Thursday, June 20, 2013

MaricopaCon Game Preparation III: Better Angels-The Unbearable Being of Lightness (and a Confession)

OK.  Here's a dirty little secret about this scenario.  I came up with the title before I had a story seed, or had even run Better Angels for the time.  Yep.  I'm that guy.

I knew what the game was supposed to be about from the Kickstarter and Previews, and I'd briefly skimmed a draft version of the rules circulated to backers as an ePub, but I hadn't read them.

In an effort to get a feel for the play of the game, once a final preview copy that I did proofreading for came out in PDF, I took that PDF and ran a session of Better Angels in late May for one of my groups.  It was brilliant, but it also destroyed any preconceived notions I had of how to run a one-shot in this system.

The central part of any story, regardless of the medium in which it is told, is conflict.  Without conflict, there is no story to tell.  With about 99% of all of the RPGs out there, that conflict is external.  Someone or something is out there to prevent the characters central to the story from getting what they want.  That someone or something may win or lose, but it is there to oppose the hero's plans or aspirations.

Now Better Angels has these sorts of antagonists: do-gooder angel-powered superheroes, dark antiheroes who may not worry much about collateral damage, angels in abusive relationships, other demon-ridden supervillains who have let their ids run wild, etc.  The difference is, in Better Angels, these are background conflicts.  The real conflict in Better Angels, the Central Conflict, is between the human and demon sides of each supervillain.

The truth is the flip side of your character can wreck the character more easily than an angel riding on a white steed firing lightning bolts of holy vengeance out of its ass.

This central fact has led me to six weeks of figuring out how I was going to write a scenario to capture this.  It led me to two conclusions:

1. Pregenerated characters in this game would suck.  Hard.  Getting one person to buy into characterization of a pregenerated character in a convention game setting is tough enough.  Two people (screwtape and human) doing it?  It isn't going to happen.  I might as well run Mutants and Masterminds or Wild Talents.

2. The interplay between the human and screwtape halves of the characters, as illustrated by my one playthrough of the game, is central to the game.  When done right, all the GM has to do is throw out the beginnings of a scene, and let the chaos flow from the players, occasionally adding new plot elements to further things along.

With these two conclusions in mind, I'm doing a couple of things in preparation for this game that I would have never considered doing even as recently as a year ago.

A. No pregenerated characters will be used.  The characters will be created by the players, at the table.

B. No plot will be written prior to character generation.  That's right.  I will be running a game based on the characters generated at the table.

As part of the character generation, each human half of a character will need to provide a goal they want to accomplish in the session.  The demon will then name a goal that aids, or hinders (or probably a bit of both) the human's goal.  Arc Dream wrote up this idea more or less a few weeks ago, but I had pretty much come to it on my own prior to the publication.

So, what am I preparing?

I'm preparing a handful of villains and a deluded antihero who has a real problem with target identification (the unbearable being of lightness of the title).

I've created a two page, front and back, cheat sheet for character creation.  I will photocopy it and the Powers section for use in character generation, and will walk the players through the creation process.

I will take their goals, and then make a scenario out of it.  How Indie Game of me, eh?

We'll see how it works.  It may be a brilliant idea, or it may be the most spectacular disaster since the last flight of the Hindenburg.  Either way though, it's bound to be entertaining.

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