OSR: Behind the Curtain: Session 1 Examination

"Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."

 - E. B. White

Analyzing an RPG session is a similar process. Judging by the view count, not many people are interested in session reports in the first place, but it might be interesting to see how my mind works (or doesn't work) under pressure. You'll need to read this session report first.

This NGR play example from Zzarchov Kowolski is a great example of a highly detailed procedural examination. It's great because it's totally alien to my usual methods. 

Spoilers below. In the unlikely event that any of my players see this post, skip it. Trust me.

This sort of analysis encourages flattery and self-editing. If there were particularly clever moments, I'll try to report them without exaggeration. If there were particularly dumb mistakes, I'll try to point them out. And, as much as I can, I'll try to stick to the truth. I'm slightly worried this report will strip away the mystery and glamour of how I GM. 

I should also note the style used in this game is much closer to a GM than to a Referee. A GM uses the rules. A Referee negotiates between the rules and the players. Machiavelli vs. Nigel Owens.


It's difficult, unfair, and unflattering to summarize people in a few sentences. Still, here we go!

[T]: Tom Shambledrake's player. [T] switches between caution and exuberant experimentation. If there's a weird rock to lick, [T]'s PC will probably be the one to lick it, or another player will twist [T]'s rubber arm. [T] played the late and legendary Bill the Wizard in my VotE game. 

[H]: Haze Palewolf's player. An extremely reliable, middle-of-the-road player. Fully engaged, but not too whacky or impulsive. Enjoys a bit of out-of-character meta-humour. Helps temper the group's tendencies.

[J]: Jonty Earl's player. [J] is a sort of co-GM, in a way. Their enthusiastic planning and verbosity can dominate a game, so I need to keep an eye on it and ensure other players get input. They are a sort of governor of game pacing, slowing it down when I've missed vital details or speeding it up when the group stalls. One [J]-type player in a game is great. Two is a recipe for disaster.

[A]: Agnes Nona's player. Impulsive, sometimes deliberately contradictory, but can be relied upon for an element of chaos and a plan no one could possibly anticipate. More than one [A]-type player can lead to an uncontrollable gonzo game, but one is perfect. [A] also instantly understands and instantly responds to genre and setting conventions.  

[Dr]: Augustus Hartwell's player. Quiet, generally plays sensibly. If [J] leads the group into danger, [Dr] leads them out again. Has a GM's eye for opportunity and group dynamics.

[L]: Lizzy Ramchander's player. Another reliable player. Very good at spotting synergies, unusual combinations, or interesting angles. [L] sometimes takes failure (by roll or by simple impossibility) slightly too seriously, but it's usually not a problem. 

Selecting players for a game is like selecting ingredients for a dish. Sometimes, you're making do with the stuff in the fridge. Sometimes, you get to pick and choose. Sometimes (as with drop-in games), a bunch of ingredients shows up on your doorstep and you need to try and figure out what you can cook with them. In this case, I was lucky enough to be spoiled for choice.

When it comes to schemes and conflicts, players like [T], [H], and [Dr] will play every card in their hand, right to the bitter end, then take a bow. And that's great. But players like [J] and [L] will play cards that aren't in their hands. Or they'll set up the poker game as a distraction while they rob your house. Players like [A] will play cards that don't exist, and if they set up a poker game they'll clearly signal they're going to use it to rob your house, and then (while all your bodyguards are concentrated in two locations), frame you for the murder of a rival mob boss.

Part 0: Pre-Game Prep

For any game, it's important to consider what parts of the system you intend to use and what you intend to ignore or heavily adapt, and then see if there's a better option. It's possible to modify your commuter car for off-road bouldering, but is it wise? For an urban intrigue game I'd normally consider a non-OSR system like Fate Core, but I think that inventory and cost management will still be crucial in this game. I also considered running this game in AD&D or OSE, but the GLOG's magic system is just so versatile, and I feel more comfortable hacking it on the fly.

I expect I won't use the combat/exploration mechanics of an old-school system in this campaign as frequently as in past games. They'll still be useful, but the focus will be on factions, intrigue, and choices. How a fight resolves will probably be less critical than choosing to start a fight in the first place. 

Side Note: An interesting thought exercise is to consider what a game would be like if every roll succeeded. In a d20 D&D-type system, every roll hits, every save is passed, every damage roll comes up average or above average. What then? What choices exist outside the system? If you plan a game around those, you'll do fine.

I wrote or updated some classes, printed character sheets, the map, and some pamphlets.

Aside from my annotated copy of Magical Industrial Revolution, from a thick stack of printed tables and tools (from my blog and many others), I had my standard OSR backup stack: the AD&D DMG, MM, and PHB and the Trilemma adventures book. If I can't find a solution in that stack, I can at least open a book, look concerned, and buy time to think.

Sean Andrew Murray

Part 1: Setting Introduction

As players turned up and settled in, I encouraged them to read the pamphlets that come with MIR. A map of Endon, printed on 2x8 A4 sheets, dominated the centre of the table and helped set the scene.

I spoke for a few minutes on the nature of the setting, the goals of the game, and related media. The players were all familiar with the GLOG system, so I was able to hand out class sheets and blank character sheets without any significant explanation. After everyone had a chance to skim them and I answered a few questions, [J] reminded me to summarize the classes and the roles I envisioned for them, not just what was printed on the sheets.

Part 2: Character Generation

Players started picking classes and handing sheets around. Some players rolled stats first (3d6 down the line), while others, knowing the system, just picked a class and hoped for the best.

The restrictions I gave the players were:

  • You are all at the reading of the will of Uriah Shambledrake.
  • One of you is the presumptive heir, Uriah's niece or nephew.
  • You must be unfamiliar with Endon as it is now. You could be young, sheltered, from Foreign Parts, away for years. You have no roots or allies here (yet).
  • You are all broke. 
  • You are all ambitious.
  • You are somehow connected to at least one other character in a way that could possibly get you into trouble.

An experienced group will generally accept guidelines like this. They're aware of what I'm trying to do, and how cohesive groups work. I can trust this group to find ways to make everyone's play experience enjoyable, rather than relying on mechanics or generators.

I gave a few examples of potential origins, such as: The Heir's Maid/Valet, The Heir's Betrothed (Platonic/Misunderstanding/Otherwise), The School Chum, The Artistic Friend, The Confessor, The Con Artist, The Distant Relation, The Blackmail Victim, The Reporter, The Quack Doctor, and the Mark.

Normally, I'd roll on a big backgrounds table, but I didn't have one prepared for this game. I had backups (including the Electric Bastionland Failed Careers Table, the random encounter tables in MIR, my list of street sellers, and my medieval professions), but as I expected this game would be less lethal than others, I wanted the first set of characters to be driven mostly by choice, not by luck.

There's an awkward moment of tension when a group's dynamics are just starting to congeal. It's interesting to watch. One or two players tends to pick details that acts like a seed crystal for the entire structure. Other players build off those, or incorporate their own growing crystals into the mass.

A lot of things happened at the same time. The order went something like:

Nobody immediately volunteers to be the Heir, but [T] says their character could be the Heir. [H] says the could play the heir's disreputable artistic friend, which started to cement the choice. [Dr] says they want to play a Quack Doctor, because they've picked Biomancer. I point out that Tom's parents are dead, and suggest a hot air balloon accident. "A lighting strike", [T] replies, as [T]'s playing an Electric Wizard, and this inspired their unusual choice of career.

Out of nowhere, [A] says they want to play a distant relation named Aunt Agnes and lists off a series of dead husbands complete with causes of death. This somehow convinces me [A] is playing a Thief or a Spider Wizard, not a Brawler, an error I don't notice until Agnes attacks the Gel Knight later in the session.

[T] suggests that Agnes could be his PC's stepmother, but I point out that Tom's parents died in a tragic lightning-based balloon accident. Two tragic balloon accidents? Mother gets zapped, remarries, then Zap! Ack! There goes Papa! And that's when Tom swears revenge? It's a funny idea, but I point out that [A] playing [T]'s PC's stepmother is "a bit HBO" and might not lead to great group dynamics. The players agree.

During a lull in planning, I ask if any PCs are students at Loxdon College. I briefly explain the college, courses, and the academic term. [T] and [H] agree. [Dr] considers it but then asks if their PC can challenge the Medicine exam. I agree. Since I just explained the Apprentice Test, [A] suggests the Medicine exam is "twoooo candles". 

Some players have come up with names, while others ask for suggestions. I read some results from the name tables in Chapter 1 of the Monster Overhaul.

[T], [H], and [A] roll for courses. [J] picks the Dandy class and suggests a Professor at Loxdon College. I counter with "Assistant Professor", pointing to the poverty/ambition restrictions, and [J] agrees. [J] explains how their role ties them [T] and [H] as a sort of mentor, and picks one of their shared classes to teach. I suggest that Jonty is probably in debt owing to the needs of their lifestyle, and suggest a 15gp value. [J] agrees. I know [J] will run with the idea, and I thought it was wise to set at least one PC up with an impending crisis before character generation was finalized.

[A] says Agnes is a also student, despite her age. I ask how Agnes is paying for all this, and [A] suggests that Agnes is writing letters to a discreet paramour. I accept that the paramour (previously undisclosed) is paying for her apartment and basic needs, but not the 15gp tuition, and suggest that Agnes wrote the college a bad cheque, hoping her as-yet-unnamed contact will pay for it.

Now both Agnes and Jonty now have debts, which wasn't the original plan. I realize that they could easily be in debt to the same person, and check MIR for a suitable NPC. On pg. 119 I find Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl. Perfect.

Meanwhile, [L] has decided on a Biomancer, and asks for a background. I roll up a Brewer, assign the Brewing skill, and digress briefly on the wealth of brewers and their rising middle/upper class power in Endon. [L] decides that Lizzy is not one of those sort of brewers.

During all of this, players rolled stats (3d6 down the line, plus one reroll of choice once they'd picked a class and had a sense of their characters). Dr. Hartwell has a Dex of 5, Jonty ended up with an Int of 17, and Tom ended up with a Con of 18, giving him a whopping 14 HP at first level, while his friend Haze has 2 HP. Such is the nature of random generation. Most of the time, stats won't save you.

Part 1 and 2 Notes and Concerns

  • Skill and background assignment was more haphazard than intended. A standardized background table would have helped, but the combination of choice and random prompts were useful for group cohesion.
  • Saying PCs at the college could use their courses as skills was a good on-the-spot ruling.
  • I expected more nucleation along the heir+college angle, but, as it stands, I've got more than enough hooks to tie everyone together.
  • Having a price system calibrated against modern local currency is very useful for players in modern-ish settings. Does 100 Earth Coin buy you a soft drink or a house?
  • I should have added a clearly marked section for Skills on the character sheet.
  • While I mentioned the Social Classes of Endon in the introduction, I didn't bring them up during this phase because players seemed to have a fairly good grasp of the setting conceits. 
  • A starting group where only a few players have starting cash can lead to an interesting situations. In this case, Jonty offering to buy drinks for some PCs (or so, in-character, [J] implied) lead to the entire group migrating as a mass ([J]'s out-of-character intent). 

Part 3: The Reading of the Will

Originally, the Will Reading would be held at Shambledrake Manor (using the Generic Gothic Manor from the Monster Overhaul and/or Hainsley Hall). I realized that the Manor would be full of tempting loot and rooms to explore, delaying the start of the game and possibly introducing too much chaos. I moved the Will Reading to Endon.

I invented a bequest mechanic for everyone but the heir. 1d6. 1. Cash (1d10cp) + a mundane item. 2-3. Mundane item. 4-5. Minor magic item. 6. Cash (1d10cp) + a minor magic item. Rolls were not great. I used the mundane item table from the Peasant entry in the Monster Overhaul (also found here).

I should have spent a bit more time preparing the "twist" speech (where Uriah reveals he's broke), or at least made my notes legible. It landed, but it could have been better.

The random nature of the bequests worked out fairly well. Dr. Hartwell's item (a whittled gryphon) was difficult to explain, but I was able to tie it to an image of Uriah whittling as his feet were scoured. [L] rolled and Lizzy got the Hypergin item from MIR. A 1/200 chance, and it fit perfectly with her background.

[Dr] asked some very insightful questions about Uriah's death. I realized that, in all my prep, I'd forgotten to settle on a cause of death (natural or unnatural), or even a list of suspects. I ad-libbed that he was burned to death in his room, presumably while adjusting the fire (sufficiently suspicious), but was identified by his signet ring, dentures, and healed leg fracture. The players were sufficiently genre-aware to quietly identify "burned body" as "possibly faked own death", but the leg wound interested them. The signet ring detail would come back to haunt me almost immediately.

[T] asked if there was anything else in the strongbox which contained the will, and I invented the letter. [T] noted the seal, then asked about the signet ring. This was a complication I hadn't planned on introducing, but it made a lot of sense. With the ring's status unknown, the date and authorship of the letter were ambiguous. Luckily, events gave me plenty of time to think. Unluckily, I forgot about it and my improvisation at the end of the session only opened up more possibilities.

Nikolai Lockertsen

Part 4: The Transition

Any sufficiently interesting group will generate its own trouble.

After the Reading of the Will, I didn't have any fixed ideas of what the session should involve. No plot. No plans. The immediate hooks (Agnes' paramour, Jonty's debt, Uriah's suspicious death, and the mysterious sealed letter) were improvised to fit the characters.

I decided to put a bit of pressure on the group immediately. Since [J] can reliably lead the group into danger/temptation/riches, and Jonty had a dangling hook, that's where the bait went. Courier, letter, mysterious meeting with Snedge. Jonty not tipping the urchin is a great segue into a discussion of social class in this group.

Jonty is a minor academic, the epitome of a petit bourgeoisie struggling to keep afloat. By income and lifestyle, he's a member of the Lower Class, but he'd immolate rather than admit it to anyone. In theory, his profession should make him Middle Class, but Jonty aspires to its upper reaches. Velvet robes, posh dinners, swarms of adoring pupils. 

Tom is a member of the upper Middle Class by birth, schooling, and (until the Reading of the Will), expected wealth. His childhood friend Haze... isn't. And the contrast between their two worldviews is very interesting. When I suggested an "artistic friend", I had something like the Shelly Circle or Beckford's friends in mind. [H] went solidly Lower Class by making Haze a music hall player (with an accordion), but also an Illusionist. 

Agnes wants to maintain the upper Middle Class lifestyle of her late husband(s?), but lacks the means.I think Agnes' class affiliations are extremely fluid. In her youth and maturity, this may have served her well, but I feel like Agnes' mechanisms are breaking down. The tactics she used for decades are no longer viable. She has to be a very different sort of social chameleon.

Lizzy is solidly Lower Class, with dreams set in the Middle Class. A prosperous business, safety, the Coppers on her side, and someone else to cook for her.

Dr. Hartwell is an interesting case, and the only PC with hints of radical leanings. As a physician from Foreign Parts, he should enjoy wealth, prestige, and solidly Middle Class lifestyle... but Dr. Hartwell has ideas that do not fit with the current medical paradigm, and is unwilling to pretend to fall in line. 

Part 3 and 4 Notes and Concerns

  • The mix of social classes will be interesting to manage. There's enough overlap, at least at this impecunious stage, that the group doesn't feel jarringly mismatched, but it will be something to keep an eye on as they gain wealth and prestige. 
  • The group feels very Dickensian. They're like Martin Chuzzlewit's scheming relatives, but slightly more virtuous.
  • Snedge is a great NPC. Both in the writeup and in the game, I didn't describe him beyond his name. Instant visualization. I expect to get a lot of use out of Snedge... which means that, in future, I should prepare to get Snedge out of any situation where the PCs have a good excuse to kill him. Snedge is delightfully irredeemable.

Part 5: The Random Encounter

Jonty suggested the group meet at a tavern (the Unicorn Arms, sign of a boxing unicorn) for drinks, while he secretly slipped over to meet Snedge. Backup, even unwitting backup, would be useful.

But as the party moved down the street, I rolled a random encounter and got a malfunctioning Gel Knight. I decided to use it. It was a neutral encounter; the PCs could engage or not engage and life would go on either way. 

They decided to engage, or at least [A] did. Agnes didn't clearly telegraph her intentions to start a fight. [A] played "sweet auntie asks the urchins some questions", then switched to "sweet auntie pulls out a fencepost and starts a fight with a mechanical monstrosity".

Combat was fairly simple. 

  • Roll for HD (4d8: 12). 
  • Agnes' surprise attack. The Gel Knight's armour is Plate (+6 to Defense). Should be Plate+Shield (+7), but I misremembered. Oh well. Surprise is +4 and the Gel Knight's damage gives a further +2 (both on-the-fly rulings), so I tell [A] to roll under Agnes' flat attack. Agnes misses.
  • Initiatives. Agnes is now going after the Gel Knight; a bad situation. Some of the other PCs are going before the Gel Knight, but most decided to hold off and not attack. 
  • Lizzy decides to sprint across the road and haul Agnes out of harms way. I don't think the sprint or the hauling require a roll. I rule that the yank backwards grants Anges + 4 to Defense this round. 
  • With that additional penalty, the Gel Knight's attack misses.
  • Agnes attacks with her fortified handbag. The Gel Knight is no longer surprised, so it's under Attack -6. It's a critical hit, and with doubled damage the Knight goes down.

Agnes scooping ooze into her handbag was unexpected, but entirely sensible, and sparked the idea of an ooze-poisoning plot.

[J] suggest investigating the Gel Knight and finds the address plaque. I suggest using the smart chain Jonty was given during the Will Reading to move the Gel Knight by operating the inner controls. Wearing it as a suit of armour won't work (and would be far too tiring), and I wanted to establish the smart chain's utility. Once players know how their unusual tools work, it's wise for a GM to step back, but offering guidance early on can be very useful.

The group decided to return the Gel Knight. [J] came up with mild extortion scheme and did a sort of trial run with the group. This is a habit of [J]'s. It not a bad thing, but it can mean entire scenes get played out twice (effectively), once in planning and once in execution.

[J] also invented the college porter and cart, then asked to borrow them. Nice bit of player-driven worldbuilding. Of course the college has a cart and porter. The gout-based haggling was cut out of the writeup. The cart's limited capacity split the group, and the sunset deadline meeting with Snedge put pressure on Jonty. He could handle the extortion scheme and still make the meeting if there were no delays.

Since only one of the split groups was active, I jumped back to the second group at the tavern infrequently. The players are experienced enough to know when to sit back and relax. [L] had Lizzy complain about the quality of the gin in a tactless but earnest attempt to get a job, but otherwise, [L], [Dr], and [H] were spectators for a few minutes.

Negotiations with Nero Krahlhammer, of Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati for the Discerning Home-Owner (improvised + a rolled last name from the Monster Overhaul) were fairly brief and didn't involve any rolls. In-character negotiations seemed sensible; the players had a reasonable plan, their target had reasonable needs and reservations, and in the end, everyone got what they wanted.

In situations like this, I default to a [reward] + [risk + another reward of nebulous value + connection to a greater plot] format. 

E.g. "Thank you for returning my dog. Here's $20. Now if you could catch that ring of dognappers that roam the neighborhood, I'm sure the Homeowners Association could authorize a substantial reward."

E.g. "Thank you for rescuing my heir. Here's 5,000gp. Now I could also offer you a title and some lands in the Dangerous Monster Reaches of Political Negotiability, but the current title holder, Lord Bastard, is in rebellion..."

The connection is optional. If the PCs don't pursue it, it probably won't be important. If they do, there's the potential for a reward as well as some campaign-defining factional intrigue.

The initial reward wasn't much (a few silver pieces for each PC present), and it was given in the expectation that the PCs were good (but conniving) citizens. Jonty inveigled his way inside, preyed on the proprietor's fears, and acted as a superb backup for Agnes' emotional outbursts and Tom's stiff upper lip. The revelation of the handbag ooze sample confirmed to Nero Krahlammer that the PCs were the highest grade of rogues... and the sort of people an ambitious businessman could use.

However, the reward for the ooze was contingent on a delay. Jonty hadn't revealed his sunset deadline to the other PCs (in character; they all knew OOC and were fine with Jonty getting in trouble). For the race back to the Unicorn Arms, given [J]'s description of "not sparing the horse", I decided a Con test (failed) and a roll on the Horrible Horse Death Table was called for. The PCs made it in time, but traded 1 cart horse (arguably worth 5gp) for 6gp in reward money total. The good news is, it wasn't their horse, and Jonty is the one who will be in trouble with the college porter.

Part 6: Snedge

In the tavern, Jonty wisely palmed 1gp off to each of the other PCs. The group had discussed not splitting the money evenly, but Jonty's sense of fair play (and need for protection) overruled any chicanery. The 3 PCs who dropped off the gel knight didn't mention the initial reward in silver pieces. It costs 2gp to be Poor per season, so most of the PCs are halfway to not starving to death.

Snedge was pretending to be drunk when he wandered over. I said that Jonty recognized the fakery immediately, being a paranoid and perceptive sort. No need for a roll. Snedge wasn't trying too hard, he just wanted a plausible excuse to see who Jonty was sitting with.

Lizzy using inebriate to get Snedge actually drunk was a clever idea. It didn't get the PCs much information (as both Jonty and Snedge had strong incentives not to spill the beans), but it did convince Snedge to stay away from the group.

During the gel knight haggling, I'd worked out Snedge's mission. I knew it'd be something criminal that could involve more than one PC, or the whole group. Burglary was my first thought. With the house layouts and Wonder-Mansion generator in MIR (pp.139-141), as well as Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl's diverse interests and investments, it would be trivial to invent and run a burglary sequence.

But then, I came up with a much funnier idea. What if Jonty was hired to kidnap Agnes? He'd never heard her referred to by the pet name Aggy. He was unlikely to reveal the plot openly to the group, but might try and recruit some of the more unsavory types to help him. And if he did reveal the scheme, Agnes might not want to reveal her connection.

It's also a scheme Jonty has few skills to support. He's not a kidnapper. It'll be interesting to see if he justifies the kidnapping as a necessary evil, gets involved, or tries to subvert the whole situation. What is Jonty made of? Is Haze, who overheard the conversation, involved out of loyalty, to collect blackmail material on Jonty, or to stop him?

Part 5 and 6 Notes and Concerns

  • Strict time records are vital, but I forgot to print off a time tracking sheet and muddled the time of day slightly. 
  • I should also practice my city blocks to walking time math on Endon. The city map has expanded streets to help visual clarity and labeling, but it makes calibration difficult.
  • The Unicorn Arms is probably going to be a recurring location. I should flesh it out and sketch a map.

Part 7: Wrap-Up

At the end of the session, I checked the Innovations list and decided to introduce 5.1. Mack the Mangler, the infamous serial killer, was caught. Extra editions of various papers broke the news and hinted at an exciting breakthrough. Mack was caught by magic! I also forgot to include this in the session writeup, but I've since amended it. The PCs decided to attend his execution in Colbraith Square the day after tomorrow (since the trial was expected to be brief). I forgot to include this in the session writeup.

A roll on the MIR carousing table is mandatory between Seasons, but it's optional any time a PC wants to party. I offered it at the end of this session as characters were dispersing.

[J] wanted Jonty to gamble, so I broke out my usual gambling procedure.

  • The player sets a limit (5sp, in this case).
  • 1d10: 1-6 house wins (and you lose your limit). 7-9. Double your money. 10. Double your money and roll again. 
  • Losing your entire limit on one roll is disheartening and unpleasant, just like real gambling. Let that be a lesson to you. 
  • Cheating and the Gambling skill can increase a player's odds.

[H] was the only player who wanted to roll on the carousing table, and ended up with an opium addiction. Since this isn't an Off-Season roll, it's comparatively minor and could be cured... but it could also push the Illusionist into strange new realms. Opium is still moderately novel.

At the very end of the session, [T] realized Tom hadn't read the mysterious sealed letter. I had also forgotten about it and any hint of what I'd planned. I said that the outside of the letter had the name "Uriah" written on it in a steady hand, but that the contents were the words "SAVE ME", scrawled or almost carved into the paper. 

The vague plan was for this to have been a letter to Uriah from someone, but [T] mused that it was sealed with Uriah's seal, so Uriah couldn't have been the author. Why would he address a letter to himself? Who needed saving, and from what? Why was it in the box with the will, and why didn't Mr. Cheetham mention it? The players were baffled. I was also baffled, but of course, didn't let it show. I'd bluffed my way into a conundrum, but I could bluff my way out.

Gustave Doré

Final Notes

Outside of character generation, the players probably rolled <20 times total. The lone combat was short. Most of the other events were driven by choices, not by the dice. 

Plot Seeds:

  • The Gel Knight poisonings.
  • The death of Uriah Shambledrake.
    • The mysterious manner of his death.
    • The sealed letter.
    • The missing signet ring.
    • Where the money went, and why.
  • The kidnapping of "Aggy".
    • What Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl wants. 
  • How Mack the Mangler was caught.
  • How to not go broke and die in the gutter.
    • The De-Ginerates business Dr. Hartwell and Lizzy want to start.
    • Passing courses for Tom, Haze, and Agnes.

Overall, I'm pleased with this session. My GMing instincts aren't too rusty, and I think the players had a good time.


If you've got questions about rulings, procedures, or plans, ask away.


  1. Love seeing this behind the curtain stuff, helps me think more about how I run my own games!

  2. Incredible insight, thank you. I've typically only modified modules (including TotSK) but I've never run a session ending with 5 plus plot seeds generated in session!

    1. This reminds me of a point I wanted to make. Most conventional media (TV, film, novels) can handle a limited number of plots. A plot/B plot, or a limited cast of intersecting main characters and their arcs. The audience is one person, and one person has one brain and a limited capacity to absorb and retain information.

      But an RPG group has many brains. In this case, 6+the GM. That means the number of spinning plates can be staggering. Conventional media can't let unsatisfactory plot threads drop; an RPG can. And because the world is presented through such a narrow window of verbal description, chances for ret-cons, missed connections, new aspects, and twists abound.

  3. This is fantastic. Very helpful to see both the presentation at the table and your mindset and intentions. You mentioned at the beginning that session reports attract less attention, but I think that posting both the session report and accompanying reflections makes them fascinating. I would be happy to see this as a continuing series.

    1. Ah, it's less about attention (which is almost a curse, these days) and more about utility. If the view #s are low, people presumably aren't finding the content useful or interesting, and I should put my time towards something else.

    2. For what it's worth, I consider play reports super useful. It's one thing to have a bunch of classes and mechanics and Content, it's another thing to see how the author is using that stuff in their games. When I was getting into the OSR play reports were my favorite type of post and I still find them useful to read for recalibrating myself- I tend to get too deep into my own playstyle, so it's always a good reminder to read play reports from people who handle games differently.

      But they certainly are not as flashy as, say, a new class or w/e, and I may be in the minority.

      Anyway, this post too was super interesting and helpful.

  4. "I'd bluffed my way into a conundrum, but I could bluff my way out." never a truer word has been spoken! You only ever need to be one twist ahead of the players to seem like a master puppeteer.

  5. Great commentary! For me it was more interesting than the session report itself.

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  7. Great to read the behind the scenes action and how you start to spin things out for a campaign

  8. Definitely one of my favorite posts I've read in a while! I don't get to see many GMs whose notes would be something I actually want to emulate, but yours have always been fascinating. Thanks for the insight