Steel Ships & Space Marines

Adventure ½: The Nightmare (1998)


What went right, what went wrong, and lessons learned

This game was an unmitigated disaster, by all accounts.

It started innocently enough, though. I planned to use the random mechanics as originally intended. I also experimented with a character-development idea, and directed Players to create 100pt characters, using unlimited Disadvantages (an idea I had tossed around some time prior but never got to try out). I had a ship that I had designed previously, and a ”captain” character (Warrell), so I used them both as the centerpiece of the game. I told the Players that this was to be a ”cinematic” game.

First, the good: I gave them a mock classified-ad looking to fill specific ship's crew-positions that they based their Characters on. Once created, I gave them a mock ”interview” with the captain. As I interviewed the Characters as the captain, I also noted (asking the Player, as GM, when needed) where they had lied or misled—they all were hiding things, to some degree. The reason, as the captain revealed at the end of the interview, was that he had employed a Telepath to observe the interview from behind a screen, to sniff out any untruths. It went over well with the Players, who were all surprised (not so much with some of the Characters, though).

Now, the Bad: The PCs had each created some of the most irritating and difficult to work with Characters I have ever had the misfortune to GM—some were downright evil—something for which I was completely unprepared. My GMing hell began as one of the Characters (who, due to my creation rules, had IQ:20, Eidetic Memory and Eidetic Reflexes) took a dislike to the Telepath, and followed her to her home, intending her harm and/or death. One PC (Tulk) tried to blackmail another (Spyder), who promptly shot him in the shoulder with a blaster—amusing, but not helpful. Some time later, it was revealed that some/they had decided to ”teach me a lesson” by intentionally creating Characters that would break the system—rather than talking about it, of course. Once under way on the ship, the Players (and thus, the PCs) took an immediate dislike to the captain, not because he was harsh or incompetent, but because they saw him as weak and indecisive, due to my efforts at getting the PCs involved in the decision-making on the ship (I just didn't want them to feel like they were just ”playing along,” but it backfired horribly). The PCs were all plotting against each other, and against the captain & crew, each independently planning to seize control of the ship (the plots were creative, but not helpful to the story). I also discovered the difficulties in managing a completely random GMing process, with all the bookkeeping it involved (laptops at the gaming table were unheard of at the time, as were internet GMing tools and such.pity). And to boot, I also was beginning to discover my own GMing shortcomings with regard to improvisation—a required element in this sort of operation. While I had said that this was to be cinematic, I hadn't really considered what that should mean, and there was some Player frustration when I disallowed some cinematic maneuverings that I probably should've. Ultimately, the constant razzing and difficulty dealt out by the Players proved too much for me, and I dropped the whole idea mid-session. Not a shining moment for myself or the group I played with at the time.

Despite the difficulties, I learned some valuable lessons. And, while the Adventure could not be described as fun for any of us, it was certainly memorable. When the next Adventure came around many years later, I included none of the events that happened in this one; only a few of the Characters survived—Tulk, Spyder, and Warrell and his ship.


GMs Only

Downloads forthcoming.

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