Saturday, 9 May 2015

Diary of a Roleplay Beginner #4: Taking Charge

Teamaster Rob here!  It's been a while since I last posted an article in the DoaRB series.  When I penned the first article in the series, it was intended as a shared experience to help new players see that taking a step into the big old hobby-world of roleplay needn't be so scary and overwhelming. There are so many systems out there, and so many people who take the hobby so seriously, that to someone starting out it can seem very intimidating, and this series of articles was intended to show the story of my own personal introduction into it all.
Article #1 in the series was an introduction, talking about my initial interest in the hobby, how I fell upon my first roleplay system (Privateer Press' Iron Kingdoms, if you were wondering), and the first session I ever sat in on, despite not participating.  Article #2 told the tale of my first session of active involvement, and how I slowly got to grips with the "Seriously, you can do ANYTHING!" mechanic of roleplays.  With my first session being purely narrative, Article #3 focused on the following session, which was my first taste of roleplay combat, as well as a few comments on my first negative roleplay experiences.
With those basics covered, the series dried up as I quite simply no longer considered myself to be a roleplay beginner.  Not a veteran, by any stretch of the imagination, but at the very least an enthusiastic amateur.
In the following year I had the pleasure of trying out another couple of systems; Firefly and Through the Breach, albeit with just a single session in each.  Again, I enjoyed the systems, and it was great to experience different rulesets, different GMs and different settings, not to mention the opportunity to play radically different characters.  But there was one feather left to add to my roleplay hat, and that's the topic of this article...

Enter the GM

That's right, the Teamaster is now the Gamemaster.  I've always enjoyed writing, and since getting started in the roleplay hobby I've been aching for a chance to get behind the wheel and run my own session, but - just like my entry into RP - the question of where to start reared its ugly head.
In terms of system, Iron Kingdoms seemed the logical choice - it was, after all, the system I was most experienced with.  From what I've gathered from my limited experience of the various systems, it does seem to be fairly standard practice to provide an example scenario with the rules, and Iron Kingdoms was no different.  There's a decent-length one shot session available to download from the Privateer Press website, providing a multiple-ended scenario, and all player characters, NPCs, and encounters laid out to take the bulk of the work off a new GM.  As I started to assemble a team of players, this scenario was the one I planned to use for the evening.

But, fortunately, my brain never ceases to run with new possibilities.  As tempting as the easy option was, it's always seemed like it would be more fulfilling to be capturing the imagination of your players and holding their attentions with a story of your own making, and so the Iron Kingdoms plan began to slip away in favour of something a little more ambitious, a little more exciting... a little more spacey...

Just because I adore board and card games, doesn't mean I don't enjoy my share of video games as well, and none more so than Bioware's Mass Effect trilogy.  Not only do I love the story of the games and the characters, but it's an incredible universe in which the games are set, and so I decided it would be a wonderful setting for my first roleplay.
This then moved me on to a brand new problem: which system should I use?
Iron Kingdoms may have been my most familiar, but it's not exactly compatible with a futuristic space adventure.  Storyweaver's High Space was a logical option, but would have required a fair chunk of reading and it wasn't a familiar system to any of my prospective players, so would have been slow going.  So I did the smartest thing any geek with a problem can do in this day and age: I threw it out to the internet!
Within 24 hours, @N20Games on Twitter threw back a suggestion of Fate - a name which vaguely rang a bell with my limited roleplay experience, but which I'd never looked into.  And ye gods, I was grateful for the suggestion!

Fate, from Evil Hat Productions.  For those unfamiliar with Fate, it's a rules-light, narrative-heavy roleplay system, designed to be generic enough to fit into any genre.  Unlike other systems which have their own established universes, Fate is meant for gamers who may want to run a roleplay set in their favourite franchise (Star Wars, Marvel, Game of Thrones etc), or simply based upon their own original concept.
For those who are absolute beginners to the GM world, there's also Fate Accelerated Edition (or FAE for short), which is effectively a set of quick-start rules for the system.  They're quick to learn, quick to teach, and seem quite fluid to play, so FAE ended up being the template upon which my Mass Effect one shot would be based.

So that left the small matter of the story!  At the time of posting this article the session is still a week away (and I will be uploading a follow-up article to talk about the results after the event), so I'm being cautious not to issue spoilers just in case any of my players may be reading!
Being good friends with The Hobbynomicon's Caustic Triton, we very often talk about roleplays, and some advice he gave me a while back about writing a session came back to me very quickly.  With a notepad and pen handy, and a decent knowledge of the background material already rattling around my grey matter, I started to write.
One of the worst things a GM can do to their players is make them feel railroaded.  A roleplay should feel like an open world to players, and if the GM is clearly funneling them down a narrow pathway then nothing they do will make the experience a good one.  With this in mind, I wrote out a nice, descriptive opening scene to set the tone, and then proceeded to set out a series of bullet-points, with branches off a number of them to account for player decisions.  To start with it seemed difficult, but once I'd got a very basic overall plot in my head, additional ideas started coming every hour or two, no matter where I was.  Within the space of a week I'd got a pile of maps drawn up, NPC details, and a list of key events.  I was pretty much ready to go on the story front, although more ideas continue to get added to the list of possible events for the session!

With a week and a half until the session, this left me with just enough time to indulge one of my favourite elements of the gaming hobby in general: miniature painting.
As much as I'd love for it to be the case, no one has released a series of Mass Effect miniatures to this date.  Mantic Games, however, have done some pretty damn good proxies in their Deadzone game.  Seeing as many of my Deadzone miniatures were assembled but unpainted from my release-day purchase of the game back in 2013, I dug out the box and began to paint.  With a week still to go, the lineup of player characters is starting to look pretty sweet...

Two humans, an asari, a quarian, a salarian and a turian are ready to report for duty, with a krogan next in line on the painting table.  A handful of NPCs are also lined up in case I have time to paint them, but if not then I'll be happy with each player having a painted miniature to use.

The Fate system (and FAE in particular) is quite easygoing when it comes to combat, so most of the session's going to be descriptive, but I am planning a couple of epic moments for the toys to come out and shine!

So I think that's all I can say for the moment without risking spoiler posts!  The session will be taking place next weekend, so hopefully I'll be able to come back with another update shortly afterwards, and talk about how well (or otherwise) it went!  So for now, keep rolling, and may the dice be ever in your favour.

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