I mentioned this group off-handedly before, but the short of it is: We have three people, who decided to choose assassins as their group. On Wednesday, for practical reasons, we decided to end the first series (or season in Amercanese) of the lives of this crew. This is about how I ran the first season as the GM.
First, I don’t plan. This is a sandbox game, so my job is to keep things going. That being said, I listen to the players. When they form their crew, they choose a ward boss and a contact. My preparation for each session is that I present opportunities from these two. Early on, I also decided to add a third person to give them potential scores. The players can themselves decide who they want to work with and with whom they want to build a relationship with. Some of the scores can only be done within a certain time window, while others are available for a longer period. Some scores will lead to others. I have a document, where all the scores are listed.
But again, I don’t know this beforehand. I will just follow where the players are going. I try to make it so that each of the three of their employers will have both assassination targets and other kind of scores available. Right now I’m trying to focus more on the assassinations, as the crew has not been very interested in the other scores, but I do think the other scores also have another important role.
I am trying to actively keep the world feel like it’s a real place, where things are happening outside of what the crew can see. The additional scores are largely about this. When there’s a score about picking up a package, it might feel random, but at the same time, it’s something that specific patron feels is important, so the existence of that score evolves the understanding of this world and that patron for the crew.
But the characters also live in this world and they talk to people, they have friends and enemies. So, from the beginning, I started adding a section on rumors they are hearing. Then I go back and sometimes change some of these (I sometimes change the scores as well) after each session as the situation evolves. After a while, the players started noticing that there are threads in the rumors, as well as some connections to the scores. Most of the time they are there just for worldbuilding, but they do also offer an opportunity to just do something if they are interested enough.
After a while, I decided that there should be another form of worldbuilding, so I started adding weekly newspaper headlines. They are often sensationalized, sometimes completely made up, but they are another kind of window to this world, I can’t really cover during the sessions. Here’s the first week of these headlines with some explanation on why I added them:
Inspectors Looking to Work with the Bluecoats to Stop the Annual Football Game in Crow’s Foot – this came up later in a session, when the crew moved through Crow’s Foot during a score. The idea here is that it is not a real game. It’s just a tradition that has completley gotten out of hand and it’s mostly just an opportunity to kick the people you don’t like in the head
Farros Estate to be Auctioned by the City – The crew actually killed this Farros person, so I just wanted to show them that their actions can have consequences
Canal Dredge Project Put on Hold Around Coalridge Due to Worker Strikes – there were a lot of rumors regarding these strikes previously, so I’m just adding to an existing background story here, but also I’m reminding them of the importance of the canals in this city
Reports of Giant Ghost Boar Running through the Six Towers Highly Dubious – yes, this is just bullshit, but it is also bullshit this particular newspaper keeps running from week to week
Imperial Guard Parade to Return After Three Year Halt – another background story, where the Imperial Guard is brought up regularly as any professional criminal in the city should try to keep away from them
Bellweather Crematorium Backed Up After Annual Maintenance Runs Over Budget – this actually worked out nicely, as something happened during a later session, where this became pertinent, so just sowing the seeds paid off
Exotic Animals Escape the Menagerie in The Docks After Vandalism – one of the ways I make these headlines is I just read through the people and places in the city and come up with stuff that could happen in this specific place. This keeps the city fresh in my memory, but also allows me to mention places that the players haven’t heard of yet, but their characters are probably aware of
Every week (we are on a break currently), the players can discuss what they want to do based on this information I’m giving them, but they don’t need to follow any of this. It took a little prompting (because I wanted there to be a climax to the series), but they decided to find a score for themselves in order to take over turf. They were able to use things they had learned previously here. They approached one of their patrons to ask for permisison to do this on her territory, which allows them to maintain a good relationship with her, but also gain help from her. They also knew who’s toes they were stepping on here, so they made their own decision on who to go to war with and that war will probably be the emphasis of the next series.
Sure, I have manipulated the situation, but I’m trying to make the players feel like they have control here. After all, it is their story. I’m there just to facilitate it. When I write the scores, I don’t know what’s behind them or where they will lead. I might have an idea based on what I know about the city, but I will just improvise when they actually choose to do a specific score.
If you aren’t confident in your ability to do this, you can make more preparations, but most of your work will be voided when the crew does their thing. Of course, you can always reuse ideas for the future, but I just find this relaxed approach much more fun. I’m actually quite open about this with my players. A recurring joke during the session is when I open Fantasy Name Generator to find a name for some weird purpose (it has a lot of different types of names).
Finally, if you made it this far, here’s the link to the document. Feel free to copy as you please. Just remember that I might not follow everything as written in the book. For example, if you delve deep enough into the rules, you would notice Lady Drake and Sevoy (two of the patrons) would actually be enemies (because of the factions they belong to are enemies). As usual, I don’t know what will happen if this ever comes up, but we’ll see. (Note that the document includes a temporary section at the end, which I will remove later on, but I wanted to write down for the break we are having, so that I won’t forget and it feels like there are things happening within the game.)