Sunday 31 May 2020

Thoughts on Running UVG after 10 Sessions

The Set-up
Every month I post 3 - 4 sessions on the Gauntlet calendar. From month to month new players can sign up. In theory everybody can sign up for games with the Gauntlet although patreons get a head start of one week which makes it difficult for non-members to get into games. Players are encourage to commit to all games of one season but they can also decide to sign up for single sessions.

Open Table
A potential downside of open table play is the possible lack of coherence if the composition of the caravan changes completely from season to season. It turned out to be a mitigating factor that I reserved one spot for the same player, Puckett, who only missed one session. Fortunately I also had at least one other player who remained in the party from one season to the next. Even players who knew that they wouldn’t return made long term decisions like researching the market, buying goods and picking routes as if their characters remained in the party.
To support coherence I set up this blog and a dedicated channel on the Gauntlet Slack where I post the session reports, actual play videos and where the players can chat about the game. Furthermore the online character sheet not only keeps track of the caravan, it also functions as a game artifact that new players can peruse.
NPCs and Places of the UVG
The Cogflower Caravan
The first group decided on the type of caravan based on the background of one of the characters, Nat Mordecai, who is a Cogflower Necromancer Lawyer. The caravan is sponsored by the church to make as much money as possible by trading on the way to the Black City, where the money is supposed to be offered at the altar of a probably sinister entity. Nat and all the other characters who had been part of the caravan at some point can rejoin in later sessions and are treated as if they had never left. They are still considered part of the caravan for all intent and purposes although they won't act and don't count against mouths to feed. Equally, new characters are regarded as having been part of the caravan all along if they want to.
A small segment of the growing map
The Sandbox
In most sandbox settings players are free to pick whatever destination they want to travel to and pursue whatever goals they might have. In UVG however the general direction is given: Westwards and onwards to the Black City.
With a permanent group it wouldn’t be a problem to have free movement in all directions, with characters travelling back and forth between destinations - for example in order to exploit milk runs, establishing a base for operations etc. But with an open table I think it is more sensible to stick to the basic premise of a caravan travelling to the Black City.
Another difference to a more classic sandbox is the degree of narrative control players have. Because information about the game world is not extensively detailed in the book the GM can either spend considerable time prepping a session or prompt the players to add elements to the description. The latter seems to be the way the author intended the game to be run:
The demise of Don Strakha, leader of the Redlander Bandits
My hope was that stories would emerge from the interaction between player decisions and results on random tables. As a GM my role is to be a neutral referee who just adjudicates the rules and tries to represent an objective world: It’s up to the players to make the best out of a given situation. Encounters, discoveries and even misfortunes can provide opportunities for the players to create their story of the UVG. From that perspective “story” is what players remember their characters doing in the fiction. 
I only deviated from the ideal of a neutral arbiter on a few occasions:    
  • When Naida contacted her organization (a group of vigilantes who patrol the UVG) about potential targets I wanted the information to be useful so I pointed her towards the psychic war at the Mountain City.
  • Inspired by Into the Odd I created a rival caravan of Redlander Bandits that the PCs encountered at the Low Road and the High for the first time.
  • When Hamish, a Redlander Folk Hero, arrived at the Porcelain Citadel it seemed appropriate that Syruss Sensible and the Revolutionaries would see in him a tool to use against the princes, so I provided the heist as a possible adventure seed.

A Porcelain Walker was added to the caravan after the heist
Emergent Story and storytelling
Of course players from the Gauntlet bring their story telling sensibilities and talents to the table. Dan, playing Satrap 88, decided to bring their story to a conclusion after the first season by elaborating on the theme of Satraps having no soul, Chris, playing the machine human Saffron, looked for a way to conclude the story of the artificial intelligence Johnny -7 in a satisfying way. From my perspective these storytelling approaches to the sandbox might be unusual but well within the range of stories one could tell with the UVG.

Satrap 88 re-uploaded in the Violet City

12 weeks of in-game time from Redmonth to Yellowmonth.
12 weeks of real world time from March 14 to May 23
9 characters, 8 players

30+ hours of actual play:

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