Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Roleplaying Year in Review - Kingsport Tales

Tonight was the final session of my Kingsport Tales campaign for 2010. Kingsport Tales is an ongoing fortnightly, character driven, 1920’s Call of Cthulhu campaign set in and around Lovecraft’s mist-shrouded, fictional fishing town of Kingsport. It’s been a really enjoyable campaign thus far, with a fairly gentle pace, interspersed with some periods of frantic action. Tonight an enemy from the very first adventure of the campaign tried to take his revenge by setting a vampire on the characters during a train journey to Chicago. It was a satisfying resolution to what I’d rank as one of my best Call of Cthulhu campaigns to date. I have a lot of affection for the characters, and love that they continue to flourish despite not pulling any punches with the entities they’ve encountered (damn your magic Professor Bishop!) so far the campaign has included the following scenarios:

- Malice Everlasting
- Freak Show
- Dreams and Fancies
- The Strange High House in the Mist
- Dead in the Water
- Escape from Innsmouth
- The Raid on Innsmouth
- The Death of Cormac O’Tool (Feat. Pickman’s Model)
- Blood on the Tracks (Feat. The Revenge of the Warlock Matthew Chandler)

Players who have participated in Kingsport Tales = 7
Long-term characters created = 9
Long-term characters killed in the Waking World = 1
Long-term characters killed in the Dreamlands = 0
Characters permanently insane = 0
Elder Gods encountered = 3
Great Old Ones encountered = 1
Love interests encountered = 2

Looking ahead to 2011 I hope to run a few more adventures in and around Kingsport, before propelling the characters into the epic Mountains of Madness campaign.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Art of the Pitch

Following on from my basic rules for a ‘con scenario, I’d like to spend a little time writing about the art of the pitch. That’s to say; the blurb – a short paragraph or two, which you write to try and lure players to sign up for your game, choosing it over many other interesting-sounding options, electing to come and spend 3 hours or so, exploring the fruits of your imagination.

Mash rightly points out in the comments of the previous post that while my ‘rules’ for a ‘con scenario may be fairly transparent (if contested) for a GM. As a player, how would you ever know that you’re going to get a game which actually delivers on those points?

It’s a fair point, and in many cases you don’t. I actually think that writing a pitch is much harder work than it might seem at first, and that a decent number of GM’s don’t pay it too much attention; I mean, if you’re like me, then sometimes you’re writing a pitch months before you actually write the game as a kind of placeholder to denote your participation in the event. You try and make it seem like something you’d like to play in, and hope that there are enough other people out there with similar tastes. And yet, it’s not unheard of for games to not get enough interest to be run. I know I’ve often been uninspired when trawling through a collection of pitches, and even decided to skip a round entirely. And yet, at the same time, I’ve had some great fun playing games I probably wouldn’t have signed up for on the basis of the blurb…

The aim here is to create something akin the trailer for a movie, or dust-jacket blurb for a novel. Text so compelling that the reader always finishes reading it, then wonders; “I wonder what that will be like? It sounds so cool I need to try it!” Short, punchy, high on ideas and strongly evocative, yet with sufficient integrity to not alienate the discerning.

Obviously, even a good pitch won’t convince everyone. Some people just don’t like some things. And word-of-mouth and reputation can be a much greater factor in the popularity of a game (just like for other media) but ultimately a good pitch should, at the very least, get you a full game for at least one or more sessions.

Again; I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m any kind of expert on writing a great pitch, nor that my taste is the same as everyone elses, but here are my requirements for a good pitch:

  • Well written. To quote my earlier point, for me this means the writing should be “Short, punchy, high on ideas and strongly evocative, yet with enough integrity to not alienate the discerning”
  • Not clichéd. Gamers are very aware of clichés and tropes in genre; what does the game offer that is unique, how does it twist boring clichés, or avoid them entirely?
  • Not overwhelming or overly complex; I don’t want to have to work hard to read a blurb, or work to understand complex concepts or settings. I’m going to be worried that any game that seems to technical or grandiose is simply an excuse for the GM to show how clever he/she is.
  • Doesn’t draw on too much established material – this is probably more personal than something I’d expect everybody to follow, but I’d probably not sign up for a Star Wars game because I know I don’t have much understanding or care for the complexity of the setting, and this would likely annoy the players who did and possibly mean that the game would have to slow down to explain things to me. I don’t suggest you shouldn’t use established high concept settings (Buffy, Star Wars, Dresden Files, Anime etc.) but I do suggest that in doing so you may limit the pool of potential players and may end up with a challenging mix of rabid fans and people who just signed up on the spur of the moment, and don’t really care too much about the details.
  • Speaks to me as a player. I want the GM to sell me the game, then level with me about how he or she expects it to work. If I’m going to have to learn a system, I want to know that. If I’m going to get some degree of freedom and autonomy, that’d be nice to know as well. I don’t think you need to spell everything out, but you should try and mitigate any surprises – and obviously you should be catering for the player who knows nothing about anything as a starter.

Anyway, those are my thoughts about what makes a good pitch. What do you think?