SLA Industries: Session Zero

Even though I am playing with an established group, whenever we change games I still have a first session where we do not play the game as our characters, we get to know the game as players. We already know each other, have gamed with each other, and are friends, so we know what to expect on that front. It is the game and its options which need our attention – which need consensus if play is to move forward and be fruitful and satisfying. With a game like SLA Industries which offers a lot of character creation choices as well as several differing vectors to approach play, that Session Zero is doubly important to me. Having played in campaigns of all sorts of games where the promise and allure that I saw in a game did not make it into play and the GM clearly had no idea what we might find interesting about that game (and so gave us something else), I am not all that interested in getting buy-in from a group to just the title and cover of an RPG. I want them to know what we are getting into. I want to build a solid foundation of interest and understanding from which to launch the campaign.

The Rules

I had three goals for Session Zero, and the one that needed the most time and clarity was establishing an understanding of the rules. In particular, I wanted each player to be clear on how their specific character would be interacting with the game through their skills, traits, gear, and special abilities. I wanted them know how to act, react, hurt, get hurt, charge in, run away, and above all else know what they were good for. Although the rules in SLA Industries (Revised) have a reputation for complexity or difficulty, the game can be broken down into concepts which greatly ease understanding and demonstration of the system. Once done, the game itself seems quite simple and the group can devote their time to description and imagination of investigation and action in the many layers of Mort and its never-ending rain. To prove that point, the players were able to run the sample combat I set up for them by themselves within two Rounds.

The Other Goals

My other goals were to ensure that the players were still as keen to play in the World of Progress as my pitch for the game had enticed them to be, and to make certain that the characters could do what we all wanted them to be able to do – whether that was as a team, independently, or with the help of contacts. I wanted the characters to be built not to cover all bases, but to reflect clearly identifiable roles. I wanted them to have distinct and demonstrable personalities and for those to be communicated and refined during this Session Zero to everyone else.I wanted the players to know the place of the characters in the setting and to be able to get into the mindset of a new SLA Operative desperately waiting for the next Blue BPN. I wanted them to know and be able to describe what the characters had clawed their way up from and what they were clawing their way upward toward.

When I made the pitch for “the next game” I had three different games and three different campaign pitches in mind. The players knew I was going to suggest Dragon Warriors, would probably suggest The Expanse (or Dragon Age), and that there would be a third option in there. I started with that third option and it, of course, was SLA Industries. They were not surprised as I had been talking about it off and on for months, but they managed to surprise me. Not only did they go for it without hearing the other two pitches, they seemed genuinely excited about the idea. That was cool and motivating at first, and it still is, but I also felt it was my duty to make sure they knew how deadly the game could be, how grim it would be, and that there was going to be much more to it than filmed fights with Chain-axes in the sewers of Mort. Many an otherwise good campaign can be undone by misplaced expectations…. such as that the characters will live.

Troupe-Style Play

Before running Star Trek Adventures with this group, I am not sure that the troupe aspect of how I want to run this campaign would have been as easy to propose and generate acceptance and enthusiasm for. I say that because in the past when talking about troupe-style play it was met with some uncertainty. However, after experiencing the version of this gaming technique presented in STA, established mainly to enable a small group to feel like a whole crew of a large starship, they took to it with enthusiasm. Prior to using it, they could not really see it as anything other than a distraction from playing their characters and gaining insight into things those ‘main characters’ should not know. Now, they see it as a means to help fill out the world and establish broader personalities among the many NPCs that will come to populate our game worlds, *and* as a stable of future PCs to draw from after all the ultraviolence has a chance to mess with their calm. Each session, we will be introducing new associates, contacts, subordinates, and so on which will all be kept on a roster of potential PCs should be need replacements, allowing for greater continuity of play within the framework of the campaign, and less downtime getting back into character. It won’t lessen the pain of loss any, but it will keep the game in motion. With all of the interruptions that our play has endured over the last year or so, we need all the momentum we can get~

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