Tuesday, 21 June 2016


Last night we wrapped up THE FORKS, a Shadowrun campaign (powered by Fate) that I've been running about once a month since last fall. The last session was entirely satisfactory, with lots of heart-wrenching moments, although I felt that I wasn't able to push the players as hard as I would have liked in the climactic battle. Part of that was down to a truly spooky run of bad dice rolls (I don't think I got a roll that was higher than 0 all night long), although I felt like as a Fate veteran I should have this stuff figured out by now.

THE FORKS was a gritty crime drama take on Shadowrun, stripped of its usual excesses of glittering tech, heaps of cash, and action movie assaults on corporate strongholds. This was set on the mean streets of The Barrio, a desperate slum in the dustbowl sprawl that London, Ontario has turned into in 2050. Since there seemed to be no canonical drama in the region, according to the Shadowrun wiki, I decided that turning Ontario's agricultural heartland into a dusty wasteland ruined by agricorps gave it a nice Mad Max/Dirty Thirties vibe that would feel different than the Seattle Sprawl game I ran a few years ago. A lot of it focused on two of the three main characters fighting for the affections of Morning Glory, an exotic dancer who was also the obsession of a local Mob boss. As expected, with three female lead characters, it also became a story about the place of women in the Shadowrun universe, and I made sure to include as many female supporting characters as allies and enemies as possible.

Yeah, none of that is what the makers of Shadowrun had in mind for their world of elven gunslingers and rock star hackers and trolls with machineguns. But I am good with subverting existing settings to tell my own sad little stories. Shadowrun: Now With 75% More Heartbreak!

The take-away I have from this game, something like ten months into it, is not the one I was expecting, but I guess that's the way it goes -- you learn things by doing them. This was a game that we gathered to play once a month, theoretically on the first Wednesday of the month (although we often had to put it off a week or two, as schedules changed). The players in the game were all veterans I'd played with many times, players who were mostly very comfortable with each other and fully able to "go deep" into the emotional material that a serious game requires. At the time we started the game, this seemed a sensible schedule, because the players were all involved in at least one or two other games a month that put demands on their time. Our schedules have had a big shakeup in the last five months or so, so we're no longer playing quite as often, but what we have been left with at the end is the lingering feeling that we didn't play frequently enough to get the most out of the game.

Once a month is not enough, especially if you're only playing a short session of three hours on the average. Not enough to get that feeling of deep involvement and momentum that a really strong game develops when you have had a few good sessions. Every time we played, we were essentially starting again with a clean slate and trying to get back to the intensity of the game's best moments. That was occasionally very tough.

Which is not to say that we have not had a lot of great sessions and great gameplay in THE FORKS. We did. Like I said, the players were all really strong, and entirely capable of going into strong emotional content. I think they were handicapped by the format, though, and could have gotten more out of the experience if we had played more frequently.

Our twice-monthly weekend games have always been the "big" games, running longer and going deeper than the "side" games we play on weeknights. I had chalked a lot of that up to familiarity, with the players having long experience with each other that enables trust. Every time the weekend group gathered, they were building on a foundation that was strong. But I may have underestimated the simple math: having more frequent, longer sessions equals deeper, more satisfying play.

I think this is the end of that particular group, but we did great things together, and I hope we can have all of them at the same table together again sometime soon.

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