“Edge of the World,” Session #8: Lasthaven
This week, the crew finally pulls into the Neptunian afterlife to reunite with their old captain. See more on the Lasthaven location concept here. See whole campaign so far here.
For those of you just joining us... Ever since a player brought in the NPC, the Mad Captain, just by mentioning his name in an early session, he's been seen as the “key” to getting to Lasthaven - because "according to legend" he can sail anywhere. And when the players (through their characters) had brought a “breaking-the-guy-who-knows-out-of-the-insane-asylum” plotline into the story through some great world-building, the madman Jacob Jones became the “key” to finding the Mad Captain.
So, once they found Jacob Jones he led them to the Mad Captain, and (after a detour back to Tortuga the Mad Captain took them to Lasthaven as easy as that. The way I GM is, I metagame the travel and transitional periods and pick up play when we get somewhere cool - and the adventure in Lasthaven is the cool part.
Arrival/Defining the Location
When the game gets to a new location, I like to have the players add detail. This can be as explicit as my asking them to contribute a situational aspect each (we play Fate RPG), or it can simply mean that I keep the rules of the location a little “soft” at the get-go.
I call these “slaps” because it stands (kind of) for “soft-rules location element added by a player,” and because allowing them tends to jerk you awake from time to time as a GM. This week, we had some great ones.
· I described the location much like I did here, and didn’t push the players to do anything. Somebody suggested that Balboa would surley have arrived on a ghostly version of the Elusive, and that they should look for that. Now, I had envisioned souls just arriving on generic ghost-transports, but I liked this idea.
· Next I decided that, what with this being a timeless afterlife, time and space should be somewhat fluid; it should be easy to walk anywhere, provided you knew what you were looking for – again, being at the new destination is the interesting part. So in short order they had found the “soul” of their familiar ship (the physical part of it having been left behind at Shudder Island)
· They began looking through the logbook for clues how to locate Balboa – again, a surprise (I expected them to, you know, ask some NPCs or something). So I conveniently tucked the description of the Quarter of the Discontent (see the Lasthaven writeup) into the logbook, and BSed some names of people Balboa had met there – that is, after he’d acquired some ink. That brought up the existing plot element of things-that-are-hard-to-find-in-heaven, which I’d planned all along, but in a way that they felt like they’d legitimately discovered something.
· Our next “slap” was when the Fair Lady reasoned that since the rules of space and time here let them find the ghost-Elusive so easily, she should also be able to walk right to Balboa, the man she loves. Since we were still in the first half of the graph above (before any major events or twists) I thought this iodea was a good contribution. Especially since it didn’t mean I had to lead them right to him…
When the PCs are More Competent Than You Planned
The Fair Lady’s senses led them to the Green Hydra tavern in the Quarter of the Discontent. Balboa wasn’t currently there, but he was nearby. I planned for them to be captured here (you see, a few death worshipers have gotten into Lasthaven through a theological loophole, and mortal blood is a rare commodity there) so that Balboa could get a big entrance scene that involved saving them. So I had a scene planned and that meant some amount of railroading. However, you can do this tastefully.
The PCs met NPC Adam Pinchpurse, recognized his name from the logbook as the one who’d procured the mortal ink and paper for Balboa, and asked where to find him. Pinchpurse was planning to drug their drinks and sell them to the death worshipers, but the party was too cautious/creative (best player moment, “Can I invoke my ‘Old Age’ aspect to pass out first from anything he may have put in these drinks?”
Because their moves and roleplay were good, I let them defeat Pinchpurse. Because I still wanted Balboa to rescue them, I made it so the death worshipers were in fact already watching, and they released a horde of minionized shadows on the party.
Instant KO. But nobody complained. I find that most players don’t mind a “have to lose” encounter now and then as long as they can feel like they’ve had a fighting chance – note that they don’t have to succeed in order to feel like they’ve affected the situation in a satisfying way.
Action Scenes Without the Slow-Down
In previous session notes I’ve talked about action-scene “slowdown,” the weird phenomenon that makes combat scenes the slowest part of an RPG.
If you’re in a group that places fast-moving story above precise combat systems, try implementing the rule I tried this week: “one situation = one round.”
Break your combat scene into distinct situations: the party is chained down and trying to escape – the party is loose and looking for an exit – bad guys attack from the balcony, etc. If it helps, think of each one of these situations as a “room” in an abstract map of the action scene – our group calls it the “one roll per room” rule.
Each PC rolls only once in each of these rooms. This rule pushes the players and yourself – the players get one action to deal with the current situation before it changes, for better or worse – and the GM must be ready with a distinctly different situation (you’ve now been driven back into a small corner, the bad guys are repulsed by your return fire giving you one round to try and move, etc.) for the beginning of each round.
This is the rule that has helped speed combat for our group – I hope you find it of interest for your own gaming!