Thinking about Linking

Standard

Or, when one shots become two or three shots.

At various Cons I’ve often seen games that are meant to be part of a bigger piece. For example, you play part 1 of a scenario on the Friday night, part 2 on the Saturday. Other variants have been sessions that run across 4 different tables, all at the same time, with 4 different GMs. There’s also the ‘gameshow’ variant, where you might have to ‘win’ one game in order to ‘compete’ in the next. (Sorry about all the ‘bunny fingers’, but you know how people can be about terminology)

I have mixed feelings about such things. I can see how it’s fun to try out new stuff at a Con, especially if it’s stuff you wouldn’t be able to pull off at your normal home game. Heck, that’s why LARPs go mental at Cons and try to run games for 200 people at once, just because they can. I can also see how it might be a way of telling an ‘exotic’ story, that involves, say, time travel or multi-dimensional shenanigans.

On the down side though, I’ve usually been a player at these type of affairs, and I can totally see how the GMs had a great time, but for me, not so much. Again, it’s all about risk management and playing the odds. Given that Con games are tricky buggers to put together in the first place, why multiply the work unnecessarily? For instance, two part games. You obviously need to put in a break point halfway through your story. How do you manage players who could only make one half of the tale? Do they ever find out the second half? How do you brief the later players about the events of the first? and at the end of the day, wouldn’t it just be better to condense and refine your game to get 4 hours of amazing game, rather than 8 hours of good game?

Then there’s the multi game. My good mates in the Kult of Keepers were very good at this sort of thing. you’d have multiple tables all running the same game, but of course with slight twists to each. The GMs would have set times to move players from one table to another. None of us knew this was due to  happen, we just had one of those “Can I have a word outside?” moments with the GM, and he’d return with a different person, who basically knew  less than we did. It was fun, really. Even though it was utterly confusing, if not disorienting. However, I have to admit that this is all with hindsight, and with the ability to catch up with the other groups to see what they’d experienced. If I’m really honest, I’d say I admired the game rather than enjoyed it. I absolutely bet the GMs loved it though. I bet they had a great time afterwards with their war stories of utter confusion and bewilderment. Let me state this out loud though, I don’t like being confused and bewildered in an RP, at least not long term, and I certainly don’t want that to be the point of the exercise!

Now don’t get me wrong, experimentation is a good thing, and a Con is a great place to try something out of the ordinary. I just want to make certain that when I put together an ‘out there’ game that I’m doing it to make a game that everyone enjoys, not just me. That’s not easy even with a trad set up.

Anyone ever had really positive experiences with these?

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8 thoughts on “Thinking about Linking

  1. Unfortunately, my only recent experience was the “round robin” type – run by an ex-KoK. The game started off very well with lots of good role playing. Then one of the players was replaced with another, but still some good roleplaying. Then it was my turn to be replaced. Blindfolded, walked to a random area, whispered voices, my hand in ice cubes and other things, then onto a new table. Then it got worse. Hardly any roleplaying just total confusion. Put me off a certain GM for life!

  2. Dave wrote: “my hand in ice cubes and other things…”

    Interesting. The mystery surrounding Mick’s bow-legged walk for a week or so after Conception is finally solved. Ta Dave 🙂

  3. Intriguing post Baz.

    I’m a relative n00b to the gaming and con scene, so I don’t have any practical experience of such linking. Tangentially, I ran two games of Mouse Guard at Conception this year, and the events of the second scenario arose directly from the player-initiated events of the first. I was the only one aware of this so I was just giving myself jollies to be sure because the players in the second scenario were different to the first group. However, such linking flows easily from the Mouse Guard system where play naturally just bounces along from twist to twist. Can you share your recommendations for systems that make linking easier than others?

    What in terms of practical dos-and-donts, tints-and-hips can you offer to folks such as myself who have never properly tried this but are interested in doing so? And – with apologies for being an Oliver-style cheeky bastard – I’m not just asking for advice from the perspective of the GM(s), but also for advice from the perspective of being an effective and generous and proactive player in such games. Do such games cater for proactive players, or are they more suited to folks who want to be taken on a ride as it were? Maybe Gaz has some pearls?

    Cheers
    Pete

  4. Hi Pete, welcome aboard.

    I will answer your queries, but it probably merits a new post all to itself! Bear with me and I’ll get something up when I’ve condensed my thoughts.

    Thanks again for posting.

    Baz

  5. I have issues with forcibly linked adventures. I’ve had to (pay for) two sessions in the hope that they would be good and then discovered part way through the first that it wasn’t. What could my friends and I do? Not turn up to the second part and leave a couple of other players and GM stranded? Ask for a refund? What was more annoying is that is was one session worth of material stretched over two sessions of time. Very poor.

    I’ve been running sort-of linked pirates games at various cons for some time now. The characters are largely the same ones and the back-story just gets richer every time I play, but there’s no necessity to have played a previous session, or even if you have, to play the same character. Its nice to have nods to previous events, advance the characters XP, change their description based on what’s happened to them etc., but each game should be approachable blind and new. People love playing in my Tight Purse Harvey games (modest too), and hearing or creating the next instalment, but others equally turn up on the day with no idea that nearly a dozen adventures have already been told over several different conventions. That’s the way it should be.

    If you’ve thinking of linking some scenarios in the same con, make the links amusing or knowing, but none invasive is my approach. I’m sure comic fans get much more out of superhero films than I do, but as long as I can take the movie at face value, without the need for insider info or otherwise, then that’s fine with me.

    Some of the pitfalls of directly linked “this game effects that game” approach?

    Players are not guaranteed to turn up for each session. Whether on purpose or accidentally double booking or whatever.

    People have to remember what’s gone on before (sometimes on a different day).

    If you fill in for an absent player there’s a knowledge gap and lack of investment, plus the inevitable “do you remember when” type stuff.

    You lose some potential players as a lot of people don’t want to commit to playing the same game in more than one slot.

    A lot of your foreshadowing and other set up is forgotten next time you play as players have had a break, or played several other things since.

    Bad decisions made in one game can be dragged through to another, when a fresh start would be better.

    Etc.

    On the whole, I’d say link things up if you want some continuity, but don’t try and run several directly linked adventures over the course of a con (or worse, over several cons). It might sound good on paper, but in practice it rarely works well. In fact, I can’t think of a single time when I’ve played something like that and its been as good (never mind better) than two or more one-shots.

    If you want the link up, or one game effects the next type stuff for your own amusement, then as I’ve said above – I’d have it done in a non-invasive way, so that people new to the game can play along in an equal fashion too.

  6. Oh yes. Very well. Three tables (English, German, Arabic) all doing essentially the same adventure up to a point, with different encounters and what not depending on which way they went and which guide they’d picked. Had a GM for each table, two running interference in the middle and trying to keep us together (Pete’s always slow) and three who sort of had an idea what was going on playing the native guides (with different skills and forte’s)

    The different groups bid for the guides based on who they thought was best from their speeches, bought whatever kit they wanted from remaining funds and set off in one of two directions. At a certain point near the end, the lights go out (metaphorically speaking) and we swapped everyone round so there were two of each nationality at each table. Any discrepancies in the “story so far” were of little importance as the groups tried to fight the King Kong clone and each other to get the waters of the Fountain of Youth.

    Worked well with odd shouts or jungle sounds from each table adding atmosphere to the other, analogues of each character in three different colours (aristocratic lady, Prussian countess, Arabic Princess etc), and a shared feeling of adventure – knowing that two other teams were heading off at the same time. We allowed some colouring of the adventure based on what one group had done if they got there first – but no real deal breakers (i.e. make the tribal chief more predisposed to hate the English by telling lies about them, but no, you can’t cut the ropes on the bridge so no-one else can follow). Mainly it was just that flavour that someone else might be ahead or catching up behind, but didn’t make them three streams directly related or interact until the final showdown.

  7. I’m contemplating running a multi-table game at Conception XI. Two tables of pirates each chasing the same treasure. Basically, it’ll be similar scenarios on each table with the final encounter (finding the treasure) on a merged table. It’d be the first time I’ve done anything like this so it was interesting to read Gaz’s reply. Thanks 🙂

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