Tuesday, January 17, 2006

[Mortal Coil] Actual Play at Recess, Part II

I ran Mortal Coil at the latest Recess game day in New York. There was time at the mini-convention for two sessions, and rather than run the same one twice, I decided to try two different scenarios. The first one was really successful. The second one fell pretty flat for me, due to a number of issues. The concept for this second session was called Old Gods, a game about the gods of dead religions who gather in a bar in Philadelphia. The Old Gods premise is far more demanding of the players, since there is no built-in conflict. The players must create and generate this conflict with their character conceptions and passions, and if I am to run this one again, I will need to really push everyone to create really punchy, conflict-laden characters. In this particular session, I totally failed.

Even with the limited time at a convention game, I start with only the basic concept and the players and I build from there. From the get-go, this game of Old Gods was different from the one I ran in my own group at home. In the home group, we had established that the gods were immortal, and if they were killed in mortal form it was inconvenient, but they could return. When the Recess group started, one of the first facts established is that although gods could not die of old age, they could be killed, and when they were, it was permanent. This created a far more grim air to the game than we had in the previous game, and points out how the system allows each group to put their own individual stamp on the game world.

Adding facts to the game world was the part of the system that several players liked the best, and they put this to good use during play, creating new powers and abilities for themselves. This had a big effect on the actual play, as I will describe a little later.

When we got to aptitudes (a set of traits Mortal Coil uses instead of skills), people really started to struggle. Interestingly, it was much harder for people to come up with aptitudes for their gods than it was for the street kids in the previous game. Players wrestled with these for some time, and several players even forgot to create any magical aptitudes for their characters and had to change them afterwards.

Then the real trouble began. Players began to choose passions for their characters, and I explained what these were and what appropriate passions should be. Passions are the hooks for the character, what motivates them to act and therefore what ties them into the story. I advised everyone to choose passions that referenced the other characters at the table, and the bar that the gods all frequent. Only one player did this, and this was Bill, my friend who had participated in the original playtest and had sat in on the earlier game at Recess. Even then, Bill’s character turned out too passive. I don’t remember what else he took, but they were all about calm and immobility (he was playing a Japanese earth god). One of the players chose such totally inappropriate passions that I immediately spotted them as a problem, and convinced him to change them out. The two passions he originally chose were for watching people and for reading books, which would definitely have made the character a passive observer for the whole game.

As I mentioned above, none of the other passions related to any other character or to the bar. My biggest blunder here was not catching this early and correcting it right away. I moved forward with the game, and the fact that none of the passions interlocked in any way led the game to be a meandering mess, with no real exciting hooks, and I grew increasingly desperate to engage any character at all. In the end, I railroaded a scene with an assassin and gathered everyone together in a quest-style mission which I thought totally sucked.

The players all seemed pleased, however, and certainly they expressed no disappointment, and most of them were quite interested in the system after we finished playing. I wish this had been a better demo, like the first session was, but it seemed like I was the main one who noticed the serious lack (or maybe they were too polite to say it). I ended this session early because my son was starting to come around and bug me to leave.

If I run this game at any future convention, my main goal when crafting the characters will be to ensure that the passions are strong and interconnected, since that is what creates really good play with this game. I learned something, definitely, but I still feel bad that this scenario was basically a failure at this event.


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