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September 06, 2005

First session angst

I hate running first sessions. Afterwards I almost always feel sick with tension and disappointment.

Looking at it rationally, I actually think tonight went better than most of my first sessions, thanks entirely to the players, who pretty much ran their own "group bonding" subplot. And we were able to introduce some of the mysteries and secrets of the initial NPCs and setting, some of them as part of the player-driven subplot, some of them through external plot. This is probably an improvement on my usual record of stuttering open plotline or artificial pressure cooker.

I think the tension and disappointment is probably a kind of performance anxiety. Naturally one enters a game with high aspirations, and one wants to make a great showing right from the start, but the reality is that the first couple of sessions are likely to involve an awful lot of awkward, stumbling attempts to get second gear to catch. (Yes, I know, but right now I don't feel up to coming up with an unmixed metaphor.)

Anyway, I shouldn't take the angst too seriously. I can't think of a successful game I've run where the first session hasn't left me feeling like I've let the game down. On the other hand, I've run a load of convention games, where the game has to catch fire in the first twenty minutes, keep up the momentum for anywhere from three to eight hours, and deliver a satisfactory but still sequel-friendly wrap-up -- all this despite the players never having met before. I suppose in a con game the GM can generally tailor the characters to gear nicely and the plot to burn "twice as bright but half as long"; but still, I wish I could bring that same dynamic to a campaign kickoff.

Perhaps this is why the artificial pressure cooker works so well. It imposes a fast-moving dynamic on the group, but disassociates it from the broader situation, so that the APC subplot can be resolved without taking away from the main plotline. By the time the group gets onto the slower main plotline, the APC sessions have established momentum and group dynamic, and have given the group a shared victory or defeat. Ideally, the APC subplot is linked to the main plotline, so that resolving the APC draws the characters not only (a) together but also (b) into the ghastly undertow of the greater plot. Looking back, I begin to suspect that most of my successful games have involved an APC at some point, even if not as the starting scenario.

And you know what this means? It means roleplayers may have something to learn from the artificial teambuilding dogma of the management consultants and the HR wonks. And that really does cause me angst.

September 6, 2005 in Games | Permalink


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Yeah, I left last night slightly disappointed too. I feel like I did when I re-read _The Three Musketeers_; when you realise that the dramatic duels and high adventure were the Good Bits (tm), and not the majority of the actual novel. There's a lot of "romance" and tedious skulduggery.

I think that my concerns about the integration of Isthian were well founded, but partially I'm a self-fulfilling prophet. My performance wasn't exactly excellent, I'm gonna have to remember to buy some kind of anti-hystamine for next week. It's relatively uncommon for cats to affect me these days. Luke & Sam's cats do, and yours, and that's about it. I had also been awake since about 3AM, so by the 11ish finish it was a 20 hour day. :)

OTOH... You're completely right about first sessions. The first session of Al Qadim was pretty lame, and had some party problems. From the second adventure we'd swapped out the troublesome character and I'd sorted them into a more high-energy tract. The first few sessions of Adventure! were also dire while we adjusted to the mode of story telling of two-fisted high-octane adventure. :)

Posted by: The Evil Mashugenah Beast at Sep 6, 2005 11:13:50 AM

I liked it.

Posted by: house_monkey at Sep 8, 2005 12:07:28 AM