I must admit I’d slightly lost track of how many characters had wound up broken at various points in the game and acquired a resulting reputation. Here’s how it works – if during a challenge you lose all your points in the relevant damage track (concentration, inspiration, vigour or confidence) you’re broken and whatever broke you can exact a concession from you. This can be forcing you to reveal a secret or perform a favour, or it can leave you with a permanent reputation relating to your defeat. As well as these having a mechanical impact the players have been using them as role-playing cues for their characters.
One character is now spooked by the supernatural, and lobbying for destructive measures to be taken at the first hint of weirdness. Another has a fear of crowds, and understandably panicked when a mob surrounded the building they were in. And in one of my favourite moments to date we had a little bit of PvP. Alexander, having been charmed by the sessions’ big bad was downplaying the need to take action. Dilesh used his ‘True Motive’ talent to assess what was going on, achieved a perfect success and so instantly wiped out Alex’s confidence (PvP tests can be brutal). Dilesh could have got a truthful answer to a question, or extracted a favour, but instead chose to give Alex the reputation “Dilesh sees right through me”, meaning should Alex want to mislead Dilesh again he’s going to find it very hard indeed.
So four sessions into this little campaign, and the characters are really bearing the marks of their escapades to date. I’m happy with that.
Todo: Not much, this works!
The low prep approach
Left to my own devices I often do a lot of prep for games, and Inferno has the potential to become a high-prep system. So for this playtest I wrote some news stories based on the players downtime actions, and a couple related to the scenario’s starting situation, and waited to see what happened.
This was fine, particularly as the players opted for an approach I wouldn’t have prepped had I been given a month to come up with material. So I’m encouraged that Inferno can be played in a somewhat ‘pick up’ style.
Todo: Tips for improv GMing with Inferno
That said, I do think Inferno will be a game that rewards prep, but I’m trying to focus that into a structure that ensures it comes to the table, so any effort put in isn’t wasted.
I’ve just organised the various things I need to keep track of to run the campaign, and it breaks down like this.
- A Google Drive folder to hold the character sheets
- A Google Drive folder containing sheets where each player can track their own objectives
- A shared document displaying the current prestige scores
- An archive of each session’s news (on Roll20)
Those things are fairly self explanatory. Prestige scores are a bit like experience points in that players receive them based on how their various objectives are progressing. Updating these takes about five minutes per session.
Between games each player sends me a description of what their character is up to by email, including the single action they’re undertaking. Actions might be things like “Develop my latest invention”, “Expand my influence over London’s legal system” or “Research a demon that has the following powers”. Some of these things are discreet actions, some are related to the plot, some are related to a character’s personal objectives.
Adjudicating these actions takes about 15 minutes per player, inlcuding replying to the email telling them what happened. These downtime actions are proving a rich source of background material, B-plots and colour, and the results almost always come out on the table.
The biggest piece of prep each session is the news. This is a collection of short news stories, pulled from three sources. The sources are….
- What happened in the last session
- What players have done in their downtime
- Hooks for the next session’s play
The first two are easy to write, because I don’t have to think of much by myself. The last does require a bit of effort. I think the final version of Inferno will probably also include a few hundred sample news stories that GMs can drop into their own prep to give a sense of the world.
Here’s a typical example of news, annotated to show where the news is coming from:
News, Summer 1891
Liston elected! (Previous session)
Robert Liston, the famed surgeon has been elected Lord Mayor of London following an unusually close four way contest. Mr Liston triumphed by just 600 votes. His political success followed a heroic performance on the campaign trail, during which he personally smashed a gang of thieves and kidnappers, performed life saving surgery on little Ella Day (6) before the city’s journalists, and bested all comers in the hustings.
Persistent fog persists (Hook)
The horrendous fog that has plagued London for months continues to do so, with the population of that noble city now donning masks before leaving the house. The freak weather has so far defied explanation, the rest of the British Isles have suffered no such calamity.
The plucky Londoners are determined to carry on as normal. Society balls have adopted a Venetian theme, and some matrons have commented that the change has levelled the playing field for those debutantes who lack physical charms.
As reported in the New York Times.
Lord Mayor’s show delayed (Hook)
The terrible fog has persuaded the Aldermen of London to delay the traditional parade which marks the election of the Lord Mayor.
PEEL to the rescue? (Player action)
Lord Mayor Robert Liston today announced the installation of a new, state of the art difference engine at Scotland Yard. It is claimed that the new Predictive Engaged Enforcement of Law (PEEL) system, a product of Henderson Industries, will reduce crime by mathematically deducing where crimes will take place, allowing police officers to be placed there ahead of time.
“If we’re already there, then they ain’t gonna do the crime, and then how’s we going to nick ’em?” said Constable Hollis.
Constable Brent awarded medal (Player action)
Constable John Brent was awarded a medal for valorous conduct by Mayor Liston after making nine arrests in a single day. “I was on the corner at Spitalfields, just waiting, when I saw the first villains. Later on I was at Charing Cross. Right place, right time. It’s copper’s instinct is what it is.” said Constable Brent when asked to explain his success.
Ghastly discovery has a silver lining (Hook)
Little Tommy Taylor found not one, but two corpses when larkin’, along the side of the Thames. “They was all wrinkled up from the water, and looked like they’d seen the devil ‘imself before they passed” said the imaginative tyke. But it wasn’t all horror for the young lad, “One of em had four shilling in his pocket, and the policeman said I could keep it.”
The Duchess and the Princess (Previous session / Player action / Hook)
Defeated Mayoral Candidate Augustus Delaney has been keeping good company since his defeat. The gentleman politician was seen taking tea with Lady Fetherington-Smythe and Duchess, the nation’s favourite persian puss.
Crime wave recedes (Player action)
Despite the persistent fog it seems the brave efforts of Scotland Yard are bearing fruit, with Bow Street’s court full of sneak thieves, pick pockets, and garroters.
Lord Mayor’s Show to go ahead (Hook)
After a three month delay the Lord Mayor’s show is to go ahead, despite the appalling fog which continues to plague London. After the parade the Mayor is hosting a banquet for the deserving orphans of London’s rookeries.
On the one hand, I’m very happy with how the supernatural elements of this campaign have been playing out. Magic is scary and horrific, and as a result gets treated with plenty of respect.
I’m particularly happy with the weird entities I’ve come up with and how the party have responded to them. It gives the game a fairly unique flavour.
On the other hand, I’m painfully aware that the system behind all this is rather underdeveloped. I know exactly what I’m aiming for, but this remains the part of the system that needs the most work.
Todo: Lots of writing
In contrast, the technology system seems to be working well. I need to fine tune a few points, but the idea of scientist characters being able to pick one specialism, and develop it by completing objectives works well. The PEEL system mentioned in the news above is a player creation, an early result of their character’s work on Cognisant Cogitation.
The tech trees I’m planning to provide will draw on ideas from Victorian science fiction and more recent Steam Punk material for inspiration.
Todo: Write the rest of them, use them in future playtests