Succession: Scenario Design Contest 2013

Last year I was kindly invited to assist Nick and Nasia with the flagship LARP, Achaean and that took my available time and energy, but this year I had no real excuses and cobbled something together based on my rather patchy 208 or 2009 scenario Succession. The game was intended to be completely player-driven, as a GM I just turned up with hope in my heart and an opening scene, and Andrew McLeod, Nick Cole and Glenn Bellam did their best with it – fun was had, but it was unsatisfying, as I think any completely extemporized story of that complexity is likely to be.

The key to getting a scenario to work is figuring out what its basic story structure is and picking something appropriate. I’ll talk more about my initial failure with EPOCH in the form of Pleasures of the Flesh anon, but in terms of the SDC, it dawned on me that The Mountain Witch provided the right story “shape” and so I sat down to write what is basically a variation on that existing game.

As Ivan rightly pointed out in his comments at the award ceremony, the result of a scenario for a story game is… a story game. It’s not a tunnel-of-fun in the traditional convention mould, even in such an innovative approach to the tunnel as The Hand that Feeds was. The GM genuinely does not have control over the game and hence the scenario writer doesn’t either. The best you can do is try and distill down into a comprehensible form the techniques you personally used to get the game to be good.

When you’re then looking at winning a competition by offering “how to” advice for a scenario which flopped, adapted into a game you’ve never played, the exercise seems to be a little on the daunting side, so I knew that I needed to generate some useful raw actual-play experience in order to have something to distill. So when CONfusion rolled around, I rocked up with an idea, a recently re-skimmed copy of the rules, and set to work.

CONfusion was a great proof-of-concept. Even with only a nominal system grasp and really not much more of a plan than I’d had the first time, the game cruised through to a more-or-less satisfactory conclusion through a more-or-less satisfactory play experience. And then Pleasures of the Flesh raised its ungainly head and my attention was sucked into figuring out EPOCH. It wasn’t until basically the deadline was on me that I had time to get some real writing done, by which time the necessarily detailed lessons from “playtest” were fading rapidly. I sat down one day and banged out a draft of the text and then played my other card – copious peer review.

I sent the draft off to Dan L’Estrange, Sara Fletcher, Mr Morgue and Paul Wilson. After a bit of correspondence it was clear that there was a decent core of material, but a lot of re-writing and expanding to do. The catch? I was on holiday in the South Island. Late on the Friday before the Monday deadline I went into the iTunes Apps store and bought a basic looking wordprocessor and in the dead of each of the next two nights once the daytime fun was done I wrote basically the second half of the text and without really even re-reading it myself, sent it off figuring “what’s the worst that could happen?”

2nd, by the usual arbitrarily small margin.

As usual, the marker comments were full and useful, but unusually, I don’t really think I can fix them for this scenario. For example, I made some suggestions like advising the GM to divert them from detailed investigation, to which the markers rightly point out that my method for doing that isn’t that great – when I’ve got a better method I’ll be a better GM. For that shit, you need Dale, and to go the other way you need Luke.

The upshot is that next time I’m in that situation, I should take my laptop so that I can pick up the usual 5/5 for presentation rather than 3/5 and instead of losing by 1 point I can win by 1 point. But slightly more seriously – it gives me a bit of confidence that while I still can’t really write scenarios all that well, the distilation of my at-the-table advice was generally pretty good, good enough to be competitive with an actual game scenario (Mansfield with Monsters). I guess it made me feel like at long last, I’m starting to get the hang of this RPGing thing.

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6 Responses to Succession: Scenario Design Contest 2013

  1. Congrats on the SDC award. 🙂

    • mashugenah says:

      2nd place is the first loser. 😉

      But slightly seriously – with 4 entries I don’t think there’s a need for a 2nd place award, even if it is close.

      • Your entries are consistently scoring high over the years which is a sign of your challenging yet intelligent approach to your scenarios. Not a bad thing.

      • mashugenah says:

        Now that you get thanks for!

        Thanks! 🙂

      • mashugenah says:

        At the end of the day though, I feel like with some minor proofing and type-setting, you could send A World Of Possibilities and The Hand that Feeds off to be commercially published and they’d be quite as good as the average scenario out there. Succession is quite a lot worse than that. Before I’d put that out any wider than the SDC website I’d probably want another whole iteration of major writing of some kind.

      • As you note in your post, Succession may also be less appropriate for publication due to the open nature of the scenario.

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