Saturday, September 10, 2022

Cha'altian Session Reports


I was able to squeeze two virtual sessions in this week.

Both were on Roll20 (I gave a couple other platforms a shot, but quickly got confused and abandoned my quest for an alternative), 90 minutes, text only, 18+ (even though we never got to explore anything sexual or erotic... hey, it happens!).

The 90 minute structure is something I'm extraordinarily familiar with.  A lot of people don't like it.  I receive a decent amount of criticism for running shorter sessions.  All I can say is that if you have 5 kids and a day job, then you know how difficult it is to carve out 4 hours on a weekly or even bi-weekly schedule.

Both sessions involved exploring a network of tunnels and caves.  Another similarity is that both sessions had two players by the end.  I accept random drop-ins, so that's to be expected.  People are flaky on the internet.

For those curious, I usually don't have anything specific in mind when constructing these maps.  I just start drawing.  Automatic drawing is a technique invented by Austin Osman Spare.  I've forgotten more than I remember about him, and don't think scribbling lines via my mouse counts as a magical act, but it is part of the greater whole.  And I do view my current roleplaying sessions as magic rituals.

As usual, I gazed upon the Kort'thalis meta-sigil as I prepared for my sessions.

Before I get into more detail, here's a list of guidelines that have appeared out of play...

  • If a player has not chosen a race for his character, I'm just going to assume he's human.
  • If a player suddenly disappears, the GM (me) will roleplay his character - assuming there's a small party of adventurers.  It's not fair to a pair of adventurers who go in a dangerous environment when they believed there were three of them.  If the party wouldn't miss a character, then I occasionally describe his gruesome death as that abandoned PC steps in a trap or fiddles with sorcerous runes discovered on a cave wall.
  • Engagement is crucial!  With noobs, I'm constantly inviting them to take part in the action, make decisions.  "While the thief is scouting up ahead, what is Ba'ab doing?" Stuff like that.
  • If players make leaps of logic, I'll usually let the first one or two go, but then will quickly put the kabosh on that stuff when it seems less likely and/or taking advantage.  For instance, Vindl, a thief cyborg wanted to use the phosphorescent fungi in the cave system for energy, and be able to turn his mechanical arm into a blaster.  So, I said sure.  But shortly after he wanted to construct a shield out of scales picked off a dead creature.  I told him it would take time and the proper tools.

Halfway through the second session, I took over the missing player's character, Ja'ay the demon warrior.  Every GM worth his essential salt knows that GM NPCs shouldn't overshadow the actual PCs.  So, I used Ja'ay as an interesting background character, spurring action like taking one tunnel over another when the PCs couldn't make a decision.  Precious minutes ticking away.

The second session was the first game after vocalizing my theory... the GM's paradigm should make its presence known every single encounter!  While I've been doing that, more or less, unconsciously for years, this session I consciously looked for opportunities to make the game's reality feel more eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, and post-apocalypse.  Did it change the session dramatically?  No, I don't think so.  But going back and observing the session a day later, I'd say consciously trying to infuse my chosen paradigm into every single encounter improved immersion and the game in general by about 5-10%.

Going back to the first session, the couple of PCs were too intimidated to fight the giant Lovecraftian spider things in their network of tunnels and caves.  You know me, I'm all about quick and easy minimal rules.  So, each PC incurred an attack of opportunity whenever they ran past the creature in order to evade it.  I think that worked well.  It happened a couple of times and each time one PC was wounded.

Oh yeah, I got to use my Eldritch Hit Location table over on my SubscribeStar page (publicly available). I think the players got a kick out of slashing or bashing large, scaly rodents in the umthra'ax.  I'll need to use it once or twice more before seeing the true value of something like that.

I don't want to ruin the endings of either adventure because I like running the same adventure (with small variations each time) with different players.  Both were fun, though!

As sometimes happens with my open and welcoming drop-in approach to running sessions, I popped someone's roleplaying game cherry.  That player had never played before, and somehow wound up at my virtual table.  Introducing people to the hobby is definitely a highlight of my weird journey.

Will probably run another session or two next week now that ALL KICKSTARTER CHA'ALT BOOKS HAVE BEEN MAILED OUT TO BACKERS!!!  Yes, I finally got to the end, and it feels fantastic.  Gonna make the most of my free time - it's all about playing, well mostly about playing.  I'd say at least 85%.  Writing and designing game mechanics and such is absolutely worthwhile, but creating a world through the act of roleplaying is something that's above and beyond the background construction.

Last night, I tweeted something out that seemed profound at the time when I was not totally baked.  I'd like to share it here.

"Creating tales of pulp sword-and-sorcery is all that is."

That's it.  That's the tweet.  Lol.  Focusing on that, while leaving all the peripheral bullshit fiddle-faddle outside, will restore your faith in this hobby.  And that's something I believe is in short supply.  

Being part of the magic, fashioning awesome stories of wizards, warriors, dungeons, and dragons will get you closer to PSYCHOCOSM than worrying about campaign lore, balanced encounters, extensive PC backgrounds, the unfairness of monsters critting, and "racist" flying squirrel-monkeys in space.

Lose yourself in the fantasy, and that becomes reality.  


p.s. My new Kickstarter campaign for Encounter Critical III just got approved, so will launch that early next week (probably Tuesday).  


  1. EC? Finally?


    Im a little stoked, in case you couldnt tell!

    I own a pdf copy of the game and there is just this RAW potential! Its magic in a way like d&d first edition is magic.

    Lightning in a bottle.

    But is it playable? Not really. I do L❤VE letting my imagination roam while looking at the world map though.

    Im really looking forward to seeing you codify it better. Its really up your ally, all eldritch and gonzo.

    I know you are a fan of EC too, I have no doubt you will do it justice (though Im sure not everyone will be pleased. Too many critics, too few creators/artists.)

    Keep on keeping the faith bro!

    1. Oh yeah, a lot of people will be skeptical of my approach... and they should be. This omelet requires broken eggs!