A Terrible Game Gone Well

I ran a terrible game last week, or at least it looks that way on paper. I did a whole lot of things which I tend to consider flags of a problem game, including:

  • Somewhat railroady plot, which players could interact with, but not really change.
  • Few personal stakes, as most of the important stakes belonged to NPCs
  • Powerful, proactive NPCs pursuing secret agendas
  • Negligible chargen guidance or coordination

Yet despite those things, the actual game went splendidly, and it was a great reminder of the importance of context.

See, the game in question was an impromptu gathering as it turned out that all of the Born to be Kings players[1] were in town for one night only, and we seized the window to get the band back together. As such, there was little time for prep, and the purpose of the game was a little bit different than usual. Since I was going to be running this one, my goal was to call back to and tie into the events of Kings in a way that would let the players feel like they got to see how some of their own threads unravel.

As such, the NPCs which I so grossly misused were, by and large, the PCs and important NPCs of the previous game. I didn’t handle it flawlessly, but I managed to limit things to a single puppet show[2], and was pretty proud of that. I tied up one thread from the old game in a way that tied many old elements together, and in the end, I think it was a pretty satisfying game for all.

But, man, even in the middle of it I was really cognizant of the rules I was violating, enough so to really question whether I was on the right track. But with a clear understanding of my table, my players and the goals of the game, the rules had to take a back seat. If I had done otherwise, it would probably have still been a fun game – that was a world class table of players – but it would not have been the reunion and epilogue we were looking for.


  1. For the unfamiliar, Born to be Kings was the first Fate game – it was the game that the system was originally hashed out for. It was an Amber game, run by Fred Hicks, and is to this day probably the single best campaign I have ever been in. it’s been over 12 years, and I still get a kick out of reading the session quotes.  ↩

  2. A scene where the GM plays more than 1 NPC talking to each other. Pretty much one of the most boring things a GM can do.  ↩

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