What it is, where it came from, and what I was smoking at the time :)Underground is a near-future cyberpunk adventure, in the vein of the old Orwellian classics, like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World, meant for Atlas Games’ Feng Shui system. This alternate Daniverse world takes place in the setting detailed in GURPS:Cyberworld, modified for the Daniverse, and influenced heavily by the movie, Equilibrium (in fact, the storyline depicted in this adventure would eventually lead up to the Equlibrium story). As with all Feng Shui games, this was meant to be “cinema-based,” and represented the pilot episode of a possible TV series. The PCs were to be members of a resistance cell, masquerading as Waste Management workers, while fighting Evil™ and evading the oppressive government (which would often be one and the same).
This game was entirely experimental, intended to determine the feasibility of several aspects of a game system I have been long working on, meant to take the “cinema-based” idea to the next logical step (see my GM Tips section on the subject). As the Feng Shui system is entirely cinema-based, at its core, and was a huge inspiration for the game system I’ve been working on, it was ideal for the adventure/experiment.
Who played who, who they met there, and who tried to kill them
What I planned to do, and how I planned to do itUnlike previous games, this one was a “Players’ Choice” game derived entirely from a voting-session with the Players. Billed as a “pitch meeting,” I went ’round the room and had everybody “pitch” a series idea. Once finished, everyone voted which idea would be put into production. Players voted on the realism level, style—even the name of the series was eventually determined by vote. During the pitch meeting, I also had the Players come up with a scene or two for the “trailer,” which I could then work into the story.
Another experimental aspect of the game was in the Character creation process. Feng Shui is very “flexible” when it comes to many specifics of Character creation, but I wanted to take it a step further by letting the Players “make up” their own Traits, using the ones already specified in Feng Shui as a guideline. This aspect was a marginal success, in that nobody abused it, but at the same time, most seemed a bit lost. I think, in the end, the Players weren’t quite ready for that sort of freedom.
Another experiment was more GM-related, in that I created the adventure in one week, from the voting to the start of the game—the first half, anyway, as I intended it to last two Sessions (a two-hour premiere). The second half was created (mostly) within the following week, after the first had finished. The reason for this was two-fold; one, I was testing my own improvisational abilities, and two, I was determining the feasibility of this entire process, and whether or not it would stand up to continual usage as such (for my game system).
During the game, I encouraged the Players to develop a more “cinematic” feel for what was happening—maybe a bit more so than in Feng Shui. I had planned to use my Action Movie Cards for this adventure, but discarded the idea, as I did not want to run too many “experiments” at once, for my own sake and for the Players’ (some of whom had played Feng Shui before, and had certain expectations).
After the episode was finished, I required that each Player take on the role of “Critic,” and write a brief blurb about their impression of the show. As real critics seem to rarely have anything good to say, I instructed them to be as brutal (but truthful) as possible—sort of like a “roast.” The concept was that a good GM could take these criticisms, embellished though they would be, and get at the truth behind them, so as to make later improvements in his technique.
Where the Players went, who they saw, and what they conqueredDue to the loss of my digital files, I have scanned the printed copy of the Synopsis and converted it to PDF format; viewUG-Synopsis.pdf. It was written in the format of a TV series outline (or treatment).
What went right, what went wrong, and lessons learnedThis experiment was basically a success, as I determined that most of the “experimental” elements had functioned properly. The Players got what they asked for, for the most part, and there were no complaints to that end (though the game, as a whole, was less “fun” than I had hoped). There were no problems with the Characters, with regard to the “flexible” creation process. As to the Players being a bit “lost” during the creation process, that could be eased in time, as they get used to the concept and as the related rules become better defined. My “improvisation” of the game itself seemed to survive the “test of battle,” for the most part.
That being said, I wasn’t totally satisfied with the experience. I had some trouble with my own motivation in the creation of the game, since the story concept ended up being something I wasn’t wholly excited about—and that lack of enthusiasm will always show in the execution, whether intended or not. During the course of the game, I made one of my classic mistakes—expecting the Players to “play along.” When the PCs broke through the windows to confront Keller, who brandished a remote detonator and declared that the building was wired to blow—I wasn’t prepared for the PCs to attempt to immediately jump out of the window, rather than listen to Keller’s monologue. I seem to recall that there was a problem related to them shooting the detonator out of his hand, as well, though I don’t remember the nature of it—I was prepared for that sort of thing, but not prepared enough. In the end, the situation got so messed up that I had to turn it into a “cut-scene,” basically taking temporary (retroactive) control of the PCs—the Players were understanding and helpful at this point, as this is (sadly) not the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. You’d think I’d have learned by now :) I blame the “rush.” Other than that, there were no real surprises. My biggest disappointment was that out of six Players, I only ended up getting two “Reviews” after it was over (from the usual suspects), which led me to believe that the rest weren’t all that excited about the game either. As another factor contributing to the reduced enthusiasm, it should be mentioned that a few of those Players had never experienced anything like the Feng Shui system (and were new to RPGs in general, having played nothing but D&D 3e), and so had considerable difficulty wrapping their heads around the “style over substance” concept. Feng Shui doesn’t really lend itself to hack-and-slash gaming, and that sort of Player won’t fully appreciate it.
So, after a round of audience-testing, the Underground series was not accepted by the Network for continued production, and the pilot would eventually be re-run, ad nauseum, on the SciFi channel :).
Critical acclaim, heckling, and other comments from the Peanut Gallery
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