Salons & Side Sessions
The game sessions will be structured as quarterly "Salons". Additional "side sessions" may be scheduled for roleplaying a specific scene or event for relevant characters.
Each Shifting Sands main event will be a Salon. In-game, the reason that the characters are all gathered in this place at this time is because once a quarter, Emily Constance Marie Peregrine, the Countess of Danforth, holds what she calls an Aether Salon aboard The Duchess of Argyll, the lavish aether flyer built by her husband, Edmund Death Whately Peregrine, 12th Earl of Danforth and renowned inventor (walking that fine line between brilliant and crackpot). She is a “known eccentric” with an eclectic taste in guests—she seeks out those who are interesting to talk to and/or involved in interesting things while also being capable of behaving in polite society and not overtly criminal/a known murderer. Because these are “just social gatherings” it’s not unusual for guests with various diplomatic, commercial, or military interests from diverse and often conflicting factions to engage in “off-the-record conversations” while attending one of Lady Danforth’s famous Salons. Needless to say, The Duchess of Argyll moves about the Solar System, so any given Salon could occur in orbit of Venus or Mercury, docked in London or Karkarham, or navigating the asteroids.
Therefore, during Salons, besides conversation, small entertainments are likely to take place throughout the event. Certain guests may perform a small musical number or politicians may give a brief speech or an inventor may be given a few minutes to talk about their latest discoveries. Players can expect that the entire game will take place within the limited confines of The Duchess of Argyll (or sometimes its immediate environs) and will be primarily social interactions. Politics and interpersonal interactions will be heavily encouraged at games. These might include talking to other players to gain support for a new expedition to some remote place, forming alliances between countries, demonstrating the latest inventions of Tesla or finding romance among the stars.
Any actions that need to take place in between games or off the aether flyer should be communicated via Heliograph. For more information on how the Heliograph works, see The Heliograph Office section of the Player's Guide.
On occasion, the game staff may decide that certain between game actions merit a side session. Side sessions may be anything from the adventurous, like a dinosaur hunt on Venus or daring rescue of a Martian princess, to the mundane, perhaps a game of croquet on the lawn of Buckingham Palace with Queen Victoria.
Not all Heliograph actions will merit a side session but if one is needed, the staff will contact all the players that would be affected to arrange a time to run the side session. Saturday mornings and afternoons of Salon dates are especially set aside for side sessions to be run, but they may be run at any time between Salons that the parties involved can agree upon.
Side sessions may also use different rules sets depending on the situation and player interest. While the Salons will only use the regular mechanics, side sessions may use other rules as well. An aether flyer battle over the city of Shastapsh on Mars may involve a game of miniatures for air combat, while a stealth mission to steal the crown jewels of the Tzars may have players solving puzzles to crack open safes, or a dinosaur hunt may use Nerf weaponry. These modified rules systems will take into account the characters' skills as much as possible. On the other hand, a dinner party held by the Theosophists would be likely to require no mechanics at all.
Note that "remote" side sessions (i.e., using Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.) may be another option for some types of actions.