I am considering running a short one-session game of Sagas of the Icelanders in the near future. I am aware of some good ideas to kickstart a session of that game, like the Juicy GM tidbits or the One-Shot setups, and I have run Apocalypse World one-shots in under 3 hours before, but for this one I am aiming for about 2 hours. Is that feasible, and if so, what do I need to do in addition to providing nearly-fully generated characters?
I did try this today, and it nearly worked. I'll give my attempt, together with some ideas to make it better (in italics, highlighted as a reminder for myself), below.
Use Jason Morningstar's one-shot setup
Three months ago, Jason Morningstar had an interesting setup online on billypulpitgames.com – I tried to find it again, but could only find another one still on the web, which is similar, but lacks a nice feature of the other one, namely some loaded questions to kick off with.
Make sure players know what kind of game it is
Make sure that the players are fully aware that character death, in particular planned or executed by another player character is entirely on the table.
Clarify that the following themes are integral parts of the setting.
- Revenge to the death and extinction of family lines
- Gods with tangible connection to the world (this is pretty explicit on some sheets, but one of my players struggled with it, so it's good to state explicitly)
- Love, sex and desire
- Honor and authority through what others are willing to support
Streamline Character creation
Starting with the relationship map in the setup, fill in a well-connected role – like the Goði. The game very much hinges on the relationships between the player characters, so having a highly connected hub of the network filled by a player character is important.
Next get some woman characters into the mix (in particular if your group fits the stereotype of a majority of male players shying away from cross-gender play). Female characters are important in Sagas, because there is a strong split in the basic moves in that male characters Act, and female characters Provide Motivation. So in the end you want a good mix, but right now after a relationship hub has been filled, you want to have (motivational) directions for the game, so 2 or 3 female characters are a good thing to settle next.
Then try to connect them using other PCs. Ideally, this is the point where you achieve a good mixture of males and females, and each man PC is connected to at least one, better two woman PCs, so that he be goaded into conflicting actions and drama arise.
Let player fill in statlines and looks, and then deal with relationships and bonds. In addition to the options on the sheets, ask 'whom do you want dead' and 'who wants to see you dead' and why, and give suggestions strongly involving other PCs.
For bonds, I think writing names and relations on (coloured?) index cards might help keep them present and a physical reminder that they are a currency that can be spend.
Make clear that moves don't need to be slotted in yet (looks to me like it is harder to pick the 'right' moves in SotI than in AW) and point to common and gender moves. (How did I manage to forget the common moves for a significant time in the game??)
Start narrating and asking questions!
Try to load questions to set up conflicts and goad your players into action. If you ended up with a majority of action in one place and a weakly connected PC somewhere else, don't let the Wanderer turn up where the action already is. Ask for lingering conflicts and generally follow the rules. Have a good time, jump on any awful suggestions your players make (even in jest).
Keep your eyes on the time
and when the deadline approaches, ensure some murderising happens. Goad your players into action, even if a hasty NPC starts it off. Describe a short aftermath.