Friday, 15 August 2014

#RPGaDAY - Day 15: The benefit of hindsight

Today's topic is 'best con game', and for the same reasons as yesterday I'm going back to my readers' suggestions:

This is me in the future. Possibly the very near
Stephen suggests: Game you wish you could run again, with more experience now

Oh, man, like... all of them.

Of course, I don't have that much more experience now than then, since most of the games that I've run that would be worth running again are fairly recent. Well, I say that; actually some of them are pushing about 5-8 years past. Damn; I got old.

I think the game I would most like to be able to guide my younger self through is the Dark Heresy campaign I ran, which I entitled 'Lost, in Space'. The set up was great; I didn't particularly jam on the idea of running the party as Inquisitorial lackeys, so instead I gave them a back story based on the little-considered nature of an oft-neglected aspect of the WH40K universe: No-frills space travel.

Basically, if you're not the Imperium of Mankind, the Adeptus Mechanicus or some other galaxy spanning operation able to afford your own mighty fleet of starships to tear through the Warp, or at least a Rogue Trader or minor merchant house, you're reliant on whatever is available. Since Warp travel is expensive and dangerous, and starships are a hot mess of gothic architecture, precision engineering and faith, Johnny Passenger isn't going to be chartering one. So instead, he puts himself in cryo with a tag on the cabinet and gets passed from ship to ship, at each stop being passed to someone heading in the right direction until finally, voila! You're there. It might be thirty years later, it might be a century; this is why tourism in the Imperium is limited to small areas.

The set-up for 'Lost, in Space' was that the PCs were all travelling and had ended up aboard the same freighter when it came down over a mysterious planet. With the crew dead and everyone else in cryo, they became the de jure owners of the downer ship and the campaign was them exploring the planet, recovering cryopods and trying to build a crew, while fighting other factions, local wildlife and Satanists.

There are a couple of things I would like to have done differently. Firstly, I only got the starships supplement once we'd started, and realised that the crew compliment of the ship should be closer to 50,000 than the 500 I'd pitched. That was minor, but secondly, I did a lot of rejigging as the game went on to strip out some of the more canon touristy elements of the original plan and replace the original xenos camps with other human factions. I'd like to have had that in place to start with.

Finally, I would have liked to have done something with the psychic rules, which were complex as hell. I've not looked at the Rogue Trader version in detail, but I know they are different and anything more streamlined would be good. The worst was the psyker's force staff, which required up to six rolls on a successful hit (roll to hit, roll damage, confirm critical if you rolled maximum damage - the six rolls ignores the fact that the damage can then continue to explode, I'm calling this part of the damage roll - roll Psychic activation, roll Willpower, roll bonus damage).

I was pretty happy with the way the game went, but for that reason I would have liked it to be better.

Hatty suggests: Antagonists

It's very hard to sustain an antagonist. Essentially, with any major antagonist who actually wants the PCs dead, there have to be pressing reasons why a) the PCs don't just roll up and whack them and b) they don't just throw main force at the PCs until they run out of hit points. If the antagonist - or their organisation - is too strong, why would they tolerate the continued existence of an obvious danger; too weak and the PCs will simply roll them*.

Moral consequences are a possible solution that can be used, but that's a matter of system design rather than a function of the antagonists themselves. A few possibilities include:

1) Antagonist of the week: Perhaps the simplest solution. The PCs kill - or otherwise resolve - each antagonist, then face another. Common in old-school games, provides for a limited external arc. The cunning ST of course will engineer it so that all of these minor encounters lead back to an ultimate big bad, who probably has...

2) Vast, cosmic power; itty-bitty living space: In his house, the Dark Lord is unassailable, but he can't leave his house and so has to rely on minions.

3) Fear: Give the players something other than the antagonist to worry about. If you kill Jimmy the Fingers, Knuckles McGurk will bring his boys round to call on you. Or your family. Provide pressure for the PCs to box clever, be subtle, make Jimmy look bad or set him up so that Knuckles takes him out instead. Depending on mechanics, they may just opt to hit Knuckles first, of course.

In this case, it is vitally important that you let the players know of this outside pressure before they encounter the antagonist.

4) Quest death: Lady Evilpants is not unassailably powerful, but she is immortal and unkillable, unless you employ the seekrit method that only she knows and which requires a spear forged by the smith god, a bow carved from a limb of the world tree, three hundred feet of copper wire and a rhinoceros called George. She's going to get you eventually, because she has all the time, money and low-level goons in the world, but she can neither one-shot you nor be one-shotted (or even worn down).

These are neither the only methods, nor infallible, but they are - honestly - all things I've wished I'd thought to do as the six session running antagonist lay bleeding their last seconds away in the first hour of session one.

Tomorrow I am back on track with the game I wish I owned, or possibly that will come in an epic catchup post on Monday, also covering Funniest Game I've Played and Favourite System.

Look out for the #RPGaDAY hashtag and I'll see you then.

* This subject was covered in some detail by Joss Whedon in his commentaries for Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I totally cribbed option 2 from there.