In July 2003, we playtested "Shadows in the Fog", by Chris Lehrich. I was GM. Players were Gordon Landis, Tor Erikson, Liz Henry, Bill Humphries, Jim Chokey, and Guin Boostrom. This was also a mixer in that I was meeting Gordon and Tor for the first time.
This session was half group character creation, and half a brief improvised scenario. Prior to the game, everyone was asked to read the rules (version 1.2) and come up with a character concept. They were also asked to think about two sets of questions: the Holmes-ian description of their character, and their attitude towards magic.
The game was scheduled to start at 1PM, but with everyone meeting it took some time to get going. I had come up with the idea of having tea and perhaps cookies and rolls -- but Liz took this whole hog and made little cucumber sandwiches and turkey sandwiches. I felt this added immensely to the experience.
We started character creation by going around to all the players and having them describe their character concept in whatever amount of detail. With six players, this ended up taking around 45 minutes. We then started trying to forge links between all of the characters. We weren't sure about what order to go in. Basically, we started with the most obvious links. Then we made several passes through the PCs, looking for ones who were not as well linked in and trying to make links with them.
This also involved creating NPCs, who were common links. I made the suggestion of categorizing connections by community, defining three basic communities: artistic, academic, and high society. This focussed some of the connection building. We defined five NPCs here, I think, though one of them was dead. We decided that Lydia (Bill's PC) was the widow of the twin brother of Humboldt Kingsley (Liz's PC).
The next step was to make the character sheets and inner life of the PCs. This was mostly more quiet scribbling and thinking. I spent some time consulting with players, but I was also thinking and preparing notes for the scenario. I knew in advance that it was going to be a social party, but not who was throwing it or what would happen.
There was then a significant break. I prepared a little more for the scenario during this time. I had about five NPCs that I had prepared.
We re-started by once again going around to each player and having them talk about their character. This time, we were filling in details based on having made the character sheets -- in particular mentioning thoughts on magic.
There was a notable point in here where I wasn't sure. We had gone almost all the way around, when Jim was pontificating in character about his views on magic. Gordon then jumped in to discuss this with him, which was starting to be an extended conversation. I cut this off, though, saying that it should come later. We hadn't finished going around to all PCs; Guin hadn't taken her turn yet, and we hadn't set a scene for all this. So I had Guin take her turn, then I narrated an introduction which set the scene. The conversation wasn't directly picked up on later.
The scenario was a society party hosted by Mrs. Stephenson Kingsley, mother of Liz's PC Humboldt Kingsley. I set the basics, then we handled how each PC would be invited and come to the party.
We then started on the party itself. For the majority of it, this was a long series of conversations. These sometimes went in distinct drift: i.e. someone enters into a conversation, someone drops out. This made for some rules confusion, because the SitF rules refer to action scenes. It wasn't clear here what the scene was: it isn't defined in the rules, though there are some hints that there may be multiple resolutions per scene but recommendations to not have very many. In this case, is every shift of conversation a new action scene? We weren't sure, and fudged it.
There were many bits revealed in the party. Mrs. Brookmyre-Kingsley (a radical liberal) and Mr. Severn (a party-going frat boy) quickly had major personality clash, but it was generally viewed as a positive and interesting conflict rather than a problem. There was discussion of spiritualism and feminism, particularly over dinner. I introduced a plot point: the elder Mrs. Kingsley (NPC mother of Liz's PC Humboldt) wanted to commision a portrait of her missing son Stephenson Jr. Liz went further with that and narrated that she wanted Humboldt to be the model, being his identical twin. Some of the characters also noticed that there were middle class people at the party, who turned out to be a spiritualist medium and her guide.
After dinner, we moved into a more GM-directed scene, which was the seance arranged by Mrs. Kingsley to contact her son Stephenson Jr. -- twin brother of Humboldt (Liz's PC). This then had a fair bit of GM direction, but after a point was taken over by player direction using the trump-playing mechanic of SitF.
I narrated how the medium went stiff and then spoke in a voice which said "I am known by many names, but Stephenson is not one of them. You may call me Tezcatlipoca." After this, there were six trumps played in fairly quick succession. The real kicker was that when the lights came up, Tor played The Devil and narrated that the medium was found with her throat slit ear to ear. Immediately after that, though, Bill played The Magician to say that Dr. Westerbrook (Gordon's PC) was able to save her.
We ended the session with the PCs waiting for the police. Two players had to go, so we didn't really test out the rewards/XP system.
There were a number of things which were unclear in the rules, but in general it went very smoothly and in general the players had a good time, I think. The characterizations were all terrific, IMO. During character creation, we discussed skill definitions, and about whether one could take a sub-skill/specialty.
During play, there were a number of questions over trumps and especially the in-character interpretation of card play. Also, as mentioned, a scene was never really defined. Since the whole scenario took place sort of at one location (the party), with fairly continuous time, there weren't obvious scene breaks.