Ropecon 09 – jää hiljaisuus

10 August, 2009 at 5:16 pm (actual play, Ropecon)

The first game I GM’ed at Ropecon was the Finnish scenario Jää hiljaisuus by Nordic, who is also knows as Risto Hietala, a famous name in the Finnish rpg scene (since I’ve heard of him). Players were Dare Talvitie (an excellent player), Riku, Tiina (who looked like a ferengi) and Jukka.

Spoilers ahead. The scenario will be very different if you first read this and only then play.

The story is that of four men being sent to a small research station, meaning essentially a storehouse, in the Arctic to get a few measurements and to bring said measuring equipment back for repairing and maintenance. The ship they are sent out from remains some 120 kilometers away (due to plot saying so and floating mountains of ice), while the men use a smaller vehicle. The vehicle gets burned during the night (the hours during which it is not the night are preciously few during early winter). There’s a number of events, like finding the frozen corpse of a seal, that will happen. Other than them, the scenario very much depends on the players doing something interesting, which basically amounts to arguing, trying to survive or fighting amongst themselves. There’s preciously few opportunities for the GM to do anything about their course of action, save for out-of-character prodding.

At some point during the first day GM randomly assigns for notes to the players without looking at them. One tells the character in question burned the boat, one that the character did not think he did it and two that the character did not do it.

Oh, yeah, the characters. All of them have secrets of some sort and all know the secret of one other character. The secrets are not really devastating enough to justify burning the boat, which is a major design flaw. Also, one character is married but it does not read on the information to be given to that player and that lack is easy to miss as GM (I did, but it went fine by sheer luck).

As for the actual play, I took a pretty strong lead at the beginning, explaining how things are done and not really asking if they did something unstandard; this is something of a requirement, as the scenario assumes the boat gets burned and communications with it.

The players certainly played their characters to hilt: One being sensible, one pretending to be sensible, one trying to attract aliens to pick him up, using whatever means he had available (the scenario did not mention them at all, so I sort of wonder why the player fixated on aliens) and another character getting caught up in the act, assuming everyone else an alien. In the end  the boat-burner more-or-less killed those who did not do so to each other, afterwards wandering into the icy wastes only to perish quietly, freezing to death.

Overall, I did not find the scenario text to be helpful. I could have improvised equivalent content and it lacked details that would have been useful (a map of the cabin, say, or more detail on the few discoveries made in the icy fields). One lesson learned was that should I run a ready-made adventure ever again, I should look at it from the point of view of all players, considering the material they are given. Obvious, I know, but not something I even thought of before running the scenario.

15 Comments

  1. Callan said,

    Yes, one question is “What would I do if I were a player?”

    What’s the whole activity aimed at, anyway? I could imagine a group of players running out of any responces to it all fairly promptly – can they say “Well, were fresh out of responces – so that’s the end of the session!” or do they keep having to add material to pad out play until some arbitrary real life time limit has been met?

  2. Tommi said,

    The scenario relies on the characters starting to argue amongst themselves. If the players are not up to that, the scenario will not work. There are a number of GM-induced events that can be added to inspire the players, but all in all there is very little in the way of failsafe. If players don’t create entertaining play, the scenario won’t work.

  3. Callan said,

    Well, if they ran out of material five minutes in and said their out and that’s the end of the session, isn’t that the scenario working…for five minutes?

    Or does it have to run for a certain amount of time or it’s classed as ‘not working’?

  4. Tommi said,

    The scenario does have a clear ending point (everyone dies). I would say it fails if that is not achieved, at least as long as failure is looked at from the designer’s perspective.

  5. Callan said,

    Jeez, I can’t help show scepticism – what’s fun about that? Do some stuff then none of that matters as the end is exactly as the author intended (or the activity failed, otherwise)?

  6. Tommi said,

    It is a closed space drama. Bunch of characters can’t get rid of each other without extreme measures and there are seeds of conflicts. Those conflicts are the point of the scenario.

    It just happens to end in everyone dying.

  7. Callan said,

    I don’t see any ‘it just happens to end’ at all? I see a rather heavy story tone being scripted into the end of it all, and it can’t end until it gets that tone. In terms of story, how it ends is pretty important to what the story is about – and here it’s already written for you. You add a bit of colour and bikering, then it ends as the real author intended it.

    Do you write short stories by yourself, every so often? How they end – is that important to you? Or would you be happy writing the start, middle, then someone else telling you what end to write?

  8. Tommi said,

    I don’t write short stories.

    Our game ended by the characters killing each other, except for one who survived the bloodshed and froze in the icy wastes. This is very different an ending from, say, the characters dying as a group due to lack of water, having confessed and forgiven their deeds.

    Much like in Night of the living dead, or any other zombie movie (contrasted by movie where there happens to be zombies), the zombies proper are simply there to create pressure and conflict among the characters. They also might kill everyone at the end, but the story is in what happens between the people.

  9. Callan said,

    By the same token, ending with a group who appear to be vulnerable to dying, having confessed etc, but not actually confirming that, is also a valid ending. I see absolutely no creative inspiration/no benefit to forcing a death ending – I just see forced authorship. Perhaps I just fail to see a benefit to it – but currently it just seems like it all ends on the heavy note that every dies, just as the author wants it to.

    If the story is what happens between the people, why ensure that the activity can only end on all characters deaths? If death is not important, why is it being made important by being the only way you can finish the activity?

    Or perhaps I’ll ask it from another direction – could you give a rough example of what it would take for a scenario author to write something that you think forces the story in a certain way and largely ignores player input? Or atleast for yourself, would you say it’s impossible for a scenario author to do that?

  10. Tommi said,

    Perhaps I just fail to see a benefit to it – but currently it just seems like it all ends on the heavy note that every dies, just as the author wants it to.

    Yes. The author made a design that everyone dies and it has an effect on the feel of the scenario. Is that not the point of scenario design?

    Or perhaps I’ll ask it from another direction – could you give a rough example of what it would take for a scenario author to write something that you think forces the story in a certain way and largely ignores player input?

    Certainly. An illustrative example, I feel, would be this same scenario where the characters are not built so as to encourage conflicts between them; then, have the scenario marketed as arctic survival game.

    Another example is the Pathfinder game I played in earlier this summer. We were basically on rails and had some fights on the way. There was nothing that really engaged me that I could affect. All we could really affect was the outcome of the fights. I don’t really think of that as creative input. Note that people who find the combats interesting in and of themselves would see this scenario as having meaningful input, I presume.

  11. Callan said,

    “Yes. The author made a design that everyone dies and it has an effect on the feel of the scenario. Is that not the point of scenario design?”

    You can already get a ‘feel’ from TV programs. The author seems to have deteremined about 90 to 95% of the feel with this, while the players add a little colour at around 5%.

  12. Tommi said,

    In the play itself there is much meaningful activity for the players; namely, the conflicts between their characters. The ending is very small part of the play itself. The play is meaningful.

    Is feel something that only happens after playing?

  13. Callan said,

    It’s possible for someone to say play in your pathfinder example is ‘meaningful’, as well. Ultimately the question of whether it’s good enough for you is a question for you – convincing me that it was meaningful doesn’t do anything in terms of whether it was or not.

  14. the_blunderbuss said,

    Actually, if the ending of the scenario is death (in whatever form… not that form is not relevant) it should be noted to the players beforehand.

    I find no real problem in an scenario where you have elements that are impossible to influence, as long as they’re made clear to me. Basically, there are certain established assumptions about what role-playing is and what to expect that are different for everyone. To avoid unnecessary frustration, it should be made very clear that those expectations do not hold water.

    Granted, it is not possible to shield oneself (and the group) from every possible expectation. I would say, however, that the idea that the characters have some saying on the fact that their characters live or die at the end of the story… is pretty widespread.

    Fred.

    • Tommi said,

      I did not note it, as the scenario clearly assumed that it was not known. Certainly it would have been a very different experience where the death known to be certain.

      I should note that I gave the scenario 4 out of 10, as we were required to rate them. In any situation but the convention, I would certainly have let a plausible idea save the characters, but even then, it would have been awfully challenging to come up with such an idea, however, due to the situation the scenario creates.

      So; I don’t think it is necessary to tell that everyone is going to die, but I do think it would be generally a smart thing to communicate.

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