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Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 4:48 am
by Tattered Rags
I've been wanting to go back and post some of my thoughts from each of my sessions in the adventure I'm running. You can read the session summaries by either heading over to the Adventurer's Journal forum topic or by going directly to the list on my campaign site.

That said, while it will still be a few days before I fully do a postmortem on the sessions, the session tonight was a blast, so I wanted to share at least one little thing from it that was so enjoyable!
I almost Horror Marked one of my players! He just barely slipped under the time frame of the Horror's Horror Mark power and so no roll was made, but it was a close thing for him. They're only Circle 1, so perhaps I shouldn't be so fond of this, but he shouldn't have read the book!
Also! Feel free to comment on these. I'd like to start a conversation about running actual games.

Edit: that last also

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:33 pm
by Tattered Rags
Ungada's Malady postmortem:
It's been a while since this happened, so the postmortem will likely be rather light.
I probably had this adventure put together for several months before I even had players. Still, I was nervous to try it. The main purpose of it was to gradually expose various aspects of the Earthdawn universe.
The opening monologue from Sheyloon (reprinted here in the next spoiler section) introduces the concepts of the Scourge, Horrors, Disciplines, Adepts and legends, and how the associated things are a part of the universe. Speaking of Talents and Circles makes sense here, whereas other games don't really fit their leveling in.

The first meeting with the family introduces the Passions through Ss'kala and some basic mechanics. Further hunting down the warehouse was meant to be simple but requiring a little thought and research. And the fight was, like everything else, supposed to be simple and more introductory.

I think it pulled it all off well. Players didn't have a problem figuring things out. They practiced some combat options and learned a bit about Earthdawn.

Omaron is the real point of it all. He's meant to be a false lead for later events. I also have longterm plans to make him a recurring character.

All in all, things went well. Not too difficult for the players, and they became invested in the Kaer.

This was also an attempt for me to practice providing multiple paths to the next stage of the adventure. Namely, there were several ways prepared to get to the warehouse. One was using Astral Sight (lizard sickness caused loose threads to connect to the victims that could be followed to the warehouse). Beastmasters could sniff out the sickness. But I made sure to provide the most basic path, too, which is what the players actually did. They talked with people and dug up clues. It worked.
Sheyloon's monologue
"The Scourge began over 500 years ago. The Horrors, monsters we’ve only read about, came from another realm seeking only to inflict pain and destroy. Our ancestors built this underground shelter to hide and protect themselves. Several villages banded together, along with Obsidimen from the Ungada Liferock, and 400 years ago sealed themselves in this magical Kaer.

“But our traditions are not 400 years old, or even merely 500. We are adepts of Disciplines with Legends that stretch back thousands of years. Soon you will become a part of this.

"You are already a part of it, actually. Your training, over months or years, has helped shape how you see the world. You have all proven you can see the magic that exists in this world and have learned to wield it.

"People will tell stories of your heroic deeds as you fight to protect our home, from evils within and without. And, if you are lucky enough that the Kaer is unsealed in your lifetime, then you will make your mark on the history of Barsaive and the world.

“But not yet, trainees. You have not proven yourselves to be worthy of initiation. You have trained hard and learned the magics to control your Talents. Now is the final test.

“Complete this small quest, and your instructors will initiate you into the First Circle of your Discipline. You should have no trouble, but fail and your training begins again at the beginning. Hopefully in that case we will find others to take up the mantle of Adept and train them to defend the Kaer. So, do not fail.

“Are you ready to begin?”
Edit: added a little more in the first spoiler.

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Sun Oct 14, 2018 3:13 am
by Tattered Rags
Prelude to Night postmortem:
Also, quite a while; it was the week following the previous adventure, I think. This one was a solo for the player that missed the Ungada's Malady.
I needed to throw something together in a couple of weeks for him. Playing a Windling Weaponsmith, I couldn't make fighting the central point of the adventure. I wanted to play up the crafting aspects and make his character feel powerful in his own right. I planned on having the light quartz of Kaer Ungada go dark during the Festival of Kar'lien in the next adventure, so I pushed that plan up a week (in-game time) and put it on Valteri to have to temporarily keep the lights on. Magnik was just a surly dwarf in charge of monitoring the Kaer wards through special crystals embedded in the wall. His skill with crafting potions was pretty solid, but this didn't translate to other areas. He had an idea on how to fix the lights, but his implementation wasn't the best.

This highlighted Valteri's two major strengths: flight and crafting. Who better to go up to the light quartz than someone who could fly? And who better to fix something than a Weaponsmith? And he can show up this angry dwarf by fixing the dwarf's mistakes. The device that needed to be directly attached to the light quartz was well-conceived but put together wrong. All of this went well; the player enjoyed Magnik's poor attitude while having a chance to use his unique abilities to solve the problems.

The major flaw in all this was the enemy. The shadow mantis was, while not bad, a little too much. Literally, as they were swarming out of the Astral. I had thought he might use his Astral Sight to see if anything was messing with the quartz, but the player was too new to the system for that idea to ever come to him. Without that warning, I kept the initial wave small, but the fight design was for infinite waves of these things while he tried to attach the device. With so many enemies, the chances for exploding dice was, apparently, too high, and the Windling was, technically, killed. But it all provided for a good bit of dramatic tension as he fought against time and just barely succeeded. I ruled that he plummeted to the Kaer floor and landed in the stream that flows through it, barely surviving the engagement. I just couldn't kill off a player in their first adventure ever, especially since it was partially stemming from bad encounter design.

One thing that I have learned from this adventure was the value in not giving too much away to the players. For those that have read ahead (and stop reading if you haven't but don't want more things spoiled), Magnik is the main antagonist of this whole story arc. But he wasn't originally intended to be it. It was supposed to be Ghehennis Jakreen, the Human Nethermancer. However, that was too obvious for me, so I turned him into just a nice, slightly misunderstood guy. Having Magnik as the bad guy allowed me to play him off the false flag Omaron. Since both are dwarves, if I dropped a hint that a dwarf did something, then the players still wouldn't be 100% sure who to blame. This wouldn't have been possible if I had revealed to the player information unnecessarily. Instead I provided only a small bit of description (the Magic Dampener being built wrong) and let the player fill in the gaps. I had to only retcon my head-narrative to be that the device was intentionally built wrong instead of being mere ineptitude.

Why blame malice when incompetence is more likely?

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Sun Oct 14, 2018 11:53 pm
by Tattered Rags
Something I forgot to mention from the first two sessions: I didn't let the players use Karma.

The conceit was that they hadn't yet initiated into first circle, so they didn't know their Karma ritual. At the end of the sessions I ran through the Karma ritual as if it was the final step to being called a full 1st circle member of their Discipline. It was kinda neat for them and simplified options. But it wasn't until about session 7 before they really started using Karma.

Naturally the Windling has taken to it like a fish to water.

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2018 1:00 am
by Tattered Rags
Night Falls postmortem
This, the second planned, third actual, session marks the end of what I had prepared months in advance of me organizing the game and getting players together. From this point, I started to feel behind in planning the sessions. Pointlessly, so, because the players never get as far in the plot as I expect, and I eventually was several sessions ahead on accident.

This session is the beginning of the rising action. I gave them a week right off the start to do whatever the needed. They didn't really have enough to raise anything, but they could shop. The primary thing I expected was for the Weaponsmith to forge the Warrior's ax. He didn't, and I didn't want to give them the idea. When I brought it up later, the player basically shrugged and said he probably wouldn't have anyway.

What he DID do was get another PC to owe him money. That fits the player to a tee.

A lot of exposition in this one. I put the exhibition in the middle of the parade to give them something interesting to do. That whole section felt flat to me, though. We were all still trying to find our feet with the game and rules, not that any rules came to bear, here. Then, the speech.

I'm proud of it. I liked putting out there a piece of Earthdawn in a more tangible way. Instead of merely telling them that the Book of Tomorrow is important, I wanted to show it. Not sure the players got it, though, and one wasn't even present. (As well, I secretly harbored some hope that Josh and team will like it and put it in an official book. Not secret anymore, I guess.)

And then the vomit. Now the real plot begins! I wanted a potentially simple encounter that was disgusting and a little horrific in concept, so I created the maggot mask (detailed elsewhere in the forums). I think it, along with the Toxic Blight, captures the feel of Horrors in how they twist people and poison them against each other. The big bads play the long game. By themselves, these things aren't a problem. But maggot masks are never really by themselves for long. Let one through and you have a friggin' epidemic.

Combined with the lights going out despite Valteri's fixes (I still feel that it was a little cheap of me) at that exact moment we have some okay dramatic tension. A bit contrived. In retrospect, the lights going out is kinda dumb. I wanted to draw a similarity between the dark void of the cavern ceiling and seeing the starry night when they finally got out. However, they are still in the the kaer 6 sessions later, so it loses a bit of the punch. Plus, I've mostly ignored the darkness penalties because we aren't good with the mechanics yet. A lot better now, but still not going to worry about the penalties.

I introduced Veran, the human guard, when the players wanted someone to watch the maggot mask corpse. Random name and NPC that I keep bringing back. My players seem to like him!

This one ended on a cliffhanger. Always good to end on a cliffhanger! I highly recommend it!

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2018 1:48 am
by Tattered Rags
Twilight postmortem
Ghouls are painful. Well, poison is, but this fight didn't really show it off. Boris got hit and almost poisoned but shrugged it off. Oh well. I didn't want it to go too poorly anyway. Ghehennis was waiting in the wings to swoop in and save them if needed.

Not a lot really happened in this session except the players exploring the Kaer. I got to show off the two key locations: the Liferock of the Ungada Tribe and the Pool of Shemara/Orichalcum Doors.

I also got to start sowing seeds of doubt. Omaron is a bit cowardly, but he wants to leave the Kaer. His warehouse was the location of the diseased lizards. But he also points to Magnik when the players interview him. He also just doesn't act like the bad guy (so, naturally, he must be the bad guy). I doubt the players fully bought into it, but they had just enough doubt.

Magnik, on the other hand, is an a-hole who vociferously exclaims the need to leave and his doubts about the elders. So he clearly can't be the bad guy, right? Then he appears to help when actually he just covers his own tracks with the pink and blue crystals. The pink one was tied to the liferock and was meant to mask the damage Magnik had caused. The blue one was supposed to show that they could trust the pink one.

But I threw a clue in there, too, that the players initially missed (too subtle, but a lot is going on, so it's easy to miss). Using the pink crystal causes the same nausea as being around the liferock causes. The latter points to something being wrong with the liferock. The second casts blame on Magnik.

When it came up later, it was pretty impactful.

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2018 8:38 pm
by Slimcreeper
I like seeing these!

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Tue Oct 16, 2018 12:42 am
by Tattered Rags
Slimcreeper wrote:
Mon Oct 15, 2018 8:38 pm
I like seeing these!
I'll keep them coming.

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Thu Oct 18, 2018 2:03 am
by Tattered Rags
He-e-e-y, all, it's another postmortem! Undead in the Market!

As a reminder, feel free to ask questions, post criticisms, etc. If there was something you read in the adventure summary and wondered what happened behind the scenes, this. Is. The place to ask that. Perfect time to pick a fellow GM's brain!

Oh, and none of that has to be behind spoilers. I use the spoiler tags in part as a last-second barrier for people who maybe shouldn't read it, but also for space reasons.

On to the postmortem.
Players went to the Pool in this one, which really doesn't add anything to the story at this point. I didn't have much to discuss here with them, but they got to sight-see an important location in the Kaer. That's good.

The centerpiece of this session was the fight. I wanted to show off the weirdness of cadavermen. I should have waited until they were higher circle/had more Talents, though. The guards were there as damage-soakers, which the group needed to balance the encounter. I was still learning encounter balance at this time.

I mean, I'm still learning it.

I don't recall how they responded to the frenzy, but Boris gave it a wound almost right away, so that was fun. Here was a good chance to learn Recovery Tests, though! And the Physicians skill. Everything is a learning opportunity.

Then I had to come up with a backstory for these two guys on the spot. What was meant to be nothing more than a planned equivalent of a random encounter became this whole "thing". It was a good opportunity to fill in some more of the world around them. The Name Berrick, the house, and the neighbors was all made up on the spot. Apparently seamlessly, because my players had no idea when I asked about it later (*throws out shoulder patting self on back*). The bad part (actually, kinda good) was that the Berrick brothers jumped to the top of the suspect list. I thought that was hilarious considering how much thought I put into them.

Also taught me players are unpredictable. I find my low level of planning to be less of a problem than I thought it would be. First two sessions were good, but the following 6 (Undead in the Market is fifth overall) all found me really struggling with anxiety. Between my kids, work, and other family things going on, I never had the desire to do anything Earthdawny. Even dropped off the forums for awhile. Thankfully that's clearing up some. I'm finding each session needs less preparation.

That's really the main takeaway as a GM, at least for me. I always thought I would need to be one of the heavy preparing types, but I know I can think somewhat quickly on my feet. I'm learning to rely on that more. Figure out your GM style and play to that, but allow for things to shift around. Certainly, prepare the set pieces as much or as little as you want, but don't force the connections. The key is that your players are engaged. They'll find things to do on their own, and then suddenly stumble on the plot you spent so much time preparing. It'll feel organic, and they won't know how close they came to ruining everything.

Said the guy who has GM'd only a total of 15 sessions ever.

Back to the session, following the (they didn't know) pointless investigations, our heroes returned to the Hall of Elders to get more plot exposition. The Horror Constructs have a Name! And the existential threat of all the Kaer being poisoned and overrun by undead is somewhat mentioned! Next task is provided, though: capture a Toxic Blight.

More importantly, I got some world building in. Here was the last planned Earthdawn lesson: Thread Items. The Blade of Kamdoon was, as some will recognize, basically just Farliss's Dagger from the Companion, except it only goes up to Rank 3. I wrote up most of this exposition ahead of time and then flubbed the delivery. Players also got a booster potion, I think.

Re: Under the Stars Postmortem

Posted: Thu Oct 18, 2018 2:30 am
by Tattered Rags
Blighty Hill postmortem
This went about as well as I expected, except I forgot one of the players is a Scout, so tracking down things that run away isn't a big issue.

Had a player down, which wasn't a big deal since the planned encounters were pretty light, and the players ended up fighting them separately. I generally cardboarded the Warrior when he missed, but that's because they usually need a tank. Not as big a deal when the Wizard had to miss; at least not this session, anyway.

I got to build more on the character of Ygdrask. First session, I just dropped that he sort of considered his student a disappointment. I built that more into a general air of disappointment with everyone who wasn't himself. The group is digging that.

They headed out to the Liferock, which I wasn't expecting. Met a guard that had a surprisingly similar Name to another recurring character, because, like I wrote earlier, I'm really good at on-the-spot thinking. Nothing much came of the Liferock, but they had fun with the descriptions of the two guards being left scarred for life after talking with the players. Then the players went to go emotionally scar two more guards. Much fun! Such social ineptitude! Failed Interaction tests!

They finally arrived at the main thing I planned, which was the investigation of the first ghoul's house, the one they killed in the graveyard. Like most players, they didn't really understand who this person was, nor did they really remember that Ygdrask had investigated the place before and boarded it up. This is actually something they could have found out about during the week before the parade. I had planned a few bits of news for them to hear if they bothered to literally do ANYTHING with ANYTHING. Which they did not do. Oh well.

I threw some things together ahead of time. A map and the fact that the woman was a seamstress. My loose mental justification for the encounter was that the woman was attacked by the Maggot Mask some time while she slept (or something) and no one checked on her, so she died alone (unconcious, though, so don't feel too bad for her). Then the Toxic Blight emerged, but before the two constructs could find a way out, Ygdrask came to check on the woman to make sure some other illness wasn't spreading. He had the place boarded up pretty thoroughly and moved the body to the graveyard.

The players failed their perception rolls to spot the constructs when they entered, but succeeded in seeing them run out. And then they gave chase!

Hence the name of this session, after Benny Hill chase sequences.

I have a whole mechanic built for the Blight to absorb into the ground, but I forgot how it worked and didn't feel like looking it up. When they discovered it, it was trying to absorb into the farmland. Later I found that it probably should have been further along in the process, but this works out better for the group. They had a minor victory, and it got the long-suffering Ghehennis and the insufferable Ygdrask working together. I like to think Ygdrask hates Ghehennis (for no good reason) and believes Ghehennis doesn't know it, but Ghehennis simply has the patience of the grave and doesn't show his exasperation much. Not that Ygdrask would likely notice.