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 🙂

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