I’m hugely grateful to Fergus, Hugh, Glen and Robin for taking a punt and fully pre-booking For One Night Only at Furnace this year. I hope it was worth it.
It’s the first convention game I’ve run, and I’ve frankly been very (perhaps irrationally) nervous about it for a stupidly long time. In the end, it was definitely a bit of a rollercoaster. But I think it’s something I’ll do again, with a but more experience and few less nerves.
Same Game, Different Show
Unsurprisingly, a completely different story unfolded for the Royal Pains at Furnace. The group started out with a bit more of a cautious / risk-averse approach than others had during the playtests. Despite that, if the scenario had winning conditions, this group arguably had the most ‘successful’ result compared with other groups. Of course, that’s not necessarily a good thing in Unknown Armies.
Without giving any of the plot away, there are a couple of interesting parallels to the playtests I’ll mention while I remember.
Anthony’s a Prick. For the second game in a row, the principal antagonist (dubbed Anthony this time around) lost any sympathy that may have built up for him in the midgame, and was brutally taken out by (once again) the Scout Leader – this time with a claw hammer salvaged from the second act.
All Too Weird. There always seems to be one character who is particularly skeptical of the deliberately weird stuff that’s happening in the scenario. That had consistently been the bassist in previous outings (despite his background exposure to the unnatural). This time though it was the band’s drummer who most strongly resisted the reality of events that unfolded.
Running the Game
All Too Weird. I struggled a bit with how to handle the resistance-to-weird in-game without railroading the character. On reflection, an Unnatural stress check would have been warranted in the circumstance. It may have helped to structure or trigger a character response that we could have played through. Using the mechanics to help break ‘inertia’ should help in theory. There was also an option to use the Cleaning Lady to motivate (cajole, influence, guilt-trip, intimidate, or manipulate in some other way) the player character. That was a particular GM character that I haven’t previously needed to call upon, but they are a card in the GM’s hand for that scene which could certainly have been played to keep things moving.
Relationships. I spent more time with the group setting up relationships at the start of session, and they cropped up narratively and mechanically throughout. That was nice to see, and made that investment of setup time feel a bit more worthwhile. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it as extensively again though – it delays getting to the action, which strains the finishing time. While I’m pleased we managed to end 15 minutes ahead of the official slot finish time, I had hoped to pace the session to finish even earlier.
It was also great to see one of the players improvise a new and plausible relationship mid-scenario to get themselves a ‘phone a friend’ option. That played out well when introduced, but there was a followup that I promised and should have done later in that section.
Game and System Experience
That was definitely not the only GMing hiccup/fail of the session, but hopefully the players don’t feel cheated or put off by the way I ran the game.
I’m pretty sure UA3 will not be a system of choice for at least one of them though. Among those who have played UA in the past, there seemed to be consensus that 3rd edition is an improvement over previous ones, but it still has faults. For instance, it suffers from too many d100 fail rate issues. I’m not averse to failed rolls (a subject for another day), but too many can have a dispiriting influence in a game session.
I don’t think it helped in this one that I found myself calling for more rolls than I might usually have liked to. I think that’s partly down to impaired judgment from nerves about running my first con game. Something to learn from for next time.
The question now is what to do with the Royal Pains. They’re a neat set of characters, and there’s plenty more mischief to be had with them. If there’s interest, I’ll maybe roll them out as some kind of a UA3 campaign starter kit.