Why do some games work better in 4 hours than others?

edited November 2007 in Story Games
I'm toying with running a one-session game for two players. Initially I wanted to use Sorcerer, but all of my Sorcerer play has been "indie long form" (i.e., 5-6 sessions) and I'm not sure how I'd have to twist it for shorter play. On the other hand, Dogs in the Vineyard and Mountain Witch seem to run pretty well as one-session games. Burning Wheel, maybe not so much. People have been talking about how you can play out a whole adventure of "Red Box D&D" in 3 hours or less, including character creation.

What's the deal here? Why do some games work better in such a tight timeframe than others?

Also: Judd, if you're reading this - I know you've run a bunch of "Dictionary of Mu" games at conventions - is there any trick to running a satisfying Sorcerer game in 4 hours or less?

Comments

  • edited November 2007
    I think it's about front-loaded situation. Have a look at 'In Utero' from Sex and Sorcery for a scenario that works well in four hours.
  • Yeah but In Utero looks like it would be pretty much one scene.
  • Even I can't object to the jargon "front loaded situation" in this context. It's clear what that means, and that's exactly on target. Short play session is all about having a clear goal in mind and pushing towards it and then wrapping up. If you have to dither about maybe-this and maybe-that (not that dithering isn't fun, for my group it's highly fun and can swallow the whole rest of play!), then it'll last longer.
  • "front-loaded situation" is a nice group of letters: but how does it differ from regular Situation? how does one construct a "front-loaded Situation"? (is there a back-loaded situation?)
  • Posted By: James_NostackYeah but In Utero looks like it would be pretty much one scene.
    It can be, but the last time I ran it it went several scenes because Jennifer ran away from the condo. Also, one scene isn't so bad--think of Reservoir Dogs. You've got the opportunity to play flashbacks, too.
  • edited November 2007
    Posted By: James_Nostack"front-loaded situation" is a nice group of letters: but how does it differ from regular Situation? how does one construct a "front-loaded Situation"? (is there a back-loaded situation?)
    Unloaded?--evolves slowly during play.

    Take Sorcerer in general: normally you prepare for situation much more slowly. The players have to conceive their chrs, write Kickers etc; then the GM has to go away and think about it. 'In Utero' presents a situation that's already in motion with the Kickers going off. The risk is that people might not identify with the chrs and the situation because they didn't write them. Hopefully, if you know the players well you can present something that will grab them.

    So Mountain Witch is obvious, because it also presents a situation already in motion. Same with DitV or basic D&D. You know what you're doing and you hit the ground running.
  • It also has to do with how complex the system is - how much can be explained during play and how much needs to be explained beforehand.



    The Shadow of Yesterday is many times easy than Burning Wheel to play quickly, even though I don't think it's that much more focused. The difference is rules/system complexity. Also the fact that Burning Wheel's rules are all very interlinked and tight, so you have to explain whole systems at once rather than small pieces of information (or so it seems to me).
  • There's also the question of how long it takes before the feedback from your decisions starts making a big impact, mechanically, on the continuing game.

    Like, if you play Dogs, your decisions on whether to escalate to violence have an impact immediately. If you play Sorceror, your decisions on whether to risk your Humanity take many more cycles before they feed back into the game (since, if I recall correctly, Humanity mostly feeds back when you hit zero).
  • If you're a Nero Wolfe fan, you can easily tell the front-loaded situations (a corpse is found in Nero Wolfe's brownstone, a client hires Nero Wolfe, a pretty girl badgers Archie into persuading Nero Wolfe to help her) from the non-front-loaded situations (halfway through Wolfe decides he needs to change position, Archie decides to change sides, and so on). When there's a significant change in situation and it's not the beginning or the end, you've got a non-front-loaded situation on your hands. The resolution is not the resolution of the initial situation, or at least it is not primarily that.

    Lake Wobegon Days does this too. So do Dickens novels (try to count the different situations David Copperfield is in.)
  • edited November 2007
    Posted By: James_Nostack

    Also: Judd, if you're reading this - I know you've run a bunch of "Dictionary of Mu" games at conventions - is there any trick to running a satisfying Sorcerer game in 4 hours or less?
    When I run the demons hard and brutal, the game tends to go well and when I soft-pedal the demons, forgetting what they want, the game is tepid.

    That said, even in sessions that I felt went really well, I could sense that the next session would have been the really, really hot one. This is good for selling books at a con but also somehow unsatisfying too. This is not to say the games sucked, they were great but still...

    I read the kickers so the players choose via kickers, so they are bought into that first scene and the situation at hand.

    If you have any other questions, let me know, James.

    P.S. Thanks, Rob, for hipping me to the thread. I would've missed it, I think.
  • Thanks Judd, I appreciate those suggestions.
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