post here, I got a little cocky with how well the first session of my Day After Ragnarok game, Operation Snakebite, was quickly developing into something awesome. After only one game, the caravan the players were a part of felt alive with real people interacting independently and in real-time. It was a living, breathing world with backstabbing, ambition, and dwarf killing - really the best kind of real world.
Unfortunately for me, I got a little ambitious. I learned two important lessons last night: 1. break up lots of talk, long-distance travel, and story development with a short encounter here or there and 2. I cannot run truly epic battles using the Savage Worlds scenario. Read more to see how I learned my lessons.
We played for about 4 and a 1/2 hours last night and only actually battled for the last hour of it. That means a solid 3 and 1/2 hours of role-playing. Let me point something out here: when we play an RPG in the group, one of the big questions asked is "what do I get to kill?!" and usually each of us GM's has an answer ready that is satisfying to the group. Because of this, we tend to play very strategic, combat-oriented tactical... you get the picture, we have fights a lot. Depending on the system and the GM, we have varying levels of description versus mechanical discussion. For instance, D&D 4th Edition, an extremely well-built and balanced system, tends to be, for us, extremely mechanical in our descriptions of what we do.
I wanted some big battle to kind of end the first leg of the journey through the pass. The caravan had to cross a bridge over a large chasm. The bridge was only wide enough to let one of the 13 wagons over at a time, so they had to form a line 13 wagons long. Miles before they reached the bridge, they found frozen-over corpses on either side of the pass. They didn't move, but it unnerved the entire caravan and led to sleepless nights leading up to the crossing of the bridge. Along with these terrible thousands of corpses, A couple of the players, acting as scouts, would find large, two-foot long black feathers that some believed were as a result of of the dreaded Comazotz, or Fly-By-Nights of Mexico (that's what the thing is at the top of the post). So here's the fight: the wagons are crossing and the players are split on either side of the bridge. On the near side, the zombies start to wake and attack the caravan, and on the far side, the Comzotz were attacking, almost impossible to see until they get right up next to you.
In play, this was a terrible fight. The players couldn't kill the zombies off quick enough, there were a million things for me to keep track of (along with the monsters and wagons, there were also two NPC's helping the players kill off the monsters), and they ended up losing 5 of the 13 wagons. Normally a disaster of the proportion would just be an opportunity for fun, cool storytelling, but it didn't feel very balanced and the fight dragged on. What I thought would be an epic battle just got too complicated, and it really didn't help that we started the fight at 11:00 PM. It was just too big and too late, and we were all tired.
It's gut check time for me with the campaign. I love the NPC's and how the players interact with them, but I know as the GM, it's not the NPCs' stories but the players'. I'm seriously thinking of breaking the player's little cadre off from the caravan. I think, although SW is based on miniature war gaming rules, it's really an ideal game for small, squad-based action. The other three times I've ran Savage Worlds encounters, the fights were small but rewarding. I'm going to have to do a lot of thinking about how to proceed from here as I think scaling the scope down a little would help, but I don't want to lose the story and interactions the players have with the NPC's.