Saturday, 2 November 2013

Diary of a Roleplay Beginner #3: LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!

This diary entry is perhaps a little bit overdue, being a good couple of weeks after my last roleplay session, but there are two reasons behind this gap.  The first is a simple matter of time contstraints; it's been a busy couple of weeks (hence the long silence on the review front), and the roleplay diary was in a perpetual state of being on the back-burner.  The second is that emotions were running quite high amongst a few of the group's participants after the last session, and I didn't want to start posting things to Games & Tea until I'd had some time to look back on them with a clear head.
But I fear I'm getting ahead of myself!  In the last entry I mentioned how much I'd enjoyed taking part in my first roleplay session - a purely narrative experience - and how I was looking forward to my first taste of combat in the next session.
The first major difference between a combat session and a narrative session is the tabletop element of gameplay.  Now from what I've gathered as a novice overhearing talk of other systems, this does vary from one roleplay to the next.  However, only having experienced Privateer Press' Iron Kingdoms thus far, I can only comment on its mechanic.  With the combat system represented by miniatures on a tabletop laid out by the Game Master, each player needs to provide a miniature to represent their character, allowing everyone to keep track of their place in the action.
Finding a miniature for my character proved to be trickier than expected.  Being a Gun Mage/Rifleman I obviously needed it to be a male character with a long rifle, but with my character's backstory being one of 25 years of mercenary work, I particularly wanted a model which looked like it was not to be trifled with.  The obvious answer would have been Kell Bailoch from the Mercenaries range of PP's Warmachine, having a grizzled look, a long rifle, and even an armoured greatcoat just like my character.
In fact the model was, frankly, perfect for the part.  If anything it was too perfect, and upon inspection I decided he was a little bit too grizzled, and I'd rather go for someone with perhaps a few less scars and a slightly more sinister look to him...
...and so I said farewell to Kell Bailoch, and hello to Lazar Grigsov; a Khadoran rifleman from the actual Iron Kingdoms miniatures range.  Aside from the cloak instead of the greatcoat, Grigsov fit the bill just as well, and had a little bit more of an edge in my opinion.  After speaking with the GM the "artistic licence" card was played, and I happily went ahead and ordered him in.
Sadly the miniatures range from Iron Kingdoms has been discontinued, so I had to pick him up from an eBay seller in the US, and as a result he didn't arrive in time for the required session (in fact just to rub it in, he arrived the following day!).  However, the GM knew I was waiting for my model's arrival, and so he approved my choice of proxy model...
Yes, I went with Batman, from Knight Models' Arkham City tabletop system.  Now at this point I should mention that it's fairly common courtesy to play WYSIWYG - or as close as you can get - with roleplay models.  It helps to keep track of which characters are where, and it creates an altogether more involving experience.  With this in mind I wouldn't recommend to any beginner to just show up with such a drastically out-of-character model, but in this case it was actually something of an in-joke amongst our roleplay group, and so the GM gave it his blessing for this one session :)
Anyway, I'm getting slightly carried away with the miniature selection aspect of the game!  With my far-from-obvious Gun Mage/Rifleman chosen, I turned up for our session, ordered myself some Chinese food and we all got started...
The session began with us all preparing to enter the town's sewer system, hot on the trail of the missing arcanist we'd been scouring the town for in our previous session.  We all knew there'd be something nasty awaiting us down beneath the city's streets, but in spite of a fortnight's guesswork, no one quite managed to anticipate quite what that something would be.
...almost no one ;)
As it turned out, during a chat on Facebook the GM let me know about what we'd be facing, on account of the fact that I'd be getting snatched by one of them at some point in the adventure!  For those familiar with Iron Kingdoms, we were facing up against Thrullgs.  For those unfamiliar, we were facing up against 10-foot tall, hulking, purple, tentacly monsters which prey upon magic users.  Obviously I had to keep this information to myself, and it did feel very good to know that the GM had faith in me to keep this nugget from the rest of the group.  At this point you might be wondering why he clued me in at all, but it makes perfect sense as it was my responsibility to describe these big tentacle monsters to the rest of the group after the event.  I did have a good laugh to myself at one point in the days leading up to the session, when two of the group started speaking to me about their theories regarding our imminent enemies, to which I just had to smile and nod and pretend I was as clueless as they were!
Anyway, I'm digressing again!  We entered the sewers with a couple of NPCs to carry on our search for this arcanist chap.  Now even though this was my second session, this was a slightly new experience for me in comparison to the previous outing.  In our last session we were splitting up and searching different areas of town, whereas down in the sewers we were working together as a single group.  This made me feel quite at ease, as it meant that I could tag along for a while at the back of the pack, waiting until I found my novice roleplay feet again!  Being one of only two characters with a rope and grappling hook, I was called upon quite early on which kept me feeling part of the team, but aside from that I was able to just sit back for a while and let the more experienced players guide the action.
In all honesty I did find navigating around the sewers a bit of a struggle.  I've always had a problem creating mental images of locations, whether it's a passage in a book or someone verbally trying to set a scene.  As a result, in spite of some good descriptive work from the GM, I really couldn't picture the location we were searching, and so sometimes needed a bit of prompting from the other players (a perfect example was an occasion I neglected to investigate a balcony, on account of the fact I forgot it was there!).
After we'd done some solid investigative work, and I'd failed rather spectacularly on some skill-based dice-rolling, we began backtracking the sewers when suddenly...
"You hear a scream.  Rob's no longer there."  I have to confess to a smug little grin at these words from the GM.  Okay, my character's life was suddenly in danger, but I was hit by this wonderful feeling of "Yep, I knew this was coming.  Now who's going to throw themselves in to help me out?"  As it turned out, most of the group suddenly rounded on the unfortunate Thrullg, and it quickly dropped me and fled deeper into the sewers.  I recovered my rifles which had been picked up by one of the NPCs, drew my magelock rifle (the heavy-hitter of the two), and it was time for us to get stuck in!
We all gathered around the sewer layout which had been pre-prepared for us, arranged our miniatures, and then started to spread out.  At this point there were no enemies around, so we were very much scouting the area.  Being a ranged attacker my first instinct was to get to an elevated position to sweep the area, and so along with two other party members that was exactly what I did.  Although I still feel out of my depth from time to time in the narrative element of roleplaying, I'd customised my characters skills and loadout very specifically, so when it cam to combat I knew exactly what I wanted to be doing, and so wasn't afraid to head out and get started.
As it turned out we didn't encounter our first enemy for a few activation turns, spending a few minutes pursuing a ghost around the sewers instead!  The ghost soon vanished though, leaving a Thrullg in its wake, and me with a nice juicy target.  One of the interesting things about combat in a roleplay is making sure that you look at things from your character's perspective rather than your own.  Obviously you can see everything that's going on across the entire field of battle, but your character can only see in front of his or herself.  Obviously the GM can override the decisions of any player who ignores this fact, but if all players respect it and work to it anyway then it just makes for a much smoother-flowing game.  In fact when that first enemy appeared I actually had my back to it, but it was a warning shouted by another party member which alerted me to it and allowed me to move my miniature into a better firing position.
I won't go into too much detail about the combat itself, but I can confirm I had some abysmal dice-rolling luck to begin with (three 1's off three dice is pretty poor!), but once I switched dice (any experienced tabletop gamer can confirm the validity of this tactic) things started to change, and I was able to make the kill-shot on two of the three Thrullgs.  I like to think that my character was so enraged at their audacity of trying to grab him that he went on a kill-spree worthy of Schwarzenegger.  The experience was a very good one in the way that we worked together.  Once I cottoned onto the fact that they were attracted to the nearest magic user I stowed my magelock rifle and switched to a bog-standard repeater, allowing me to keep dealing damage as another mage kept it distracted with a sustained fire spell.
With the beasties all subdued, the ghost was chased into another room, with some cracking roleplaying by two of the group - a warrior priest who was hell-bent on destroying the ghost, which he saw as an abomination, and another mercenary-type who was trying to bring the priest under control.  The exchange between them was frankly a masterclass of how to stay in character, and made a fantastic bit of entertainment for the end of the session.
The ghost turned out to be that of the arcanist we were searching for, and we soon left the sewers, reported back to our employer, and then wrapped the session up ready for next time.
At the end of the session the GM rewarded us all with some XP, allowing us to develop new skills or learn new spells.  Now whilst the rulebook itself gives a wide berth on this front, the GM insisted that any new skills had to be justified.  For example, a character who spent an entire session swimming won't have suddenly learned the skills needed for rock-climbing.  Or a character who has thrown themselves into combat all evening won't suddenly be a master of seduction.  We were only allowed to learn new skills relevant to our experience, and I thought this was a great way to ensure even character development.
At the beginning of this entry I mentioned emotions running high.  As much as I'd like to say this was because of intense gameplay or something along those lines, the sad truth is that it was down to something of a mixed session.  The ongoing story is still good, and the combat was a lot of fun, but this was my first experience of how other players can create a negative effect on the gameplay as a whole.  There was certainly a lot of good gameplay going on, but it was let down by some instances of someone actually taking issue with others for acting in character, some acting out of character entirely, some poor roleplaying which slowed the pace of the game, and some attempts by one player to dictate the actions of everyone else.
All in all it was still a very enjoyable evening, but it did definitely give me my first glimpse into the potential for a more negative experience.
But I'm certainly not going to lose faith at all!  I'm still loving Iron Kingdoms as a whole and our campaign in particular.  My Lazar Grigsov miniature is now painted up and ready to go for the next session, so hopefully I'll be able to report back in a few days about how things are going!

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