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Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Mon 06 May 2024, 15:23

Initial Session

I'm going to be updating this post with my session reports for Electric Dreams. Comments are of course welcome ! I am posting this to share my thoughts and to see if others have experienced similar things.

So, I finally got around to starting the BR starter set and Electric Dreams. I had wanted to get this going more than half a year ago (viewtopic.php?t=11449), but I could not get the people I wanted together, but finally I just bit the bullet. We've started a 1 player game (my wife, playing 2 characters ; me as GM playing one of the pre-made PC as a stand-in character). This is a format we've used very often in many other games we've played in the last years and it works fine but probably isn't ideal for a mystery / detective noir game.

I've GMed for almost 35 years of rpgs and my wife and I have played many games ranging from system heavy to narrative and rules-light. The main system we play is now blades in the dark-type systems, harnmaster, and a custom Warhammer Fantasy house rules that I made which combines blades in the dark, wfrp 2nd edition and (ironically) maps it to a blade-runner-type dice pool system with push mechanics - so we were familiar with a system like this.

I am familiar with and own other free league games (Forbidden Lands, Twilight 2000, Alien and Vaesen) but my wife wasn't used to it, but she is familiar with similar systems with step-dice dice pools and she picked it up in minutes. We also watched the original blade runner movie just before we started to set the scene, background and mood.

She played with Fenna and Novak, I was controlling Percival. We only got through a couple of hours once we set the scene, did character intros, did some pretty heavy lifting and detective-work. We're basically at the end of the first shift having checked out the mainframe (Percival) and spent considerable time at the snakepit (Fenna and Novak).

So far I would say that we have not enjoyed it anywhere near as much as we expected to, but I think that will improve slightly as we keep playing. Our initial thoughts is that the scenario is not bad but the system and the scenario does suffer from some issues. We love cyberpunk and detective noir settings and games, but this one wasn't gelling for us. Here are my initial thoughts.

What we did like:
  • The production values of the print outs, maps, mugshots are great. The books split too easily and drop their pages, but I've fixed that with glue ...
  • We love polyhedral step-die systems with dice pools - so we liked having the different die types
  • The random obstacles in the chases were great
  • The push mechanic differentiation for replicants felt nice and helped differentiate vs humans

The system in general:
  • A main issue for the system is that it's not very granular (d6, d8, d10, d12 doesn't leave much room for differentiation). While it's not really an issue for the one-shot for xp advancement it didn't feel right to us in terms of play. In my mind, the idea of using attribute + skill isn't as well implemented as even other free league games because everyone starts with all skills in d6. We almost felt you could do away with attribute + skill and just have skills (or approaches or whatever you'd want instead)
  • I was worried about the opposed rolls and it turned out to be an issue in play. We had a chase after Styles and some opposed rolls for manipulation and almost all of the rolls were tied with 2 or 3 successes. This was a problem because you don't really want to push because the odds are stacked that you would lose. I don't like opposed rolls that count successes in general because this problem is common amongst them, but we found it particularly bad here because of the narrow range of dice pools and the fact that there are more ways of getting double successes with a 10+ roll
  • In the end we have agreed to replace the system with the opposed dice mechanic we use for our Warhammer house-rules because the ties were leading to such a sense of anticlimax
  • We also dropped the opposed rolls for manipulation tests because it was creating a barrier to getting the info needed (we still used normal manipulation rolls)
  • While the chase obstacles were fun, the chase mechanics did not work. In the end she gave up the chase not because Styles got away, but rather because of the ties and lack of chase resolution even after 4 or 5 turns
  • We didn't like the push mechanics, but that could just be personal preference. We have become used to using push mechanics to get successes or failures with consequences and this is not how they work in BR (instead it's just a health/resolve cost). We found this took out a lot of the tension in the rolls because so much of the fun is discussing the potential consequences of getting a 1 on a push - but here it's just a point of damage
  • The system is REALLY deadly in combat. We did 2 trial combats before we started just to see what to expect. Both example fights were resolved in one roll with 2 success with a sub-compact shot being instant death on the critical roll. That you can't do anything to resist the critical didn't feel great - but at least you know that getting into combat is serious!

The characters and relationships:
  • The ideas of the key relationship, memory and signature item are good in theory but in practice I think there are too many of them - why do we need 3 different mechanics that don't really do much more than most of the specialties?
  • The relationships don't come into the game enough and we were expecting this to be the case
  • It felt like the game was about finding clues and specific lines of questions - because it is. We were expecting a more character relationship driven interrogation and clue system (which we have seen in other games) - I will tweak this to change how the detective work is framed in future sessions by borrowing from these other games

The system as a detective genre:
  • At its heart, the YZengine is actually a fairly standard non-narrative system wrapped up with some small tweaks. We didn't feel that the tweaks addressed the key issues with these types of detective games about clue dead-ends, failed manipulation rolls leaving players knowing they have failed etc. In many ways the way pushing is implemented makes it worse as it would have been more interesting to link pushing to forcing clue discovery with some form of consequence
  • The idea that the game events are progressing regardless of the player's input is a design choice I don't think works overly well because the players don't know and can't see their goal and how it's changing and so they risk not being full engaged because they feel like extras in the GM's story. I know I will get around this with foreshadowing and a lot of timeline massaging, but inexperienced GMs could derail a game very easily here

So, these are my initial thoughts after playing a single session. I can tell that my wife doesn't really want to get back to the table on this game but I know I can turn it around by merging two sets of house rules into the system that address much of the above issues. It's a shame I need to do this though as I think the system is simple, has potential, but just doesn't do anything (or perhaps enough) to enable the detective noir genre as e.g. something like Technoir does (https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/10 ... -clue-rule).
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Re: Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Mon 06 May 2024, 20:41

Honest criticism is tough these days - to give or get - but I think you have done a great job laying out your view on this game and the starter case.

If taken on board for future material - it can only make things stronger - which will be great!

Blade Runner seemed to be a tough game to play or run to begin with, but having concrete examples of how and where can also help prime others to have better times running this - so definitely thanks for writing it all up too.

I am very curious to see some of the changes you are considering and hear how they play out - I do hope you can turn it around.

From the FL side, it has to be tough to put out a new system/setting and that first adventure for it ... much like the pilot episode of a new TV show.

It may need some episodes to "find itself" and settle in ... I think it can do it especially with feedback like this if it can be translated into non-breaking changes.
We live, as we dream -- alone. ~ Joseph Conrad
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Re: Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Tue 07 May 2024, 01:49

One thing that did work very well for the scenario design was Wallace Corp's explicit impatience. From playing other detective noir style games a common problem is getting the player invested in the mystery unless you lay on the In medias res very thickly or make it very personal (which it often is in movies etc to be fair). I emphasised that Wallace Corp was letting the LAPD manage the investigation - for now - and it made a huge difference to the sense of urgency and pacing that otherwise would not have been the case.

The scene plot mapping / flow map was also a great addition. While I found it too complicated to understand initially, once I understood the basic plot it was helpful to confirm my understanding. The "How players get here" for each location is an excellent idea too as it helps me as a GM quickly work out if my approach is going to break something or not.

As a GM, I like the scenario but there are a few things I would prefer in terms of structure vs the way it is written. Note I think it's written very well and it's well laid out in general. As a GM I often need to find key pieces of information quickly. The way the interrogation question topics are laid out in the game are excellent for this. What could be improved in my opinion is noting the key motivations and the key personality / character traits very clearly (like FATE aspects, but many games do it). Just have a subheading with Motivations and another one for Description (or Traits or whatever) and have 2-4 bullet points under each. This helps me immediately recall what the NPC is about and also what they are like and how to play them very quickly and easily. In there context of play, when a PC meets or talks to a NPC for the first time the GM has to read a wall of text to remember what this NPCs main role is and this slows down play. This problem is amplified because I had a table of 1 player and so the GM is forced to manage pacing much more than with even 2 players. Playing with 2 players is much easier because you can listen to what the players are thinking on the clues as they talk out loud and you can change your ideas and tweak the adventure on the fly. With 1 player it's much harder. One way I think I will manage this is to insert little debrief moments after ever scene - "so, tell me what you are thinking now" etc - perhaps you can link it into reporting back to Holden / reporting evidence and reward with a promotion point for the debrief.

Here are some examples of other games that do some of this. I think what I'll do is quickly read through the adventure again and write the summary on a post-it note next to each NPC in the book as part of GM prep. These two examples are from a very old Warhammer book from the 90s and from Technoir. Technoir doesn't have the motivations because motivations and relationships are tracked on a relationship map (the GM has a version and the players have a version which creates information asymmetry).

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1apiPO3 ... hare_link
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1sfRQJg ... hare_link
Something else to consider is how you can bring this idea in as little text / side boxes or make it part of NPC notes: https://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/41/revelations/
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Re: Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Fri 10 May 2024, 13:20

We're getting ready to run our next session (2nd) this weekend. We incorporated some changes to the rules and our style based on reflections from the first session. We backed up a bit and re-opened the snakepit investigation scene to test them in an area we are already familiar with.

Some changes we made were:
1. Opposed rolls resolution
2. Changed how pushing works
3. Changed our scene framing and improvisation
4. Modified how connections are used and defined

Opposed rolls resolution
Problem: opposed rolls led to too many ties and stalemates
· Both sides roll as normal, counting successes as normal vs a TN of 6
· The highest total wins, with successes equal to the difference
· On a tie, the single highest die roll wins - with one success
· If this is still a tie, compare the next highest, and so on
· If this is still a tie, the highest skill ranking wins - with one success
· If this is still a tie, victory goes to the PC - with one success

Changed how pushing works
Problem: pushing didn't create interesting stories and trade-offs

When you push and get a 1, lose a stress / health (for each one), and the choose one of:
1. Your attribute becomes Flawed (can be recovered like stress / health rules / downtime)
2. A story consequence occurs
3. You lose an additional stress / health

Replicants can push twice. Always impacts Stress.

Flawed - whenever the Flawed attribute is used, push complication results happen on a 1 or 2 and not just a 1.

Cost: a resource is used up or damaged or lost; it takes more time or money or favours than you had hoped
Condition: [gives a penalty for some short time – normally for a round or two or to the end of the scene] - e.g. exhausted, angry, demoralised, distracted, embarrassed, confused, hungry, dazed, scared, unbalanced - which typically would impose disadvantage to a related test
Connection: a connection or character from the case shows up or is somehow connected, and it is not good news
Change Circumstance: [normally on a failed roll] a new approach is needed; the threat escalates dramatically
Complication: e.g. something bad happens off screen; reveal an unwelcome truth

Changed our scene framing and improvisation
Problem: the module story and characters have so much detail that our play style became less fluid and we were less engaged in the game, characters, and story
· More leading and open-ended questions that give hints about clues and tie the PC into the world, e.g.
· You have a suspicion that he’s holding back on something, but you don’t know what it is, and you’re not 100% sure. What do you do?
· It's obvious that he doesn't want you to search behind the bar. What do you do?
· You haven’t been to the snake pit in 10 years, how has it changed?
· You know [NPC] from the past. How do you know them?
· You have been here before. Why were you here? When was that? What do you remember?
· What rumours have you heard about the snake pit? What about those rumours makes you believe they are probably true?
· Standing at the end of the street, the street looks empty, except for a small group of youth skateboarding at the far end, what do you do?
· You used to live in this part of town, not too far from here; why don't you have fond memories of that time?

Modified how connections are used and defined
Problem: connections don't link to the game in a meaningful and easy way
· PCs start with a number of connections equal to the rank of their Connection skill
· Connections are usually from Law Enforcement, Corporate, The Streets
· These connections can be used to get information, get equipment, or part of the story
· Each connection is added to a relationship map, with a written description of the relationship
· When connections are hit up, if the relationship description is positive or negative based then the associated tests have advantage or disadvantage, respectively

Otherwise no change to signature item, key relationship and memory
· Signature item - once per session recover one stress
· Key relationship - humanity point gain at the end of the session
Key memory - once per session advantage, but if failed +1 stress

We have also started to change the system a lot, but won't use it this game because I don't want to have to change the NPCs. In summary, what it will be:
- change the attribute + skill system to be approach + action
- approach - I thought that since humanity is the theme in blade runner, I wanted this to be personality based
- I settled on using personality tests and a conflict resolution model from those to define 4 main "types" - these replace the attributes
- then I changed the skills to be actions (verbs)
- you pick one approach and one action as normal for 2 dice when you roll
- how you approach the conflicts / tests will therefore determine what the logical narrative outcome is, and what might happen on a fail or a pushed "1"
- here are some work in progress (some of the images are old), including an example character sheet
- I also decided that each action will have 3 (4 for shoot) specialities that can be chosen in addition to those in the book

e.g. Willem Novak. From his description it sounds like he's too old for this sh*t - so I boosted his Cautiously. You get the same number of approaches and actions as default (except for 2 less skill points to spend because there's 2 less skills). I decided he wasn't going to have his Hardy speciality to demonstrate how specialities work (Street in Connect). I'll write up the full rules later.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1AzB8Ga ... share_link
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xzf6WG ... share_link
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a8fEAC ... share_link
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Re: Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Fri 10 May 2024, 15:12

Very interesting experiment ... following along with this to see where it goes.

I wish I had something more to offer, but I bought Blade Runner primarily to stand in as future Earth for me in ALIEN.

This thread has got me thinking maybe there's more ways to slightly bend things to merge them both into a wider "Ridleyverse" setting with specific focuses in specific areas.
We live, as we dream -- alone. ~ Joseph Conrad
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Re: Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Wed 15 May 2024, 16:21

It's great that you're thinking about how to play the game!

So we did get around to the second session and we found it much improved. The PCs continued at the snake pit, did some mainframe work, and then went to Leah's apartment. By asking the leading questions there was an immediate better engagement at the table because the storytelling and scene setting became more collaborative. The risk with the pre-written adventures is that all the info and scene setting is done by the GM reading from the book. The risk is that the players comments deviate from the book's notes, but you can always work around that in some way.

We tried the "new" push system, where in addition to gaining 1 stress/damage on a rolled 1, you also have to make a decision of an additional 1 stress/damage or a consequence. It played out very nicely. The feeling with the original method is that while there was a decision to push, it did not feel very narratively interesting once you have done so (because it's purely mechanical and the player doesn't get any further decision). Because Novak can smoke, this also meant that the gained stress was more meaningful overall since it’s so easy for him to remove it.

e.g. in play: because the PCs didn't have a photo of Styles but they had chased (and lost) him, I decided there was a camera installed behind the bar. This was mostly prompted by my wife saying explicitly she wanted to search the bar for clues. Taffey tried to stop them, a failed push roll by Novak as he drew his gun to intimidate we interpreted as Novak and Taffey had got into a quick scuffle and Taffey ended up with Novak's gun (but didn't really want it ...) as a result of the push "consequence". The whole thing escalated and Fenna (who was talking to and befriending Iris in the dressing room) came rushing out and had to disarm the whole situation. It was a very interesting scene that only played out because of the push interpretation.

I tried out the GM-hint of making up and writing NPC motivations as a summary on postit notes and it worked very well - see some of these images:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/18dKk4U ... share_link
https://drive.google.com/file/d/17u34RO ... share_link
https://drive.google.com/file/d/10x-X9k ... share_link
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Re: Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Mon 20 May 2024, 12:17

Ok - another quick update. We played another session - all in all not too bad this time.

The PCs split up: Novak found his way to Wallace Corp (finally), LOTS of things happened at Aminmoid Row, then some reasonably satisfying downtime.

We've noticed that we're starting to get into the flow a bit more and have "tweaked" the system and mission a bit for personal preferences. We were both finding it hard to engage with the story and finding a reason to care about what was going on, but with a few little improvisational moments (e.g. heavy use of the Mythic GM emulator cards), and slight story tweaks, it is feeling much better. Again, leading questions and breaking a bit from what's written in the story seems to be improving both our understanding of the world and how it feels to play in it. e.g. it's one thing to hear from the GM a description of the room, it's another thing entirely to give the same overview and then ask "what else do you see in the room that surprises you" etc etc, as an e.g.

Anamoid row turned out to be a good time. Bob's, the Aurelian, Badger's and 2-3 improvised other scenes meant it was heavy going and heavy on roleplaying. It all worked very well, but we found the most enjoyable bits were the improvised items outside of the main written story, however.

I mixed it up a bit by having the LAPD having a shots fired / officer down event as Fenna was en route (it was two member's of the replicant underground who had stepped in to protect Styles as an APB had been issued earlier and I thought it would be nice to have this lead to something dramatic). It was a good opportunity to try out some combat. I played it a little fast and loose but mostly stuck to the rules as written. We had characters moving around, seeking cover, using stealth for ambushes (the whole thing was happening in heavy rain). When things were looking bad I had the one remaining LAPD officer trying to get back to his car but being pinned down (mostly using the normal combat rules but embellishing a lot) - only to yell to Fenna that there was an assault rifle in the car. She dodged through enemy fire, picked it up, and spent a couple of turns on full auto which made a good enough difference. I finished it up with the Stress resistance test and Fenna was close to needing a baseline test. The whole thing worked well. My only question mark on combat is that broadly nothing happens as you get progressively shot OR you get a critical and then it can be very messed up. It's not necessarily bad, more like a feature I think.

The 2 nexus 8 underground guys got badly shot up but survived. They are captured and waiting a good old fashioned interrogation in the morning.

The aftermath with the medics having arrived:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qwP38n ... sp=sharing

Downtime worked well. We used it to define and describe where the characters lived and what their home was like (filling out that part of the character sheet also). One downtime event had Novak's ex partner come to the door - we montaged about how they talked for a few hours, drunk a bottle of whiskey, somewhat made up and hence changed the relationship dynamic, and I used it as a mechanism for the ex partner to warn Novak about keeping his head down since there's rumours on the street that Wallace is up to something related to this case. This piggybacked well from the disaster that was Novak with Quell and also allowed me to foreshadow the ambush they are about to get in the sky by Quell's assault team.

The map ended up looking like this - stuck all over with clues and notes
https://drive.google.com/file/d/14_WVup ... sp=sharing

Summary - we are enjoying it more but we've confirmed in our mind that the system doesn't do the best with the source material and style. I've heard reviews say that the "system doesn't get in the way" - which I agree with. However, the system also doesn't facilitate investigative or emotional / relationship driven role-play as it perhaps could. Case in point is the numerous notes that suggest "if a player makes an active insight test ....", which brings me back to the "fond" memories of the rogue always searching for traps and secret doors at the end of every 10ft square .....
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Re: Electric Dreams - Session Reports & Thoughts (game in progress)

Fri 14 Jun 2024, 16:26

Well - we finally finished up the campaign. All in all the electric dreams set up and game was good but did not leave either of us wanting more. We played 3 or so more sessions and the game ended around the 2nd shift of the 3rd day.

Some notable scenes:
  • we played out a very extended interrogation scene that worked very well. The two captured N8s were split and we had an almost a whole session of just the negotiations. This was all improvised but drew on the ideas from Style's questions and also other clues and ideas that may have been missed
  • I had jumped on to discord and found some extra materials and ideas and I printed out a series of other handouts and NPC images to extend and improvise the adventure slightly. These ended up being the most fun to play because they were the most organic
  • The the last two sessions ended up with a big showdown with Styles at the safe house with Styles almost taking everyone out because it was hand-to-hand. His d12/d12 roll was hard to deal with. A lot of pushing and also using the BodyGuard speciality to save Novak meant they got through - beaten but victories
  • The game then ended with a final showdown at the memory lab. It was the first time they had been there and I decided to have Leah arrive once they were ready to leave for the big show down. Navak was recovering in hospital so it was just Fenna (and Percival as backup). In the end Fenna decided to let Leah kill Lilith and escape - so it was an interesting ending and one we would not have thought of when we had just started playing

Some further thoughts on rules:
  • the push penalty of 1 health / resolve during combats seemed to be fine as thinking about other consequences didn't always make sense - outside of combat the 1 health/ resolve cost still didn't seem like enough
  • The uses of humanity and promotion points seems reversed to both of us and it feels like humanity should be used to purchase specialities and promotions the skill upgrades - this is especially true when you consider that a shift is spent to use promotion points at LAPD training .... to become a smoker or alcoholic
  • combat is REALLY very deadly and GMs should make sure their players know this going in since characters can die in a single roll fairly easily

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