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GM Burst Baby! Burst!

After the cancellation of Fate Fading Suns and some discussion of the types of ‘campaigns’ the group falls into and some of the practical problems that come out of that I’ve reached some conclusions about what this means for me running more games.

Initially, there are two important things to note.

First, I like the big production, widescreen sort of stuff. Even if I do something relatively ‘subtle’, it will be subtle in the sense Game of Thrones is subtle. In short, it’s still big sets and by and large big stuff, big emotions it just doesn’t have things exploding. The chances are though, I’ll go with some ‘explosions’. This does tend to mean I will sit a bit more towards heavier GM framing rather than delivering less and just riffing of the players (albeit the player awesome changes things significantly, it’s more about my belief that should be from a base, not a vacuum). In short, I expect to do a bit of work (and don’t mistake that for traditional, heavy prep) and delivering that is what makes it fun for me.

Second, I am undoubtedly a burst GM. This has always been the case. I suspect this is related to the first issue. I’ll have a burst of creativity run it through then I’ll need a break to come back at it. It involves re-grouping, re-engaging the imagination by doing something else for a bit, etc. Loving the material again through a different lens and in a different shape. I could sit back and let players fill the vacuum I’m momentarily leaving, but this never feels as successful to me. It does not have to be a long break, but a break nevertheless.

Historically, this hasn’t been a problem as previous groups have either coped with gaps better (due gaming being high in the conversation even during gaps), been willing to play board games during the gaps or had other games to slot in during each games ebb and flow (we’d often be playing multiple ones at once). The current group does neither of these things well so it’s not ‘burst friendly’. While I don’t believe it was the main reason for Fate Fading Suns cancellation (as I got my break due to shitty scheduling) it did get cancelled at the end of one burst and just as I was ready for the next (also at the risk point in terms of length for the group).

But what is the outcome of these observations?

First, step away from being the GM who runs the long game. It will never work unless my need to burst, pause and burst can be accommodated. At the moment it can’t. You also have to throw in the systems I like tend to only be a success if the GM gets out while the going was good and before someone calls it. I don’t agree that has to be true but evidence and conversations seem to make this true. This means no multiple season games. No long games that go over the usual single stretch cap of 6 – 12 sessions, often hanging around eight.

So, conclusion one is to accept that I should position games to fit with that natural length the group seems to have before danger sets in (some transition beyond it, some don’t). That’s not that bad. I can live with that but for the fact I need to control the fact my games tend to explode out (which I like as it is often ‘player-driven explosion’) before I can pull them back in. Focus will have to be the key.

The other outcome involves thinking about different structures that the group doesn’t normally consider.

What about the highly structured game that does not have to be ran regularly but still has some payback? It swaps structure for regularity. Fate is supposed to be good for these things? No? I suppose it would be like running one shots every so often but with the same characters? The best example I can think of for this, as I’m intimately familiar with it, would be cinematic action / espionage sort of stuff. Each time it is ran there is a problem and a mission to solve it. The structure could even be similar with a briefing from Control, etc. After a session a mission report with a set format could be compiled. Alias ran like this for some time with minor variations. I am sure similar crucibles exist. Let Fate aspects deal with the rest to bring character issues front and centre quickly. The punctuated nature of its run schedule would also de-prioritise the player need for character ‘power growth’ and potentially increase the focus on dramatic, character change.

An extension of this would be the Star Wars approach: a series of movies. This would be different as each time it was run it would be 2-3 sessions in length. Fate Fading Suns was a bit like this, but in this case the serialised elements would be reduced to a Star Wars, macro-level deal. Okay, it’d be less of a run it in the gaps game. It would need more scheduling. At the same time it would mean when it was run it would only interrupt any other game for 2-3 sessions. Going back to the burst thing each one would be a mini-burst!

The third option is true, convention-style one-shots which I’ve always been against. Oddly I’m coming around to them, even the idea of pre-generated characters. I’d not want this to be the be all and end all of my gaming, but possibly some ideas are just best done this way. As long as the experiencing is exciting and everyone enjoys it what does it really matter? It does have the advantage it shifts some of the intellectual enjoyment to a singular activity than a group activity.

Personally, I would like to break the back of campaigns being measured in sessions and instead try and bring about a culture that is more flexible in terms of the temporal characteristics of the campaigns. Why does a game have to run contiguously in terms of time with any other games picking up the slack only in the advent of disaster? Why can’t one run for six sessions, then another for three, a third for two only to come back to the first? It’s not something that’s proven easy but it would allow more diversity and may work better if the games are accepting of such structures (rather than them being serialised entities with unplanned breaks). We may also have to accept games which are slightly more accommodating of players being missing.

A long-shot, but you never know. The main problem at the minute is carving time out of very busy work schedule.

About Ian O'Rourke

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