Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Running Gaean Reach, playing Fiasco!

It was inevitable really - as soon as I start regularly blogging, all sorts of stuff happens to keep me busy and away from the thing for three weeks!

However! This isn't to say I didn't get any gaming in. I had my first games of Gaean Reach and Fiasco (not to mention two Shadowrun sessions and a game of D&D Next).

You destroyed my punch-cards!


A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to run a game for a good friend of mine I rarely get to game with, and we chose Gaean Reach - it was going to be that or Night's Black Agents, but Gaean Reach seemed easier to set up on the fly. Also, we're both a little obsessed with the 1950s Space Princesses on Rocket Ships aesthetic!

We corralled an extra player and I improvised a plot - far be it for me to actually prepare a session! Neither player was familiar with Jack Vance's work, but the character creation system and basic pitch combined to create the right atmosphere straight away. The mostly-random character creation system served up a jaunty aristocratic type and a deranged bureaucrat, who proceeded to shoot and manipulate their way through a dozen sleazy gangsters and salesmen.

Quite aside from being a wonderful game in its own right, Gaean Reach also served as a great "lite" intro to the GUMSHOE system. I feel a lot more confident about running Night's Black Agents than I did before - I can't wait to add all the extra details, the "cherries" and additional skills, to the experience of playing a GUMSHOE game. In fact, my only criticism of Gaean Reach after actual play is that it lacks interesting mechanical options for players to aspire to as they advance through a campaign.

"I needed a drink… I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun." – Raymond Chandler


I wanted to write a long post about the Fiasco game after it happened, but this didn't happen for a couple of reasons. Partly, I was super-busy that weekend. More pertinently, we were drinking thematically-appropriate rum during the session, and it turns out I can't actually remember most specifics about what happened or why! 

I have my grade B Theatre Studies AS Level: I know who Stanislavsky is! To get into character as an alcoholic, you should drink like an... etc etc. I'm sure he said something like that, in amongst all the stuff about pretending to be a tree. 

Anyway...

We played Fiasco because several people couldn't turn up to our regular DnD group, and I think it might become our regular alternative game (we end up running as many "alternative" games as DnD sessions...). My DnD group exists largely because a group of friends from Uni need a reason to regularly get together - most of the people in the group wouldn't play any kind of RPG had they not been coerced or corralled by their various friends or significant others into joining! It's the kind of group where only the GM actually owns any gaming materials and has to handle the mechanical side of character creation - I've got nothing against... the first part, anyway. As usual, we sorta discovered the rules of Fiasco as we went along.

Naturally, the playset gave us a group of hustlers and pimps and prostitutes. My character ("Danny") seemed to organically evolve into an awful, awful person - a sort of human pitbull terrier, whose deep loyalty and capacity for friendship couldn't excuse the awful cocktail of explosive anger, opportunistic betrayal and paranoid antisemitism that composed his personality. He was the lit fuse in the powder room of our Fiasco. None of that was really planned!

(I don't play - as opposed to run - many games, but when I do I always seem to instigate most of the chaos that happens, one way or another. Its partly because I seem to make very quick decisive decisions and partly because my characters tend to be motivated by things other than their own material and physical well-being, for better or worse!)

The other players included a scheming, ambitious gangster, an aging thug with a heart of gold and his sister, an incredibly manipulative prostitute who basically set everyone against each other by using Danny's obvious character flaws to her advantage. She did this without - it turned out - any real plan or reasoning for why she was doing it. I wonder if the player running this character would have run her like that if she'd played Fiasco before - she seemed more like a "PC" scheming for advantage rather than a character in a caper movie, as hilarious and wonderful as she was! 

The playset system worked better than i'd hoped - I was a little worried that some of the more assertive people in the group (myself included!) might have overridden the ideas of the others, but that couldn't really happen. Something I found in both Fiasco and Gaean Reach - collaborative character generation at the table creates more interesting and distinct characters than any other method. This might simply be because players who aren't readily interested in the mechanical systems or naturally confident in "acting" a character are playing a more active, interested role in the process. More importantly, I think, the process of building characters and generating concepts at the table gets everyone excited about every PC as they develop, making shier players more confident in playing their characters (and, I imagine, acting to police boring munchkin-types). Obviously this can't really work with mechanically heavy games - yet another strike against Shadowrun and Dark Heresy, as much as I really want to like those games...

Two things:

One: there is probably an ocean of theory about this stuff that I haven't seen in the Story Gaming world...

Two: I really like the badwrongfun of coming up with settings before the game and being the all-knowing font of knowledge at the table - there's a reason I DM a lot. I have to find a way to square that with the increasing evidence that collaborative setting and character generation at the table creates better games. First world problems!

Also:

I've had thoughts about using Fiasco to run sidequests or flashback scenes for characters in my long running Star Wars campaign. Now that I've actually played it to know how the playsets work i'm going to have to scrawl up a Bespin Cloud City playset, which i'm sure will make it onto here soon enough!