Gencon Debrief Part One; “Transport Failure” Session summary

GenCon has come and gone! I was lucky enough to be a part of it and even moreso to run playtests the entire weekend. Here I would like to share the debrief of some of the things learned, adventures shared, and fun times had.

Stats

The games used pre-generated characters using creation rules from the Public Alpha Release. The game used those rules with very few minor modifications.

A total of Four playtests were scheduled, with one pickup game added. All but one game were sold out in their entirety. Four separate adventures were run with pre-generated characters. All of the games except one were run using Rank 3 characters. The final game used Rank 4 characters. A total of 21 people played Cold Start over the weekend. One person played in more than one session.

Breakdowns of each individual session will be released soon with more notes, starting with Transport Failure (below). stay tuned.

Random things I tracked:

  • number of successes rolled: 192
  • number of face-7’s rolled (Die was a natural 7): 83
  • Damage points dealt: 55
  • number of times “Populus Est” was said: 13
  • Sympathy lost: 8
  • Sympathy gained: 21

Transport Failure

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The players were hired by a member of /mod.. to transport some mysterious, unlabeled boxes from point A to point B and not ask too many questions. The party consisted of a Blue Hand (Brother Nott), a Red Shift (Jumpstar Jones), a Knight (Lt. Kay), a Fizex associate (Tom), and a Gold Man (Reece).

Before taking off, the group got some provisions. after a small fight broke out on the launch pad, the group heads aboard and got settled. Aboard the ship owned by the Red Shift Pilot, the Knights gave strict instructions that anyone found in the cargo bay would be arrested and put in the brig. Three NPC passengers joined them as well. The Gold man used his free +2 Crew and hired dancing girls to hang out in the ship. And the Blue Hand? He was super suspicious of the Fizex guy who really wanted to know what exactly was in those boxes.

The ship took off and Tom started snooping. Under the guise of “Checking the ship’s power”, he made his way into the cargo bay and started investigating the boxes. Brother Not guy eventually went in with him and they debated whether they would still get paid if they opened it, and whether or not whatever inside was dangerous. Jumpstar Jones came over the intercom and warned them to get out of the cargo bay. As they exited the cargo bay, the Party began to notice that one of the NPC passengers was missing.

Something’s definitely wrong aboard the ship. Through some convincing and threats, the party decides it’s okay to open ONE box, just as long as they don’t steal what’s inside (because that would be against the Laws of Order.) Brother Nott used Dismantle on the box and it opened.

Inside was a young girl, her head inside some kind of jury-rigged headpiece, presently undergoing mental torture.

They removed her from her box, and found out she had been kidnapped, but didn’t know her captors. The group start to suspect that whoever hired them might not be a real member of /mod.., and even worse, began to suspect that a member of the Nihilistium might be among them, hiding just out of sight. But where? The Fizex engineer suspected the vents, and came up with a plan.

Gathering the ships’s inhabitants together, he used Engineering on the ventilation system, flooding it with anethetic gas for a few minutes and then searching for the Nihilistium agent. Locating him, the party tied him up and started interrogation. The result: these boxes were being shipped by the Nihilistium, and the people on the other end of the route were only posing as Cappers. He then resigns himself to his fate–being killed as a wretch.

Tom the Engineer wasn’t satisfied. “You can redeem yourself,” he tells the Nihilistium agent, “If you contract with me, we can bring you back into society.”

The party isn’t happy. “He’s a wretch, we should kill him.” “He hurt this innocent girl.” “You can’t let him live!” “It goes against the Laws!” (Note: This player then quoted the First Law of Order so matter-of-factly, it gave me chills.)

But the Engineer wasn’t satisfied still, and he took the Nihilistium Wretch into his protection, locking him in a room until something could be figured out. They had other agents to kill, he argued, and they might be able to save them too.

Jumpstar Jones, in a display of piloting befitting his Guild, got them to their destination early. They set a trap, preparing the (now empty) boxes to be picked up. And soon, the bad guys arrived, dressed as Cappers and ready to get in and get out.

Cue the fightscene! The knight attacked first, after some attempts at negotiation that went awry. Soon the three agents are dead, and that leaves only the one left on the ship. The party went back, explained to him that all his friends were dead, and in a moment of beautiful emotional roleplaying, gave him one chance: turn away from his heretical beliefs or perish.

The Agent gives in, and agrees to be cleansed by a Judex and return to society.

Debrief

That last part about being “cleansed” by a Judex? That didn’t exist until this game because I, as a writer, didn’t expect the idea of redemption to be so strong among my players. “No one is beyond redemption,” the player who played the Engineer told me, “And everyone deserves a choice.” I was very moved by those words, and inspired to change a bit about how the Judex operate.

I also got to introduce some of the Nihilistium’s mindgames and powers: the ability to hide among the denizens of the Span, steal Sympathy, and turn practically invisible.

Finally, I got to see how players would deal with a VERY stealable box of maybe-treasure and see how they react. Would they risk sympathy loss and steal it? The response was a resounding “No“. Even as much as they wanted to open and see what was inside, the Laws of Order made a great impression on the players, who were perfectly happy just to know what was inside and not worry about taking it for themselves. More proof that knowledge is the best reward.