Editor’s Note: This Ronin Roundtable is intended as advice for GM’s of Mutants & Masterminds, and it contains a few spoilers for would-be heroes in the Siege of Starhaven adventure.
Hello heroes! It’s great to be chatting with you all again after the spectacular extravaganza that was Gen Con. It was my first time attending and I am happy to confirm that the legends of its grandness were not overstated. I had such a great time being amongst so many gamers and just seeing everyone truly happy to be immersed in this grand hobby of ours. There just isn’t anything quite like a con to help reignite the passion for gaming. Thank you to all of the players who participated in my events and to everyone who stopped by the Green Ronin booth.
It was great getting to run Siege of Starhaven from the new Guide to Starhaven sourcebook for players, but one thing I learned quickly in my con prep was that this adventure is definitely not a four-hour experience. This probably isn’t shocking as it was written by the person who is often accused of running 1.5 shots so often that we’ve started calling my 1 shots “special limited series” over at the Untold Stories Project. I have a habit of overwriting, which can be useful for GMs at home, but not so much for a convention experience. Not to worry though I embarrassed myself running out of time so you don’t have to.
The trouble with using any published adventure is that they’re usually written with an idea of what the beginning, middle, and end are going to be, and trying to find smaller story arcs within the plot can lead to a hollow story. Finding the right places to trim is a GM skill that doesn’t usually get enough practice, as, if you’re anything like me, the big worry at the table is “do I have enough content for the next four hours?” Siege of Starhaven has a set number of beats in its original outline that give the story pace and momentum. It has an “in media res” intro scene, an investigation that can go basically three directions, a first encounter with the villain that ends in defeat for the heroes, an escape, a rallying of resources, and then a triumphant final combat with the forces of the Stellar Imperium. It’s all very exciting and I intended for it to be the first two or three sessions of a brand new Starhaven campaign.
I used to be pretty good at estimating how much adventure fits into four hours of play, but I’ve been spoiled running an ongoing series for the last few years. I haven’t HAD to shorten things so I’ve let that part of my GM brain atrophy. I ran Siege of Starhaven at Origins this year, and admittedly I didn’t find the right place to make the end of the adventure feel like a satisfying payoff. I wasn’t prepared for how abruptly I was going to run out of time. The players all still had a great time and left with a smile on their face, but it didn’t feel like my best work to myself. I promised I would take the time to better condense the story before Gen Con.
I did not keep that promise.
Between work and my stream games, I didn’t do as much Gen Con prep as I would have liked, so I was worried that once again the adventure wouldn’t be as satisfying as I wanted it to be. As I was flipping through the sourcebook in the thirty minutes before the event was scheduled to run, I had an epiphany about the plot. I wrote down a few notes, which I’m going to share here. This is how I shortened the adventure to fit in one four hour slot:
I started by cutting the adventure down to four scenes. The new story outline was thus: introductory scene to establish stakes/teach people how the rules works, investigation with multiple paths
to reward player agency, big fight with the villain at the end.
Scene One: Instead of beginning in media res, I added a roleplaying scene to provide more context as to what the heroes were looking for in the warehouse and who they were working for. They met with Prime Consul Tamira-Van who explained that the Children of Chrysalis were stealing artifacts from the Draffsnarl and that she had a tip about where they would strike next. She explained that this was a tryout for Starhaven’s new defenders and if they prove themselves she would be willing to appoint them as the Guardians of Starhaven. From there the fight with Pupil and the Imperium troopers went as scripted in the adventure.
Scene 2: This works pretty much as written. The heroes search the warehouse and find leads that point them towards Tamira-Van and MamaKaiger. The person they choose to follow up with then determines next steps, either towards the missing Daedalus and the Robot Forge or the elusive hacker Bran Cardon. The only slight modification needed is to eliminate any mentions of Cardon’s interest in Daedalus/the Facetwild.
I had time for a ten minute intermission here.
Scene 3: Again pretty much as scripted, either the conflict in the Robot Forge or the skill challenge to break into Cardon’s warehouse. The only modification to Cardon’s warehouse is that the body is actually his body and not a decoy. The building still explodes and leads to…
Scene 4: The various challenges in the Fait Accompli scene. Helping the burning building, rescuing the pilots at the starport, etc. The only difference is that instead of providing the minor bonuses for other scenes in the adventure, any successes in these challenges reduces the amount of enemies in the final fight with Ko-Nan (similar to the resistance assets in the current adventure.) Pull a benefit from that table and assign it to the Fait Accompli challenges: rescuing the pilots removes one of the Hounds for example. The other small modification is that Ko-Nan doesn’t mention that she has control of the Propylaea so the heroes are able to confidently confront her.
Scene 5: Big fight with Ko-Nan and her crew!
There you have it, a beginning, middle, and end that offers a wide variety of scenes and a pretty well-paced story for four hours. And there’s even time for a bathroom break if you want it. I’ll be going over the topic of shortening adventures (and lengthening them if you’re long-winded like me) more generally in some of the material I’m working up for Astonishing Adventures Assembled but this is how I would modify Siege of Starhaven for a nice one and done. Thank you for taking the time to read today and happy gaming!
And if you’d like a print copy of the Guide to Starhaven, a Print On Demand option is now available at DrivethruRPG!