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Skulduggery: Frontloading

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I’ve set my faithful LJ to autopost while I take a brief vacation. Please excuse in advance my failure to reply in a timely fashion to your comments.

[Previous installment here.]

During the lifespan of the Dying Earth game, we’d often hear back a variation on the following: “I’d love to run this, but I’ll never convince my players to do it.” The new design material in Skulduggery is all about overcoming that problem. The game acknowledges the dilemma in order to pull a ju-jitsu move on it.

A game spotlighting drollery and verbal dexterity, which deliberately undercuts the tropes of power fantasy of the adventure genre, can be a tough sell to a group of resistant players. Where GMs tend to be pollinating bees, wanting to try new systems, players can be more conservative. Skulduggery becomes an easier sell when pitched as a change of pace, or occasional lagniappe between more traditional fare. It tackles their resistance by reducing the initial commitment.

Skulduggery is therefore tuned for one-shot play. Character generation occurs in minutes and is radically simplified. (More on that later.) Characters are fitted not just to a genre/setting, but to the specific, single scenario you’re going to play. You only need the setting details relevant to the scenario. Driven by player schemes, the scenarios are loose and improvisatory.

Tuned for one-shots and low on prep time (assuming you have an unplayed scenario on hand), the game should be ideal for impromptu sessions and play at conventions.

The trick is to get people playing and having fun right away without having to overcome the hurdles they put up when they fear they’re making a multi-week commitment to a style they’re unsure of. The design is frontloaded to achieve this.

With Dying Earth we’d often hear players look at the game admiringly but with trepidation. They’d doubt their ability to pull off the Vancian language, not predicting how contagious it is in play. Then they’d sit down and play, and be brilliant at it after a few minutes. Sometimes afterwards they’d still claim that it was beyond them, even though they’d just proven otherwise.

Once you’ve overcome player resistance and shown them that they really do have the roleplaying chops they need to have fun playing Skulduggery, then you can look to the optional rules providing for campaign play.

The focus on one-shots requires certain minor adjustments to the system seen in Dying Earth.

More on that later...


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