Demo Session Mission Report - Should Have Been Sooner, Sorry

The original thread was washed away in the storm; here is a brief review:

The patrol is a part of the raven mounted corps. Early spring shows signs of a new bird-of-prey nesting near Grass Lake; their Guard Captain wants it disrupted. Gwendolyn has spent the last year encouraging merchants to use the Long Trail between Grasslake and Flintrust to revive the poverty-stricken area; she orders the patrol to trailblaze, repair, and walk the trail during spring. Both tasks could take many weeks; both tasks relate to helping mouse commerce thrive.

The obstacles are the raptor nesting near Grass Lake (intended as Fight Animal) and pathfinding the Long Trail (intended as complex obstacle comprised of Resources, Survivalist, Pathfinder, and one of Stonemason, Carpenter, or Laborer). The twists are the fickle weather of Spring (intended for conditions and time lost) and a group of roadside bandit mice (intended as a conflict, but actions would dictate the type).

I will avoid the lengthy description of hawk, kestrel, raven, bandit mice and the like. But, I’ve got the mission written and can offer more details via PM.

This was a demo session for a group of group members; as it happened, they had never played MG. There were two players; let’s call them Jill and Todd. I also brought (voluntold) my wife (let’s call her Kelly) to come along as a player; she has played The Sword.

The group selected pre-gen mice. Kelly elected to play a Patrol Guard as the leader of the group. She took a pre-gen with stong Fighter and Instructor skills, as well as a fair Carpenter. Jill took a pre-gen with fair Fighter skill, but strongest as Healer; this pre-gen was not optimized for a particular scene of the mission, but had a strong Resources to help. Todd took a pre-gen with strong Survivalist. The team was varied in Traits and Nature.

Todd was a good player, though perhaps underwhelming in his portrayal of his mouse. He didn’t make much fuss about rules. He didn’t have much to say about rulings. In this sense, he was a polite player and tolerant of the unfamiliar system, but perhaps not excited to try something new. Nothing more to say.

Kelly lost interest very easily during the 3-hour session. She wandered often and lost track ofhte activity which the mice were doing–she only really saw the numbers and dice. Regardless, she played with more enthusiasm than expected (when at the table) and tried to fulfill her goal as well as the spirit of her pre-gen mouse. She wasn’t entirely convinced of some rules and rulings, but didn’t push the issue beyond initial explanation.

Jill was very interested and played intensely the spirit of the mouse she’d selected. She didn’t like some system aspects and made a point of that more than once. The Player Turn/GM Turn was fairly difficult to tolerate for her (it seemed). She wanted the actions to be less abstract and wanted the dice to display smaller periods of time. She was especially frustrated during a Fight conflict and compromise. I might bring up some of her comments in more detail; I’ll need some feedback.

I ran the session comfortably, but didn’t follow my plan as carefully. That came out to a loss rather than a gain; it did provide a few lessons learned (one of which I’ve already applied to another ongoing PbSD).

In the first obstacle, Jill asked to take an action hunting the raptor to get a lay of the land and see what they were up against; the team did mount their ravens before this. It led to a Hunter vs Nature Hawk test which Jill won quite soundly. From this came my first mistake, I dropped the intended Fight Animal in favor of a complex obstacle (poorly condtructed I should add). Why did I do that?! The conflict would have been fun, but the obstacle sucked the life out of that scene. Sorta.

The group fumbled through some ideas and set foot on Kelly making a speech in the lake towns to muster hunters as additional aid. That was a resounding success; the team gained a group of 6 cunning hunters to help (providing +2D). Lastly, they planned the assault in two phases–Todd was to climb the tree to topple the nest with some mice before the patrol would fly in to harass the hawk while mounted.

As the leader of the attack, Jill was set to make the crucial roll of battle. She didn’t like that the whole fight rested on her roll (+2d of the mustered mice, +1D of Todd’s help, +1D of Kelly’s help). Later she explained that she would have preferred it be a conflict so to better set their goal and accomplish; also, we really didn’t visualize the mounts very much before the scene was over.

In the second obstacle, Jill failed the Resources test and immediately wanted to mitigate the action by writing to G for more money to pay their way through the towns along the trail. I told her that the mouse only realized the expense would require they pinch pennies and wouldn’t see the results of the letter for some time yet; the twist would come later in the story. It didn’t satisfy. I should have brought it back to the Ptl Grd’s goal: place the Long Trail as highest priority. It could have proved an interesting scene for Jill’s mouse to complain about costs while Kelly’s mouse tells her to suck it up and get to work. Maybe.

Todd failed the Survivalist test; he was Tired while the patrol mates were Angry; we moved forward.

Kelly failed the Pathfinder test (but I had a Twist in mind for Jill) and slid down a muddy embankment. She tested Health to avoid injury and lost out. Kelly’s mouse was injured from the work, but they still had much to to. This got Jill upset again–being a strong Healer–as she found that during the GM Turn, she couldn’t take action using her skill. I could have mitigated that in a few ways–I could have ended the GM turn after the injury and let them decide how to finish the task, but I would have lost the chance to use my Twist idea.

I asked the group to imagine what other activities might come up on the task, but they were stumped. I finally explained there was a need to repair a damaged bridge along the trail. They needed to repair this location in order to ensure safety for travelling mice. Kelly suggested she Instruct Todd in Carpenter (for which she had an opening score) to get the job done. She was successful in teaching–the group made progress.
I presented the Twist–a friend of Kelly runs a business of inns and cottages; this was Todd’s enemy. This brought some lively table discussion as Jill found her friend was Kelly’s enemy. The interwovern threads were everywhere. They got a deal from Kelly’s friend for a cottage and while there, were attacked by bandit mice. Jill immediately pushed this into a Fight conflict. They took a hard beating, but won the fight. It should have been a major compromise, but I got really easy on them and let it slide off as a minor compromise! Why did I do that?! It was like wearing kid gloves.

With that, I ended the GM turn and let them get started on a Player turn. I didn’t emphasize the recovery process, but it came up. Every mouse had at least two conditions (Kelly had three). Jill was frustrated she had to roll dice over forgiving Todd on his poor camps–especially after so much time.

Only Jill had earned checks (and not because she undedrstood how or was convinced it was worthwile); because, I had urged her to give dice to an opponent in the Fight. She began with a Circles for her merchant Friend. The conversation was helpful, but she also wanted to test somehting to determine if her was telling the truth. I told her that was included in the Circles test and his Friendship (Friends tell the truth, friends sometimes lie).

Kelly followed that with an artistic wood carving to commemorate the opening of the Long Trail; the townsmice of Shorestone were not pleased with the result (‘too modern for their tastes,’ says Kelly).

Jill comes to a pathfind to Lockhaven to report the banditry and other findings. She asked, 'Why can’t Kelly Pathfind instead of me trying Beginner’s Luck?" My answer, “Because you are using YOUR check, not Kelly’s.”

Todd pathfinds his way home to his wife and children (he left the patrol once work was complete).

Jill concluded with a Healer practice test (not totally kosher, but the failure meant she already knew plenty and didn’t make any new discovery).
Overall, the session felt a little flat. I was at a loss to explain the GM Turn/Player Turn in any other way than, ‘that’s the game side, not the story side; it is not to say that you didn’t try to heal kelly, or get money from G; it is just to say that you couldn’t make a new test out of that thing until later in the game session.’

We drove through rewards. That helped them see the results of their actions, but Jill wished those rewards had come during the session (immediately after earning) rather than the end. I think the end is better; because, it shows how much more you can do in following sessions. The idea of earning the reward immediately in order to use the reward to mitigate further obstacles of the session isn’t how I would want the rewards used.

No one really connected with the use of Traits to earn checks. In fact, I had to pull teeth to get them using Traits in favor about as often as I suggested methods for using them against.

Jill was unsatisfied; Kelly was hungry. Todd was done. No one wanted to stay for a chapter on recruiting.

When you say Todd failed his survivalist test and was tired, what did you actually say at the table?

When Todd failed the Survivalist test, I said something like, 'Matthias (his mouse) is a skilled survival expert. He makes every effort during the many weeks of labor along the Long Trail to set a clean camp with good access to water and forage; he helps each of you create a burrow for comfortable and safe sleeping.

'Despite his best efforts, the weather is hard to predict and makes the wilderness nights an uncomfortable slop. The water attracts mosquitos; the forage attracts ants and those attract spiders. As every new trouble rears, Matthias overwhelms himself trying to curtail the suffering; nevertheless, Nathaniel and Franette (patrol mates) hold him accountable. They complain that it’s all his fault and argue about how to handle the camping.

‘Todd, your mouse is Tired (right here in the center of the character sheet), and Jill and Kelly’s mice are both Angry. These conditions have an impact on the continuing story.’

I tried to get them helping me list upsetting camp experiences. My wife is never a happy camper, so this actually worked out to some good visualization for her.

Jill’s response was something akin to, ‘that’s not how my character would treat a fellow patrol mate; that’s not how he handles hardship.’

Cool. So he got the success that his tiredness bought. Jill’s reaction is interesting. When I impose Angry, it’s usually pretty clear what they’re angry at. In her case I probably would have told her that she was left feeling angry, but not what she was angry at. She can decide that. Maybe she’s just angry at the situation or the Guard, or the weakness of the Territories that has got her out in the rain.

Sounds like a hard group man! Kudos for getting them together though.

I’ve been running this over in my mind during the past days. It is great advice. I allowed Kelly to describe her Injury as she wished, yet I had dictated the Anger of earlier in the mission. I should have invoked the mechanics, then allowed the players to weave that into the tale.

I’m already starting to create a new mission for the second Demo Game; however, there are no interested players signed up right now. I’ve got two weeks to prepare.

Perhaps I could adjust the railing on my own thread:

What can you say about using pre-gen characters for demo sessions?

I created the characters with a mix of obvious-choice skills as well as unexpected-creative skills.

I liked that Kelly used Instructor to handle the Carpenter test instead of attempting the Carpenter test herself. It involved another player, it brought her belief to life, and it illustrated her character’s unique skillset.

In contrast, while Jill had a mouse with strong Healer, I hadn’t considered how to include that skill. Since she couldn’t Heal during the GM t, she was frustrated to see the best stat go unused until far later. (I should have suggested she use Healer as a Helper for Kelly since she was injured! Dang, just thought of that.)

Are there stand-out skills which are less helpful to a demo session?

Since the previous session highlighted Animals and Wilderness, should I use the next session as a chance for Mice and Weather? It won’t be the same players (except maybe my wife). I probably won’t even use the same pre-gen mice…maybe.

If I may offer some ideas…

In your game recap, it seemed to me that the players were sort of driving the action in the GM turn. I’ve found that there are still plenty of things that players can do in the GM turn, but that the KEY OBSTACLES AND CONFLICTS are set and determined by the GM only. This definitely takes a lot of getting used to both for the GM and the players, who are often used to playing more open-choice games like D&D.

For example, in your game you knew you wanted a CONFLICT with the raptor. Perfect. Let the players develop the story with questions and actions while building toward the raptor conflict. Maybe one player wants to focus on hiring hunters to help. Nice idea. So you simply have the raptor fight on the way to hire the hunters. Or something like that.

In other words, the players get to still develop their mice, but the GM throws pre planned things in the way. In the players turn, they can take full control of the story.

My most successful games have focused on getting into the action quickly and focusing on shorter but intense stories and missions. Good players will role play and develop their characters in the context of obstacles and conflicts. Weaker players won’t do much anyway, so no point in dragging things out for them anyway.

I know this was maybe lengthy, but I wrote it more for beginner Gm’s who may read this later. I hope it helps.

I did take the suggestion (foolishly) to test Hunter before opening a conflict, then though, “since that was successful, maybe they are better off than I imagine.”

I should have ‘said yes’ rather than roll dice and provide a more detailed description of the scene with the raptor and initiated the conflict. I would have even allowed the Orator as a Manuever action (maybe a Feint would be better). Overall, that could have resulted in a far more satisfying event.

During the work on the Long Trail. I led all the action and drove the story a bit too much. I had already decided the test required and the Obs were factored beforehand (that was part of the original post which was washed away by Sandy).

I’ve been thinking about the next demo session. I’ve got to allow more of their actions without tests and only really push the tests for the planned obstacles. If I start thinking of calling on tests for their actions, I could end up using the obstacles they dig up instead. Sometimes that is great fun, but works better in an established group rather than a demo.

I do need to do a better job of illustrating the importance of checks and gaining checks through traits. They were unconvinced that their traits should ever work against themselves. They didn’t realize how much they would need checks. Technically, I gave them all several free checks just to allow them to try out the recovery mechanics.