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Praise for dvang's Demo (Portland, OR)


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#1 Yipe

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Posted 27 July 2010 - 05:15 PM

I want to thank dvang for running a fabulous WFRP demo of "Journey to Black Fire Pass" on Saturday at Guardian Games in Portland, Oregon.

This is the second demo I've taken part in with dvang as the GM, and it's clear that this man is not only an ambassador for WFRP 3E, but for RPGs in general.  He's prepared, patient and creative - all the hallmarks of someone who's good at introducing a game to complete strangers.  And this is doubly important for RPGs, which can make some people feel a bit nervous when "getting into character" in a public place (people like me, for example).

Here are a few highlights from the demo that I feel demonstrate the above qualities:

Prepared

I arrived early only to find dvang had already set up the table, complete with:  custom-scanned character sheets (these were amazing), a photocopy explaining the various dice, a rule sheet on movement ranges, a 2-paged typed outline of the rule mechanics (which he used to explain the game to us before we started playing), a map of the empire and a miniature representing our character.  And this doesn't even take into account any material he created for himself to run the adventure.  Whew!

Throughout the adventure, there wasn't a single instance where dvang didn't know the rules or was able to look something up quickly to answer a question (I believe he only had to open the rulebook once).  This was pretty impressive as I kept trying to use the Agent's various social cards in, shall we say, "inventive" ways.

Patient
Dvang put up with my constant questions and sub-par roleplaying, as well as a somewhat psychotic Trollslayer who felt like disemboweling just about any NPC that spoke to him, or was in the same room, or was breathing somewhere across town.  If I was GMing and had to deal with a player like, well, myself, I'd be sweating bullets, especially when we spent over half our allotted time trying to determine if Rudi had killed the elf conman, or barring that, where the elf was hiding (his room was empty and the window was "mysteriously" open).  It's been years since I roleplayed on a regular basis, and I forgot how easy it is for a group of players to latch onto the smallest details, regardless of their importance to the overall storyline.  Dvang took it all in stride.

For example, when the Trollslayer declared he was burying his axe into Rudi's chest (before we had a chance to negotiate with him about the map, and did I mention this was taking place in our room at the inn?), dvang simply said "roll initiative!" as if he was fine with us cutting down an NPC within earshot of the entire town.  Fortunately, we were able to spare Rudi's life for the time being and avoid being executed by the local militia.

Creative

He did a good job of bringing the Old World to life through his descriptions of the people and places, which was nice as my knowledge is only so-so and another player didn't know anything about Warhammer.  He was also aware of how the game was progressing, giving us small hints here and there to help us out (such as asking if we wanted to set a watch for the night), and having several of the goblins and orcs flee after the Orc Warboss nearly killed the three of us single-handedly.

Here are some other random things that happened in our demo:

We had 3 players for our demo, ending up with the Agent (played by me), the Hunter and the Trollslayer.  The other two players settled on their characters quickly (with the Trollslayer's player sitting right down at that character's seat without a moment's hesitation).  Because we were one person short, this left me with the Agent who was, in many ways, the group's spokesperson.  Not having RPed in over 5 years (other than the "A Day Late..." demo), I was pretty nervous to take on the Agent's leadership role.  Fortunately, everyone at the table settled into their characters nicely and we had quite a bit of in-character dialogue and drama.  I think this was my favorite part of the demo, even though it probably used up a lot of extra time and forced us to call things off before we reached the story's conclusion.

The dice were against us.  Our poor Hunter could not pass a Hunter-related skill check to save his life.  However, when it came to firing his crossbow, his dice were hot!

We tried to sneak up on the goblin sentry, and both the Agent and Hunter passed (beating all the odds).  As the Agent, I tried to counsel the Trollslayer (who had no hope of sneaking up the canyon successfully) to hang back while we scouted out the greenskin camp, then come charging in from afar to catch the enemies' attention while the Hunter and I popped up and blasted the badguys in a surprise attack.  The Trollslayer thought about this plan for a second and then charged ahead anyway, alerting the goblin and getting us caught in an ambush later on down the road.  It was pretty funny.

In the beginning of the goblin and orc ambush, dvang rolled some ungodly numbers with the goblins' ranged attacks, bringing all of us down to nearly half wounds.  I think he quickly realized things were not looking good for us...

Then the Orc Warboss and the Trollslayer squared off in one-on-one battle.  The Trollslayer started out strong and hurt the Warboss with a nice Troll Feller strike, but then whiffed his next attack and was knocked unconscious with 2 criticals in return.  Ouch.  The Hunter player and I looked at each other and figured we were dead anyway, so we decided to go out in a blaze of glory and charged the head Orc.  The Hunter managed a nice shot with his crossbow, and I did a massive 1 point of damage to the Warboss with my pistol, but our combined attack was just enough to knock him out.  At this point, I think dvang took pity on us and had the gobbos and an orc flee, leaving a single orc for the Hunter to finish off.  Against the odds, all three characters survived.

We made it to the dwarf stronghold, but had to end the demo early because we ran out of time.  We left off at the part where the High King's dignitary didn't want to give us back the relic shield, and I had to convince him to hand it over without spilling any secrets.  Remember when I mentioned my sub-par roleplaying skills?  Yeah, this part was tough and my brain just ceased to function.  Maybe next time!

All-in-all everybody had a blast.  I will say that playing in dvang's demos can be a little bittersweet.  I'm not part of a roleplay group, so now I have to wait until FFG puts out another demo before I can play in one of dvang's games again.  Drat.

Again, thanks to dvang for all the hard work and time he put into making this a fun experience, it showed.

Sincerely,

Yipe

 

 

 

 



#2 dvang

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 07:48 AM

Well, gee Yipe!   TYVM for the praise.

I certainly try my best to present a fun and interesting game for everyone involved.

A few "notes from the GM" to help round out your post:

Prepared:

I copied NPC stat sheets for easy use during combat.
I wrote out a page of "PC knowledge" of things the PCs would know. Some of which I read to the group. Others, such as information about Karak Azul, I had easily on hand should you have asked about it.

I was lazy and only hand-wrote the dwarf racial bonuses on a single index card

I had made and printed out a card for the shield, should you have claimed it.

Patient:

Now, I wouldn't go so far as saying "sub-par" roleplaying for any one of you. I thought everyone roleplayed very well. You were the stern and responsible elder brother, and did very well to keep the hot-headed youngest trollslaying brother in line the majority of the time.

I will admit I was sweating a bit about 2 things:
Killing the Elf inside the Inn
Killing Rudi inside the Inn

But, I tried to roll with it. One of the things I like most about GMing, which WFRP is great at, is allowing the GM to feel free to improvise or handle whatever the players throw at him. Invariably, players will *always* do the unexpected. The challenge, and fun as a GM for me, is seeing what the players come up with and incorporating it into the story. I try not to say "no" (but I will if I really must, of course), and instead allow what happens to happen and adjust the environment/state of the game to what transpired. Honestly, it's the player's story ... I (as the GM) am just there to help narrate it and handle all the riff-raff details while the players get to be heroic. Ultimately, of course, the story about the Inn had little effect on the main plotline... although being arrested for murder would have certainly slowed the party's travel to the Pass a bit.

Creative

There was some excellent dynamics in the group, I thought, with you being the serious and socially aware older dwarf, the young hot-headed Trollslayer, and the slightly bloodthirsty Hunter that waxed between supporting the trollslayer, and trying to restrain him.

Indeed, the poor Hunter just could not pass a single Observation or Nature Lore check, despite being trained in them. It was almost comical.

Agreed that the encounter with the Orcs would have been much easier if you had disabled the sentry. You wouldn't have suffered that initial round of shooting by the goblin archers, for example.

What really hurt, was the Trollslayer missing his second attack. Even a normal hit would have done enough wounds to put the warboss out of commission, since the first hit did so well. I was a bit surprised at the miss, and had to adjust a bit. Luckily, though, the criticals inflicted by the trollslayer's TFS hit (gain fatigue if orc makes a movement maneuver, and gain an extra fatigue when he gains a fatigue), made it reasonable that the warboss wouldn't want to go anywhere, allowing you two to get at least of round of ranged attacks on him before he would decide to try to move towards you. In that time, you both managed to do just enough to knock him out. It was fortuitous that I decided if the goblin archers rolled a Chaos Star it meant their bowstring broke after the shot, which ended up happening to 3 of the 4 archers between the 2 rounds of shooting, and the crossbow goblin rolled a delay, which I applied to his crossbow reload.

Really, I didn't take too much "pity" on you. Goblins, at least, are very prone to fleeing should the warboss fall. The other orcs had a better chance, but I rolled abysmally for one of the discipline checks to stick around.

It was too bad you didn't get a lot of time to try to socially interact with the dwarf ranger and crew at the end, but I had faith you would have eventually come up with something.

You're welcome, and I'm glad you had a good time. Let me know if you want to rope your friends into coming up for a game like last time. I'd be willing to run it again for you guys.



#3 Yipe

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 12:13 PM

Regarding my sub-par roleplaying:

I never felt like I had a good handle on Gunnar, the Agent.  In my own defense, I find effectively roleplaying a character whom I've only had a few moments to glance over before jumping headlong into an adventure (especially coming up with evocative and appropriate in-character dialogue) is tough work.  I know that some players are quite talented when it comes to getting into their character's skin, even one they've just met, but that's definitely not my strength.  Making matters worse I haven't RPed in years, and back then I was generally the GM, allowing me plenty of time to prep how I wanted my NPCs to look and sound.  Anyway, things seemed to work out fairly well.  I'd definitely say there was more roleplaying going on, and of better caliber, than the first "A Day Late..." demo I took part in back in November and easily on par with the second.

By the way, while you were explaining the rules I actually came up with some back-story for Gunnar that I wanted to bring out during the game.  I'm not overly familiar with the Old World or WFRP, but from what I know it's supposed to be a gritty, grimy and almost darkly comical place.  On his character sheet, it said Gunnar's Lord had passed away and the noble's house had fallen into ruin.  I gave a name to Gunnar's liege - House Vorone of Averland - and decided that the estate's accountant had been embezzling money for a long time until the family was broke.  Gunnar figured out who was responsible, but the accountant turned the tables on him and played the "race" card, accusing Gunnar of stealing the family's money as a greedy, good-for-nothing dwarf.  He was thus banished back to Karak Azgaraz.  I thought having an accountant bring about Gunnar's fall was fitting given what I know about the game.

I wanted to play Gunnar as a lost soul, having returned to his ancestral home in quiet disgrace, only to find one brother missing and the other an alcoholic Trollslayer (who might also be a psychopath).  Basically, he learned the hard way "you can never go home".  This is why I had him go straight to the Temple of Sigmar in Heidick (sp?), besides wanting to ply the priest for info about the missing dwarf expedition and learn where the Temple's dwarven building blocks/foundation had come from.  Of course, about 0.2 seconds later I realized things were nearly going off the rails at the Orc's Head inn and I had to cut short my planned discourse with the Sigmarite priest.

 



#4 Dave Allen

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Posted 28 July 2010 - 10:59 PM

Sounds to me that you picked a very apt rationale for the agent's background and motives, and whilst the troll slayer seemed a bit of live wire that's to be expected.

So from your write up it doesn't seem like roleplaying was an issue at all - that the more sensible dwarfs had to compensate for the death-seeking nutjob sounds pretty interesting and fun to me.



#5 dvang

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 03:32 AM

It was a lot of fun from my end, anyway.  I think Yipe was getting a bit frustrated trying to reign in the Trollslayer, though.

It did take a little bit of strong-arming by me, through the local NPCs in the bar, to stop the Trollslayer and Hunter from killing the Elf outright in the Inn's common room.  Especially after the "I don't like this company" comment when the dwarfs pushed their way to the table.  And another time, the Trollslayer broke down the door to the Elf's room (only to find him gone), and Yipe had to explain to the Innkeeper what had happened (or what he told the Innkeeper what happened) and had to try to smooth things over (with their very limited funds available too, so no buying their way out).  He did it smoothly and with a straight face, and was able to (mostly) placate the Innkeeper.  It was a blast from my end, if a bit nerve wracking trying to keep up with what the players were doing.

 



#6 Yipe

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 06:04 AM

dvang said:

 

It was a lot of fun from my end, anyway.  I think Yipe was getting a bit frustrated trying to reign in the Trollslayer, though.

And another time, the Trollslayer broke down the door to the Elf's room (only to find him gone), and Yipe had to explain to the Innkeeper what had happened (or what he told the Innkeeper what happened) and had to try to smooth things over (with their very limited funds available too, so no buying their way out).

 

 

I wasn't too frustrated, but I was a bit taken aback by how bloodthirsty the Hunter and Trollslayer were acting.  I wouldn't want to meet either of those dwarfs in a dark alley, or in broad daylight, or in a church... After we staked Rudi's and Boris' heads in front of the Inn with a note not to disturb the dwarf ruins - OR ELSE! - I was convinced Gunner was the most evil "good guy" I had ever played

I had forgotten about the "door bashing" incident.  In retrospect it was pretty comical.  When the Trollslayer rolled to break in the elf's door and a chaos star came up, I was positive you were going to say that the door was so flimsy he smashed through it and kept on going - out the 2nd story window, heheh.

Anyway, I'm just glad Gunnar's character sheet didn't have something written on it like "prefers not to lie", otherwise I think we all would have ended up in a prison cell!

To Dave Allen:  Thanks to the great pre-gens you created and your adventure's superb design, I was able to really roleplay for the first time in years.  Did I mention I had a blast?  Here's hoping you come up with another WFRP demo in the future.



#7 Yipe

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Posted 29 July 2010 - 08:13 PM

I've now played in 3 demos run by dvang - all with players new to WFRP 3E - which has given me a decent sense of how an introductory demo for Warhammer works. After some reflection, I've come up with a list of options and techniques to running such an event. Please note that what follows are the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind, so take them with a grain of salt. My suggestions represent a particular focus and style of play that may not be suitable for all groups. Now, on with the show...

What is the purpose of a demo event such as Journey to Black Fire Pass? As its most basic, the purpose is to sell players on a new RPG by actively engaging them in a story. And what sells RPGs? That's undoubtedly a big question, but in a demo I think it boils down to something fairly simple - an emotional connection to the story. Regardless of the rules, the trappings and everything else, if you can get people to "do cool stuff with my character!" or get hooked into the drama, then chances are they're going to like the game too.

Focusing on this goal - to create an emotional connection through the narrative twists and turns of the story, the players' roleplaying and their characters' actions - here are my suggestions:

On Explaining the Rules

For most demos, time is the enemy. And I've come to believe that a lengthy explanation of the rules is not the best use of what little time the players have to finish the adventure. In addition, I've found any talk of rules that stretches beyond 5 minutes tends not to have much use. Players' eyes glaze over, or they get distracted, or the rules themselves all tend to bleed together. So instead of an in-depth look at how to play the game, or even a basic rundown of every aspect of the character sheet, dice and conflict resolution, I suggest a much broader approach, and one that touches upon the elements that really sell a RPG. In other words, answer the question "what can my character do?" rather than "how does my character do something?"

Sticking with the 5 minute limit on rules chatter, I would start with the stance meter as it's an easy concept to grab, and it segues nicely into the dice pool. Explain that green equals conservative and red equals reckless, how each side can reflect your character's personality, and how it's fun to roleplay these otherwise mechanical choices. Then go into a brief rundown of the dice, without bothering to explain the various symbols or facings. For example, black means bad luck and white means good luck. Blue, green, red and yellow represent your abilities. The more you roll, the better chance you have to succeed at an action. Directly opposing these colors is the purple die. The more purple you roll, the harder or more challenging the endeavor. Simple is key.

After the stance meter and the dice, tell each player in turn what their character is good at, again using the broadest of terms. Don't rely on numbers, or even bother with the character sheet. I would say things like "As a Hunter, you're good at tracking, spotting or observing things and shooting your crossbow." Now, the player has no idea how to do these things in the game, but that's not important. What matters is that the player now understands when these situations arise, it's a good time for his character to act. The GM is there to help translate the player's wishes into the game's mechanics.

Once the story gets rolling and a social or combat encounter takes place, now is a good time to go a bit further into the rules (e.g. use one encounter to explain how actions, maneuvers and recharges work, the next how stress and fatigue function, etc). With clear cut choices that affect their character, or perhaps even the entire group, the rules will have more context and thus make more sense. Plus, you'll be doling them out in small chunks and in ways that are appropriate to the situation at hand. This should make WFRP's unique rule system more memorable.

On Theme and Mood

Jumping feet first into a new character without any time to prepare can be tough, even more so if you're playing an unfamiliar system with a group of strangers in a strange place. All these elements can detract from the emotional connection between the players and the story. To counteract this, as the GM I find it's helpful to take a few moments to describe the story's theme, mood and setting - things that will evoke images in the mind's eye of the players, as well as give them a psychological sense of direction to the adventure that is about to unfold. When describing the theme and mood, I feel that short and sweet works best. A phrase for a theme or a single word capturing the story's mood is far more powerful than a rambling paragraph.

Once you've described these elements to the players, take a moment to go around the table and have each person read aloud a small blurb about their character. Then give them an example of how their character's background fits in with the theme and mood of the story.  Conversely, you can ask the player to provide an example, but be careful because you don't want to put anyone on the spot - at least not yet!

Using the Journey to Black Fire Pass as an example, the theme might be "Righting a Wrong" and the mood "Regret". Those familiar with the Trollslayer character, Thord, can already see how his background meshes with these elements, but what about his brother, the Agent? You could plug Gunnar's story into this theme/mood combo by saying he regrets leaving Karak Azgaraz so many years ago, that perhaps if he hadn't his family wouldn't lie in ruins. Having returned, he wants to find his missing brother, help Thord regain his honor and rebuild his clan to the way it was before he left for Averland. Only then will he find peace. If it seems heavy handed, well, it is. But remember, these are pre-gens, which assumes a measure of GM control. And besides, the players already have a lot on their plate with learning the game, the world and solving the adventure. Giving them some concrete guide posts on how to roleplay their characters is one less thing they have to worry about.

An advanced option would be to customize a theme and mood for each character, and then tell everyone you'll give extra fortune dice - or even extra fortune points - to players that RP those elements.

Finally, by tying your chosen theme and mood into the various events that take place in the adventure, you build a much stronger (and more logical) sense of accomplishment for the players when they reach the story's climax, rather than presenting them with a string of random obstacles that must be overcome. Given the above theme and mood, it's easy to see how getting the shield to Karak Azul would be fulfilling to each character on a personal level.

On Setting the Stage

Another technique to help players get into the roleplay rhythm is to set the stage for them. In other words, a prologue. Taking each character in turn, briefly describe how they got from the background printed on their character sheet to where they are now and, if relevant, how they met up with the other members of the party.

This can be an excellent way to paint a picture of the Old World that will carry on throughout the adventure. With the Journey to Black Fire Pass, you might describe the interior of Karak Azgaraz and the Guildmaster who oversaw the shield's construction. Narrate him ordering the Miner and the Agent to find the missing dwarf expedition, and then describe how they have to roust a hungover Trollslayer and make him suitable for travel while persuading the ticked-off Hunter to join their party. Be brief. You don't want to go overboard and make the players feel like you're taking away their options to roleplay, or that you're putting words in their mouth. The point is to give the players something more meaningful and descriptive than "You start here, and the adventure begins..."

Now for a few specifics from the demo itself:

1. Thinking instead of Fighting

I like how the adventure includes a tax on "each leg" when entering the first town. That's quite fitting with the little I know about the Old World. But why not take it a step further and have the watch prohibit any large weapons inside the town? The characters could keep something small, like a dagger, but everything else must be stowed away. This could lead to many uses of the Perform a Stunt card, and some creative play, especially when dealing with Rudi and his thugs.

2. Terrain Makes the Game

It seems unlikely that the party can sneak by the goblin sentry, and will probably get caught in an ambush later on. If this is the case, then I think the ambush site could use some spicing up. Knowing that the Trollslayer should really get into a one-on-one brawl with the Orc Warboss, why not up the stakes and throw in a rope bridge over a chasm. Before the greenskins attack, the dwarfs see the heads of their kinsmen stuck on pikes - on the other side of the bridge. Then the arrows start flying from above! Stick a few large boulders for the Hunter and Agent to hide behind and return fire (or shout some inspiring words) from while the Orc Warboss and Trollslayer fight to the death on a rickety bridge. Who knows, perhaps the Miner will try to swing across on a rope and take the fight to the orcs? Either way, it's bound to be more memorable then just rolling dice and praying you take out the badguys first. This is also a great way to introduce the Location cards concept.

Well, this is crazy long. If you've read this much, you deserve a cookie. Or a beer. Or a beer and a cookie, though perhaps not in that order.

Sincerely,

Yipe
 



#8 El Hefe

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 12:27 PM

I really wanted to attend, but I was commanded by Ulric himself to show my piety by going to the Brewer's Fest.

If anyone is ever thinking of running the demo again, I'd be very interested. I've had the game and all of the supplements (save Winds of Magic) for a few months now and haven't had an oppurtunity to play (or GM) yet.



#9 dvang

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Posted 30 July 2010 - 02:37 PM

I am willing to run it again if there are 3-4 people in the Portland OR area that want to play. It does not need to be at Guardian Games, and I'm willing to travel a little distance if need be.



#10 Jack of Tears

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Posted 12 October 2010 - 02:03 PM

 Damn, I'm sorry I missed this.  Any idea of when the next demo event in Portland is going to take place?  

 






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