Saturday afternoon of Carnage, I ran Highway to Niflheim, an adventure in the campaign setting Infinite Worlds, where a near-future society explores and exploits parallel worlds for knowledge, art and resources. The players took the roles of I-Cops assigned to investigate the failure of a research station on a low tech world to check in with Homeline Control on schedule.
The session got off on the wrong foot for me because I forgot to print out one of the six character sheets for the players. Usually I keep backups of character sheets, notes and such on a thumb drive just in case of such forgetfulness. However, this time, as I pulled all my gear together the day before, I thought to myself, “Oh, there won’t be a printer or a laptop available for you to use, so there’s no point in bringing digital backups.” Fortunately, the last player to get to the table gracefully volunteered to bow out, so that worked out okay, if not ideally.
There was an initial misunderstanding about the kind of game I was running versus what some players thought they were in for. A couple took tactics better suited to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 while I had envisioned something more like Stargate: SG-1 with disguises. But we all seemed to get on the same page readily enough. Some of that was me rolling with what they wanted and some was the players stretching out a bit when they realized it was meant to be a cinematic game I think.
This game pointed out some flaws in my adventure design; namely, stocking it with characters and encounters that aren’t sufficiently tied to the main narrative. There were at least two elements, a fur trader on the bank of the St. Lawrence and a homestead that had been overrun by some outtime visitors. In theory, they were a good idea and certainly connected to the goings-on, but I hadn’t built in compelling reasons for the player characters to investigate them instead of continuing on to their assigned mission. I just expected the players to climb on the plot wagon, as they say on Fear the Boot. So next time I run this one, I’ll need to come up with those compelling reasons, or at least expand the scope of their mission in such a way that it isn’t just “go to the research station.” In the case of this particular session, the player who took a leadership role in the group — as opposed to choosing a character who held a leadership role, mind — threw me a bone, providing his own justification for encountering out those elements of the adventure.
The second thing I’d like to do differently in the future, in any roleplaying scenario I run, would be striking that balance between giving the players what they want and presenting them obstacles. At one point, the I-Cops were merrily romping through the crosstime Nazis’ underground base in Niflheim, bowling filched grenades through every door they came across. On one level, this is an awesome thing to be doing and I got my satisfaction from seeing the players’ satisfaction. At the same time, though, my inner voice was telling me that it was too easy and I needed to throw a wrinkle in their plan, to make them think and improvise. I couldn’t, though, so after a brief exchange with the outpost commander, barricaded in his office, they lobbed some more grenades and hightailed it back to the nexus portal to Midgard.
Highway to Niflheim and The Lurker in the Limelight both showed me I still need to work on my denouement. They both sort of petered out after the primary action concluded. I have this need to wrap things up quickly, because as a player myself, I get antsy when the wrap-up continues on longer than I feel it ought to. Unfortunately, that tends to come out in play as something like, “All right, you’ve defeated the baddie. You head back to HQ/the PC-cave/whathaveyou without further incident. Thanks for playing!”
In the case of Highway to Niflheim, there certainly could have been a worthwhile debriefing scene. Part of the gimmick of this adventure was this was Infinity’s first brush with Reich-5, a Nazi-dominated parallel that found its way into the multiverse through eugenics, psychic powers and the chronobahn. One player, who had prior experience with the Infinite Worlds campaign setting — probably from when it was a mini-setting of GURPS Time Travel — actually went “Ohh,” when I explained that bit. I feel more than a bit of regret I didn’t play that scene out, because while he would have played his character’s reaction, I think there still would have been a glimpse of the surprise the player felt when he realized he’d played through a turning point in the development of the setting’s timeline.