Posts tagged Necessary Evil

Independence Day Dime Novel Cover

I Hate to See the Players Lose…

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I’ve discovered something about how I GM: I hate to see the players lose. I love throwing enormous challenges in front of them, having characters make a noble sacrifice for the greater good, and beating the odds to pull out a tremendous victory (the Death Star trench run is one of my all time favorite movie sequences, largely for this reason). When all goes the way I’d like it to, it creates the sort of story I love to see: a story where a small group of individuals defy the odds and come out heroes.

Unfortunately, role-playing games don’t always go that way.

My long-running Necessary Evil campaign finally came to a close the weekend before last with the villains earning a hard-fought victory agains their greatest enemies with the odds stacked against them. And then in a final showdown with the Overmind, they had several very lucky rolls and pulled out a surprise victory, saving the world and saving the galaxy from the evil threat of the V’Sori. I loved it!

Since we had one more good weekend of gaming, I decided to run a Deadlands one-shot for the group. Originally they wanted me to run Night Train, which is so deadly that rumor has it the author gets royalties for every character killed in it (not really, but it definitely is a character killer). I had my misgivings about this scenario and with a few players saying they couldn’t make it, I ultimately decided to run Independence Day, in which they investigate several mysterious murders in Dodge City by The Butcher.

Independence Day Dime Novel CoverLast time I ran that scenario, it went well overall, but I had some issues with it that I planned to resolve the next time I ran it. I didn’t use the Adventure Deck and attempted to have a fight earlier in the scenario. (But the characters just wound up talking themselves out of it, which was good I guess. Note to self: next time start the game in media res with a small fight that gets them noticed by Earp and then starts the scenario.)

The biggest problem I had with the scenario last time was with the way The Butcher had invulnerability. I wound up just changing it this time to “he regenerates one wound each round” unless his weakness is exploited. I decided not to have him have a free soak roll because I had so few players. So far so good.

But this time when I ran it, the players were having a lot of trouble. After they had gathered all of the clues (knowingly or not), I told them that they needed to piece together the mystery and figure out who the culprit was. After about a minute of thinking, one of the players proudly declared “it must be the undertaker!” I nearly face-palmed myself right there. I had just offhand mentioned the undertaker picking up one of the bodies and apparently they thought that made him a suspect.

Had I been an evil GM, I might have let them arrest the undertaker and have them enjoy the night, only to have The Butcher strike again and get the heck out of Dodge (literally). Instead, I had the undertaker help them make some connections between clues, thanks to his love of mystery novels. It got them back on track at least.

They split up in search of The Butcher and unfortunately, one of the characters got a critical failure while trying to make a Notice check to find him. The Butcher got the drop on her and sliced off her arm to add to his collection (yup, really). With one arm severed, she tried to shoot with her off hand, but missed. The Butcher sliced her other arm and let her bleed out on the dirt. The other Huckster made it to the scene then, but in the first round suffered an ignoble death when The Butcher made a called shot to the head, and dealt 5 wounds, none of which got soaked. The Butcher had murdered two more people and could have walked away into the night, ready to continue his reign of terror in the next town.

The players were about to pack up, having failed to stop The Butcher, but I hated to leave them on such a tragic note. At first, I contemplated making both of their characters Harrowed until I decided having a Harrowed Huckster with only a head was just a bad idea. So I offered them my other pregenerated characters to come in as reinforcements. The Blessed was just lucky enough to stay alive, but the Mad Scientist wasn’t. Yet another replacement character came who I said had some ideas about The Butcher’s weakness. With a lucky shot, they exploited it and defeated The Butcher once and for all.

Unfortunately, this victory seemed hollow to me. They didn’t identify the culprit without help and went through three replacement characters before I more or less told them what The Butcher’s weakness was. I did it because I really hated to see the players lose. But in making sure that they didn’t lose, I made it so that they didn’t really win. Or at least it wasn’t the same.

It’s a lesson I had to learn: that even if you really want to see the players succeed, sometimes the stars aren’t right and they will fail. It makes the true victories more meaningful, I think, even if we hate to see the failures when they happen. And it’s almost just as bad to blatantly tilt the odds to prevent the players from losing.

What about you all? Have you had similar thoughts or do you have a different mindset when it comes to players failing?

Trying Out a Plot Point Campaign

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I’ve been running Necessary Evil with a group of Wittenberg students this semester. It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. One of the reasons I was drawn to it was that Necessary Evil is what Pinnacle calls a “plot point campaign.” In a plot point campaign, adventure hooks are generally presented in a non-linear fashion and are often triggered simply by the players deciding that they want to go to a certain location. For instance, the players have been trying to get into the Star City Aquarium where there is rumored to be dangerous experiments going on. As a GM, I simply flipped to the page telling about that location and ran a session based on that. Sometimes the players are given a mission to go to a specific place, but theoretically they could enter the mission just by stumbling upon it.

This has been a good thing because it makes the world a more interesting place and players can go and do things according to their own interests. Sometimes the GM can manipulate those interests (such as making someone they care about kidnapped to a certain location), but generally the players can go wherever they want.

Another benefit to this is that because the missions are non-linear, they can call on contacts that they’ve gained from previous missions. One of the first ones they did allied them with the “Cult of the Red Moon,” an Atlantean warrior cult. This has been invaluable as they’ve provided them water-based transport for later missions and even come to save the day a few times.

I’ve discovered that a plot point campaign requires a bit of improvisation to pull off properly. By giving the players the opportunity to go wherever they want to, it means that you may not have read the section beforehand. By manipulating their interests, you can better predict where they will go, but it’s not a sure-fire thing.

The other issue is that you may have players deciding to do different things. I’ve instituted a “stick together” rule requiring them to move as a unit because it became a little messy in situations where groups wanted to go to do different missions.

All in all though it’s been a fun campaign and I look forward to seeing how it turns out. I hope that at some point I’ll get a chance to try out some of Pinnacle’s other plot campaigns such as the reprinted 50 Fathoms and the upcoming Deadlands plot-point campaign Last Sons as well.

Knowing When to Avoid Combat

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So this semester, I’ve been running a game of Necessary Evil, a plot-point campaign for Savage Worlds in which all the players are supervillains. Last session I had every player character, save one, die and if she didn’t have the power of Invisibility, she probably would have too.

Their mission (Plot Point 3: The First Family) was to head to a military outpost where the V’sori, the big bad aliens who have taken over the world, are holding the president of the (now obliterated) United States and his family and are scheduled for public execution. Although they are villains, they had to rescue them because one of the family members new the location of Hydra’s secret base. Plus it would hopefully bolster resistance support if the family were to escape instead of being publicly executed.

The team arrived at the outpost and, seeing only six guards outside, went in guns blazing. But two rounds in, the doors to the facility burst open and 12 Drone Soldiers, 6 K’tharen Troopers, 4 elite K’tharen bodyguards, and a V’sori warlord came out of the compound to aid in the fight. The team stayed, fought, and died.

But it didn’t have to be that way. The scenario listed a lot of ways to completely avoid such a difficult combat. If they waited, they would have seen a few guards come out to check the spacecraft, who they could have quietly incapacitated and stolen their armor. Alternatively, they could have had the team’s gadgeteer sneak up to one of the ships and rig an override to make it under her control. Having one part of the team make a distraction while the other part went to rescue the family would have worked too. But the scenario did say that if they went directly into combat, they would have to face a really tough battle with all the soldiers at the outpost.

I’m guessing the group partly chose their course of action because they were used to the D&D mentality of bursting into a room and killing everyone inside. Usually those are “balanced encounters” where the team has reasonable chance of winning. Avoiding combat because it’s too difficult or running away are rare in D&D and I think my players were in the same mindset. Hopefully this experience has taught them when to fight and when not to.

But all is not lost. Since this is a comic book world, hardly anybody ever dies for real. The V’sori have taken the villains’ unconscious bodies to one of their motherships and are going to be experimenting on them. The remaining survivor and another Omega cell (a guest group of player characters) are going to be going on a mission next session to rescue them. Raiding a mothership is absolutely suicidal, but Dr. Destruction has a few tricks up his sleeve to get them on undetected. Once they’re on though, they’re going to be on their own. Should be a very interesting session where going in guns blazing is definitely NOT the answer!

Pitching Story, Setting, or System

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Yesterday was the first meeting of the semester for the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild and we had a fantastic turnout including a lot of new faces! I’m optimistic for this year and I’m glad that we were able to bring in more people to share our love of gaming with!

One of the big things we do at the first meeting is announce the upcoming semester’s role-playing campaigns. Turns out that we’ve got quite a few (as you can see here) and many of them are full, which is very exciting!

I noticed that the GMs pitched their campaigns in different ways. Some emphasized the story, others emphasized the setting and still others emphasized the system. That’s not to say that the other aspects weren’t noted, they just weren’t the focus of the elevator pitch. To better illustrate my point, I’m going to give the gist of three different pitches I heard for campaigns at the meeting.

Story-Centered Pitch:Necessary Evil

I’ll be running Necessary Evil, a premade plot-point campaign using the Savage Worlds system. The premise is that the big bad aliens invaded Earth, the superheroes banded together to fight them, and they got massacred. So now it’s up to the supervillains to save the world. The fate of the world lies with the scum of the earth!

This one’s actually my upcoming campaign (and I’m very excited about it). To me, the important thing about the campaign is the story because it’s so unique and it’s what I hope will draw people in. It does use a system that is popular in the Guild right now (and that I like) and I know there are a lot of supers fans out there, but those were my secondary selling points. Still, it seemed to work since I got a full table of gamers that night!

Setting-Centered Pitch:The One Ring

I’m running The One Ring, a new system released by Cubicle 7. It takes place in Middle Earth after the events of The Hobbit. The action will be taking place in the region of northern Mirkwood, the Lonely Mountain, and the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains that is growing under the influence of “The Shadow.”

You can see from Chris’ description of his game that the big focus is on playing in Middle Earth. Very little is given about the story and the system isn’t that big of a focus either. Perhaps players know what type of stories might come from this if they were familiar with the setting, so advertising the story was unnecessary. And Chris did get a good turnout of players for this (including me!).

System-Centered Pitch:

I’ll be running a campaign titled Hard Rain using a system called Cold Steel Wardens. If that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because it isn’t out yet since…I’m writing it! I’ve got about 65,000 words written and I’m looking for players to help alpha test it. This game is about the Iron Age of comics, which you might recognize from works like Watchmen, or Dark Knight Rises where the heroes are flawed individuals with struggles. Also, anybody who attends 2/3rds of the sessions will get their characters as pregens in the hopefully forthcoming finished product!

This is perhaps an atypical system-centered pitch in that Andy (the Platinum Warlock) is asking for testers for his new system. However, the pitch is definitely focused on advertising the system in order to draw players in. No mention is made of the story of this particular campaign and, while the setting may be closely linked to the system, it’s not a strong focus of the pitch. You might see a similar situation if a GM were to advertise that they were running “Dungeons & Dragons” with no mention of a storyline (although a type of setting may be implied).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the focus of a pitch tends to be whatever aspect of the campaign that the GM is most excited about. For me it was the Necessary Evil storyline, for Chris it was the Middle Earth setting, and for Andy it was the system that he was writing. Each was effective in drawing players and so I would argue that no approach is a “bad” approach.

I would encourage GMs to be aware of what aspect of their campaigns that they are most excited about and pitch their campaigns with that as their focus. It’s my opinion that an excited GM is the most influential aspect of getting the players excited. Sure there are other factors, such as personal tastes, but if you’re not showing your excitement, how are the players going to be excited along with you?

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