View Full Version : Compensating for a weak session

2008-04-09, 06:31 PM
So last weekend's session was played, lead, and found lacking. I was too stressed out to have enough time to prepare properly and felt a bit nervous, thus, my performance was inadequate and my players were lacking in concentration. I therefore decided to have a session the following weekend to compensate and it worked out for everyone. I need some help in deciding what directions to take in the campaign and how to better organize stuff I guess. Also, it's d20 modern / future.

tl;dr the last session was poor, now how do I do to improve this week's session?

campaign background and such (spoilered for length)

History was written yesterday, but today we make it yet again
It's Christmas Eve 2040 CE. The third World War ended five years ago, fueled by the oil crisis, fanning the flames of social, political and economical unrest already tearing at society's edges. It has left a majority of the world's countries at the edge of ruin as it redrew the maps of the planet. The U.S.A's economy trudges on as more and more economic and political influence falls to corporations and, more shadowy, organizations. The free market hesitates between

Meanwhile, the President's (Bless him, what a swell guy) gets the option to sit in office for as long as he is re-elected (they edited the... 22nd amendment?) and that hinges, of course, on how well he can please the public by cleaning up the mess that Fortress America is in.

tl;dr Think of the setting as a mix of Deus Ex, Akira and Transmetropolitan. Plus a few, nothing as big as those three though.
A dystopian postcyberpunk action movie/techno thriller or something.

What's going on now then?

In Manhattan, New York, a partial lockdown hindering people from entering and leaving the island is in place in order to facilitate the apprehending of criminals and terrorists from "the thousand men-list" (est. 40,000 persons involved in racketeering and other serious crimes). Assisted by cameras, both manned and unmanned "Overwatch" heli-units (courtesy of the MarSec and VersaTech collaboration), reinforcements from other districts and the National Guard, the war on crime is progressing nice.
It is not a war without casualties however.
Just yesterday at Freedom Tower, VersaTech CEO Al-Qadir was kidnapped by terrorist mercenaries at his fundraising party, the terrorists killing dozens and wounding hundreds with gas grenades and sub-machineguns.
By a stroke of luck, Al-Qadir was found earlier today by the police, his prototype nanomachines missing his goldplated cybernetic arm.

Wait, hold on. Who are we talking about here? :smallconfused:

Pedro Ramires (PC). Son of an estate tycoon from Chile, Pedro has had a spoiled childhood but as a result, his father has no respect for Pedro's own abilities. Therefore, Pedro seeks to prove his savvy and skill to his father. His one psychic ability he has might come in handy in a scrap or otherwise, but he has no idea on how to improve his psychic powers. Or who he is going to keep them a secret from... (Charismatic hero to Telepath)

Garret Ward (PC). A ruthless police officer currently being investigated by Internal Affairs for a suspicious death of a suspect during a raid, he is determined to clean up the city and come to terms with his mysterious powers. (Strong hero to Battle Mind)

Martin Hayes (PC). An underground journalist gone P.I., he is curious about the increase in paranormal events, quitting his old job to search for the truth. (Smart hero to Investigator)

Cristopher Cooper (PC). A rookie "Security Expert" from Versatech he is motivated to advance in the firm and escape from his poor uprbringing. (Fast hero to Infiltrator)

Sajid Al-Qadir (PC) Nephew of Versatech's CEO, he's a slacking computer genius, motivated by challenge and new technologies. He's unaffiliated, an Internet mercenary if you will. (Smart hero to something undecided)

Fadi Al-Qadir. CEO of VersaTech. Telepath with a cybernetic arm. Charismatic and intelligent, he has taken VT to the top. Native Iraqi, he met Benson there and they've been friends eversince. Medium-ranking member of the worldwide conspiracy "the Enlightment" (d20Modern, Urban Arcana).

Donald D. Benson. CEO of MarSec. Telepathic war veteran. Deliberate and a good planner, he has kept MarSec on the top, outmaneuvering other arms manufacturers and making a bold push into security technology.

Steven Parker. Benson's right hand man and headhunting opportunist. A former independent adviser, he now works exclusively for MarSec and he has a good shot at a position in the upper management. Jealous of Fadi's close relationship with Benson and loathing Fadi's easy success, he has been secretly hindering VersaTech's nanotechnology research and hired the mercenaries to steal the prototype in Fadi's cybernetic arm. Perhaps with too much selfconfidence, he contacted the PCs via Sajid to find Fadi. He plans to further manipulate such easily deniable assets (e.g. " Take those people away, they're trespassing") to improve his position in MarSec and stall it's proposed acquisition of VersaTech which he believes will only diminish MarSec's market value. His plan hit a bit of a snag as the PCs found Fadi again just a day after the kidnapping. He is desperate for more time... and dangerous. The "Secret Antagonist" to the heroes

Borislav Daskalov. Sociopath New Paradigm mercenary Sergeant. Wanted for crimes against humanity across the Balkans and Africa. Now lives under false names and he has strong ties to the Bratva Mafiya. Cocky to a fault "I've been wanted for 9 years. They'll never catch me". Was seated at the PCs party during the party and made smalltalk, but escaped before his men attacked ofcourse. The "Obvious Antagonist" for the heroes.

And in the shadows...
(Me talking as GM about what has happened :smalltongue:)

The party enjoys the party. It gets crashed. What? The party. Steven Parker instructs Sajid to find appropriate unaffiliated persons and sends an edited guest list to provide info on who's interesting. Among others, the other PCs. They discuss the how and why's etc.
Investigate, sleep, (end session 1) investigate, interrogate (new PC, Pedro!), track, track, bust Mafiya apartment with poor kidnapped Fadi in it. Police arrive and take care of business, while Fadi is clearly missing an arm. Also, he incoherently said it was too late and they had already taken his nanomachines (end session 2).
Pedro is slumming with some homeless when he sees something in the darkness (a psionic alien!), and the air shimmers around him and his new friends. He fails his will save and gets a headache and a blackout for a few rounds.
Wakes up to the hobos apparently arguing. Four of the six bums apparently are quite angry, even enraged (Condemned-style; **** you, **** you, I'll kill you etc.). Brawling, a few KOs and an impressive oratory display (and a Beretta!) cowes the remaining angry hobos. They eventually snap out of it, and can't remember much.They all remember the shimmer before they raged though.
The PCs meet up, and meet with Benson. He thanks them for showing such initiative in saving Fadi (as he heard from his police contacts) the PCs mention Parker and Benson states his intention to give praise to Parker. Blahblah, cue notes to Garret and Pedro, a telepathic message of "I see you have potential" and nothing else. Blahblah, Benson asks the PCs to retrieve Parker's home computer so his technicians can sift through it for Parker's secrets.
"Trust is a scarce commodity. It's just to make him sweat a bit." Benson says (he has some issues with trust, but hey, it's a harsh world).
Cue an uneventful breaking and entering. However, they manage to search Parker's office well and find a mystery data disc. Pedro holds on to it and he and Garret has a bit of a bad feeling (aliens probing Pedro's "psionic fingerprint" like).
At the session's end, they're back on the Staten Island Ferry with the computer and mystery data disc.

Now what do I do? :smallfrown:

(in no order of importance)
Most important to decide is to what the mystery disc is holding for info and that could be quite a lot and important too, since it was hidden.
I have no idea what though... Just something that needs to be hidden but doesn't incriminate Parker much (or perhaps, it doesn't incriminate him at all, maybe it's something personal). I'd like for the PCs to focus on Borislav, the mercenary, and perhaps even work more for Parker.

I'm also thinking I could use Illithids as one race of aliens, specifically the ones encountered so far at least. I like the flavor of them, but I'm not sure if I just couldn't just go with the lizard type aliens I favored before. I just have trouble deciding here, sorry :smalltongue:

I'm also a bit uncertain of which direction to take in this campaign, the player of Garret the police officer says he wants his character to take part in something larger than just corporate business and such, while the player of Martin the renegade reporter/P.I. wants to investigate the paranormal and with alien contact, invasion/usurpation, the worldwide conspiracy of keeping psionics just a weird tale of people bending spoons, a mercenary group's who's bent on overthrowing the old order and the Enlightment's plan of world domination (which includes the mercenary group) checks both of them pretty well I think.
The other players are undecided on what they want from the game in a larger scale except their characters personal motivations. We all intend to play it as an action movie or technothriller.
Still, tips on how to do those things well would be appreciated.

Importantly, I have a hard time to prepare my sessions. Mostly I just think about stuff, do an NPC (or just write down an NPC from one of the books I got or the internet), take (few) notes and brush up a little bit on skills and other rules that you can never study too much.
And then I sort of wing it. It went nice the first two times but last session there was just too much :smallfrown:
I think I need to write better notes (at least some more notes that I can use) but I don't know how.

Thanks a lot for reading through, just by doing that you must have the patience of a deity :smallwink:

I'll look forward to any answers, but, eh, don't feel intimidated that I wrote so much. You could just give me your opinion on one or two things or something :smalltongue:

2008-04-09, 11:23 PM
You'd probably benefit from a more structured DMing style. My personal DMing style is very loose, in fact I leave open about four tentative plot-hooks at a time, that the PCs can pursue in whichever order they want. This style means two things: I have a metric ton of material already planned and prepared so I can run one of the four potential missions on a given game day, and I stay as flexible as possible to keep the game going. However, this is certainly not the only way to do things; what works for my game may not work for yours. And from what I can gather of your DMing style, it wouldn't.

What I'd suggest is working harder at planning ahead. I know that it sucks, but you'll have an easier time in-game, and your players will see the difference. As much as I wing it some times, it's a lot easier winging a dungeon crawl that I didn't expect the players to go on yet with a finished map and a smile, than it is with just a smile. The players will notice the difference, and will get that much more involved.

For your game, since you want to steer the party back towards Borislav, I'd suggest putting him in front-and-center from an outside source other than Parker. They just got a potentially incriminating disc, and directions from him to go after Borislav may ring false, but if there's a news story of Borislav being spotted somewhere nearby, and the party may drop everything to go on the hunt. From there you have the choice of running any variety of adventure. The two that jump out to me would be either an investigative hunt, or a race.

An investigative hunt would play out with the PCs sniffing out clues to Borislav's whereabouts. Best way to plan that is to make a web diagram of all the NPCs that could be talked to. First part of the trail is the eye-witness who recognized him, who may have noticed that he was heading for the sub-way (a dead-end clue, no one else saw him enter or exit the sub-way), and that he was carrying a Macy's bag. An employee of Macy's may have helped him with his purchase and had a conversation with him where he mentioned off-handedly that he lost a bundle at the dog-tracks, etc. This can be a fun sort of follow-the-clues adventure, that doesn't require too much planning (almost no statting), and can be a great place to stretch your acting chops with some one-off characters.

A race would be a scenario where the party is on a timeline to find Borislav before someone else does. Maybe the cops are looking with orders of shoot to kill, and they need to question him first. They could overhear the clues that the cops are going off of about where Borislav is hiding that makes perfect sense to the PCs but not the cops due to personal knowledge. They would then need to beat the cops in arrival while maintaining caution and prudence. Little bit more work to plan than an investigation, but is definitely more action-oriented.

Hope these ideas help!

2008-04-11, 09:35 AM
The session was canceled, half of us really had too much to do. We'll probably be playing in two weeks instead. Which is good, I can do both the prep, my homework and I get to sleep too! :smalltongue:

The session before last I had more time to plan and devised a tree of the most probable things they'd do during that gameday. Regarding your advice on putting Borislav in the center stage again, I could bring up his "alter ego". The PC know Borislav as "Andrei G..." but Andrei is just a poor ex-soldier now warehouse worker under the thumb of the Russian Mafiya. He is forced to act as a "goalie" for their connections, supplying his identity, taking the fall etc. Now Andrei wants out. The PCs already know him as he helped them track down the russian mobsters during their investigation, but he is worried that his snitching might bring down the mob on him.
So I'm gonna have him call the PCs, asking for protection etc. in exchange for the info on where and when Borislav's goons drop off the cash the workers get in exchange for being "goalies". Cash + Borislav + fight? = interested PCs :smalltongue:
From then on, I might have officer Garret's friends at the district talk about a wanted war criminal...
Which would lead to a "race" scenario as you described. And as the Russian Mafiya has taken an interest in the people who busted one of their safehouses, so too much overt action and the PCs will be targeted by the mob.
And for other employers, the PCs already know Benson and they friggin' saved Al-Qadir so he might be inclined to employ them you know :smallamused:

I still just have only one good idea about the mystery disc and that would be something like money transfers, which the bank ofcourse just can't give out names and such to accounts.
Any more suggestions about that would be appreciated.

I will also probably go with the Illithids as the psionic aliens, would be quite fun to see some of the players OOC recognise them :smalltongue:

So I'm thinking I'm gonna play up the Illithid experiments and the general mystery of people seemingly without reason rioting etc. But besides from the occasional bums rushing the PCs and the eventual riots, I have hard time figuring out alternative encounters that can build up the tension and mystery.

Thanks for your response :smallsmile:

2008-04-11, 06:47 PM
Ideas for the disc:

Detailed information on the finances of VersaTech. Not incriminating, but could hint that he's trying to sabotage them.

Detailed information on the finances of MarSec. Also not incriminating, but could hint towards his power aspirations.

Information on aliens. Makes him seem fairly innocuous again for the time being while bringing the illithids to the fore-front.

Incriminating files that are not related to his plans. These can be either despicable (like illegal pornography, or snuff films, or something) to cement him as a nasty person, if not a bad guy; or they can be somewhat noble and endearing (like classic literature that has been banned in the new military state) to give him a positive depth. If you go this route, I'd suggest the latter, it'd make the big reveal a bit more treacherous.