Actual Play Report; Game Master’s Behaving Badly

We had our third game, if you want to start at the beginning, the first session is here. The second is here.

So I have to admit I was a bad GM this game. I didn’t adapt properly to my players actions. I also didn’t have a backup plan. This game I tried to do type of game that I love when it goes right but only occasionally get to go right.

The game went really well until the second half when I failed.

We left off with the PCs in a dome gallery in a cave. A large, ornately carved rock stood slightly off center of the room. The tracks of the scout they were following named Habibe, went up to the rock and then to the center of the room with no trace of where he had gone to.

Enedger walked to the spot Habibe’s footprints ended and stood there waiting for something to happen. When nothing happened, he looked around the room to see if he could notice anything from this perspective. He looked at the large stone and got the impression that if it fell toward him it would land at his feet, right where Habibe had disappeared.

He walked over to the stone and tried to push it over but it wouldn’t budge. He started to look at the stone and found a section that looked like ten raised bumps in an upward facing triangle were actually little disks floating a hairsbreadth away from the stone. A downward facing set of ten bumps directly above it were actually carved into the rock.

I brought out a paper plate with ten pennies in formation and a drawing of the opposing bumps above it. One penny on top then a row of two then a row of three then a row of four forming a triangle pointing up.

Being a boy, his first instinct was to try and kick the disks away. A few of the disks would move and then slide back into their formation. He then tried a rock and a bigger rock. The disks would move and then pull back to formation supposedly with a powerful magnetic field.

That’s when Kagami decided to start investigating and discovered that the disks could be moved three at a time and would move up to several inches away but then snapped back into place. Any three could be moved, but only three at a time.

Enedger then looked at the downward facing formation and flipped the arrow of ten disks by only moving three of them. (Can you do that? I’ll have to try this out on my older gaming group. An eleven year old figured out the rules and a nine year old figured out the moves.)

The side of the rock facing the center of the room then opened and the door hinged down like a drawbridge to form a platform that ended at the center of the room. Inside were a set of stairs going down.

Enedger went down with his pistol drawn and Kagami followed. Laying on the stairs was Habibe. Weakly he said, “Oh good, you made it here. One guard will always lie and one will always tell the truth. The one that lies will kill you if you ask him to let you pass. The one that tells the truth will let you pass. I guessed wrong.” Then he handed them his notes and died. He had been shot by a plasma blast on the right side.

Kagami looked at the notes. They were all in Arabic which neither of them could read.

The drawbridge started to close. Both the PCs made a reflex roll that allowed them to escape before it closed but they debated what to do so long that it closed and they were trapped inside.

Enedger examined Habibe trying to see from which direction he was shot and determined that he must have tried to run away when hit. This meant he couldn’t be sure from which direction he was hit.

Both very carefully walked the rest of the way down the stairs and into a hallway (3m tall 5m wide). Thirty meters down the hallway was darkness that Kagami’s night vision goggles couldn’t see through and Enedger’s sonic imager wouldn’t form an image on. They moved forward very slowly.

At ten meters the darkness slowly dissipated and the PCs could see the guards were Kerdi. (The darkness is a side effect of their shields absorbing energy.)

This is where things went wrong. I hadn’t given enough conditions and hadn’t done enough prep work to be thoroughly versed in how the guards should respond although I knew the conditions existed. The second thing I did wrong was pick a puzzle that was too hard. I figured my eleven year old might be able to figure it out, we read all the Sherlock Holmes books together and likes mysteries, she’s also a prolific reader so I thought she may have heard of this riddle before.

In any event, I didn’t have a back up plan and the players were getting frustrated. Bad GM.

Experimental Ideas For Fixing This
I’m thinking that this kind of log jam could be handled by the technobable monster but I’d like to keep some element of player challenge.

My son and I talked about this and one of the problems is that you don’t want the players to just hit a puzzle and each time say “I take an IQ roll”. That’s boring. Past that is if they fail, they just take another roll. One of the things my son suggested is that you only get one roll to try and get help solving a puzzle. If you want to roll again, you have to take a mental stress point. That’s not a bad start.

Then I thought of something else that would work quite well with the Fraction Column system. If a player passes their IQ roll, the GM has to make it a multiple choice question. Start with eight or so choices, each one close to the real answer. The more fractional successes the PCs get, the more wrong choices are removed. If the player rolls their eighth four choices are removed. They can roll as many times as they like, they just take stress when they roll over.

I explained how the logic problem worked so that they would be less mad at me, they still liked the game, they just thought the guards were annoying. So I can’t do the multiple choice option for this one but I’ll keep it under my hat for future games. It also would be less practical for large groups. I’m going to try the technobable monster on this and see if they have fun with it. If it’s fun then it’s still good. If it’s boring I might be able to improve on the method but I’ll let you know either way.

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  1. Pingback: Actual Play Report; Tech Challenge Play Test | The Artifact RPG

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