“Which PC do you most want to die?” – Setup Questions in One-Shots (and Grogmeet 2018)

#1
I’ve just returned from Grogmeet 2018, a one-day convention organised by Dirk the Dice at the Grognard Files – it’s almost a spin-off con from his podcast; I doubt there was anyone in attendance who didn’t regularly follow the ‘cast. It was unusual, and refreshing like a warm pint of bitter, and threw up some interesting game points that I’ve tried to cobble together into a post.

An Odd Bunch – and no, I mean the games


Great to be back in Manchester, too


As befits an event steeped in nostalgia for the games of yesteryear, there was a wide selection of games that I don’t think you’d see at any other convention; from Tunnels and Trolls, to Flashing Blades, to new releases of old favourites like Runequest Glorantha and Warhammer FRP 4th edition, to the extreme niche (Price of Freedom? You might remember it from old copies of White Dwarf – it’s the game with a massive picture of Lenin on the front of it).

I would be very surprised if a more diverse (and frankly bonkers) selection of games is on offer at any other convention. And all were run with enthusiasm, and received with enthusiasm. I go to a lot of cons, and I’m don’t think I’ve seen a convention with so much enthusiasm for the hobby. It practically oozed out of everyone, particularly after a few beers. I played in an excellent game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (4th edition) from Gaz from the Smart Party in the morning, and in the afternoon I ran Twilight 2000.

Indie-ing Twilight 2000


Before I go on, let me preface that I won’t be running T2000 again, and I can’t recommend that you do. I don’t want to spend too long going through my issues with the game, but have a few bulletpoints that I just need to get off my chest:

  • extremely low skill levels (at least if you generate PCs who aren’t in their 50s – good old GDW lifepath systems, eh?) As a d10 roll-under system, apart from combat skills it’s reasonable to have a character sheet that looks much like a Gumshoe game – lots of skills of 1 and 2. So lots of failure
  • difficulty is represented by doubling or halving your skill value. This is… swingy. So most shots in Combat are Easy (doubling) but that gets knocked down to Average because even if you spend an action Aiming, it only applies to the first bullet fired. Difficult actions are virtually impossible; Easy actions are often trivially easy.
  • a boringly overpowered initiative system. Initiative is a static value. If you have Initiative 3, you act in Phase 3, Phase 2, and Phase 1 (phases count down – because that’s obvious, right?). If you have Initiative 5, you get 5 actions, starting in Phase 5. If you have initiative 1, you not only act last, but only get one action.
  • automatic fire is independent of skill and requires a bucketload of d6s, with each 6 counting as a hit. I’m all for rolling a handful of dice, but once you hit double figures it starts to get less fun. There is a rule to avoid rolling too many which restricts the number you might have to roll for emptying the magazine to a maximum of 50d6; because otherwise our machinegunner could have had to roll 250d6 at the table.
  • there’s no Search skill. Like, seriously. I guess I could have used Observation, but as that’s the only perception skill, I felt like I was calling for rolls on that quite often too.

In short, you could sketch a system blindfold on the back of a fag packet right now that would still be smoother and more consistent than T2000. It was even worse in play than I was expecting – so in order to mitigate that I tried to make plenty of the session not be about the rules. To do this I used two sets of questions – and I’m going to share the technique here as a system-neutral tip for any game (even if you have a game system that actually works!)

Setting Questions


Pregens – with requisite gun porn and service history


After my pregens were handed out (and a brief summary given of the implied setting – post-apocalypse nuclear fallout, game set in South American jungles, isolated settlements beset by nomadic raiders) – I went with this set of questions, asked to the whole table but with the expectation that they were to be quickly decided rather than discussed and mused on. There were a couple of quick vetoes used (“No, that sounds rubbish”) – and I tried to join in about as much as the other players with new ideas, while also guiding and pulling together their discussions

  • What is your home community like? What is its name? Who’s in charge?
  • What does your community have in abundance? What does it lack?
  • There are rebels who live wild and want to steal from your community. What are they after?
  • There’s another community – you used to get along but not any more. Who are they? Why did you fall out?

I had a few other questions, about where they got their ammo, and who else they knew, but these provided enough of a setting – an old cocaine farm, rich in resources and defences but short of food and leadership, led by Vega (I think) – who’s first establishing Q&A of “What’s he like?” “He’s an arsehole,” set the tone for the whole community.

I then introduced another key NPC for the adventure, Old Isaac, a trader who has gone missing, and they decided on some facts about him – then they made three NPCs that they cared about – this was the patrol that went to investigate before them.

I was hoping that by asking the players to design the NPCs (even though I had stats for them and a rough idea what would happen to them) they would actually care about them. In the final scene (spoilers!) they had to battle against the three of them mind-controlled, and while it wasn’t a moment of world-shaking pathos and tragedy, it did lead to some interesting roleplaying, even if they only managed to save one of them.

PC-PC Questions


Neither of these ideas is original, of course, and this one in particular was taken mostly from Dungeon World Bonds. Basically, as you want the PCs to function as a team, by getting them to say how they feel about each other, the PCs get rounded and well-defined not just by their own player but the others around them. And it was dead simple.

Every PC had these questions on their character sheet – they just went through them after everyone had given a brief character description.

  • Who do you trust most on the team? Who’s always got your back?
  • Who do you always keep an eye on? Why?
  • Who’s pulled your shit out of the fire more than once?
  • Who is out of their depth and needs protecting for their own good?

Some of the players were pleasantly surprised when this threw up some asymmetrical relationships (one player trusting another who didn’t trust them back); I’ve seen that happen every time I’ve used this technique, and it’s golden.

Did it work?


I think it did. I won’t be running T2000 again – the disconnect between system and play was too much – but it felt like everyone had fun – including me. The two question techniques above can be used for any game, and I’m sure will have similar effects. It’s mostly about shared ownership of setting – which leads to investment in the adventure, which might make the players actually care a bit more about their characters. I’d be interested if anyone has had any success running T2000 in, like, the past 10 years or so, and how they found the system. I can’t quite bring myself to write up my prep notes or pregens into a publishable form, but I’ll try and get round to it if people are interested in it.

It was also a first for me in ages at running a mostly-investigative game. I’m not sure I’m very good at them yet, but it gave me enough food for thought that I might trot out some more at cons or Go Play Leeds in the future, and I’m sure they’ll make it onto the blog.

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#2
GDW's Dark Conspiracy horror RPG used the same system (as did most of their roleplaying games at the time they folded). I loved the setting but had much the same issues with the system as you do. I always liked the character generation system though - I felt it gave a good balance between detail and playability i.e. didn't take too long to roll up characters. Also the option to change careers gave some good flexibility in character types.
 

Dom

Administrator
#3
Many of GDW's systems were either more suited to boardgames and wargames or just plain poor.

I ran T2K once at secondary school; I can remember that we ended up just ignoring the system and having fun imagining how we would escape from Krakow after a nuclear exchange in the shadow of a world where cruise missiles had just been deployed at Greenham Common and the idea of the apocalypse arrived on any given day wasn't out of the question. I liked the setting and the ideas and questions that it generated, but the game engine sucked.
 
#4
Totally agree Dom. Always thought T2000 was a hybrid rpg/skirmish wargame and not very good as either. I quite fancy doing a cold-war-goes-hot game based on James Rouch's morally reprehensible 3rd world war porn The Zone series but using the 3:16 Carnage... system. I think that would work better in terms of the over the top mood than GDW's spoddy rules with their endless MBT stats and square root based explosive effect calculations.
 

Dom

Administrator
#5
And with that comment, you remind me of what a brilliant game Hot War is by comparison. A sweet and finely tuned engine and a setting that just calls out to me. I loved Cold City but always felt that I didn't know enough about post-war Berlin to run give it justice.

I ran it on Skype for a while and we had great fun. I'd found an old map of London (sadly not quite old enough, but it served as an inspiration for CGS' map when I sent some scans) and we had great fun in the ruins of London. I think that my vision of London post-apocalypse was a bit less severe than Malcolm Craig had envisioned but I couldn't resist the thought of giving the players the chance to get into the Ritz while Humphry Lyttleton was playing jazz for the great and good as they embraced the blitz spirit. I really should revisit that. I did have an idea which involved an expedition to the provinces (Rolls Royce at Derby) to recover one of the reactors planned for the nuclear submarines to bring back to London. Possibly followed by a further expedition to the Wirral (Capenhurst) and/or Preston (Springfields) to acquire nuclear fuel from the AEA sites.

I think I'm more up for doing that than I was for going back to Krakow.
 
#6
I thought Hot War was brilliantly put together. Loved the retro-look art and the nods to classic British sci-fi. I always fancied an excursion to Salisbury Plain, which was covered in a later supplement, perhaps ultimately ending up in Avebury. Something like a cross between Black Death and Children of the Stones.

Cold City was good too, ran a short campaign which the players enjoyed, but I think the environment was a bit more limited than Hot War. I used a reproduction map of Berlin based on one issued to allied personnel in the immediate post war period. Picked it up quite cheaply via mail order. Probably a fair few still about I dare say.

Only ever played T2000 once. Found the whole thing dull as ditchwater and completely soulless. I used to find a lot of the articles for it in GDW's Challenge magazine completely mystifying - stats for helicopter gunships and Russian army rations, or a single combat encounter presented as an adventure. How is this roleplaying I used to ask myself.
 

Dom

Administrator
#7
I think I have that same map of Berlin as it's still in print(*). I've also read a fair few fiction books that cover the periods before, during and after the war in Berlin, so I think I'd make a better stab at it than I would have back in the day that I first got Cold City. I started to relationship map the Dossier a while back; I must do that and look at a mini-campaign again.

(*)https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1870067339/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1
 
#10
I found them useful too. Also Phillip Kerr's "Bernie Gunther" novels and a couple of Joseph Kanon's books. Plus Len Deighton's "Samson" trilogy of trilogies- wrong time period but deeply rooted in Berlin and its history (and not forgetting the prequel "Winter").
 
#12
Likewise. Watched it a few years ago. I gather Deighton threw his dolly out of the pram about some of the casting choices and bought the rights back which is why it's almost impossible to find via legitimate channels. I'd agree Ian Holm is miscast but not terribly so. Everyone else is fine.
 
#14
The irony is that seeing the first few episodes of it made me by the books and read Len Deighton more widely!
He does seem extraordinarly precious about the whole thing. I read somewhere that he rates the the two 1990s Harry Palmer films which suggests he's not the best judge of adaptations of his work.
 
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