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June 18th, 2010

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01:52 pm - Spirit of the Century campaign wrap-up
I've posted a few times about previous games using the Spirit of the Century rules, collected under my SotC Tag. Recently, though, I've wrapped up my first run of it using the defined setting - the 1920s, playing members of the Century Club. We played about 10 sessions, rotating who GMed. Daniel made an extended blog post about it, along with a short LJ comment by snej, who started out as the first GM.

We made PCs twice with a full character-creation session each time, but I was absent at both of these and made my two PCs offline.

My first PC was a Chinese-American mastermind, Chuko Liang - named after the legendary strategist from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and partly patterned after pulp Chinese-American detectives like Hugh Wiley's James Lee Wong and Earl Biggers' Charlie Chan. I couldn't help but think of Bruce Baugh's New Horizons project for Evil Hat, currently in Limbo (cf. Bruce's LJ tags for the three project tags). He was fun, but it was a little awkward - partly in his being Chinese-American, and partly in trying to run a mastermind strategist rather than a two-fisted hero.

My second character was "Shifty" Henry - a former American gangster, whose trademark was in disappearing. This was a blast - especially riffing off of Jens' character, Rocco Malone - who was another clear archetype. Jens' background novel, "Rocco Malone is The Atom Smasher!", was inspiring:
Rocco turns to single-minded revenge after his mentor Marie Curie is assassinated in 1920 by a sinister cabal that she stumbled upon while investigating why the world's supplies of radium and pitchblende were being bought up: The Manhattan Project, a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy whose goal is to create atomic-powered weapons to terrorize the world!

The trail leads to a sinister mesa in the New Mexico desert where the villains, led by the absent-minded mastermind "Doc" Einstein, have their lair. Through a combination of violence and sarcasm, Rocco and Rosie are able to fight their way into the base, where, after a big fight with Dick "The Safecracker" Feynman, they set off a chain reaction that leaves the mesa-top a ruin of radioactive slag! But the villains make their escape too, and take the plans with them.

In response, I decided that Shifty's mentor was Frank Lloyd Wright, and he was trained in martial arts by Charlie Chaplin. His novel was when he was unwittingly drawn in to stop a plot by Salvadore Dali to freeze time.

Here's the short form of my thoughts on the system and setting as written:

1) On the strong side, invoking aspects and mook conflict worked very well. Picking stunts was interesting and many of the stunts were a lot of fun - "Vanish" and "Master of Disguise" come to mind, along with various gadget stuff.

2) On the weak side, some things were too slow: character creation, conflict against named NPCs, and looking things up in the book. Character creation is fun, but especially for a game that sells itself as a pickup game, it just takes too long. Parly, there's too many skills (28) and stunts (268). I think it would work better as a pickup game if there were many fewer choices and more that you could define on the fly. See Faster Conflicts on the SotC Wiki about that - we went with "hit points." Looking things up we just dealt with.

3) We gamely took most of the advice without worrying about details. The Centurion Club didn't really add much to the game, and forcing all characters to be the same age (all born Jan 1st 1901) didn't serve much purpose and minorly restricted backgrounds.

Here's my top five thoughts on what I might do next time I try this:

1) Organizations are organized, and need factions

Were I to do this with my own background, I'd want to make up more of my own Centurion Club background. I loved the mix of the real and fantastic for Rocco Malone and Shifty Henry's novels. I'd want to do similar as GM to make the Club easier for PCs to write themselves into.

2) Plan a focus

Rather than only tying the PCs together, I think it might help to focus the PCs by picking some themes and patterns for the group before making individual PCs and tying them together. i.e. Are they crime-fighters in New York City, or globe-trotting soldiers-of-fortune? I think there could be some general questions to answer for this.

3) Have social rivals besides lethal antagonists

Our PCs' nemeses were generally people to fight immediately. It would be interesting to also define NPCs who are opposed but more suitable for social conflicts rather than physical ones.

4) Limit Fate Points and use Faster Conflict

Our last two sessions, we started with 5 Fate Points instead of 10 - and we used the hit point option to speed conflicts.

5) Start with the action!

I started my session either from a cliffhanger at the end of the previous session, or with a "teaser" - a conflict that the PCs suddenly find themselves in the middle of. For example: the car from the airport is actually a death trap from their nemesis.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 18th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
Dick "The Safecracker" Feynman

i lold
Date:June 19th, 2010 12:03 am (UTC)
Yeah, the Century Club is pretty superfluous. I don't really like the sort of metaphysical undertones to it. They should have replaced that with general advice on different types of pulp adventuring groups like the ones you suggest.

- Daniel

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