This was my first roleplaying session as the GM in a very long time. I think the last time I did so happened when I was in AIT back in 2007. I ran a basic dungeon crawl with some battle buddies and we even practiced our Military Symbology in the process. The Drill Sergeant walked by as we played out on the pad and called us a bunch of nerds. One of my friends quipped back that we could either be playing Dungeons and Dragons while practicing our symbology or we could be downtown getting drunk and probably into trouble. His retort impressed the Drill Sergeant so much, he left us alone afterward.
That marydote actually is a perfect segue into the roleplaying game I started to run today. The setting is actually one I had in my mind for awhile -- that I actually came up with while I was in AIT. I went to Arizona for AIT and a fictional town in Arizona happens to be where this game takes place. Everyone one in this town works for the mysterious corporation called Apache Springs Industries. There is a weird corporate, social hierarchical structure in the town, with the most wealthy families living on the top of the hill and the poorer families living at the base. My players took on the roles of high school students whose parents work for this mysterious company. In between homework and teenage angst, their characters have developed mysterious powers.
When I originally envisioned this game, I pictured using the system tri-stat Big Eyes, Small Mouth or as it is more colloquially called, BESM. Even though this system is geared more towards anime/manga roleplaying settings, I enjoy the versatility and the simplicity. But then, a friend of mine converted me to Cortex Plus, particularly the dramatic rules, and I feel it fits my setting really well.
For those of you reading who are unfamiliar with Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplay, the system is more focused on relationships and why you do things as opposed to how. Instead of physical stats, you have value stats like Justice, Duty, Love, Glory etc. which each has an assigned dice rating (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12). You also have relationship status which you also have a dice rating to (the higher, the stronger you feel). You also have statements defining each one. For values, you could have a d10 in Duty which says, "I am obligated to protect the weak" or for relationships, "I want to make sure she reaches her potential."
I know some types of roleplayers probably see rules like that and run the other way. But I wanted my game to be about relationships. I wanted my game to be about the story. Sure, there are powers and stuff like that but I'm more interested in the mystery and the characters. This first session didn't disappoint on the character side of things.
It took a few hours to set up everyone's Leads. Everyone came in with ideas or rough sketches in mind. When I sent the e-mail invite, I asked everyone to choose an archetype from the six student clique (The Head, the Smart One, the Quirk, the Muscle, the Wild One, the Pretty One) to avoid overlaps. I am pleased that my players created unique concepts branching off from their archetype. It is interesting to see how someone could take the Pretty One and make him basically similar to Puck from Glee or someone take the Quirk and interpret that as a Luna Lovegood like character -- all concepts that fit the archetype but would not be the first when people think about that archetype.
But I digress. Once we were all together, everyone had to think about their relationships with each other which took longer to do than to pick Distinctions (which are like Cortex Plus's answer to Feats). But just with this, you already had interesting stories developing. For instance, Alan, Jocelyn, and Ash's story about how they grew up as neighbors and friends but Alan decided to focus on his grades and Joce became a bad girl and poor Ash who is in the middle. Or the tale of the two fish out of water-- California native Brock and Hawaiian new kid, Iggy-- and how they became friends.
This is what I think is the strength of Cortex Plus Dramatic. Sure, it took a couple hours but the relationships in the end allowed everyone to jump quite easily into their characters. It is excellent for character development and easily cements the dynamics of a team.
I didn't plan on running today, just plain character-gen, but then after all that work, I think people wanted to jump in and enjoy the fruits of their labor. I had ideas for how the first session would go but I didn't have my notes about it. And oh man, I was rusty! As I described the opening scene, I already felt like a creaky gate! But I was impressed with how everyone took to my cues and even ran into a direction I didn't intend on them going. It's been so long since I GMed, I forgot the most basic rule of GMing -- The players WILL ruin your plans; be flexible.
When it came to powers, I gave them out randomly. They had to choose a number between 1 and 25 and the number corresponded to a power. I did plan to keep it a secret for one session and have the characters gain them in the next session. I wanted to do this because I wanted to nail down character voice first. But character voice happened almost immediately with this group. They are amazing roleplayers and they constantly surprise me as a player and now as a GM (don't worry, good surprises). It is interesting to me that the powers drawn were Illusions, Density Control, Power Leech, Shadow Control, Technopathy, and Electrokinesis -- all of them, with the exception of electrokinesis, are support powers. I'm looking forward to see what my players do with them. They are a great creative bunch.
And I must say, I love how varied the characters are. They don't agree
with each other. They have very clear goals that differ from each other
but slightly overlap enough that they can work together. And this is something I noticed when I played Dungeons and Dragons or other similar systems -- it helps to have the focused individuals who see the prize and aim for it (Alan and Anna and Iggy to a lesser degree) but it also makes things interesting to see the chaos factor (Brock, Joce, and Ash to a lesser degree). The chaos factor keeps things interesting but too much chaos, nothing gets done. Brock, Ash, and Joce's players are focused and skilled enough to play chaos without completely derailing the story. Their characters still have focus and goals but they are still "chaotic". And that is what I think works about this group.
Of course, I also just like the characters themselves. I love to see Joce mouth off to people. Iggy's go with the flow personality. I love Anna's energy into her causes. I love whenever Alan insists the adults know best. I love Brock's sleeziness and how much he does not get girls although claims otherwise. And I just love Ash's off the wall comments.
I think, despite me feeling a bit rusty, that this game has a great set of characters and great set up. I now have to figure where to go from here. I'm in a Firefly game in which the GM frames each episode as a character centric episode (in which each person has an episode dedicated to them) and I really like how that works. I am just not sure how that would work for this setting. I have ideas for character centric plots and ways in which relationships would be at odds. I still have some time to think about it. I already know that next session will be a lot of teenagers with super powers and figuring them out and, knowing this group they will want to roleplay this out (which is a good thing). I have a few strings people can chase after if they want to.
A few lessons I learned is I should have everything written down. I need to bring Shirin in (Sorry Ash's player). And more for a personal thing -- writing the hilarious quips of my players. Seriously. It is pure gold.