Friday, March 7, 2014

First Adventure:  Teen Wolf Angst in the Ninth World

For the kids' first Numenera adventure I decided to run the Beale of Boregal, the first of several adventures in the Numenera book.

Oh.  Oh my.

For a first adventure, I found the BoB confusing.  It's lay-out, the hooks, the NPC's, all left me with a "Hunh?" feeling that did not give me great confidence in my ability to run it well.  However, Numenera is different enough from other games in both setting and mechanics that I did not feel comfortable simply improvising or adapting an adventure from another source.

Everything in the BoB seems to be playing at the same volume.  The premise is that the characters are on a pilgrimage, which is described in a great deal of detail that isn't really important to the adventure or to the character's understanding of the world.  Those details became a distracting static as I was attempting to prepare to run the adventure. I failed to look at it critically enough to cut out a lot of what amounts to fat and/or fluff.  The pilgrimage is essentially a set piece; the player characters could have the same play experience if they had the first encounter while sitting on a stump in a meadow or drinking in a tavern.

The PC's are expected to be invested in the pilgrimage at the beginning of the adventure and then to all but abandon it when the hook appears. To facilitate their investment, there are a list of possible motives for the players to be on the pilgrimage.  I failed communicate with the players about their investment in the pilgrimage and to predict how that investment might distract them from the hook.

 The kids had rolled their connections to the world and their inter-party connections defaulted to one-another; it looked like their grounding in the Ninth World was a done deal and that they would be playing foils to one-another.  Daughter's connection is that Son's character, the Doctor, can talk her down from her lycanthropic transformation; Son's connection is that machines won't "talk" to him when Daughter is near.  We worked out ahead of time that he would be interested in helping her in her goal to be rid of (or at least control) her transformations; her interference with machines was a clue that pointed them towards what kind of affliction she actually was experiencing. They both seemed satisfied that they would be aiding one-another and helping each-other towards their goals as characters.  However, their attitudes towards the pilgrimage turned out to be a complicating manifestation of their attitudes towards the campaign.

As we unfolded the initial narration, Daughter revealed that for the evening she planned to play not a Learned Jack who Howls at the Moon but a Surly Teen who Eschews Role Playing Hooks.  In the adventure, a young girl and her brother approach the adventurers and ask for aid.  Daughter was not having it.  She was on a pilgrimage, she said, and intended to continue on it until she found whatever she was looking for, which was plainly not an adventure with the Doctor.  The Doctor decided to help the girl by taking her to the nearest town which boasted colored springs of healing water.

This threw me. I did not want to split the party and I certainly did not want to run an adventure simultaneously for two different players with two different agendas traveling in opposite directions.  However, I had been schooling Daughter on the merits of "Yes, but.." GM'ing, so I only had on choice: to press on.

To buy time, I asked Son what he wanted to do.  He lunged at the plot hook and took off with the girl to find help for her mental disturbance.  I described next segment of the written adventure, facilitated a bit of role-playing with various townsfolk, and came back to Daughter.

Since neither of us had read the Howls at the Moon focus very carefully, I went along when she decided to leave the Wandering Way to protect the people on the path from her transformed state.  Had either of us read the focus carefully, we would have known that she should have been easily able to predict her transformation.  Without that knowledge, I was flying blind.  Just so she'd have something to do, I sent some bandits her way, and triggered her transformation.  Rather than digging into the rules aspect of the transformation, she acted kind of bored and annoyed by them.  She easily ripped one of the bandits to pieces, and was compelled by her focus to kill all of them.  I don't think that set well with her either.

There, we stopped for the evening.

Later, she confided in me that she really did not want to game with her brother.  They have a tendency to bicker, and it often ruins the game for them and for anyone else who sits in.  She told me that some of her friends wanted me to run a game for them, without Son.  My issues with the adventure were magnified by her decision to passive-aggressively sabotage it.

Son was also fine with Daughter having a separate gaming group.  Maybe they will want to play with one-another later, as they see each other having fun with the game. In the mean time, I learned that a subversive player is not necessarily messing with you just to do so; sometimes, there is pain behind the pain that needs to be drawn out before successful play can continue.