Friday, October 21, 2011

Captain's log: Detrimental

Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

All right, let us recap Drew's mistakes:

He took the job in the first place.  Drew was not Exeter's original GM, he took over at the request of someone else.  This means he did not get to pick the ship, the players or possibly even the plot.  Putting himself in that situation was courting disaster and I do not recommend anyone doing the same.  If you run a game, make it your own.  Only in rare exceptions does it make sense to take over another game.  My player Rafe, for example, ran a team of Vindicators for about a year but only after he and I discussed it.  We discuss which players/characters he would have on his team, when and how our two games would impact one another, etc.  And Rafe had been my player for some ten years so he was quite familiar with the Vindicators universe and with my GMing style, he knew what we expected from one another.  Finally, Rafe showed tremendous creativity and did some pretty clever things from the unused bits and pieces in my game.

Drew, on the other hand, was stuck with Space Angel, among other things.

He decided to use Nova: The Nova system sucks.  I already noted in my earlier posts why I think so, but another problem is the archive feature.  If you look at a forum based game looking at past events is relatively simple.  Mailing lists are more difficult, although you can do a word search (with varied results).  But apparently where Nova is concerned if a character quits and they did not do a joint post with someone else, all those posts...disappear.  There were two away teams sent down to the planet but since all the players involved in that away team are all those posts are just...gone.  What if something relevant had happened on that mission?  Are those posts available?  Are they only accessible by the GM?

Just because a player quits it does not mean everything they wrote suddenly becomes irrelevant.  Sometimes players quit on less acrimonious terms and their material deserves to be both preserved and made easily accessible to present and future players.  If the Nova system does not allow for this then the Nova system is horribly flawed.

He was lazy: Deneva IV has two rival factions, just like many Star Trek set ups.  I am not even sure if a culture has two such opposing cultures that they would even be allowed in the Federation.  But setting that aside, they aren't even alien; they look human.  It made sense for Star Trek to do that as a television series due to budget constraints, but where PBeMs are concerned a GM can stretch themselves creatively.  Drew did not bother.

And look at the site.  Where is the ship information?  Deck listing?  Images of the vessel or the bridge?  Any GM who does not bother trying to give players a decent database is seriously half assing it.

He did not keep it simple: So you might think Drew was just trying to keep things simple with the two factions, human looking aliens, right?  Only he threw in Section 31 and The Dominion and he had a space station full of space angels floating overhead.  So Drew was going for anything but simple.  In reality creating the two rival planetary super powers seemed more like a way of marginalizing the aliens suffering from the drought so he could instead focus on the much "cooler" aspects he had introduced.

The problem is, there were too many plot elements, especially for an introductory adventure.  An introductory adventure with a new crew should be relatively straightforward, in this manner a GM can tell the strengths and weaknesses of his players, determine their likes and dislikes and most importantly who is going to fit in and who is simply not going to work out.  A straightforward, one-off adventure can also be fun and gives the GM a way to test their literary mettle.  Make it a simple rescue mission (that may in time turn out to be not-so-simple.  Perhaps one of the rescued people is a spy, or becomes a love interest), or a hunt for a pirate who becomes a recurring nemesis (Imagine a half human/half green Orion woman calling herself The Wicked Witch, her ship called The Broomstick. Perhaps she takes a shine to the dashing XO.)  Dropping a team of new players right into a wasp's nest of political intrigue is likely going to frustrate new players and it is difficult to tell how all of them are going to react.

I confess that my first Star Trek game involved a convoluted plot involving time travel and a Dominion plot to wipe out humanity in order to cripple the Federation (the only thing humans seem to be able to do better than any other alien species is shag.  How else can you explain 90% of all Starfleet personnel being humans, and most half breeds being half human in there somewhere?  Sex may be our one super power.).  Honestly?  I lucked out by having a pretty good group of players.  Still, I think the adventure worked out well because of the uniqueness of the setting (Lionheart was being sent back to Earth to be decommissioned, her crew was a mish-mash of people being shipped out for reassignment) and the first adventure right off the bat was an unexpected ambush the gang really enjoyed.  Bam!  Almost immediately the group got tossed into a cinematic action set piece and from the aftermath the story unfolded.

What did Drew do?  Let's beam down to the planet, talk to aliens, get nowhere, learn nothing important (Well, the team I was on learned nothing important.), beam back up, discuss, beam back down, meet Section 31 agent...Which brings me to another point.

His NPCs overshadowed the PCs: There are PCs, NPCs, and GMPCs.  You must be very, very careful not to have an NPC overshadow the PCs, make them look redundant.  In this post, for example, you have the Section 31 operative playing a key role, a role with a little tweaking a PC could have played.  In fact, much of what the Section 31 operative does in the game I imagine could have been handled by the ship's Intelligence officer.  Why have the intelligence officer assigned to the ship in the first place?  Why not have that player running a character who is on a separate assignment to the planet who hooks up with the ship, then gets assigned to the vessel after the first adventure?  Why does every PC have to start off the game assigned to the ship?  When Worf was first introduced on DS9 his first adventure was as a consultant rather than a member of Sisko's staff so there is a precedent for it.

When an NPC begins to overshadow the PCs, then they have become GMPCs.  Every GM should be concerned that their NPCs make the PCs look redundant or irrelevant.  I play important NPCs in my game but they are only there to fill in much needed slots (Much like a Dungeons & Dragons DM might run a cleric NPC for healing because none of the players wanted to).  Drew's pet Section 31 agent crossed over into GMPC territory.

On a side note, one thing I found amusing was how Captain Kerr knew of Section 31's existence.  Heaven forbid Drew role play a character who was ignorant of something cool like that...

He did not choose his setting wisely: Although again, to be fair, he inherited the game.  Another thing to consider is the type of ship the campaign takes place on.  Exeter is a carrier.  Why?  What is served story wise by having a carrier vessel?  Now granted, my first Star Trek game took place on a battered Sabre class and later and Akira, I chose them because I thought they looked cool.  No other reason, I had seen First Contact, saw those ships, and I thought they were utterly bitchin'.  Still, they were generic enough that they fit most adventures (In fact, the first Lionheart hardly factored at all.  She was so battered much of the adventure involved players split into teams off ship.).  So if you are pirate hunting an Oberth probably makes little sense. Same goes for a rescue or diplomatic mission being seen to by a carrier.  True, Drew said Exeter was chosen because she was the only ship available in the quadrant, but that excuse is pretty lame.  It was used in at least three Star Trek movies, and one of those was Star Trek V.

Okay, maybe the carrier thing is a nit.  One way or another the ship class did not seem to impact Drew's game much at all.  Still, it would have been nice if Drew had chosen a ship with some more information behind it.

He did not know his role:  As a GM your job is to push the plot forward, not expect others to do it for you.  In the game Drew had asked me twice to steer a joint post in a way he wanted rather than role playing it out naturally.  He made it the responsibility of the players to control NPCs rather than himself.  This makes me wonder if he was doing the same in every joint post.  Was he asking players at every turn to write the scenes out just so?  If so, then where, exactly, is the fun in that?  In the joint post where he directed me I already knew the outcome.  The second time he asked me again he was telling me in advance how things were going to play out.  A large part of the fun of a game is not knowing what is behind the door, not knowing what the NPC is going to say.  If Drew wanted events to unfold he should have trusted in his players writing well, run NPCs and played the scenes out rather than script everything in advance.  This style of role playing revealed a GM who was either A) inexperienced, B) did not trust his players and/or C) a megalomaniac bent on controlling every single aspect of his game.
Doom is not amused with your use of his image in this blog, lackey!

He ASSumed: Just because a player has willingly gone along with your suggestion to write a scene the way you want, do not assume he is looking to partner up with you to run your game.  From the way Drew spoke to me it sounded like he wanted a collaborator, a co-GM.  I was not looking for anything of the sort nor had he ever discussed such a thing with me.  I don't know, perhaps it was my god-like charisma or my amazing writing, or perhaps he had seen a picture of my perfectly shaped dome and thought "Yeah, that's the bloke I want to run games with!"
I shave my head to show off just how perfectly shaped it is.  Hair loss has nothing to do with it.   Really.

Seriously, if you are looking for collaborators, ask.  Do not assume.  Sometimes you might find a player eager to be a GM.  But that was not the case where I was concerned.  I was already GMing a game, I was in Exeter just to play.  Drew's assumption was...annoying.  It was as if he thought I had let him down, not living up to his well-hidden expectations.

As of this writing Drew's game has six players, which really is not bad.  Problem is I am not sure if anyone is actually writing.  At this point the engineer-my replacement-has yet to post, the last post was from Drew himself on the 16th.  It is entirely possible players are writing joint posts as we speak, but what if that is not the case?  My replacement apparently has not generated an introductory post, others have not posted in a week or more.  If you ask Drew, he might blame me for the "trouble" I caused.  If Drew's game is suffering, he need only look at himself in the mirror for all his troubles.

Tomorrow, an afterword...

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