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Author Topic: [d20 Fantasy] Death to Illusionism  (Read 3849 times)
Chris Geisel
Member

Posts: 55


« on: August 02, 2005, 05:02:47 PM »

Last night I ran part two of a mini-campaign with pregens. Part one is here, and thanks to the advice in that thread, last night's session was, for me, the most successful RPG game I've ever run.

To recap that thread, I thought I was using Bangs, but was actually using Illusionism and a fair bit of Force to that end. Because this was such a short adventure, the characters were pregens and so forth, I opted not to dive full-on into talking to my players about what they wanted and making Bangs from their feedback. Instead reviewed the NPCs that were already in the game, gave them cross-purposes, and tried to shove the PCs into situations where they had to take sides. I also followed the advice of setting up situations where I couldn't figure out what the players would do, so I wouldn't be tempted to backslide into my habitual Illusionism. I also resolved to really ask the players what scenes they wanted, what their desired outcomes for the scenes were, and be explicit that I didn't want to lead them around.

I had three powerful NPCs from last time around: the Shaman, the Boss and the Elf. My notes consisted of nothing more than a single goal that each was trying to achieve, goals that put them at cross-purposes. I also jotted down some ideas about how each might use the PCs to further their goals.

And that's all.

The result: the players surprised the hell out of me, the game went in directions I never anticipated, and was unbelievably entertaining for me. I think most of my players enjoyed it too--and I'm quite sure they enjoyed it much more than the first session (which was still rated a decent game by the group).

Some highlights:
The PC assassin pulled off an amazing tactical manuever and killed the Elf NPC in one blow. This was a situation that screamed for Illusionism! I mean, the guy just bumped off a major NPC, and the NPC hadn't even given the PCs some important information about elf souls and... you get the picture. But what rocked was that the players were absolutely stoked, and I was right there with them! I didn't give a crap about that NPC, because I didn't have a plan that was going to be ruined by his death. It was INTENSELY LIBERATING.

The players later surprised me by approaching the Shaman to do in his rival, the Boss. Hey, I thought, I don't need to push the story along any more, the players are going to do it for me. I asked them to tell me about their plan, asked them to fill in scene details, and they went to it with a vengeance. It was very cool because in the previous scene (with the assassin), I'd asked for the same input and got some weird looks--at least one player seemed disappointed that I wasn't presenting him with the "map". I didn't get the weird looks in this scene (although in retrospect, the player I mentioned didn't actually contribute much... hmm).

Another great moment was during and after a scene where one PC was approached by the Boss to murder another. The player in question got really into the scene, ad libbing details and having a great time... but what made it especially satisfying is that afterwards, he grinned and told everyone he wasn't sure what he'd do. So the big "sneak out the captive/ambush the Boss" scene was full of tension as the players waited for the shoe to drop, even contributing to the tension by having their characters do things that made them more, rather than less, vulnerable, should the PC go for betrayal.

There were two things I wish I'd done differently: one is that in the final scene, two players who had narrated their characters "away", didn't put their characters in the scene. I think they were assuming that because they'd run off somewhere, GM authority wouldn't let them just appear in a scene some distance away. I wish I'd told them explicitly that they could write themselves into the scene. Although it ended up turning into one of my favorite moments of the game.

Rather than have the two players sit idly, I gave them the Boss and a henchman to play for the scene, and they nearly pulled off a TPK. My favorite moment was when the player running the Boss pummelled the living crap out of a PC, then turned and handed the player "gift dice" so the PC could survive the beating and live to fight another round.

This is more of a thank you thread than anything else, but I just wanted those of you who gave your advice and attention to know that I do appreciate it.

So thanks, guys.
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Chris Geisel
Nathan P.
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Posts: 536


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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2005, 05:46:42 PM »

That's awesome. I had the same experience last summer, and I have had way more fun since then. Though I didn't participate in the other thread, here's my hearty congratulations!
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Nathan P.
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Andrew Norris
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Posts: 253


« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2005, 09:17:53 PM »

I remember the original thread; I was afraid we'd talked your ear off. I'm really glad to hear things worked out so well!

Kicking the Illusionist habit is tough --  every so often I have to lean over to someone and ask, "Can you please make sure this is really a Bang, and not me steering the story?" But the payoff, like you said, is so worth it -- not only do the players have more input, but you get more great moments where nobody at the table knows what's going to happen next.
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Kerstin Schmidt
Member

Posts: 289


« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2005, 01:00:12 AM »

Yay! You're surfing. Glad it worked - and sounds like it worked for your players, too, which is brilliant.

Another great moment was during and after a scene where one PC was approached by the Boss to murder another. The player in question got really into the scene, ad libbing details and having a great time... but what made it especially satisfying is that afterwards, he grinned and told everyone he wasn't sure what he'd do. So the big "sneak out the captive/ambush the Boss" scene was full of tension as the players waited for the shoe to drop, even contributing to the tension by having their characters do things that made them more, rather than less, vulnerable, should the PC go for betrayal.

Inviting them to betray their PCs, eh? Nice. By doing that they effectively kept that bang alive for him by making sure that betrayal looked like a feasible option. Could have been just their habit of not allowing OOC knowledge to influence play, but the result was just what the situation needed - you'd thrown the player a bang that worked brilliantly and they kept reinforcing it by setting their PCs up for betrayal if he wanted that.

Quote
I mean, the guy just bumped off a major NPC, and the NPC hadn't even given the PCs some important information about elf souls and... you get the picture.

So you dropped your favourite bang about elf souls, did you? Life is cruel to bangs, some never get played. :-)  And that's how it should be. In this case it sounds almost as if you letting them kill the Elf gave your players the confidence to go ahead and manipulate the shaman into offing the boss. Or maybe I'm getting that just from the way you reported it.

On another note it's competely legitimate to introduce the elf-soul information through some other NPC if you want to drop it into the game. Only because the NPC who knew the info initially (in your mind) is gone doesn't mean the info has to die with him. Who's to say he's the only one who knew? No reason to simulate events in your own head. Just saying because I used to think that way until recently and it isn't necessary at all. If you have information that you think will make the game more fun, find a way to let the PCs learn it or give it to the players OOC.

Quote
There were two things I wish I'd done differently: one is that in the final scene, two players who had narrated their characters "away", didn't put their characters in the scene. I think they were assuming that because they'd run off somewhere, GM authority wouldn't let them just appear in a scene some distance away. I wish I'd told them explicitly that they could write themselves into the scene.

To my mind that's one of the best things of having been taught these techniques: I not only know what I'm doing (uh, most of the time) but I can identify specifically what I'd like to have done differently and do better next time. 

That said, what you did was brilliant I think. You had everyone play in the final conflict, if on different sides. You showed how the game can be exciting and fun even when not all PCs are in a scene together (if the other PCs had got a climactic conflict of their own, it would have been even better.)  You gave them major NPCs to play, which proved your earlier words about being willing to share power. And (with the help of the skittish dice...) you gave the players a chance to make a statement about accidental character death - "gift dice" were being offered and accepted (!) to avoid it.

There may be food for further thought in that "gift dice" situation if you keep playing D&D. Accidental PC death can be a bit of a pain when you want to play Narr, and you don't really want to tone down combat challenges too much or playing through combat will get really tedious.


So when are you playing again? Did you wrap up or are you going for a third session? I'm hoping for more play reports... :-) 




Kerstin

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Frank T
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« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2005, 01:16:23 AM »

Quote
The result: the players surprised the hell out of me, the game went in directions I never anticipated, and was unbelievably entertaining for me.

And that's the reason why, now that I have played that way, it feels dull to me to go back to GM-driven play even if my players ask me to. It's just that much more entertaining to GM if you don't know what'll happen.

- Frank
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2005, 06:09:48 AM »

the players surprised the hell out of me, the game went in directions I never anticipated, and was unbelievably entertaining for me

Beautifully put. The traditional GMing advice is full of "don't lose control, keep them on track, the players will do things you don't expect but that's a problem you can fix." But in fact it's the opposite of a problem -- it's the point: When the players do something that surprises you, you know you've really done your job.

Dammit, now I want to play in your next game. I bet you're not even on the East Coast, though, are you? (I'm in Washington, DC....).
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Chris Geisel
Member

Posts: 55


« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2005, 11:00:46 AM »

Ahem, actually, I didn't drop my favorite bang after all. But instead of having the Elf divulge the information in a friendly, "you're elves now, so I'm on your side" kind of way that I'd envisioned, I had another, minor elf character drop the bomb. He was locked in a total grudge match against one of the nastier PCs, and when the PC's allies showed up, he told the allies the PC had an elf soul, hoping to revenge himself on the PC from the grave. This sparked a bout of roleplaying and Bluffing, and my favorite line of the night (ripped from Miller's Crossing), "C'mon, an elf will say pretty much anything when his number's up".

However, after that I did notice the players didn't seem to find it very interesting, so I let it drop and we focused on the power struggle instead. It's funny how great it is to offer different options to the players, and then go with the one they're interested in, instead of the "plot". So much more energy at the table.

Re: the players whose characters weren't in the final scene, I mentioned that they could've written themselves into that scene, and that next time I'll be sure to be explicit in reminding them that they have that power. The response from one of the players was interesting, and I think says a lot. He said he considered having his PC come "back", but not to join that scene, rather to go look for some loot that was hidden somewhere (via an earlier scene). He said he decided against it because it was more advantageous for the PC to deliver the captive intact. I think that says something about how he approaches playing his character. My thinking would've been something like, "I want my PC to be in this scene, so what can I make up that will get him there?", not "Would my PC want to be in this scene?".

I don't remember if I mentioned the "gift dice" in the previous thread. It was an experiment that had some success, and some problems. I made up and ripped off Keys from the Sweet20 system, and gave each character two. But instead of XP, hitting a Key rewarded the player with points that could be used to re-roll dice or heal 8 hit points. It was a successful experiment in the sense that the players seemed to really, really like the ability to re-roll when they wanted a success and the dice wouldn't cooperate. In fact, they liked it much more than I anticipated. It was not so successful in that some players had Keys that were easier to hit than others... and especially that some players had Keys that they just weren't very interested in. Anyway, giving the players a mechanical way to assert their authority was excellent--not only because it let them do what they wanted, instead of shutting them down, but also because it told me what their goals were, in no uncertain terms.

You know, I got really attached to these characters, and felt like they had just started to get interesting, but unfortunately, we don't have any plans to continue the game. Maybe after some of the other members of my group get a chance to GM we'll come back to it, since at least two of the five said they really dug their characters, and I think a third was also quite into his. The great thing is, whether we do or not, I'm pretty sure we'll have this kind of experience again.

So again, thanks.

And Sydney, I'd be psyched to have you in one of my games (not least because you could whack me when my Illusionist tendencies pop up), and I was on the East Coast (NYC) until last December. If you relocate to Vancouver, drop me a line.
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Chris Geisel
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