Repeat Business

Repeat Business
More Scum Talk

Today’s #rpgaday2018 thing has to do with a game’s “staying power.” I assume the question is about my own table.

This just came up with Scum and Villainy so I can talk about that specifically.

I started S&V totally planning on just making it a one-shot. I did not-very-much of what my typical prep cycle looks like. Usually if I intend to live with a game for a good long while, I totally immerse myself into its systems, setting, themes, all of it. I’ll do up cheat sheets for the system, kind of for the players but mostly for myself (because teaching = learning). I did fuckall for S&V and mostly relied on my prior experience with Blades in the Dark to get me through four hours relatively unscathed.

At the end of our (pretty successful but by no means a home run) session, I felt like I wanted to play again. My players agreed. For me at least, what jumped out:

It looked like I could pull off future sessions without a ton of prep. I’m sort of wrong about that but I was convinced for the duration of a single session, long enough to set the fishhook. Becky Annison made a great point about this today, about fitting into realistic adult schedules. Read her if you don’t already.

Stuff we hadn’t yet dug into looked mechanically interesting. So, like, the other moves in the playbooks. The ship/crew advancement system. The clocks attached to the various factions. The implications of downtime moves. There was other procedural stuff to play with, and I wanted to get into it.

The first session felt like repeatable fun. I can usually tell when a session is magical. You know? Like, some completely unrepeatable sequence or lightning bolt of inspiration or whatever, I know when those have happened. And they’re kind of a turnoff, honestly, because then I get a little scared that I can’t pull it off again. True story: I’ve been known to quit a game more than once just so I end on a high note. But predictable fun brings me back to a game, even if that fun is like…7 out of 10 fun stars. Which S&V felt like. I can expect a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 just by faithfully engaging with the game. In the long run, though, I’ll drop a game if either its predictable fun-ness falls off or if I feel like lightning will never strike.

I can see the shape of a campaign in the fog of the first session. I am pretty uninterested in episodic play, which honestly did concern me about S&V’s focus on the job-downtime cycle. Like if it’s just jobs, ehhh, maybe three sessions will be enough for everyone to activate one more neat toy on their playbook, play with it, and put it away. But after our first session, I could see a few longer threads emerging from the events. This is kind of what eventually cooled me off on Torchbearer, because I just couldn’t see how to tie the extreme close-up grind of the game into any larger ideas that folks would keep in their heads during the 3 or 4 sessions it might take to complete any given delve. This happened in Circle of Hands as well, which is focused on dealing with individual towns and their problems, without a lot of procedural or even setting support for longer-term arcs. Which is fine! Totally. Those games I really do dig for con play.

I care about the characters. The “be a fan of the player’s characters” thing is, for me, aspirational at best. I can fake being a fan of anything, but if I don’t actually find myself interested in everyone’s personal arcs, the game’s gonna go away fast. This is what happened to me in The Veil: after one session, I just didn’t care about anyone’s stuff. Loved the setting, intrigued by the system, but the characters were weird and unapproachable. Honestly I don’t know how much of that is on the mechanics and how much is on the players. There’s definitely some alchemy that happens there, between me, the players, and how and how much they’re engaging with the game.

For me at least, my interest in the larger operation of a game will carry me past not really caring much about characters. This totally happened with our excellent run through The One Ring, which I think ran a dozen sessions (which a fuckton for me). The big gears of the game — the encroaching shadow, the map exploration, the turning of the years — eventually hooked me into the individual dramas of our campaign’s fellowship. It was a close parallel to our experience playing through The Great Pendragon Campaign: everyone’s knights are kind of same-y at first (by design), but the tools that model the passage of time got me to really start caring about them.

Yeah…I think those cover it.

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0 thoughts on “Repeat Business”

  1. I can expect a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 just by faithfully engaging with the game.

    I love this. This is a great definition of a well-designed game, I think.

  2. A bit of a tangent that emerges from your comment about “if it’s just jobs”: One of the reasons I really want to try to run Leverage as a multi-session game (I’ve run it as a one-shot many many times) is the way the experience mechanic works, encouraging players to highlight the cool stuff that happened to them in past jobs and bring it back in order to get bonus dice from it. I feel like it draws a line of continuity between the very episodic structure that would otherwise exist. It’s the sort of thing I’d like to see in a lot more games, honestly.

  3. Yeah. Making episodic play matter in the big picture feels like a Best Practice that hardly ever gets discussed as such in rules texts. Prrrrobably because it’s strictly a matter of taste, and plenty of Cheetos-chomping casuals are perfectly happy executing little discrete episodes of fun.

    If getting mainstream players to even acknowledge fictional positioning is a thing within a single session is a tough carry, I can imagine getting folks to even remember events from session to session is harder than we care to admit.

  4. Good point! You’re totally right that carryover of events is a lot of mental heavy-lifting. I used to take extensive notes during sessions, or keep character diaries, but I’ve fallen out of that habit, and now it’s often a huge challenge for me to even remember the bare events of the previous session.

    (My current Monsterhearts character has a character journal, but because it’s very much written in her voice, and because she cares about some things more than others, it’s not a great record of what happened in the previous session, especially if she has to interact with her crush at all…)

    As I remember it, at the end of a session of Leverage, players are encouraged to recap one awesome thing that either they, or someone else did. Then you record on your “episode log” the episode title and a highlight moment for your character. So if your hacker character had to skydive in The Pencil Case Job, then four sessions later, during The Locked Clock Job, you can say “Oh, remember back when I had to skydive? I’m going to call on that experience now to add a d8 to my pool.”

    If that’s right (and maybe it isn’t) it allowed the event to be recorded contemporaneously, and banked against future opportunity.

  5. Is repeatable fun synonymous with killer app? In your case, anyway? To me, they sound the same, or at least the Killer App greatly informs the repeatable fun. Just curious if all your talk of Killer Apps over the last year or so is just another way of discussing repeatable fun.

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