In this episode I talk about one of my favourite PBTA games:
On Saturday 13th January I ran a one-shot of Alas for the Awful Sea, a Powered by the Apocalypse game from Storybrewers Roleplaying. The game focuses on the strife and struggle for survival in 19th century coastal towns. If you’re interested in watching the actual-play video you can find it here:
One of the things that makes this game great for one-shots in my opinion is the guidance that the book provides for getting your game up and running, there are also some cool reference sheets and templates that you can fill in to plan out currents (bundles of plot that interact with each other) and any towns or villages.
Towns and villages are a central focus of the game and–in a manner similar to Dungeon World’s Steadings–the game provides a design sheet that encourages you to think about the industry, geography and size of the settlement. For our game I created a raggedy, old postal fishing village known as Newport, it’s main industry was fishing and it was a small settlement with less than 500 people in it.
The sheet also has space for three distinct groups operating in the settlement, since I wanted to go for a tradition vs. innovation theme in the game, I went for an old-moneyed family, the traditional local fishermen of the village and a group of smugglers whose enterprise is threatened by the new innovations in the area.
There is also a sheets for designing currents, the games way of grouping plot together, effectively you create a conflict (the book provides several examples) and then detail a number of NPCs who motivations either directly support or oppose one side or another of the conflict. The GM is encouraged to create currents that link to each other but not to plot out everything 100%, simply setting up the motivations, dropping the players into the middle of it and then seeing how things play out.
For our game I created two conflicts, one involving the conflict between innovation (in the form of a new mechanised fishing vessel created by the old-moneyed Waincroft family) and the villagers of Newport who cleave to their traditional ways of life. The Waincroft family is represented by two NPCs:
- Hercules Waincroft: Patriarch of the family, an ex-Captain in the British Army whose family became rich from war-profiteering but who now seeks to give back to society with the invention of a new mechanised fishing vessel, designed by his son.
- Bobby Hess: Foreman working for Mr Waincroft, has far less lofty goals and isn’t afraid of applying brute force to ensure his master’s will is carried out and his position maintained.
The villagers are represented principally by:
- Matilda Harris: A young woman from Newport, in order to give her a personal reason to oppose the new vessel I decided that she believed her husband had been killed by the vessel.
- Ben Harris: The brother of Matilda’s husband, a more moderate voice amongst the villagers who is looking to find a non-violent way out of the conflict.
Because I’ve not run this game before and wasn’t sure how long it would take to work through the main plot I decided to create a secondary plot-line that could be brought in if necessary or ignored if not, I went for a Romeo & Juliet style secondary plot where the young son of Hercules Waincroft had fallen in love/was having an affair with Emma Harris the daughter of Matilda, an affair disapproved of by Verna Waincroft (Hercule’s elder sister) and aided by Father Francis Richmond (a kindly local priest). Although this plot-line was referenced in the session, it didn’t really need to take centre stage since the players got so involved in the main plot, it was good to have it stashed in the background though, if necessary, it would not have been difficult to bring it out.
There is also a sheet where you can jot down details of important locations for your session, I noted down four of them (one of which didn’t really get used), but it’s always handy to have things available to reference easily while GM-ing a session.
Alas for the Awful Sea–like many PBTA games–encourages the GM to create questions and not to answer them prior to running the session, but rather to leave them and actually play the game to find out the answers.
I just jotted down a few simple questions, most of which were answered during the course of the game. I find this a very useful method of getting myself into the right frame of mind for running a game, and it also helps keep things interesting for me as a GM. After all if I know everything that is going to happen in a game session then it’s a bit flat and not particularly interesting for me, that’s why I love it so much in games when players–and their characters–do things that confound and excite me.
The sheet also has some space for additional NPCs and for making Custom Moves, their are guidelines for this in the rule book but I didn’t really use Custom Moves in the one-shot.
During the game I made some simple notes on a few A5 sheets of notepaper just to keep track of what was going on, from the first two sheet you can see the notes I made whilst we were doing the character discussion and questions at the start of the sessions.
The third sheet of notepad was used for random notes that I made during the session as I created some NPCs on the fly (using a random name generator to help), just noting down some brief details helps me maintain a degree of consistency, even during a one-shot.
At one point I’d noted down in advance that I wanted the innkeeper to be called Maisie, but for some reason I spaced on the name when it came up and I said Bessie, no problems though, I just scrubbed out the original name and ran with Bessie for the rest of the session.
I had a great time running the game and will definitely look to do so again in the future, the play-aids and reference sheets are extremely useful, as is the advice in the books. Our session ran with me only having read through the book a couple of times and noted down a few details in advance, a large part of this was thanks to the play-aids. I think ‘Alas for the Awful Sea’ is a great example of a PBTA game and really helps set the GM up for running a good session.