My Take on the RopeCon 2014 Scenario Competition

I’ve shared my general ideas on the subject before, as well as abandoned idea. This is building on that.

You can find the scenario itself under Resources on top of the page, or here: Elämäni supersankarina (in English: MyLifeasaSuperhero – there’s a proofread version coming when I have the chance).

The Gambit

First of all, I should have probably researched the judges. That would have helped. However, I didn’t really have time. There’s a bunch of fairly anxious posts by me on our forums noting how many days I have left, and how I didn’t really have anything.

So, I decided to game the system. After all, I am a gamer, with some training in decision-making. I should be able to do this. So, since I didn’t have time to research the judges, I needed to rely on the players and the GMs. How do I do that?

First, select a genre that will attract an underserved part of the audience. The big three (fantasy, scifi, horror) tend to overshadow any others. So, perhaps if I serve one smaller audience, I can sort of preselect players who will be “with me” from the beginning.

Second, design the scenario in such a way, that only GMs confident enough in their own capabilities of handling it, would run it. So, basically lots of improvisation. Anyone can read notes out loud, or make basic judgments on situations. However, not everyone is confident in their ability to “wing it”. I think anyone can do it, but not everyone is confident in their ability to do it with such short notice.

Therefore, if I can get my scenario to be run by only the best GMs, and pair them with a very receptive audience, they’ll all have a better than average experience, and I’ll get better than average scores from them.

Sure, there’s a risk involved. If the judges are looking for a very traditional scenario, I’ll lose points there, which might drag me down enough to cost me the competition. On the other hand, here’s where people’s need to be polite comes in.

People who critique movies for a living are ready to go below average all the time. Amateurs often begin their scale from the average. Professionals will begin from zero and go up if they feel like it. Each point has to be earned. Amateurs start from average and only go down if the movie really, really sucks.

Sorry to call our judges amateurs, but they are, since they don’t really do this all the time. There’s probably the element of being a fairly small community, which forces people to certain political correctness in order not to offend anyone. So, basically, I’m going for near perfect marks from the GMs and the players, while going for maybe a seven or eight from the judges. That should be enough.

Of course, I didn’t know what the process of selecting GMs and players would actually be, so perhaps all this was for nought. Also, I don’t know how the points fell, so I might have been very wrong in my estimations.

On the other hand, I am a long time GM, and I know how to run fun games. The answer is, and always will be twofold: improvise and trust everyone around the table. I don’t really know how to write scenario in the traditional sense, so this line of thinking was probably my best chance.

Since I was the favorite of both the GMs and the players, I did do something right.

The Interview

As I previously said, I wanted to do something for an underserved audience. Since I didn’t want to go too obscure, I thought either a Western, or a Superhero scenario would be best. I went with Superhero, just because of its ubiquity currently. Of course, there could be some backlash for that, but I can always do it as differently as possible. subverting tropes would be the key.

I didn’t want to have a system in a traditional sense (although, there sort of is a system at play, its just not obviously a system). Therefore, I didn’t want to have random elements in the game, although I do love their effects. I did, however, want to have unexpected elements.

For some reason I thought it would be fun to have everything happen in the past. Everything within the game would be just them talking about what has happened before. No system needed, just some encouragement to come up with all sorts of ideas, and the content would self-correct itself to fit the players.

But how to bring in the GM? This is where the idea to make it an interview came up. It felt good. GM could take part in the process naturally, and have some control over it without having to resort to out-of-character shenanigans.

I had a very good feeling beforehand. I knew better than to expect a win, but I was confident enough to ask some people to pick up my trophy in case I do win, since I knew I wasn’t going to be able to attend the closing ceremony, although I didn’t actually find anyone before I got the call. (Thanks again, Alex, and the Guild for providing a great network of people for situations like this.)

The Non-Existent System

I say quite explicitly in the scenario that I don’t have a system in the game. I lied. There actually is one, but its not that obvious.

The system is of course based on encouraging people to participate by giving them ideas. The key to getting people to be creative is to set them some limits, but in the right way. Hinting at things will get their imagination going. For example, the list of suggested names for the Brains character is as follows: Flag, Shift, Roach, Anti, Shard, Sextant, Corpus, Gray Matter. I didn’t want to go with satirical names (ie. lots of Doctors or Men). Neither did I want to give a list of names with obvious meanings. Rather, I gave a list of names that you’ll have to work a bit to know why that’s the pseudonym the character has chosen, or has been given (as is often the case in modern superhuman mythology).

Also, each character has a list of goals. This list directs each of the characters quite a bit. The Brains is given a goal to describe his philosophy. That means there is one, and if the player of that character spends any time thinking about it, it will rub on to the character, thus making the character more like the Brains. Some of the goals are less subtle, but all in all they help to bring a dynamic to the group.

But you have to be careful here. Hinting at things will spark the imagination, but you should do it in a way that leaves room for subverting the tropes. In this case, the scenario should have a certain feel like that of Avengers, because its fun and exhilirating. However, I don’t want players to either feel the need to follow the tropes too strongly, or to feel they can rely on tropes too strongly. Its a fine line either way.

Some Comparisons with the Other Scenarios

I’m not going to point fingers too much (some finger-pointing will happen), but I’m going to point out some general things I noticed while reading through the other entries. (Admittedly my read-through was quite cursory, since I’m sitting in a hotel room in the Netherlands while writing this, not really wanting to use all of my holiday cooped up in here.)

Too long. Mine is easily the shortest, and most of the information isn’t even something the GM needs to absorb. Each other scenario seems to have a lot to digest, even in a pretty low word count. I don’t think I’ll have to delve into the 43 page document of one of the scenarios.

Too cerebral. Which is generally fine in a scenario, but not in a scenario the GM has to get ready for in a quarter of an hour. I think especially the scenario called “Seikkailijan synty”, which seems like a very good idea and something I’ll definitely consider running at some point, just suffers from being hard to approach. That’s a good thing in many other contexts, but not here.

Too little room to maneuver. Railroading is the worst enemy of a good RPG-experience. At least for me. I know quite a few players actually need it, but if I wanted to be simply the audience, I’d watch a movie instead. I think most modern players are like me. They expect certain freedom in their RPGs.

Meaningless fluff. There’s a section in the scenario “Lohikäärmeen valinta”, which actually got second place, so I can’t critique it too heavily, and does indeed have a very nice premise, where the players are asked to make a decision on the name and color of the dragon. These choices actually have a function within the game, but the players will never know it, and it doesn’t actually bring anything new to the table for the GM. So, why is that choice there? This is the part where you should kill your children, in other words, cull the ideas that you love, but should know better than to include in the final product.

… and please, don’t make the GM read anything out aloud. Its always awkward.

Finally

I liked the idea of a competition before, and after winning it, I like it even better. Don’t know what I’ll do next year, but hopefully by writing about this fairly openly I’ll be able to encourage others to participate. All in all the quality of ideas was pretty high, and I probably wouldn’t have been as confident about the whole thing if I’d known how good some of them where. On the other hand, the execution was lacking. Not necessarily much, but some.

And just remember: Trust the GM and hope that your GM trusts the players.

Also, here’s some self-criticism:

Not much actually, since I haven’t gotten the feedback from the competition.

However, I probably should have been a bit more flexible with the number of players in the game. I wouldn’t have wanted to go below three, because that’s what’s needed to gain the benefits of a group dynamic, but adding a fourth, and maybe fifth player would have probably been beneficial. Not much, since I don’t think anyone will dock points for it, except perhaps the judges, but for considerations of a wider use, why not. I heard one of the GMs just simply used two Elementals with some restrictions on what they would be able to choose, which was pretty good. Kudos to that GM.

There’s probably a multitude of minor things I could have done better, but I don’t want to delve on that too much. All in all, as I reread it now, it still seems good. There’s some minor language issues, but that’s more about me being perfectionist than about the actual quality of the scenario.

4 thoughts on “My Take on the RopeCon 2014 Scenario Competition

  1. Pingback: Ropecon 2014 skenaariokisasta | Efemeros

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