Saturday, September 26, 2015

Mastodon - A GM-2-GM Review for The Strange

Witness me Cypher System fans!

2 Weeks of Online Demos 


First, I need to apologize for the lack of activity here on Living 4 Crits in the last couple weeks.  It's been quite busy in the "real world" for me, and certainly challenging to find the time to post some decent words.  Of course this doesn't mean that I haven't been gaming!  With my Cypher System Fantasy game on a three-week break due to scheduling issues, I've been running demos of other Cypher games on G+ Hangouts.  Last week I ran Shadewalker, an MCG Asset Team adventure for Numenera, and this week it was Mastodon, the Gen Con 2015 adventure for The Strange.  

Shadewalker is still an Asset Team exclusive, so I've gotta keep the details to that adventure quiet, so let's chat a bit about Mastodon by Bruce Cordell!



Let's go to Ruk (quick player friendly overview)


If there is any possibility that you would be a player in Mastodon, you can read this next section.  I promise not to give away any major spoilers.

Mastodon is an introductory adventure for The Strange that brings together a group of ex-military recursors (recursion-jumpers) on a mission to discover who (or what) is hunting down and murdering their old teammates.    The adventure begins on Earth, and as the cover shows, leads to some interesting action on the biomechanical recursion of Ruk.  The adventure itself itself is about twenty pages long, but the PDF is twice that length… because it's chock full of pre-gen characters.  Anyone looking to give The Strange a try with a group of newcomers to the Cypher System can hit the ground running with just this adventure and The Strange Corebook.

Although this was a Gen Con adventure distributed to MCG volunteers, you can now purchase the PDF for this adventure here for only $2.99!

I really enjoyed running this adventure at Gen Con.  Much like Eschatology Code, last year's Gen Con adventure, Mastodon opens up with an awesome action sequence that hooks the players.  As the game progresses, the adventure opens up and becomes more of a sandbox, allowing for investigation and discovery.  Of course there is also that opportunity to travel to Ruk, which is always awesome!

I'm a crappy reviewer, and an obvious MCG fanboy, so I'll just leave my two thumbs up, five stars, and A+ right here.  If you are a player, and especially if you haven't played The Strange, go get your GM to run this for you.  

Okay, players, please stop reading now…

… seriously, this is your last chance before I reveal a few spoilers…

… seriously.

Just One GM to Another


I don't think I do a very good job at "formal" and "official" game reviews, so I thought I'd do this one a bit different.  I'm always interested in seeing how one GM runs a published adventure compared to another, so I thought I'd share some of my notes for running Mastodon.  Feel free to use some of these ideas and intrusions yourself, or maybe share with me your own ideas.  

Timing

Make sure you run this adventure with adequate time.  When I ran at Gen Con we had a great four hour time slot and the adventure was very smooth.  The opening action sequence lasted the first hour, but then the group had the chance to methodically solve the mystery.  We wrapped up in about 3.25 - 3.5 hours.  This led me to the idea that I could trim this adventure down to a three hour window and possibly run it as a week night G+ Hangout demo.

I was wrong.

When I ran the game this week I had to hack way too much out of the adventure to fit it into the three hours.  The "sandbox" investigation on Ruk disappeared and the adventure felt very railroad-ish.  Obviously this is not the writer's fault, but my own as a hasty GM.  Mastodon is an adventure that allows players to fully explore the weird and mysterious world of Ruk… don't rob your players of this opportunity.

Velociraptor Fun

My favorite part of this adventure is the opening encounter with the raptors.  The idea of players encountering dinosaurs in a hotel conference center is just downright fun!  Since both sessions that I ran included newcomers to The Strange I wanted to make use of some creative GM intrusions:

  • Too Shaken to Talk:  A short GMI, the first player to open the door quickly closes it and must then make a level 3 difficulty Intellect roll against fear to tell the rest of the players what they saw.  
  • Girl Scouts:  The first time I ran Mastodon I had a Girl Scout convention going on at the same time.  During the firefight with the dinosaurs a bunch of the children entered the room, and became potential fodder.  The players had to save the girl scouts as well as the rest of the hotel staff.
  • Bridal Shower Guest Selfies:  The second time I ran Mastodon I had a bridal shower going on in the room next door, and when one of the players went to act (before entering the room), two guests forcibly tried to have their pictures taken.  

Come On Down

Another place for a great GM Intrusion is in the final fight with Amla-Shoon.  During both games I had one of the experiment subjects grab a player character and pull them to the ground.  I got the idea from a scene from The Stand when a sick scientist grabs Gary Sinise:


I think for the first session (Gen Con) I actually had the experiment subject say those exact words.  Both times I described the experiment subject as being in terrible physical condition.  Missing skin, tendons, and misshapen.  It was pretty gross.  That player then had to deal with the subject before they could reenter the fray.  

Making Amla-Shoon's Case

By the end of the adventures the players discover that Amla-Shoon is the "final boss", crazy mad scientist trying to uncover the secrets of the True Code through experimentation on un-quickened humans.  Although I ultimately failed, I really tried in both sessions to play up Amla-Shoon as someone who only experimented on "bad people", like child predators, murderers, and people who talk trash on the Fast and the Furious…

… seriously, everything Vin Diesel touches is gold.

I'd love to have my player characters really struggle with choosing whether or not to battle Amla-Shoon, perhaps even agreeing to join their side.  I really enjoy foes who are neither good nor evil, and after reading through the adventure again, I'd probably take out her "insanity" and perhaps lay some breadcrumbs early on that she may have a point.  The adventure does give a brief paragraph called "Joining Amla-Shoon" that covers this possibility.  

Mastodomination!


If you've already GM'd or played Mastodon I'd love to hear your own stories.  What kinds of GM intrusions did you run?  If you were a player, what were your favorite moments?