09 January 2007

Actual Play Report: Full Light, Full Steam - A Cruise To Mars

This weeks' game was a run through of a Full Light, Full Steam situation that I had built to run at Kapcon in two weeks. This meant the objective was mainly to confirm that I knew the system well enough to run it and to check how it played with people new to the system.

I didn't end up giving much time for situation engineering. The game saved me here, as the instructions gave plenty of ways to build up from your inspirations (in this case, just the thematic batteries of the characters) to an engaging situation. I was helped by the author's description of doing the same thing himself which he posted on the website, too. I was also somewhat restricted by the short game description that I had already submitted to the convention organisers. This had been intentionally brief, of course, but did tie me to Mars and set up expectations for natives, pirates, anarchists and foreign agents to be involved. Including all these elements was very easy.

I'm very pleased with the situation engineering system. In particular, the 'complicating cogs' and 'elaborating cogs' parts. To start with, you list inspirations - things that you believe the players are interested in having the game include. Then you come up with three key conflicts based on these inspirations. For each conflict you then list simple cogs - an antagonist, a victim, a setting and two more of any sort.

You then complicate the cogs by picking pairs from different conflicts and combining them, e.g. the victim in conflict 1 might live in the town that is the setting of conflict 2, or be the antagonist of conflict 3. This process of complication really helped the half-formed ideas for the situation come alive. In particular, when you complicate simple character ideas, the two sides that the character has subsequently can be a lot of fun to think about and play.

The next step is to engage the player characters. Here you allocate one complicated cog to each of them and link them directly. The links might be thematic, historical or social relationships. This helps tie the player characters more firmly into the situation and appeared to work well in play (although I did drop the ball on at least one character finding out about their link, mainly due to running out of time).

The last piece is elaborating the cogs. Basically this involves putting some abilities and thematic batteries down for the non-player characters and elaborating the effects of settings and props. Settings and props can give certain kinds of bonuses and penalties, decided at this time, and possible complications that may occur are listed. This is quite fun and the effort expended in little things (like deciding a Martian canyon had ancient native monuments, for example) added a lot to play.

That gave me a good setting, so I'll move on to our play. Explaining the rules was quick and easy, although the spoils scrips caused some confusion (who passes the scrip, who signs it, etc). I'll have to explain this more carefully in a convention setting, but once people got the hang of it things went fine. The setting has lots of neat grabby elements, and everyone quickly got into that side of things. I'll run through the play here, but it's intentionally vague as some of my readers may end up playing this quite soon.

The first scene, mainly at the governor's mansion, had the crew trying to gather information about their mission and being rebuffed by the governor who claimed nothing unusual was going on. The discovered that others in town didn't agree and that the problems they had been sent to fix were real. This scene went on longer than it should have, I think, and I should have pushed more information at the players. We pretty much missed one of the three conflicts entirely, and this scene was where it should have been played out. This might be a game, like Dogs In The Vineyard, in which it's a better idea to instantly reveal the mysteries and let the player characters sort them out, rather than focus on investigation.

Action was spurred on when the Commander sent the landing skiff back to his ship to get a detachment of marines. The skiff spotted something suspicious in the desert, investigated, and the survivors made it to the colony. Our heroes set out and, in an epic battle, defeated the bad guys. Huzzah!

The conflict resolution system works very well - nice and elegant. The system of taking voluntary demotions to charge your thematic batteries for later is fantastic in play. The non-player character equivalent is even more fun (and not, I think, mentioned in my review after reading the game the first time). The gamemaster can give a non-player character promotions by declaring what their thematic battery is. The other players can then force demotions on that character later, when appropriate. This also was fun in play.

Overall, a fun session. As mentioned above, we went over time and didn't actually resolve all three conflicts. I regard that as a success - I always prefer to have too much situation to risking not enough. I'll probably drop a few things for a convention setting. One of my players suggested that spoils scrips be used just for scene control, and ignore marking spoils gained (your experience points, basically). Aside from that, most of the issues were associated with it being the first time.

As a last comment, I may take my own game Devil & the Deep off the backburner now. I think that Full Light, Full Steam pretty much gives me the game I was trying to build there.

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