normal stalls inherent to getting players together, moving the action along, etc.   Its hard to ramp up a 1-off session with very little planning even with great players.

So I set about pondering.   Leafing through my library of books, resource materials, and the array of affiliated, odd-ball stuff I’ve collected, I walked away thinking something was awry.   There was plenty of stuff available including things I cannot even recall purchasing…let alone the reasons for procuring them at the time.   Inspiration came a few hours later via the History Channel.

Yes, Kevin, I know, always go back to Inspector Gadget.   Where do you find IG these days? -M

The show was about various people, locations, and events during the Prohibition era.   Gangsters, Cops, and Feds allow a vast array of things for a short lived campaign.   Perfect for a Convergence session or three.   A bit of searching around found a variety of systems set in the period.   All of them probably would work just fine.

I went old school and bought a GangBusters (TSR) rule book and 3 modules for inspriration off EBay for about $15.   None of the other people have played the system before and we’re not going to learn it anyway.   Character generation and about 12 rules will suffice…probably 6 or less is more than enough.   I could probably do it with KORE but I’m lazy and my available time is limited.

Game system.  Check.   Area of the genre?   Law enforcement?   Politicians?   Gangsters?  Media?  GangBusters contains it all and suggest a mixed group of all the above.   That is not a reasonable for a single weekend and probably not cohesive enough for a general campaign overall.   Perhaps that was its downfall or perhaps the genre just wasn’t fantastic enough for most.      Being the law is easy on players, they know right from wrong and can easily apply it to characters.

Too easy!   Criminals it is.   Gangsters they will be in one fashion or another.   Not high-ranking over the top ones,  they’ll have to get bloody and do the dirty work.      When common sense and morality are not on your side, you have to push yourself to figure out who, what, and why you are in the role.   I’m railroading the characters at the start so I’ll never have to do it again over the weekend.

Next up is filling out the campaign premise.  Low to mid level gangsters provide a lot of room for chaos.   So I read the material in the rule book and all three modules.   Two of the three modules got discarded quickly.  There are gems to be exploited but not enough for the baseline.   Strangely enough, the material in the rulebook I bought and the 1st module are near identical.   Not surprisingly, its just two different “versions” of the game that may as well be the same stuff repackaged.  I know, I know, you are “shocked”.  So was I.

Both the module and the rule system, dubbed “3rd Edition”, provide a nice baseline of NPC characters and some starter plot lines even if they are nearly identical.   After reading through them a couple of times, I started  jotting notes on scrap paper.   Personas, organizations, plot ideas, actual encounter thoughts are put to paper.   Even if they are copies of the actual material.     If I write it down, my brain retains it far longer than if I let the whim pass by.

The scratched notes are nice but not much of a plan.  Its in my brain and not on paper and will be lost if no action is taken.     So I grabbed a new notebook and started transferring ideas.   One person per page.   One organization per page.   One encounter per page.  If you’ve never seen the idea of a One Page Dungeon, Google it.  I’ve used it for 20 years but cannot say it was formalized.  Its a fantastic methodology to prepare for the chaos your players will create.

I’m unlikely to use the notebook during the gaming sessions.   Every plan is screwed as soon as it is enacted.   But I can use every page to sit down the next day, scratch out people, make notes on others, update events at a location.   Sometimes I need a reminder about a person or place I had in mind.   The notebook will make that easy enough.

However, on the One Page Per Dungeon thought, you may need to start a fight to keep it flowing.   When you have a couple dozen plausible encounters noted in part, its quick and easy to exploit.  And if this idea translates between a couple of different Convergence Sessions, 6 months or more apart, that notebook will be a godsend.

The last Convergence was a great time.   This one should be even better.

Purity or Density

Mar 31, 2009

There is a famous quote in software engineering or perhaps engineering in general, the gist of it being “the design is complete when nothing can be removed”.    The point is elegance from simplicity and purity.  No diversions from the focus of the effort.  I cannot find the original source tonight but it matters little.

For the record, apparently it is Antoine de Saint Exupéry who is credited as saying, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. ” -KO

Deviation from the core of a system exposes the writer’s passion.  I feel the wanton need to deviate into topics that are not centric to a rule system.  Yet they are interesting to me and relevant to the genre. Looking through many rule systems, I see that many others have wandered down the same path.

When is it appropriate to sanction these departures?   How far do you allow them to progress?   If the deviation leads to an entry that hooks a novice, is it is truly bad?  Puirty provides elegance and the capability of those capable to expand it into many frontiers.

But… Recall that first system you held in your hands.   Likely, it was rules heavy and relayed something about nearly everything on how to play the game.   Just as likely, you tossed aside nearly everything ephemeral to the core of the system because it was impssible to remember or manage.  Still, fun was had by everyone in that first session.

I love light rule systems these days but I’ve had years to progress to that point.   I can tweak it to fit my needs in a matter of minutes and the experienced group I get a rare chance to play with can do the same.   The running of the system might hook someone but if they pick up the “book” is it enough to hook them?

— Ramblings of Mark –