7. What was an impactful RPG session?
I spoke last year about an emotionally charged, intense session of Night Witches, so I’m not going to repeat it but it certainly is a good answer to today’s question. But again, because I’ve been gaming for a long time I have many possible answers.
Let’s pick a memorable episode of 7th Sea back in 2002, which I chronicled on my now-defunct website (Wayback Machine link). We were six heroes from Castille sent on a secret mission to the port of La Reina del Mar, occupied by Montaigne forces, to assist the still-resisting Castillan underground.
We had a rich tapestry of subplots going on after playing for two and a half years, including many pursued by PCs in secret. For the big climactic episode of the story arc (the portion of the chronicle that is only in bullet points because so much was going on), the GM—my husband Edmund—not only allowed us to split the party, something that still went against most GM advice you could find in those days, but he let us split three-way, then four, then five! Some of us were creating a distraction on the wharves, some were rescuing prisoners, some were blowing up the enemy flagship, etc.
The key point in the execution was that as GM, Edmund kept switching between groups and leaving us with rising tension, thanks to increasingly ominous cliffhangers for shorter and shorter spotlight moments. The switch meant that we didn’t have to wait long for our next turn but we had a little time to think how we would react to new threats.
As events unfolded, we were on the edge of our seats and exclaiming with each surprise! That was the most exciting game session I had ever been in up to this point in my life, and may still be. It’s in the top five, for sure.
The main thing it left me with was the new idea that sometimes you should split the party!
In particular, when a big plan comes to a climactic point where every PC has a specific role to play, splitting the group and moving the “camera” from one to the other is a superb tool for the GM to control the pace and ratchet up the tension. Remember, not only do the players get a few moments to plan their big scene, but the GM also gets time to think how next to kick it up a notch. Players who might otherwise pay little attention when their characters are not included in a scene also get caught in the suspense and pay more attention with these short cut scenes. I love splitting the party!
Credits: “Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in the Harbour of Tripoli, February 16, 1804.” Oil on canvas, 60″ by 42″, by Edward Moran (1829-1901), signed and dated by the artist, 1897. It depicts USS Philadelphia, previously captured by the Tripolitans, ablaze after she was boarded and set afire by a party from the ketch Intrepid led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur. Painting in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection. Gift of Paul E. Sutro, 1940. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.