Friday, 2 October 2009

How Poison'd was Poison'd

At Gen Con this year I decided to bring Vincent Baker's game of Poison'd along. The con was due to fall on Talk Like A Pirate Day and I had no pirate games. Poison'd was preceded by a great recommendation from the podast community, so it was an easy choice.

During the con, it was run twice at the indie tables. Once was by me, and once by Jason. It wasn't quite the rollicking success I'd hoped. What I want to do here is explain what went wrong and how I plan to fix it next time.

Mistake 1: I ignored the primary rule of Vincent's games. From the little I know of his games and from reading his blog, Vincent wants people to remember that the fiction is first and last, with forays into the rules only where required. The fiction determines which rule to invoke. This relies heavily on the GM knowing all the rules and all the various elements of the fiction that are tied to the rules. I, unfortunately, made a significant and improper call in regard to combat when one side is clearly outgunning the other (e.g., "I whip out the gun and shoot him in the head!" to an unarmed person). By trying to force this through the combat and escalation rules, it left a sour taste in people's mouths. I should have used the rule for attacking a helpless opponent and had that been successful, immediately moved to the rules for mortal wounds.

Mistake 2: I let an inexperienced person run the game. My first group was told up front that I wanted to run the game, that it was my first time with the rules and that I would only proceed if they were willing to be my experimental group. 18 hours later, one of these players wanted to run the game and inherited all the same mistakes I made the first time. I should have said no.

Mistake 3: I didn't promote the use of Xs well enough. This is a game that requires characters to lose before they can win. More accurately, it requires that characters lose big before they can win big. Consequently, players were hesitant to drive the fiction in the directions required to stock up on the Xs. Ultimately, the character with the highest Brutality was triumphant. I should have pressed this point at the beginning of the game, and several times throughout the game.

Mistake 4: I didn't promote the ambitions well enough. The ambitions, especially of the sample characters from the game text, are set up to provoke conflict. A lot of conflict. And by achieving these ambitions, characters get to raise their Ambition stat. Consequently, the players didn't drive the fiction in those directions until too late in the session. I should have made these ambitions the core of the game, rather than relying on bangs to keep it all moving.

There are probably several other mistakes that I made, but these are the biggest and most embarrassing of the lot. I've not done any justice to Vincent's game and I apologise to him and the fans of Poison'd for this. I really want to play this game again, but I'm afraid that I may have a tough time trying to find players now because of my mistakes.

Damn, bugger and blast. I'm really sorry, Vincent.

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