Following on from my post last week about Group Dynamics, this week I wanted to bring you an update about what we did as a group last night. What we didn't do, however, is start a new mission.
During the week, using two online surveys, we found out quite a few things about what the group enjoys (and doesn't), allowing me as GM to suggest that we returned to the Infinite Worlds campaign using GURPS.
As we sat down last night, we were able to take part in a series of creative activities which were aimed to fulfill one of the key messages from the survey, leading us to some group decisions about altering the style of the campaign missions and the power level of the game (ever-so-slightly).
After one night of reasonably entertaining discussion and thinking I feel ready to GM the campaign with new gusto. Here's why...
Taking the Pulse
Step One was to survey the group, in effect taking a large chunk of "the Chat" online so that the Friday session was minimally impacted by the things I could find out with a quick questionnaire. The first questionnaire (which you can find: here) was based heavily off Robin Law's ideas about group make-up and playing styles. It got us talking about what we are looking for in a roleplay campaign (at least right now) and revealed some key points:
This was the basis for suggesting that we return to the Infinite Worlds SF campaign.
- Genre = SF or Post-Apocalypic. Whilst we all like other genres, the two categories that everyone at the table likes were these. This was a big deal since no one realised this about anyone else... assumptions had been made which meant that people didn't share their preferences.
- Setting = Home-grown with dialogue between players and GM. My approach, time-honoured though it is, of designing crazy home-grown settings was partly the correct thing for my group. What was also strongly desired was the chance to input their own ideas into each setting.
- Power Level = Normal or Heroic. The person who likes "reality" the most was me... but everyone enjoys some Heroic actions, allowing for amazing feats and cool skills.
- Playing Style = Story-driven, tactical, with cool characters. The guys were mostly concerned with high-pace and active stories, with clear goals. They also want to play out the fights in detail, using miniatures and tactics, using characters who feel heroic and cool.
- We defined our tastes in SF ...using survey two.
I set the players a series of tasks.
Firstly, I asked them to identify the Top 10 key points about the Infinite Worlds setting. They decided to create two lists: one to focus on the major setting-specific elements they felt were key, and the other to tell me what they like about it.
The former list is quite abstract for the outsider to read, so I'll not quote it. It includes the major points of adventure so far and signaled to me what the players were focused on. One or two interesting points were the fact that they were quite into the "Witchhunter" NPC who seemed to act like another agent from outside the 17th Century setting they were visiting, and they also feared the mighty AI robots from the "Steel" setting.
The latter lists reads:
The first 5 points are positives, and the last 2 were the main problems to overcome. In short, the players felt too passive in the missions and wanted clearer goals, and they realised that their character team was not adequately balanced to deliver on those goals.
- Short Arcs.
- Lack of direction - active / passive role.
- Team Dynamic / roles.
Infinite Worlds Diamond-9
Task two was simple. I gave each of the three players present 3 blank cards. I asked each person to write down three ideas, one per card, for potential alternate dimensions to jump into. When that was done, I asked the group to prioritise them by placing the cards into a diamond pattern.
Their responses can be seen to the right: they drew on various sources of inspiration, some more vague than others. The ensuing discussion was lively and very engaging... providing me with some interesting challenges to work into the campaign. We also discovered a group consensus on which of those ideas might be best to come first.
The items at the bottom of the pile were generally felt to be worthy of shorter story arcs, being desired for lighter-relief. The idea of entering a zombie-infested world or a Super's flavoured setting has shorter term appeal than the ideas higher up the hierarchy.
Task three was to decide what qualities the group needed in the heroes and to re-jig the characters.
I offered a range of options including starting totally new heroes, adding characters to make a portfolio for each player to draw from, or altering the existing ones. Talking it through, and reflecting on the feedback from the surveys, in the end we did something simple. We added 25 points to each character, taking the power level in GURPS from 150 point heroic to 175 point heroic.
What did this mean? In short, buying off some disadvantages, re-balancing the party for more active missions, and upping the effectiveness of each hero's key "shtick". One guy is now a mondo psi-healer, another is boosting interaction powers and skills, and the final guy... is still undecided.
Ian likes to have time to think about his choices. He's really torn between re-balancing Sokur, his samurai, towards a leadership role or creating a new hero to be a leader for the group. He's also really keen to try out the Unkillable power and make a "Captain Jack Harkness"-type character. Either way, he's getting me a new character sheet sorted next week.
As a final task, I asked the guys to sketch out their vision of the Peckham-based branch of Infinity, which is their base. My descriptions had been vague, so they had quite a bit of latitude. This was a quick task, sketched by Ian, but it provided some useful thoughts and excellent story hooks for me as GM.
The base is in a warehouse, with a deep-under-ground parachronic projection suite underneath. The "front" is as a mail distribution hub, with noisy sorting machines and vehicles moving goods in and out all of the time. The workers in the mail hub have no idea that they work for such a shady organisation hidden below.
Underneath is a fusion-powered suite of cross-dimensional projectors, holding cells, tech labs, storage units for key kit, training rooms, and all manner of other gubbins. Presiding over the teams based here is "Mr Pimms", the friendly yet firm base Director.
From out of one simply sketched vision of their home base we've given more life to the setting of Baseline than anything I came up with previously. We are ready to go!
Next mission starts in two weeks. Before this time the players all need to submit altered character sheets to me for inspection... and I need to choose which of the nine cool settings I fancy running first.
All-in-all, although it was an evening spent in planning and discussion, it felt like a real step forward to involve everyone in this way. It's not the end of the process... just a really good start in an ongoing dialogue as we tell cool stories about a cross-dimensional future.
What have I learned from the effort? Two things: don't assume you know what other folk like, and don't be afraid to enlist the ideas of your players when you're designing a setting.
Labels: GURPS, news