Young adults, Mentors and Scenarios – some observations

This is a basically about a single scenario I’m running again and again at conventions and the layers that are unfolding from it. The more I play, the more I learn.

The game is my new lite SciFi rules – The Code of the Spacelanes. The scenario is PLAGUE SHIP.

It’s based, closely, upon a novel (really a short novel/novella) by the Young Adult Author Andre Norton. It was written in 1956. I loved Norton when I was in my teens and Plague Ship was one of my favourites. It was the middle novel in her “Solar Queen” series and was by far the best. The protagonists are a small group of apprentices aboard an “independent trade ship”.

When I wrote The Code of the Spacelanes I thought of Andre Norton and my favourite book. As an experiment I rewrote it as a scenario for World Sci Fi convention and it worked – perfectly. Okay so the resolutions players find to the plot is never the same as the one in the book but they’re always equally valid. It plays within a four hour slot – often shorter – and is great fun.

Having rerun it several times I now know why it works so well and realise how clever Norton – and her successors, such a J K Rowling – are.

in the first part of the scenario, the ships crew are on the planet Sargol trading with the feline Salariki. The senior crew are in charge and the chief cargo master is doing the actual trading – often off camera.  There are things to do and puzzles to solve for the apprentices which carry real risks – the protagonist in the actual book manages to screw things up right royally – but they are secondary characters. In this part I’m introducing the characters to the world, the situation and the setting. However, it is quite railroaded. Sometimes players get a bit antsy and start to make sarcastic comments. This culminates in  a duel where someone has to fight for the honour of the ship and the Captain takes the responsibility himself, sidelining the characters completely. Just as the duel is about to start, with the characters and players as mere spectators, I have the characters pass out.

When they recover we’re in the second phase. One by one their crewmates fall to a mysterious plague until only the characters are left standing. All alone, drifting in a ship in space, which is patrol-posted and should be blown out of space by any ship that sights them. No railroading now, I just sit back and watch what the players come up with – buffered by my knowledge of the universe gleaned from the original book.

Then I realised this was exactly the trick Norton pulled in the book. Starting off with the mentors as safety blanket and then pulling them away to leave the protagonists isolated and alone. Then I realised that she pulls the same stunt in all three books. In the Sargasso of Space the characters return from exploring to. Find their ship under siege by the evil Thieves Guild.

Then I realised she wasn’t the only one. Aslan dies. Dumbledore goes missing, is sacked or dies. Something bad happens to Professor X in all three of the first three X Men films.

its a standard trick which really works in an RPG scenario. Start the characters off with a mentor figure to get them settled in your world and then find an excuse to rip that mentor away leaving them to cope on their  own.

Works every time!


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