The long break between the last session and this one was due mostly to the crushing work load I had in June but also in part because I wasn't thrilled with the last session. The party felt they had been pushed onto rails, despite my efforts to prevent that.
The other issue is that I'm just not comfortable running adventures in an urban environment. I knew I had to step things up. So, I did what I am apt to do, research.
Enter Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. I've had this PDF for awhile, but hadn't really done more than skim it. It turned out to be exactly what I needed, particularly the Urban Crawl Rules section.
The distinction Zak S. makes between crawling and moving was like the heavens parting:
"'Crawling' only occurs when passage through the city is difficult or mysterious for some reason and so, therfore, the choice of route and means of locomotion between points is important . . .Merely 'moving' is simple. The PCs say where they are going and the GM can describe the journey . . . or simply shift the scene to the destination."Simple, but I hadn't thought of it.
I was focused on the city as a crawl and getting lost in how to appease my player who is openly hostile to any notion of any type of crawl. I had forgotten that I could simply allow movement as mostly hand-waving.
With a new found confidence, I sat down and brain stormed using my favorite method: the mind map. In fact, I did this several times, starting from a different question each time. The result?
After 3 or so days of brainstorming, I had hit upon several NPC plots that the PCs could 1)learn about 2)get involved with and 3)potentially change the game world and how those plots play out. Even better, those plots pose a real threat towards hindering the PCs from completing their own goals, so resolving them is to their advantage, or they'll need to trek to a different city.
I created some 17 obstacles/challenges/encounters the PCs might encounter - save for the first which was a continuation of where we left off, none were guaranteed to happen.
No outcome of any encounter was planned, just the setup, notes about any NPC and a note to myself as to why I thought the enounter would be meaningful to the players. I also prepped a random NPC table for use in the marketplace and random street encounters.
I also picked up some things from an article on Gnomestew:
- Narration first, mechanics second. I put this on an index card in front of me - too often combat devolves to dice rolling back and forth and the description disappears.
- Make failed skill checks interesting. Often, if the PC fails, I simply describe that but even failures can contribute to the story.
Finally, I reminded myself that I improvise all of the time when I play solo and that I should treat those moments in the social game the same way. And I did - I used the Yes and, Yes But, No but, No and roll on a d6 to my advantage, and had story cubes on hand just in case.
In the end, the game session went quite well - the players didn't feel like they had to "pixel bitch" to get around, there was no rail, they had interesting encounters which hinted at some strange things afoot (the fact that it involved something one would probably find in a game of Call of Cthulhu aided in capturing their interest) which turned a trip to the market place from one of gathering information about an individual in another city, to also one of leveling up their armor. And we ended with them returning to their room to find it ransacked.
I was drained when it was over, but I was told the session got an A+. which made it totally worth it.
Of course, now I have to live up to this performance next time!