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[short run] Circus Game

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Joined: 23 Jan 2006
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 10:41 am    Post subject: [short run] Circus Game Reply with quote

I have just finished running 'Circus Game', a 3 session game set in Romania in the 1930s, based around a number of circus performers. I ran it in a slightly different style to the way I usually run games, and there were some very successful aspects. There were also times when I was struggling against my own brain, but we'll get to those in due course. First off, first principles:

* I wanted to run a traditionally structured game - GM in charge of story, players in charge of PC actions.

* I wanted to focus on relationships between characters and decisions they had to make.

* I wanted to have a theme running through the game - 'actions have consequences' or 'you can't run away from responsibility'

* I wanted it to be good.

So I knew I had to prep some stuff, but I was also very busy, so I wanted to leave some parts open for the players to fill in / give me inspiration for. This was one aspect that worked quite successfully. At the start of the first session, I was planning to have 5 short scenes that targeted each of the PCs, focusing on either their hopes or their fears (which they came up with during character generation). This gave a directness of focus (on character issues wihtin a story framework) which was pretty cool.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 10:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First Session: (from my blog)

7:30pm - 8pm = character creation. This had several stages:

1. What is your basic idea (people had been thinking about this during the week)? What are 3 things your character is good at? (kind of like Over the Edge skills)

Debbie - tarot reader with conjoined twin. She's good at fortune telling, mechanics and something else.
Scott - lizard man. He's good at climbing/acrobatics, larceny and something else.
Luke - Androgenous boy/girl twins. Good at contortionism, intimidating people (freaking them out), and something else.
Sam - The Monkey King (animal trainer of 4 clown monkeys). Good at Monkey Kinging, Getting What She Wants, and something else.
Conan - the Albino Strongman. Good at Albino Strongman (feats of strength and creeping people out), psychically sensitive, and something else.

For some reason I can remember exactly 2 skills out of 3 for each character.

Oh, and we added a dwarf called The Professor, who has a lisp, and is a juggler/unicyclist. He will be Norman's character in 2 weeks' time when Norman joins us.

2. What is your character afraid of? What do they want?
Debbie - afraid of her twin taking over her mind. Dreams of being normal (not having a conjoined twin) - but feels guilty about it.
Scott - afraid of fire. Dreams of finding someone to love him.
Luke - twins afraid of being different to each other. Dreams of being married to themselves.
Sam - afraid of being lef alone. Dreams of having a good safe home for her monkeys.
Conan - afraid of being made to feel like a freak. Dreams of making his circus family proud of him.

Each player described their character's personality and appearance to the others.

3. How old are you? Given that the PCs act as a family, I wanted to be clear who had what role in the group. The ages lead into this nicely.

Debbie - 16
Scott - 18
Luke - 17
Sam - 15
Conan - 19

This lead to a clear family structure, which we spent some time discussing. Sam is the baby, and can be quite annoying at times. She is the boss of her monkeys, but no one else takes her seriously. Debbie is the quiet second youngest girl. She gets on well with Sam, but when she's trying to hang out with the boys she rejects Sam as being 'childish'. Luke's twins are right
in the middle, and are often out of place. They stick together, and while they do get on with the others they're in an awkward position. Scott is the second oldest, and is also the most socially adjusted and confident. He looks after the younger kids, and tries to be on the same level as his big brother. Conan is the oldest, and thus most responsible. He's also a little shy, so while he looks after the others, he sometimes relies on Scott to be the more forward one.

We then took turns pointing at a player, and saying how our characters felt about that character (starting with the oldest one and working down). This was mostly a one-way process, but as people got excited about the relationships they fed back to each other. As people explained their views of each other's characters, little details were added or tweaked.

By the end of the half hour we had some pretty cool characters, but what was really exciting was that the relationships between the characters were really clear, and were in a context (family) that we could all understand on a pretty deep level.

It's probably worth noting that there were lots of little things that came up, like the fact that Luke's twins were fascinated by Debbie's character, because they thought she must have such a special bond with her conjoined twin. Debbie had a crush on the boy twin, but thought the girl twin was freaky and weird. Unfortunately she couldn't tell them apart, so often flirted with or rejected the wrong one.

We then had a hot drink break, and started in on the game proper.

It felt like a really productive bit of preparation, and I was pretty excited by the way the characters were set up. It felt very promising...
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 10:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What happened during the first game: (again, from my blog)

We open outside a small village in Romania. It is late autumn, late evening. A circus big top is set up in a field at the side of the road. Vilalgers bustle around the big top and surrounding trucks and tents, enjoying the show.

Scene One
Nadja the fortune teller is hit on by sleazy drunken teenage boys. Constantina the monkey trainer sticks up for her, in a naive way. The lizard boy throws a spanner at the boys as things start to look more sinister. The boys retreat.

Scene Two
The albino strongman is removing makeup in the changing tent. A middle aged woman walks in, and begins to speak with him. She is lonely, and thought he looked approachable. As she's talking, a massive bruise appears on her cheek. She tells Lukas that she is worried about her family, after what happened to her. When the lizard boy arrives, she disappears.

Scene Three
The twins Alex and Alexis are returning from their performance, and see two more teens creeping up to the monkey cages with a screwdriver to taunt and steal the monkeys. They confront the boys, freaking them out. They lead them into the freak-show tent, then lock them in the long-drop. The monkeys then arrive courtesy of the monkey trainer, to taunt them and eventually let them out.

Scene Four
At the front of the circus, the PCs meet up to discuss the unsettled night. They are interrupted by the mother figure of the circus, the tattooed lady, who is frog marching a bruised young boy out to the street. He has tried to sneak in, and is given a kick up the arse as a reward. He heads home. The PCs talk of going into town, but the tattooed lady suggests that there could be trouble, so they should just have some food and a quiet night.

Scene Five
The PCs awake, and the rest of the circus is gone. They have been drugged, and it is late in the morning. They drive into town, blowing a gasket on the way in one of their trucks, which slows them down somewhat.

Scene Six
Lunch at the hotel in town. Paid for by the rest of the circus, who have continued on.

Scene Seven
Meet the blacksmith, can't afford to pay for the gasket. He's an old circus hand. He offers to help them if they woo a lady for him (whose father hates him).

Scene Seven
Go to the farm house and try to woo the lady. Her father is an abusive drunk who killed his wife (the ghost the strongman met at the start). The scamp from the start is her brother. The PCs fight with the father, subdue him.

Scene Eight
Confrontation in the middle of the village. Blacksmith + Lady + PCs vs Cantankerous Father. The sherrif is enrolled to help, and he expells the PCs, and promises to keep an eye on things in town.

As the PCs drive away, they discover a letter from the blacksmith. He tells them that he's heard of a tragedy that befell their circus one year ago. There were many deaths. He could tell from looking at them that the PCs weren't carrying that burden, so assumes they were new members of the circus. They are not, and cannot remember any tragedy from a year ago...
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