Shinobigami with three people (1 GM and 2 Players): Advice

Hi folks: I caught this on the intertweets from DerHisho:


"Hi, do you have a good idea for a 3 player game of Shinobigami. Something funny, don't really know yet if a Battle Royal Competitive scenario will work with only 3. Already played the Dagger-Scenario with 1 of the 3 players. I miss G+ for this..."

First, yes: I too miss G+. (pours out a little Ozeki One Cup for social media sites that died too young)

On to the main question: Originally they were going to have 4 people (3 players), which is a normal amount, though a little on the light side, for a Shinobigami scenario.

But two players is totally doable. In fact, I've run 2-player scenarios. One memorable one, the first time I tried, was at a late night table at the Dexcon convention, where I ran Shinobigami (long before we planned to officially publish it) for my friends Ken Hite and Irven K!
https://twitter.com/kennethhite
https://twitter.com/Myrkwell

Now, a lot of the details from that night are a bit hazy, because it was indeed a late night game session, I was amped up on A Little Too Much yerba mate tea (loose tea, the Real Deal from a 1kg brick, not that "yerba and chai spice medly ready-to-go tea bag" shit); I remember the characters: Ken's Kurama clan "Wartime Reporter" on a break to do jobs in the homeland, and Irven's Hasuba Clan "Young Man Ex-Shut-in/Hikkikomori". But it was successful (I remember the characters and a few events some 6+ years later despite not taking any GM notes, which for me puts that into the top 90% percentile of con games I remember), and here's how it worked.

Apologies in advance: This section is going to be a bit rambly: I am putting more time into blasting the bits of advice, and not so much time into making it a solid, edited article.

First, note that I had originally scheduled a full table: Dexcon is an awesome little con (I HIGHLY recommend it. Dexcon/Dreamation are light years ahead of GenCon for meeting interesting people, having fun conversations, playing some really dramatic and fun games, and the vibes. It's the BigBadCon of the East Coast. Also, Morristown is basically New Jersey's version of Bruges), but even little fluxes can cause things to happen: I forgot the reasons, but a five-player table that four had originally signed up for, was down to two players when the game was about to happen (I think part of it was that the session was starting at 10PM, and by then folks were pretty "full" of gaming and crashing). I tasted the idea of cancelling and getting some sleep, but it was Ken and Irven's enthusiasm that made me go, "Sure, let's fuck this session to life and see what happens".

So we walked into the small room and I started explaining the rules. The scenario was going to be a typical PVE-ish scenario with a bit heavy on the frenemies; Like, there was going to be an NPC "boss" in my initial plan, but I also pushed many of the characters towards conflict via their Secrets.

I planned for a much shorter session. With 4-5 players, you can expect a game to run for about 2-3 hours IF everyone knows the rules or have played before. If the GM has to explain the rules to everyone as you go, expect to add about 90 minutes total to the session (not all at once: Explaining the game, making characters, explaining how scenes work, explaining how combat works, etc). With each additional player, like Tenra Bansho Zero, the game length tends to grow... not quite geometrically, but much steeper than arithmetically. Ultimately, I planned for about 60 total minutes of explanation and about 60 minutes of play. In the end, I think we ended up going 3 total hours.

1) Shinobigami recommends that you add NPC characters to offset the balance, until the game has 6 total "slots": 5 players and 1 NPC; 3 players and 3 NPCs, etc. I find personally that Shinobigami tends to fall apart with more than 2 NPC characters unless you're doing some kind of real Murder Mystery style play with lots of Secrets in the field. So instead, I kept my planned Boss character (basically a reskinned PC, with an extra Skill and 2 extra Ninpo); an extremely competent underworld fence and ex-Kurama ninja boss babe (hashtag #bossbabe , but without the MLM). Further, I made room for a second "not Boss" NPC, again reskinning an PC as basically a younger follower of the Boss.

2) I changed the PC Secrets (or at least re-confirmed them) so that they weren't at each other's throats. One had a "Protect this person" Secret towards the other, and the other PC had a "You are the sibling of (Boss), save them" kind of Secret.

3) That alone would have been fine and all, but I felt that with 2 players/3 rounds, a beeline towards the Boss would have made things too aggressively straight. Hard to explain, but you know how Yulaw in The One does Wing Chun? (listen to the Jet Li explanation cut) Basically like that. I wanted more Ba Gua feeling here, so I publicly stated a special rule for that scenario: Unlike most games, this one character over here is "masked" (magically). She's got the Prize, and she's the central NPC in this thing. She's being protected by something, so you can't get her secret or location directly (then slow GM nod towards the kohai/follower charatcer, indicating "Go see about this guy first" with a glance).

4) Ultimately, her secret was that the Prize (a sacred sword she was trying to sell on the black market) contained a demon that possessed her. And the kohai/follower's Secret was this:
"He'll do anything to protect (Boss). Also, (Boss)'s Secret and Location are now available for anyone to obtain. Finally, (Boss) now knows the Location of anyone witnessing this Secret card."
...that sets a lot of traps/actions in motion.

(cont)

Comments

  • (cont, word count)

    5) An interesting thing: Aside from a very brief "Intro scene", I did not pull any GM Scenes throughout the game. Shinobigami GM Scenes weren't even part of my vocabulary at that time: I know that the replay had some, but I really didn't think that they were meaningful in any way. Knowing what I know now, I might have added 1 GM Scene per round, and also added some special effect: Like, still keep (Boss's) information off the table, but at the conclusion of each Scene, allow for 1-2 pieces of Information to become available, or simply straight up reveal it to everyone.

    6) Next, the game did go by rather quickly. That first session with new players, you'll be explaining the rules so there will be again about 60 minutes of "padding". But in future games, 2-player games should take about 40-50 total minutes depending on the number of GM NPCs and any special rules in play. Maybe even less. The good part is, if you wrap up quickly, you can throw down again for a second session in the same time it would take to do another game's four-hour session.

    7) Finally, the most important part was this: I let the players chew the scenery in the scenes. Indeed, like always, there's only one "Action/Roll" per scene. But I did a LOT more in-character role-play with the PCs than I normally do in a standard 4-hour session. Even the 1-on-1 character introduction scenes were long affairs of scene narration and back-and-forth role-play. There were at least 2-3 "HEAT Coffee House Scene" style discussion scenes between the PCs, or one of the PCs and an NPC, or the PCs and background "statless" characters. This single thing made the 2-player session into something not only that was longer than expected, but also memorable as well.

    Even though there were ultimately no rules changes, the long drawn-out role-play added a lot of needed "center/meat" to the story; and ultimately Shinobigami is a STORY game that happens to have ninjas and battles.

    Hope this little tale helps others if put into a similar situation. In short:
    1) Add more opportunities for in-character role-play, and don't cut it short.
    2) Keep the game simple, and don't give the 2 PCs Secrets that will have them obviously stabbing each other (they can still stab each other for the Prize! But don't give them MORE of a reason to stab them than the basics); this will keep the role-playing opportunities between the PCs and other NPCs more open.
    3) Add a second NPC if you need, but maybe stick to 2 "statted" NPCs; any further NPCs that appear are cool, but keep them as stat-less background characters (clan elders, local police detective, coffee shop owner, etc)
    4) Don't be afraid to have the session end quickly, no need to artificially pad it further with rules or the like. Ultimately, if the core of the gameplay only takes 40-50 minutes to wrap up (if all the players know the rules) you can always play a second session right after.

  • The first thing that popped into my head was: could giving the PCs multiple secrets (like the rules for non-ninja PCs) help to "pad out" game play in a 2 PC game? Or maybe more specifically, that might be something to consider for designing a scenario specifically for 2 PCs (or it could be a terrible idea and the world should forget that I ever mentioned it).

    @diamondsutra said:
    I wanted more Ba Gua feeling here, so I publicly stated a special rule for that scenario: Unlike most games, this one character over here is "masked" (magically). She's got the Prize, and she's the central NPC in this thing. She's being protected by something, so you can't get her secret or location directly (then slow GM nod towards the kohai/follower charatcer, indicating "Go see about this guy first" with a glance).
    And the kohai/follower's Secret was this:
    "He'll do anything to protect (Boss). Also, (Boss)'s Secret and Location are now available for anyone to obtain. Finally, (Boss) now knows the Location of anyone witnessing this Secret card."

    This sort of reminds me of the scenario design for inSANe, where investigating certain locations serves as a trigger to unlock other elements. (The sample scenario on the Japanese Shinobigami website also has a similar thing in it). It's really interesting trying to "build" things like that into Shinobigami while staying within the limits of the tools the game has available!

  • @diamondsutra said:

    3) That alone would have been fine and all, but I felt that with 2 players/3 rounds, a beeline towards the Boss would have made things too aggressively straight. Hard to explain, but you know how Yulaw in The One does Wing Chun? (listen to the Jet Li explanation cut) Basically like that. I wanted more Ba Gua feeling here, so I publicly stated a special rule for that scenario: Unlike most games, this one character over here is "masked" (magically). She's got the Prize, and she's the central NPC in this thing. She's being protected by something, so you can't get her secret or location directly (then slow GM nod towards the kohai/follower charatcer, indicating "Go see about this guy first" with a glance).

    I confess, I don't really know what this section means at all; Too many references I don't get, I think.

  • @Airk:
    In the movie The One, the villain uses a martial art that emphasizes more aggressive, straight-line movements, which represents his direct, goal-oriented personality. This is contrasted with the fighting style of the protagonist, which uses more subtle, circular motions, and represents his belief in a world ordered on balance, cycles, etc...

    Andy is saying (I think) that he was trying to pace the game more subtly, to prevent it from being something that you can just beeline your way straight through to the end.

    Now I wanna go watch The One again...

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