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Episode 105: Does This Look Like a Railroad to You?

September 5th, 2014 | Robin

In Ask Ken and Robin, we field a Tuukka Heimola question about running great one-shots and convention games.

The History Hut reveals itself to be a series of rapidly constructed forts as we look at the Battle of Poltava.

Joined by co-panelist Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Ken and Robin Recycle Audio in part one of a two-part excerpting of their Gen Con GUMSHOE adventure master class.

Finally, Sarah Helen Whitman, spiritualist and jilted fiancee of Edgar Allen Poe, summons herself into a particularly gossipy installment of Consulting Occultist.

Lead sponsor Atlas Games announces a project near and dear to Robin’s heart, not to mention a good chunk of his year so far. It fires off warning shots concerning the upcoming Kickstarter for Feng Shui 2! Click the link to be notified when the campaign goes live.

Stone Skin Press has a deal for you. Until September 1st, all hardcopy purchases of Robin’s action-driven Mythos fiction anthology Shotguns v. Cthulhu come not only with the expected free electronic edition of that book, but also an ebook of Schemers, Robin’s anthology of betrayal and conspiracy. Just buy it at the Pelgrane Press store, as you normally would, no special links or offer codes required.

7 Responses to “Episode 105: Does This Look Like a Railroad to You?”

  1. darren t. says:

    Want to add that the con games are great ways too for GMs or future GMs to use one of these games to introduce a new system to your group or try your hand at running a game without a ton of stress as it’s just a one shot in a few hours. I can’t talk for every system but the ones I know but for Fate Core there’s a lot of free short adventures up on drivethrurpg & with the beloved Call of Cthulhu setting there’s the free quick start rules & I’ve found that many of the scenarios/adventures like in the Halloween collections of Call of Cthulhu are great for con or intro games. Many systems now have the quickstart versions to just dive into a system without all the books & they’re well worth it to give your group something new to try out or let someone try running a game for once.

  2. Phil Masters says:

    The segment on running convention demos was interesting, and largely accorded with my experience, but I’d have to disagree completely with the idea of starting play in media res. It may be that I demo slightly complex settings and systems, but I find that easing the players in through a quiet start – and, very very often, yes, a briefing scene – makes far more sense.

    That lets me feed the players a bit of background detail – I don’t usually actually resort to “as you know Bob” dialogue, but wrapping a bit of out-of-character “the Project can assign you a car with a concealed lockbox” clarification around a briefing speech works okay – and permits the players to introduce the PCs to each other as required. It can also give them the idea that they have some control from the first – they can generally decide their own priorities – and I don’t want anyone to associate the setting I’m demo’ing with railroad plots.

    Starting with a fight scene would mean throwing what’s generally the most complex part of the rule set at the players from the first, and apparently putting these characters they’ve just been given at risk in the first minutes. I’ve also seen opening fight scenes derail game plans quite badly. (“But who sent this steam-powered cyborg to attack our supervisor? I know he said we should be going to Berlin, but we need to know. And we should be guarding him – they might try again!”)

  3. Chris Angelucci says:

    In your Running Great One-Shots at cons you mention the advantage of being able to dramatically alter the characters during the adventure, since they will likely not be used again.

    Would you discuss maintaining balance between player desire and agency vs. dramatic GMing and storytelling when considering making major changes to a player’s character? How much player buy-in do you need or should you seek?

    Thanks for the always-enjoyable discussions.

    Chris Angelucci
    Philadelphia, PA

  4. […] missed last week’s Ken and Robin Talk about Stuff – taking about the battle of Poltava, running one-shots, and […]

  5. August Aronsson says:

    As a Swede who got into the whole roleplaying hobby by way of toy soldiers portraying the Great Northern War, I found the segment about Poltava very interesting. It actually made me want to renew my interest in the period.

    Strangely enough I’ve never read Peter Englund’s book about Poltava, but I thought that you might be interested in his most recent work about World War I: “The Beauty and the Sorrow; An intimate history of the first world war”, which has recently been released in a new and expanded edition.

    Also, if you’ll forgive me, I’d like to point out that Finland wasn’t really conquered by Sweden during the Early Modern period. The area that later became Finland had been subject to Swedish royal power since the middle ages. Even after Finland was conquered by Russia in 1809, there was still a very strong Swedish cultural influence, and modern Finnish xenophobia against Swedes is very much a product of the 20th century.

  6. Ethan C. says:

    Thanks for the advice on running one-shots and con games. I’m planning to run my very first con game in about 3 weeks, and I’m playtesting it first with a couple groups of my local friends. From your advice, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job in my design so far. I guess we’ll see how in pans out!

    (My game is a Call of Cthulhu scenario about wounded Confederate veterans after the Civil War, so please don’t use Ken’s Time Machine to shorten the Civil War until at least mid-October, or my game won’t make any sense!)

  7. Sven A says:

    Just a curiosity about the historian Peter Englund is that apart from being a well read popular historian, he’s also the secretary general of the committee that award the Nobel prize in literature. My wife, who is a teacher, had his kids in History and Literature. No pressure. 😉

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