We started a new Tuesday night gaming group, made up out of people from several other gaming groups that I’ve been in. We have a really good chemistry in the group and I think similar interests in what kind of games we want to play.
I’ve never had a regular week night game before, and to my surprise it works really well! No more wrangling back and forth over who can and can’t make it on which days in the weekends. No planning, just show up and play. And weekends left open for other things. Our sessions are pretty short compared to what I’m used to, 2.5-3 hours, but we manage to squeeze a lot of focused action into these slots. I think this goes along with my preference lately for rules light games. There is no way we would do hour-long fights with intricate mechanics in these slots, for example.
Our first game in this group has been Spirit of the Century. I got to not-GM for a while, which was nice, and in the end, we had three different GMs for the game. What a great gaming group where everyone wants to GM! I have not been spoiled with this in the past.
We decided to play the game by the book. I like trying games as written before I try to tweak them with house rules or variant settings, and I think we were all pretty excited by the Pulp thing. For me it was a completely new setting. One player had GM’d SoTC before, but with a custom setting.
We have played about 10 sessions now, and we’re moving on to a different game (more on that later), so I thought I’d summarize my thoughts on the game. I’m not going to describe the rules in detail here. There are plenty of reviews around for that.
Overall, the game really delivers on its promise of fast-paced Pulp action. Our adventures involved dinosaurs, weird egg-creatures with mind control, airships, robots, giant gorillas, and so forth. Towards the end, we tried to get a little more social situations and conflict in, with a cult trying to summon a Cthulhu-esque giant clam from the sea, on a boat during a high society birthday party. (Yeah that probably didn’t make any sense; you had to have been there).
Character generation is fun. We did it twice in fact, running about 8 sessions with the first set of characters and 2 sessions with the second group. We followed the method in the book where everyone has their own main background story, and guest star in each others’ stories. This got a little complicated because one player was not present when the rest of us did character generation (both times), but it worked out ok. At first I thought it would be difficult to come up with 10 interesting Aspects, but it’s not that hard given this story-based character generation method. We did spend considerable time creating characters however, slightly more than one session both times.
The most fun part about character generation in my opinion was to pick Stunts. Some of the stunts are very colorful and fun. At the same time, overall, I feel like there are too many stunts, and many of them have very little effect on the game. For example, a +1 bonus to a skill in a limited circumstance for some stunts. The really character-defining and cool stunts come “deeper” in the stunt hierarchy, requiring several other stunts as prerequisites. I found that this generally meant that the system encourages very specialized characters with all or most stunts in the same area. I did my first character this way, with Guns as my top skill and lots of Guns stunts. He was way more effective in combat than I even realized when I created him. For my second character, I diversified more, which made the character much less defined and much less effective.
The conflict system worked quite well for us once we got the hang of it. Maneuvers produce great narrative flair to conflicts, which in many games turn into hit-parry, hit-parry sequences until either side loses. I don’t think we used environmental aspects enough, and we probably should have used more tagging of aspects and trying to find out about NPCs aspects.
I did find that the resolution mechanic makes it really hard for the PCs to fail. They have some extremely good skills to begin with, and any failure can usually be taken care of by spending a Fate point and invoking an aspect. I felt that the Fate point economy was way off. No-one ever ran out of Fate points. Sometimes we accepted compels from the GM “just for fun”, but we never really needed to. For our last couple of sessions, we ran with 5 Fate points instead of 10, which I thought was about right. Most of us still didn’t run out, but we had a bit more incentive to accept compels. On the bright side, invoking aspects is another part of the game that helps to produce color and narrative. In hindsight, I think we should have motivated our invokes a little bit more, explaining why an aspect is relevant to a given situation. Generally though, it helped the other players get a sense of who your character was.
The organization of the rule book is not great at all. I found it very difficult to use it as a reference during play. I also think it’s way too thick for a game that is supposed to be a “pick-up” game. The somewhat lengthy character generation also makes it less appropriate for this role. In fact, we played it in “campaign mode” for the first 8 sessions. However, the game has essentially no character development, which I think is a big detriment to campaign play. We got a bit bored of our characters after a while since they did not improve, and also did not need to improve.
Next, we are going to play Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies! I am really excited about this. The setting is really different and fun, and the rules are exactly my cup of tea. Simple and quick, with some mechanical character elements for motivations, “flaws” etc. Like SoTC, I think it will suit our group very well.