On Sunday, I had my test run for the 13th Age tables I'm running at GenCon. I'm scheduled to run 8 sessions at GenCon: the first three sessions of The Shadowport Shuffle, sessions 2-4 of Wyrd of the Wild Wood, and two sessions of Caverns & Creepers. So, some kind friends came over on Sunday and we went through character creation and ran the first session of The Shadowport Shuffle. There were seven players and I used the pre-gens from GenCon 2014--partially because I think they are easier for new players than the ones for this year, but mostly because that set has nine pre-gens and I had seven players.
First I went through very high notes on races, classes, ability scores, and other concepts like armor class and physical defense. Only one of the seven has any RPG experience. I decided that we'd keep it light and zero in on concepts when we needed to. I'd gone ahead and made a "playmat" that has the Dragon Empire map and had some system and campaign world information. It was a hit, so it's definitely coming to GenCon with me.
Character background game up. Everyone had eight points and I got the kind of wild options that only come from totally new players. One girl ended up creating not just a rebellion but a political thriller feeling when she decided she had background as a double agent. We also had the tattooed daughter of an assassinated elf lord, a gypsy fortune teller, a bodyguard, a professor of magic, a dragon trainer, and a teleporter. The last two were a little out there but with new players I let that slide--it's all about fun, after all.
Next we did one unique things. I'm 50/50 on these. To some degree, they helped the players get in role, but they kept wanting to make some that would have mechanical effects. Bastard daughter of the Dwarf King who acts as his fixer was my favorite, I think.
I knew Icon Relationships were going to be difficult, so I modified them a little bit. Instead of every character assigning 3 points, I just had them pick an allied icon and one that they had a negative relationship with. This resulted in only two die rolls per person. Positive relationships had to be with a heroic or ambiguous icon and negative relationships had to be with an ambiguous or villainous icon. And then everybody rolled 5s and 6s. Of seven players, I had sixes from the Archmage, the Dwarf King, and the Elf Queen (twice) as positives and the Orc Lord twice for negatives. The High Druid came up twice as 5s in a positive role so those guys got a modified mission from everyone else (which they succeeded at, to the Prince of Shadows' dismay).
Gameplay was fun but a bit challenging. People pretty quickly got the handle of making skill rolls and matching backgrounds to what they wanted to do. They mostly succeeded, but I did get a few chances to work on failing forward. This was challenging with a group of primarily non-gamers because they haven't been socialized to never split the party so sometimes a social impact on one player was dealt with by everyone else not as a challenge but an opportunity to slip away. I need to work on making sure that the fail forward results affect everyone.
Despite there being 3 combats in the scenario as written, we only did one. People had really avoided their combat options and the different types of actions were confusing to them. A lot of that's on me. When we were first going into the game. I felt like things were getting a little technical, so I decided to skip combat. By the end of combat they got it, but two people told me that combat was their least favorite part of the scenario. Another said she wished she'd had better background on her character's combat abilities because she could have used that knowledge to inform her background and other choices.
We ran a little long so had to do a little bit of rushing at the end. But, I feel like three of them had a really good time, two to three enjoyed themselves and only one to two did not enjoy the experience overall. All in all, I'm feeling good about my prep. A lot of issues will be solved just by having people with d20 game experience at the table. That's not just because they will know but also because there will be other players that can help them as they go.
Where I need to improve:
Make it clear that backgrounds relate to history and not powers
Failing forward should affect all players
Consider how 5s and 6s can be implemented in each scenario before running it
I've had two of the players ask about whether I'm going to do another run through next Sunday. I just might!