Monday, October 24, 2016

Season Seven of The Walking Dead and what it has to do with my game

Hey, there's a bunch of plot spoilers to the episode of The Walking Dead from 10/23/16 here!  After the break, I mean.

Oh, and I do talk about a fictional character in an RPG who engages in abhorrent behavior most will find disturbing.  A gentle forewarning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

When the Villain Wins

A couple of weekends ago I had a nice long conversation with Adam over at Barking Alien and amongst the many, many things discussed was the question of how the world evolves and progresses throughout the campaign.

So let's give an example.  In a superhero RPG campaign the heroes become aware that Doctor Demolisher has been assembling parts to create a weather-control device that he plans on using to blackmail the Eastern seaboard (too soon?).  After a few sessions of wrangling with DD's henchmen as they gather the parts they need for the weather machine, the players suddenly decide one session that they are going to pursue a sideplot and infiltrate the notorious gangster Peppermint Ice's nightclub to foil his diamond-smuggling racket.  Side note: I feel Peppermint Ice's moll sidekick should be Ice Ice Baby.

So, as a GM watching your players wander down the trundle path of a secondary plot, what do you do with Doctor Demolisher?  Do you have him patiently wait around, hand poised on the level ready to throw, until the PC's finally show up and then he can do his "hands milking the giant cow" monologue?  Or do you have him win?

Adam said that early on he learned a game-mastering lesson from a mentor that basically said this: at first the villains don't know about the heroes and don't care about the heroes--the campaign is about how that changes.  But if the players don't interject themselves into the way of the villains, then the villain's plans progress accordingly.

That means that as a GM, in Adam's playbook, you have to be willing to let the villains win, and I think that's a bold step for a lot of people.  We are so caught up with "RPG as story" that we can't envision a tragic ending, so we do everything we can to ensure that we get the ending we want, or feel like is appropriate.  Maybe I'm wrong here, but even in pre-generated adventures I've seen where the final boss fight is a challenging one, the text often says something along the lines of "this encounter is extremely challenging for the players, and one or two player characters might die."

Right, because having a tragic death to highlight the momentous nature of the final conflict is acceptable, even expected.  But I don't see a lot of "adventure paths" (whose name make me die a little inside) end with the notation "there's a good chance everyone is going to die here."

I think in many ways this is why certain universes play better than others.  Most D&D games, for example, already have the villains having won. They're already set up in their subterranean lairs hanging out on their treasure piles and feasting on the local populace as they will.  The heroes' actions move the dial from "all the way bad" to "it's a little better" with every tunnel they invade.  Star Wars has a similar set-up: the Empire is running the galaxy.  Note that this is one of my problems with The Force Awakens. I could never figure out if the First Order was some kind of lunatic fringe that just happened to have the manpower and resources and time to convert a planet into a space station that somehow could shoot a laser across solar systems and not have it take years for the beam to get there or if they were a re-skinned Empire still running most of the cosmos because taking out Palpatine didn't really upset the apple cart too much.

I would love to see a campaign where the players actually face the risk of failure and end up spending the next six months to a year of gaming time trying to fix their mistake.  I just wonder how comfortable people would be with the change to the status quo.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Caliburn (Cold Steel Wardens conversion)

Caliburn (Adam Sinclair)

Magnetism 2
Accuracy 3
Force 5
Intellect 4
Agility 5
Nerve 5
Awareness 4
Psyche 4

Physical Skills
Armed Melee 4D+5 (Batons), Armed Ranged 3D+3 (Pistols), Athletics 4D+5 (Long Jump), Stealth 4D+5 (Silent Takedown), Unarmed Combat  5D+5

Investigative Skills
Canvass  4D+2 (High Society), Examination 3D+4 (Microscope Usage), Investigation 4D+4 (Quick-Analysis), Notice 3D+4 (Keen Hearing), Research 3D+4 (Books/Library)

Social Skills
Deception 2D+2, Intimidation 4D+5 (Threats), Intuition 4D+4 , Persuasion 3D+2 (Negotiation), Reputation 4D+2 (Aristocracy)

Knowledge Skills
Criminal 4D+4 (Serial Killers), Cultural 2D+4, Esoteric 3D+4 (Myths and Legends), Historical 4D+4 (Medieval History), Scientific 2D+4

Technical Skills
Driving 3D+4 (Car), Fine Manipulation 3D+4 (Lockpicking), Mechanics 2D+4, Piloting 0D+4, Vehicle Combat 2D+4

Masteries: Boxing Combat Style, Hardened

Equipment: Escrima sticks, two smoke grenades

Memories: Gaining his powers from “The Lady of the Lake,” his girlfriend being murdered
Motivations: Bringing Janus to justice, Restoring the status of masked heroes
Stances: “Janus must pay,” “Seek justice in the present, not the past,” and “We are meant to be something better”

Flaws: Horribly scarred, Obsessed with vengeance

Background: Adam Sinclair was an archaeology student who was studying ancient  British mythology.  He became friends with Jennifer Randall, a detective for Scotland Yard investigating a series of murders emulating Jack the Ripper.  Sinclair began to see visions of Randall being stalked by the killer, a wealthy dilettante named Zachary King.  Finally in one of the visions he came across a lake, and drinking from the lake heard a female voice which said, "Why do you seek justice in the past?"  He awoke back at his camp possessed by a purpose: to become a new knight for this era.  He called himself Caliburn (a variation on Excalibur) and helped Randall pursue and eventually capture King, who know had evolved into a killer of masked heroes named Janus.

Janus escaped prison, and after several clashes with Caliburn Janus killed Jennifer Randall and horribly scarred Sinclair.  Now Caliburn has tracked Janus to New Corinth, and the scarred knight will not rest until he has written the final chapter in his conflict with the serial killer.

Author's Note: Caliburn is Silver Age Sentinel's "Batman," a low-powered skill-based hero (clocking in at 125 points instead of the recommended 175 for PC's).  As such he didn't need much tweaking concept-wise, except I didn't have the construction points to give him either his shadow-based invisibility or Sixth Sense.  Like Alice, Queen of Hearts, I built Caliburn using the same construction guidelines as normal PC's to show what Cold Steel Wardens Players Characters would look like. But if I were to use him as an NPC I could always add the two powers back in, although they really aren't necessary for the kind of superhero he is supposed to be.

As always, comments welcome.
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