15 December 2010

Forgotten Songs Retrospective -- "Night of the Gimlet"

This is part of the ongoing "commentary track" for Katja's Diary, posted on Risus Monkey.  I was the GM for the game in which the Monkey played Katja.  The entry that corresponds with this commentary can be found here.

Looking back at these sessions is occasionally difficult for me, as they reveal glaring deficiencies in my GMing skill that made the game significantly less fun than it could have been.  This was one of those sessions that went off the rails in a bad way.  what’s more, this could easily have been prevented had I thought a little more about what would be the most fun thing to happen and was a little less slavish about following the game system.  I’ll elaborate more on that point later.

With my recovery of The Blue Notebook, I have almost complete notes for this session!  As Lord Richard told the party, robberies had been reported at this inn and Richard wanted it taken care of.  The robbers were a gang of four men.  A rogue from Lienster (the neighboring nation) had teamed up with an alchemist and hired two local thugs.  The alchemist had concocted a slightly addictive drink that, after three mugs, would lead to blackouts and leave the drinker open to suggestion.  The plot was simple: give the innkeep a bit of the take and rob travelers until the game was up or they ran out of Gimlet.  Further in the background was the rogue’s connection to the major thieves guild in Lienster; he was angling for entrance and the alchemist’s drink was his ticket.  The two thugs were hired muscle, but enjoyed the work, particularly any bloodshed.  I don’t think the party uncovered much, if any, of this plot.  But it does illustrate what I think is an important GM’s point: if you understand and know the background and motivation of the NPC’s, improvising their actions isn’t so hard.  Of course, that didn’t stop things from getting all pear shaped once the PC’s and NPC’s had it out.

I was a bit surprised and dismayed at the party’s plan to send Katja, Orion, and Bix in while the fighter-types stayed far away.  It made sense in an A-Team sort of way, but is also violated my Number One Rule of Adventuring Survival: NEVER SPLIT THE PARTY (My #2 rule is “always take the swim skill”).  Of course, I didn’t tell the group this was my #1 adventuring rule, as I was the DM.

The infiltration went pretty well, overall.  I think Bix didn’t do so hot on his Gather Info checks, which led to him getting a nice collection of rumors and travellers tales but not much on the actual goings on at the Inn.  I actually have a list of those rumors in The Blue Notebook, many of which were true reports of larger goings on in the world, including something I thought would come into play in the game -- interclan fighting to the south as a powerful warlord tried to unify the clans of Connaught.  (If it’s not apparent, the part of the world the party was in was modeled after medieval Celtic Ireland, with the neighboring nation of Lienster modeled after say, Elizabethan England).

The magical properties of the gimlet led each drinker to immediately associate it with their favorite drink, which is why Orion and Katja thought it tasted differently.  They were right to think the next night would be the prime night for robbery, as the Pembroke rogue and one of the Cimbrian thugs would bring the new shipment, watch everyone drink themselves silly, then steal just enough so that the thefts wouldn’t be noticed until the travelers were well away from the Inn.

The giant wasps were just a random encounter, but I remember the party being really freaked out by them!

And so the party launched it’s big plan, only to have nothing happen whatsoever.  Katja was frustrated and so were the players.  This was my big mistake.  I SHOULD have had something happen because it would have Been More Fun and Been Better for the Story.  My recent interest in story driven games and general GM maturity since then makes this point obvious.  What actually happened was the rogue and thug made their spot/detect/gather info roles to the degree that they knew something was up, so they refrained from trying anything  I remember Bix pretending to be asleep and I made my spot check to notice him.  So nothing happened.  Which sucked.  

Then what?  Well, I figured I couldn’t just have the party leave the Inn, so I thought maybe Herr Dirslapp (which, by the way, I have stats for.  He was a 5th level expert innkeeper.  This is where 3rd Edition led me to -- spending prep time making out stats for innkeepers) wanted out of his sticky situation and could try to set the party and the thieves at each other.  This, um, didn’t work out so well for him.

Edit: I am sorry about the odd text & background for this post.  Who would have thought simply copying and pasting from Google Docs would result in such a mess?  After the blog disappeared, I really want to write my posts somewhere else, then paste them over.


  1. Yeah, the Night of the Gimlet could have been better (and it certainly got worse for Katja), but I really didn't mind the fact that nothing happened that night at the time we played. I wasn't as sensitive to pacing issues at the time and I was really just happy to be playing. But seeing it from the GM's perspective is fascinating. Yeah, the action should have happened that first night. Oh well. :)

  2. Good way to put your finger on it as a pacing issue. That's exactly it. On a related note, I wonder if pacing is as important in old-school games, what with the randomness and naturalism.

  3. I do remember being really frustrated this session, and failing a lot of skill checks. It's interesting to see how much of 3e was driven by stats and skill (like the innkeeper).

    As for your cut/paste issues, try composing in a plain text editor, and just adding the formatting in blogger. Word (and G Docs, apparently) has lot of hidden formatting that come along when cutting/pasting. I wonder if there a way to send posts directly from Docs to Blogger w/o cut/paste?