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White Wolf Preludes, Round-Robin Style

Posted By Martin Ralya On March 2, 2009 @ 3:03 am In GMing Advice | 9 Comments

Last night, my group kicked off a Ghouls chronicle set in 1983 (Ghouls being a subset of White Wolf’s Vampire RPG — mortal thralls with minor supernatural powers, each bound by blood to a specific vampire), and our GM put a spin on the traditional prelude mechanic: He ran the session round-robin style.

Preludes: Nuts and Bolts

In WW games, preludes are solo (one player, one GM) mini-sessions that take place before the chronicle begins. Given the nature of WW’s games, they often focus on the moment of transformation from mortal to whatever the game is about — human to vampire, to werewolf, etc.

Each player has their own prelude, and they tend to be mechanics-light and roleplaying heavy. They’re also interesting because the outcome is predetermined — what you don’t know is precisely how you’re going to get there. And they’re one of the most mainstream templates for solo play, which is still an unusual model for a lot of gamers. (Curious about solo GMing? I ran games this way for years, and wrote a primer for solo gaming.)

As an added bonus, preludes are one of the most driftable mechanics around — you can use them in nearly any RPG, not just WW games. So whether you run WW games or not, this approach to preludes might be of interest to you.

The Round-Robin Prelude

Instead of having each of us sit down with him for an hour, our GM, Sam, tried something new for our prelude session. We all sat around the table, just like normal, and then he ran a scene for each of us in turn, jumping to a new player at the end of each scene. This round-robin approach worked extremely well, and it’s not one I’ve ever heard of before.

Each scene was about 10-20 minutes long, and as it happened we had two players with deeply connected backgrounds (partners in the local police department), so they were in all of their scenes together. This meant that no one had to wait more than 40 minutes max before getting another chance to play.

That waiting time wasn’t boring by any means: Three of the PCs had interconnected preludes, so it was great fun to watch them inching closer and closer to one another. My prelude was necessarily largely disconnected from theirs, but the same thing applied — I had a blast watching everyone settle into their characters, make tough decisions, and roleplay like crazy.

And at least from my perspective, the spotlight time felt different than it usually would. Being in the spotlight for 10-20 minutes solo was a lot of fun, and a nice change of pace from the way gaming sessions usually work.

Last night’s prelude turned out to be one of the best single gaming sessions I’ve ever played — a pleasure from start to finish. That’s a testament to Sam’s skill as a GM, because he’s fantastic, but also to the strength of the approach he took to running the session. Based on this experience as a player, I highly recommend this approach.

Do you use preludes in your games? If so, do you handle them the traditional way (solo mini-sessions), or put your own spin on the process?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "White Wolf Preludes, Round-Robin Style"

#1 Comment By Bercilac On March 2, 2009 @ 6:54 am

A friend of mine ran a game like this in D&D. I think there were four characters. Most of the scenes featured two. Occasionally all four, or three of four, characters would meet for a major scene (such as the few MAJOR battles that occurred, there were all sorts of more minor scuffles), but we were often seperated for a number of reasons, and also, as you seem to suggest in your game, we never formed a formal “party” per se.

Similarly, the waiting time was never boring. Often, when a particular scene had absolutely no relevance to ANYTHING our character was doing, the “off-scene” characters would still be in the same location, elsewhere. So there was a lot of minor roleplaying that went on the background.

This suggests a decentralised way of storytelling, which is the main source of my interest in LARP. (Never played it in the fantasy setting, though I’ve played school simulations that could be classified as such). No one felt compelled to make their character follow along with anything, everyone could explore the setting (and in doing so reveal things to other players, though not always their characters), and people made actually “individual” choices, though obviously within DM-created and -mediated content.

On a side note, I played a goblin fighter/rogue. I maxed out my climb, tumble, hide and move silently skills. I had been DMing for a long time, and this was the first time in about six months I got my hands on a character. I was eager to power-play and futz around in the environment in the ways that as a DM you perceive so readily (and watch all your pretty little monsters and villains get mashed).

So I snuck into a tenement room (climb +a million), robbed and murdered the inhabitants (sneak attack and weapon focus), leapt out the two-story window (tumble), and snuck off to hide in a garbage heap (move silently and hide). My character was totally mini-maxed, but in a sneaky and evil way. Bwa ha ha ha ha…

#2 Comment By Volcarthe On March 2, 2009 @ 10:55 am

On a recent business trip, i re-caught the WW bug. i picked up a handful of the core books and i’ll be constructing a game. this round-robin idea will definately be employed.

#3 Comment By SmallBlueGod On March 2, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

The round-robin style is how I have had to learn to run most of my games. Since I’m such a sucker for roleplaying I try to make sure it’s worth the players time. So to aid that I also started changing my descriptive style to evoke books or TV so that the others feel like their still involved even if their characters aren’t there. Sometimes in fits of silliness I will mime a glasswall between players & call the players who aren’t in scene “loyal viewers” or “loyal readers” etc.

While it seems obvious with roleplaying it also works well in combat situations if you have a mind for it. Once in a while a character would get into combat while other characters were on their way to save or stop the other character (or other crazy situations but this the one on the top of my head). I still use the round robin method from round to round making sure to describe the action in an over arching way & bouncing from one persons scene to the next in real time, much like movies will. (ie: After a player makes a dodge roll ‘as Terressa lunges away from the werewolf elsewhere only 3 blocks away Kevin is running full sprint for the meeting place to help Terressa who went off on her own’ – then ask Kevins player how he wishes to accomplish it etc etc).

Sometimes when everyone was psyched up and on point they would shout out their actions the moment I pointed to them – rolls are made descriptions are said and then the next person would declare what they were doing the moment I pointed to them.

I try to ask the players how they would handle the situation as it drops in front of them. I’ve found that some of my players even appreciate the extra few minutes to think of what their next combat action will be while everyone tries to react to the situation at hand. This lets my more roleplaying oriented players get just as much action in as my more combat oriented players, & vice versa.

Glad there are others having fun with the style.

In an only slightly related note on occasion I took the TV analogy a step further and present recaps in the tv serial speak. Such things as “Previously on SettingNameHere” & even offer previews of the next “episode” @ the end of a game session to get people day dreaming about what they want to do next game. I find it helps to keep everyone in the same story – even if I can’t keep my roleplaying oriented players in the same scene. ;-)

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On March 2, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

When everyone’s at the table, round robin is the only way to go. As you pointed out, even with your good case and playing round robin, it was still more than a half hour between scenes. If each played a full prelude in turn, it’d be hours before the last person played– which wouldn’t work at all.

Once the game begins, round robin still works– as you point out, it is concentrated spotlight, which at least partially makes up for the time waiting. Some games are mostly played round robin– Primetime Adventures and Sorcerer are two games that emphasize that style. Glad you had such an enjoyable evening!

#5 Comment By Lunatyk On March 3, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

I don’t normally do this because of time constraints… and preludes can get boring if used too often…

#6 Comment By BenV On March 4, 2009 @ 6:14 am

First of all, this post couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I’m currently running a long-term D&D 3.5 campaign (my first one) with PC’s almost at 6th level but still having some questions as to why they were where they were when they got into the whole adventure together. So I was planning on roleplaying some “prequels/flashbacks” for each player (can’t do a lot of fighting, as they’d be 1st level again…) to clear these things out and inform them on why they’re actually adventuring together (I maybe should’ve done this earlier though…).

Because these preludes are much alike to what I had in mind and I’m practically forced to use round-robin (5 PC’s with no common background), this post is spot on for me. However, I am still thinking of some decisions I would have them make and how I can have those affect their current characters. I’m actually thinking of granting them some bonus (or penalty) to their current stats depending on how they handle their “prelude”.

So now I’m wondering if there are some generic choices I could present to them, and how much it could/should affect their current characters. Any advice would be more than welcome!

PS: I finally registered because of the metal dice contest (resisted the one for the fancy dice bag, natural 20 on my will save). But now I can finally thank the gnomes for the heaps of advice and ideas that were posted here! Thank you!

#7 Comment By Rust On March 6, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

This sounds like a lot of fun.

Now for some questions, machine gun style!

What kind of scene framing techniques did your GM use?
Since everyone knew the ultimate outcome, how did you communicate which issues were at issue? Did the GM and player kind of talk it over before framing the scene, or did the GM imply what was at issue by framing the scene?
When the dice did hit the table, what typically did you resolve?
Did anyone get a chance to play an NPC when it was not their spotlight?

#8 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 7, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

@BenV – I don’t know if I can suggest any generic choices without knowing more about your GM. The choices our GM presented us with were very much tailored to our PCs, and to the ultimate outcome (IE, us becoming a “party” of ghouls).

@Rust – Excellent questions. In order:

– He mixed presenting scenes as needed with letting us describe what we were doing to kick off a scene; I liked that mix.

– We had a lengthy (and highly enjoyable) discussion before the game about what kinds of issues we wanted to explore during the chronicle, so that never came up during play. Individual scenes were largely a surprise, and figuring out where they were headed was half the fun.

– We didn’t roll very often; when we did, it was generally for crisis moments where the outcome could dramatically change the course of the scene. We also rolled for some minor stuff, mainly because we like rolling dice and it’s a good way to test-drive a character.

For example, someone tried to break into my PC’s house, and after fleeing to my car I discovered that he’d blocked my driveway. Freaked out, I said I wanted to back up far enough to hit him if he ran in front of the car, and he did; hitting him was a Drive roll. I killed him, and the fallout from that is going to rock. ;-)

– The original plan was for us to play each full prelude in sequence, with everyone taking NPCs during the other players’ preludes. Our GM changed his mind about this, and I think it was a good decision; he was concerned about developing NPCs that, due to our actions, never came up.

I’m not sure if he’s read this article, but I’ll let him speak more to that question; he comments here from time to time.

#9 Pingback By Canon Puncture 61: License to Roll : Canon Puncture On March 10, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

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