Posts Tagged ‘solve et coagula’

GM Success

Friday, June 12th, 2009

This week I had one of those great GM moments. In my Promethean game, my players have been presented with a dilemma: they’ve found the workshop of a character who named himself Paracelsus, who was in search of an alchemical elixir called the Ascendance Formula. However, as the players were told by a mystical qashmal, his choices of ingredients were “not human enough.” Instead of turning human, Paracelsus was killed and his body split apart into a collection of monsters.

Clearly, I’m trying to set up a dilemma here. This formula could be a shortcut to mortality for the player characters, but it is very dangerous; not only could it kill you, but it can also create new monsters to make everyone’s life more difficult. As a GM, when you set up this sort of dilemma, you want to create inter-player tension and discussion. I think I succeeded. At the end of this week’s session, the player characters sat down and discussed the dilemma in detail, and they each had interesting perspectives.

One character, a loner soldier and sometimes thief, wanted nothing to do with the formula. Screw the alchemy, screw the existing monsters, just get the hell out of town. Another, a naive tinkerer with Tesla’s right hand, was all for trying the formula for himself. Build a cage around the experiment area, sure, shoot him before he turns into a monster, but he wanted to take the chance. Finally, the flighty con artist of the group had a brainstorm. The tinkerer can try the formula, and if it works (and maybe even if it doesn’t), the surviving party members can sell the formula to other Prometheans. With the promise of money, the soldier was won over, and a plan is in place… for now.

As a GM, I get the most amount of glee from when players are deliberating over these sorts of interesting choices. If the choice is easy, it’s not providing the players much (high-level) agency. Only when a decision is difficult — when there is no clear “right” alternative — are the players truly choosing their own path through the narrative. And if there’s inter-PC conflict in the decision process, then that just makes my job more of a success.

So for now, I’m feeling good about my campaign. We’ll see how next session goes.

The Tone Disconnect and the Groucho Solution

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

It happens a lot in tabletop roleplaying games: you have a certain mood and tone planned for a campaign, and the players have other ideas. I’m running a Promethean campaign, and I planned for it to be dark, desperate, and gritty. The players are approaching it much more comically. It’s dark humor, which works with the setting, but it’s not how I planned it.

There are two classic responses to this issue. The first is the author-is-king approach: refuse to go along, chastise or punish the characters, and mold them to Your Story. This, of course, ends with an adversarial player-game master relationship and probably some grumpy folks in your house where they can break your stuff if they want. The second response is the players-are-god approach: let the players have the sort of fun that they want to, and adapt accordingly. This can end in a muddled mess, where adversaries planned to be scary and bad end up being too hard to kill and trying too hard to be funny.

I’m trying to reach a middle ground. I’ll present the players with the world more-or-less as it was originally intended. Vampire princes will be grumpy, monsters will be scary. The players, however, can be as cheery and carefree about it as they want. I’ll feed them straight-men for their jokes all day long, including burly bikers named Jim and long-suffering, maybe over-indulgent vamp princes. But when it comes to conflict, I’ll expect them to match their humor with actions.

In a sense, I’m turning my game into a Marx Brothers film. The players aren’t nearly as silly or disruptive as Groucho, but I’m going to aim for the same feel: NPCs will play it straight, but indulge the PCs their jokes and play around a bit. As in Duck Soup, it may all end with the walls shot to pieces and the characters wisecracking about it, but I’m going to try and enable silly, humorous play within a darker, more serious framework.

Never According to Plan

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

The players in a tabletop roleplaying game never do what you expect them to.

Case in point: I’ve just started up a campaign of Promethean. It opens with the player characters being drawn to a mysterious, sprawling house, where they discover an otherworldly being called a qashmal who dispenses a cryptic riddle.

This is the second time I’ve run the beginning of this campaign with different players each time. The first group did what I expected: they searched the building top to bottom for clues, then proceeded to follow up on the riddle. This latest group, however, decided against that.
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