Differences between First Run through of Skytrain Robbery and the Second

The Great Skytrain Robbery was a one-off scenario that I designed for the Fate Core setting Wild Blue by Brian Engard; I have ran the scenario twice thus far, once for theSwamper and Captain Gothnog as a G+ hangout sessions (details here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSe9tajmWRM) and yesterday for my home group (details can be found here http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/the-great-skytrain-robbery-again-actual.html). 
The Wild Blue setting is available in Fate World Book 1: Worlds of Fire.
Running the same scenario twice has been an interesting experience for me, since I seldom frequent conventions and have certainly never run a game at a convention, I don’t really have any experience of creating a scenario with re-play value, most of the adventures/scenarios (call them what you will) I prepare are tailored for a specific campaign and are only played through once (with the obvious exception of any elements that are recycled for later use in the campaign or a future game); this is the first time that I have ever run through the same scenario with two different groups of players, I was interested to see how the results of the storyline would differ (despite beginning from the same start point) due to the actions of the different groups. This post consists of some of my notes on the differences that I have found.
Please note: None of the notes below are intended to suggest than one group was better or worse than the other nor their version of the scenario any less ‘valid’ the comparison is simply because I was interested to see how different approaches caused the scenario to head in different directions.

  • The Groups

Google+ : Two very pro-active players who are used to jumping into plot.
Face to face : One very pro-active player, one slightly re-active player and one very re-active player.

  • The Characters

Google+ session:
Agent Gideon H. Barlow (played by Captain Gothnog) possessed the power create lightning in his body, a power with obvious combat potential but also a number of others uses, the character had been a queen’s executioner and was a grim, dedicated law-keeper (think Judge Dredd in a stetson).
Agent Jacob Karn (played by theSwamper) possessed the ability to phase himself (although not his possessions) through solid objects; an expert tracker, Karn was a little less severe with his pursuit of the law but held a deep and abiding hatred of the Folk who had murdered his wife and daughter.
Face to face session:
Agent Ferryman was a scientific explorer with an enquiring mind, he had constructed an iron suit capable of being worn beneath his clothes that could sheath him in metal at a moments notice and enhance his natural anti-gravity powers enabling him to fly.
Agent Valcro was also one of the Wise, through his experiments Valcro had transformed himself into a monster covered in spiney growths, although these allowed him to adhere to almost any surface they caused him to be regarded with suspicion and fear by many folk.
Agent Hawkeye had been raised by the Folk following the death of her family and was schooled in many of their secrets, it was rumoured that she could track a man simply by smelling his blood.

  • Character Generation

Google+ : The players had access to a handout that I created (via Google Drive on the web) a couple of weeks prior to the game session and were therefore able to create about 90% of their characters beforehand (whilst in correspondence with each other), this enabled us to spend only about half an hour finishing the characters up and creating some additional background before jumping into the game, the players had no problems with any of the character creation aspects and generated some really interesting, compelling backgrounds.
Face to face : With most of my regular group not checking online communications with any regularity the entirety of the first evening was taken up with character creation, some of the players seemed to really struggle with the 3-Phases style character generation aspect that links all of the characters together via shared backgrounds; although this noticably seemed to be more of a problem for the re-active players, our more pro-active player seemed to have no problem with it at all and was easily able to link himself in to the unfolding tapestry despite coming to the character generation somewhat later than the others.

  • Fate Core Rules

Both groups of players were not massively familiar with the Fate Core rules and therefore we took things a little slowly to get everyone used to it and there were no major rules problems in either game; I did make a couple of rules flubs in the face to face game (I blame being tired and my neighbour for waking me up a 3am on New Years Day), but the players were fairly understanding and I don’t think it majorly impacted upon their enjoyment of the scenario.

  • During the Session

Both groups of players managed to get the package to it’s destination (albeit with the face to face group losing the person that it was originally attached to) and achieve their mission objective, however, there were a number of differences that occurred during the session, some of which are highlighted below.
Prior to Getting on the Train
The G+ group spent their time enjoying some local colour, narrowly avoiding bar brawls in the coastal town of Ressen and chatting with a few NPCs before tethering their horses and boarding the train.
The face to face group didn’t do a lot in Ressen besides for the pro-active player who built a rapport with a blind sailor and used this to plot local wind conditions and map out the most likely spot and time for a Sky bandit ambush of the train.
Dealing with Railmarshal Booth
In the G+ game Agent Karn and Barlow were about to wow Booth with their status as survivors of an almost legendary massacre, using this status (and the fact that Booth had always wanted to be a Warden) they were able to secure the help of the Railmarshal in their mission; when Booth died helping defend the train both Agents laid him to rest with honours.
In the face to face game Agent Valcro took extreme exception to Booth questioning their business being on the Skytrain without registering their presence, after some time they convinced him to let them pass using the royal seal on their orders, as they entered the train Valcro had him detained by the other Marshals for impeding the Wardens whilst they were on royally sanctionned business.
Dealing with Mr Perriweather
As no-nonsense lawmen, the players in the G+ game kept Mr Perriweather safe, treating him like an item of cargo, taking an attitude that Perriweather didn’t have to like them as long as he (as the cobalt sample) got through safely; they managed to get both Perriweather and the sample to the capitol.
In the face to face group Agent Hawkeye engaged Perriweather in more friendly conversation, however, when one of the bandits proved to have the ability to teleport people they were unable to stop Perriweather being teleported outside the train and falling to his death, although they did retrieve the cobalt sample and deliver it safely to the capitol.

The Sky Bandits Attack
In the G+ the players engaged the bandits mainly onboard the Skytrain, using their powers to overcome them (narrowly preventing them escaping via their getaway sky ship) and keep Perriweather (and the sample) safe despite some severe damage being done to the train. Mercy Clements (the flame wielding pirate leader) was fought as she tried to leave via a rope ladder dropped from the sky ship (her companions having already been killed inside); as she tried to take shelter inside the train (after blowing the side off it) Agent Karn phased through the roof and drop-kicked the injured pirate off the train to fall to a messy death many miles below.
In the face to face game the players were (due to their powers) able to engage the sky ship before it reached the train and prevent it from doing so, without any means of escaping the Wardens dealt with the bandits mostly by hurling them from the train and relying on gravity to finish them off. Minimal damage was done to the train and the cobalt sample was recovered although Perriweather was killed. Mercy Clements managed to signal her getaway sky ship and her teleporting companion was able to steal the sample (after teleporting Perriweather to his death), however the getaway ship had already been stopped due to Agent Ferryman flying up to it and dealing with it before it reached the Skytrain; with no getaway they were taken care of by the other two agents, Clements and the teleporter being hurled from the train and the gun-wielding goons being stabbed by Agent Hawkeye.

  • Differences in Running the Game

A definitely found it helpful in the G+ game to have all of my materials on the computer and, since I was the only one physically in the room, any printed materials could be spread out, whereas space was at more of a premium in the face to face game.
There was more use of compels in the G+ game, I think perhaps this was to do with the players having developed more detailed backgrounds and characters that suggested a lot of ways to compel them, whereas it was a little more difficult for some of the characters in the face to face game.
Having had it pointed out to me that I tended to hand-hold the players a little bit (something i’d not really been aware of previously) and that it hadn’t really been necessary in the G+ game, I was more on the lookout for this in the face to face game and did notice that the more reactive players required far more hand-holding and suggestions as to what they might like to do.
The powers system seemed to work well in both the G+ and face to face games, being easy to manage and judge.

  • In Conclusion

From running the same scenario twice I have drawn the following conclusions:

    • Although I am capable of adapting my GM-ing style, my normal style (and the Fate Core) rules suit pro-active players far better than they do re-active players.
    • The 3-stage part of character generation may require some adaption for certain players (or even abandoning altogether).
    • For a one-off session, having characters generated in-session only really works when your players are willing to run with it, I think for less pro-active players using pre-generated characters (perhaps with some limited customisation options included) would be a far wiser choice.
    • The Wild Blue setting is excellent, and since it riffs on the Mythic Wild West theme is easy for most people to get in to.
    • Varying levels of commitment and involvement amongst players can have a serious effect on a session.

Many thanks to all of the players who played in both versions of this scenario, was very enjoyable for me to run as a GM and has been a very interesting experience – hope to game again with you in the future 🙂

The Great Skytrain Robbery (again) : Actual Play

This is my second run-through of a one-off scenario that I designed for the Fate Core setting Wild Blue by Brian Engard; this version was run face-to-face with three players, the first run-through was via Google+ Hangouts and featured two players (those interested can see the original playthrough here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSe9tajmWRM). I had hoped to produce an audio recording of this session, but unfortunately equipment problems made this impossible so i’ve produced a written report.
The Wild Blue setting is available in Fate World Book 1: Worlds of Fire.

Hope you enjoy 🙂

Our Characters

  • Agent Ferryman – A scientific explorer who had crafted a remarkably suit that projected an anti-gravity field allowing him to take to the skies when required.
  • Agent Valcro – One of the Wise whose experiments had resulted in him being able to adhere to objects by numerous incredibly strong microfibres that grew from his skin, unfortunately this gave him a monstrous appearance that often shocked and frightened those not used to him.
  • Agent Hawkeye – Raised amongst the Folk following the death of her family, Agent Hawkeye was an expert tracker and, it is rumoured, once she has the smell of a man’s blood, she would track him to the ends of the earth.

The Story
In the hour before noon a group of three individuals rode their horses along the dusty trail to Ressen, one was a gentleman clad in smart clothing whilst a second was a dusky skinned woman wearing beaten and worn clothing that had obviously seen many evenings spent out in the wilderness, whilst the third appeared as a monster in (almost) human form, numerous small spines erupting all over his skin, exaggerated by the fact that his only clothing was a roughly cut set of trousers. The three wardens were in possession of a letter bearing the official royal seal of Queen Aurora V, a letter which gave them their orders; apparently a pure strain of cobalt had been discovered in the mines below Crystal Falls, they were to meet one of the Wise, who was bringing a sample to the capitol for examination by the Queen’s personal cadre of scientists, and to safeguard him during the journey.
Agent Hawkeye went to find somewhere to tie horses up, eventually locating a young urching standing besides a wrought iron ring set into the cobbles of the fishy smelling coastal town; the boy initially seemed glad to take care of their horses (especially when Hawkeye pressed two copper pieces into his hand), however when Agent Valcro approached (seeking to stable his own horse) the man’s monstrous appearance caused the young boy to flee screaming in terror down the street, his cries bringing numerous locals out of their houses. Luckily, Agents Valcro and Ferryman were able to calm down the crowd with their wit (and Agent Ferryman’s liberal application of money) whilst Hawkeye spoke to man who appeared to be in charge of stabling horses, the man apologised for the behaviour of young Herbert (saying that the boy “always was a delicate sort”) before agreeing to look after their horses free of charge by way of recompense.
Agent Valcro visited the docks, where he struck up a conversation with a one-legged, blind sailor called Old Seamus and, in return for a gold piece, Seamus helped him draw out a map showing prevailing wind conditions and plotting recent bandit attack on the Skytrain- using his enquiring mind Valcro worked out that, based on the bandit’s previous pattern, they were likely to be attacked halfway along on the long stretch of track between Ressen and the capitol, Cobalt.
As the time drew near noon the group approach the large tower that stretched high above Ressen, connecting it to the Skytrain high above, a local man gestured for them to climb into an open fronted lift and then began to walk a mule around in a circle, causing a series of pulleys and cogs to rattle as the elevator began to ascend toward the Skytrain platform; stepping out the Agents began to (in hushed tones) chatted on the platform about their mission. They were approached by a young man wearing a worn duster and the Dark Iron star of a Railmarshal, the young man introduced himself (in officious tones) as Marshall Booth and, after a bit of talking, refused to let the Wardens board the train without proof that they were officially sanctionned to conduct business onboard the Skytrain, stating that any persons acting in an official capacity onboard the Skytrain had to make themselves known to the Railmarshals; Agent Valcro became very agitated about this and made numerous (barely veiled) threats towards the Railmarshal, but he refused to be budged and only allowed them onboard once they showed him the seal of Queen Aurora V on the letter they carried. As they boarded the train, Agent Valcro called over some of the other Railmarshals stationed around the platform and had Marshal Booth escorted away (pending arrest) for impeding a Warden in his duties.
On the train Agent Ferryman settled in the Observation Cart, Agent Hawkeye in the rear passenger cart and Agent Valcro in the forward passenger cart; on his way through to the front passenger cart, Agent Valcro made the acquaintance of a blustering businessman called Mr McKraken who he flattered by talking about how the McKraken family were some of the first settlers and that their hard-working honest nature spoke well for their descendants; flattered, the businessman gave him an (unlit) cigar  saying “I don’t see why you can’t enjoy it later” and agreed to watch over a decoy bag for Agent Valcro. Valcro also visited the fuel car and was able to stealthily take some cobalt dust and use them, with kit from his scientific bag of tricks, craft four crude smoke grenades in case a distraction was necessary, he handed one of these to Agent Ferryman before returning to the front passenger car.
Agent Hawkeye established contact with Mr Perriweather (a tall, be-spectacled man with grey tufts of hair escaping from under his top hat, a silver chain stretched from below his sleeve, attaching him to a battered briefcase) in the rear passenger cart and took up a position near him, Ferryman took up a position on the balcony at the back of the train watching for any sign of attack by sky bandits whilst Agent Valcro slipped out of the carriage and. as the train pulled off, used his power to crawl down the side of the train. A group consisting of a young woman wearing a large, white, multi-layered dress and a fancy bonnect, a slick looking fellow with a cane and a dark skinned couple were on the rear oservation platform with Agent Ferryman, as the train started moving they took their seats in the rear passenger cart near where Hawkeye and Perriweather were located.
Agent Valcro peeked in through the windows of the train cars, as he reached the rear passenger cart, the slick looking fellow, although not appearing to have spotted him, touched the woman on her arm and whispered “Something is amiss Ms Clements”, he was overheard by Agent Hawkeye; Mercy immediately left the car and travelled through the front passenger car to the cobalt and water fuel car just behind the engine, followed (on the outside of the train) by Agent Valcro.
On the observation platform Agent Ferryman had spotted a cloud that seemed to be moving faster than the prevailing wind and descending slowly from high above towards the train, re-entering the observation car he asked one of the passengers (a middle-aged gentleman who was travelling with his daughters) to carry a message to Agent Hawkeye in the rear passenger car, although a little nervous the man agreed. The businessman was as good as his word, warning Hawkeye that something was wrong, before returning to his daughters in the observation car.
As soon as the man left, Agent Ferryman pressed the hidden catch on his chest, with a slight rasping sound the metal plates of his hidden armoured suit unfolded, activating the anti-gravity field around him with a soft hum; jumping off the balcony he began to fly upwards towards the cloud, ignoring the shocking gasps of the women in the observation car.
Realising Mercy was up to no good, Agent Valcro threw his smoke grenade at her and then attempted to grapple her, Mercy responded by bursting into flames, although this (seemingly) did not harm her it set light to the (extremely flammable) Agent Valcro; in the front passenger car Mercy’s three remaining colleagues drew guns and the slick looking fellow walked towards Agent Hawkeye and Perriweather, demanding the case. Hawkeye stabbed the slick fellow, her knife penetrating his flesh and drawing blood, there was a flash of purple smoke and she suddenly found herself outside the train car with no way to go but down. Spotting her, Agent Valcro looped his lasso around Mercy’s neck and swung off from the train; as Mercy clung on to the coupling between cars for dear life, Agent Valcro swung out, grabbed Agent Hawkeye and then used his power to adhere them both to the side of the front passenger car. Valcro attempted to reel Mercy in, but she used the heat of her flames to melt his wire lasso.
Mercy fired a jet of flame up into the air as she climbed to the top of the fuel car, Agent Valcro saw the fire and believed it may be a signal to other sky bandits lurking nearby. Up above, Agent Ferryman had drawn close to the cloud, he could clearly see a solid mass inside it, a harpoon flashed out, stabbing through his leg and slowly beginning to reel him in. Inside the cloud was a floating ship, as he was pulled in Ferryman spotted a bald man with a dragon tattoo, who appeared to be using some form of power to guide the floating ship downwards towards the Skytrain; thinking quickly Agent Ferryman threw his flash grenade in the man’s face dazing him, at which point the ship ceased its downward motion and began to float lazily upwards away from the train as the natural buoyancy of the floating skywood used in it’s construction re-asserted itself. Finally pulling the harpoon free from his leg (and despite being shot by a crewman with a pistol), Ferryman flew round to another (unmanned) pintel mounted harpoon and fired it through the chest of the dazed ship’s captain, killing the large tattooed, bald man. Amidst a hail of gunfire from the crew, Ferryman dived overboard and began to fly back down towards the Skytrain.
Valcro swung Agent Hawkeye up onto the coupling and she peered through the door into the front passenger car in time to see the slick looking man grab Perriweather by the scruff of the neck in one hand and the briefcase in the other; there was a flash of purple smoke and Perriweather vanished, a scream that briefly trailed off before disappearing from below the train attested to his fate; Valcro climbed along the underside of the fuel train and, detaching one of the secondary metal supports, leapt up onto the fuel pile, smashing Mercy around the side of the head. Slick and his two gun-toting companions began making their way out of the front passenger car towards Mercy, Agent Hawkeye hid behind the door so they didn’t see her.
Grabbing hold of the dazed Marcy Agent Valcro hurled her at the slick looking man, sending both of them tumbling off the train; as the two gun-toting figures prepared to fire at Agent Valcro, Hawkeye stepped out from behind the door and, using her knife, dispatched both of them, sending their bodies tumbling off the train. Valcro quickly re-tied his lasso, looping it around the train car coupling and swung out into space, as he passed by the falling slick fellow, he used his power to adhere the briefcase to his hand; slick clutched at Agent Valcro, desperate to save himself from a terminal fall, but couldn’t hold on and thus continued his plummet towards messy death below. Agent Ferryman swooped down, hovering by the side of Valcro as the pirate ship continued to rise higher in the sky away from the train, Valcro passed him the case and told him to fly ahead and get the package to safety whilst himself and Agent Hawkeye got back aboard the train.
A few hours laters when they all arrived in the capitol Agent Ferryman was already there, having turned the case over to the Warden authorities, all three of them were commended for their actions in securing the package and preserving the safety of those on board; they were told that they had the royal thanks and to expect commendations for their part in preserving the sample of pure-cobalt.
And then…
Agent Valcro was last seen leaving Cobalt on the Skytrain, planning to investigate the mines at Crystal Falls, he chuckled as he read through a recent telegram about a Railmarshal Booth being bought up on charges for impeding a royally-sanctionned Warden Investigation.
Agent Ferryman booked himself in to a veteran’s hospital to have his severeleg injury dealt with, where he astounding the nurses with his tales of daring-do and reminisced about his exploits with the Wardens.
Agent Hawkeye, not believing that the slick fellow was truly dead (he could teleport after all) was said to have performed a strange Folk ceremony over the slick fellow’s blood that stained her knife and then, with a grim sense of purpose, departed Cobalt on horseback, not to be seen again.