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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Deadlands and Trial  (Read 8019 times)
jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« on: December 03, 2001, 04:39:00 PM »

Hello All,

So, Saturday was my monthly Deadlands game.  Somewhere around here there is a post about the previous session.  We're still involved in the same scenario using the same relationship map.  I will never again tell Ron that his scenarios look like one shots.  I SEVERELY underestimated the degree to which the "snowball effect" would take hold.
Anyway, I thought I'd throw up some of the more interesting points of play for perusal by anyone who's interested.  

To understand the events you have to know about a few events that happened last game.  In my game there is a group of cultists trying to bring about the birth of their Dark Lord's child ala Rosemary's baby.  However, instead of inducing a woman to have sex with some non-corporeal entity I decided the cultist needed both a human male and female to perform the ritual.  I had the cultists pick two PCs who hate each other.  It was rather amusing.

Anyway, at one point the cultists had managed to capture the woman, named Rhette.  Rhette is a whore house madam and she tried to seduce herself out of the situation and ended up having sex with one of the cultists on their dark alter.  The cultist became inamored with her and decided to let her go.

Later Rhette was chasing the PC she hates, a mad scientist named Disaster Jim, with a knife down the street screaming, "You've shot me for the last time."  This attracted the attention of the Sherif who demanded to know what was going on.  Rhette, said, "This man shot me," and Disaster Jim retorted, "I wasn't shooting at her, I was shooting at the Zombies!" Naturally, both of them ended up in Jail with a disorderly conduct charge.

During their night in jail the head cultist led a jail break.  His minions killed the night deputy and kidnapped both Rhette and Disaster Jim.  The other players find out and rode out into the desert to the cultists' camp in an effort to prevent the dark ritual.  Big shootout ensues.  Head cultist dies, minions scatter, Rhette and Jim are saved from demonic copulation.  End Of Session.

That was all the PREVIOUS session to the one on Saturday.  This last session I started with having the Sherif arrest Jim and Rhette for not only escaping jail but murdering the night deputy.  Let me tell you it's hard to make play engaging for a couple of players who are locked in a cell but I found ways.

The most important way was that I had made one key change to my relationship map.  I had taken that mook cultist that Rhette had seduced and had him having an affair with the local preacher's daughter, Betsy Zale.  THEN, I decided that the cultist was now in love with Rhette.  So, I had the cultist show up at the jail house and confess his love for her in the jail cell.

This is when things went really strange.  You see, I assumed that no Judge or Jury would buy their crazy story about cultists, so I assumed that they would be found guilty and that some kind of heroic rescue from the gallows would be the result.  I couldn't be more wrong.

First of all, the rest of the players built a pretty strong case at least for showing the EXISTANCE of such a cult if not the validity of their powers.  But then, they really didn't have to.  They only needed to show that Rhette and Jim were in fact kidnapped by a bunch of lunatics and that said lunatics were responsible for killing the deputy.  On top of all the evidence gathered Rhette managed to persuade her enfactuated cultist to CONFESS.

Okay, all went well and good.  Rhette and Jim were found not guilty and instead the cultist was arrested and the judge ordered the Sheriff to organize a posse and offer a reward for the arrest of anyone dealing in the occult.  This of course made the group's resident Huckster just a tad nervous.

Finally this is the point where things REALLY took an unexpected turn of events.  The players had become so enamored of the poor puppy dog cultist that they decided they didn't want to see him hang.  He had confessed his previous involvement with the Reverand's daughter to Rhette and so the players decided that if the daughter testified on his behalf this might pursuade the jury that the cultist was infact repentant of his evil ways.

So in terms of gameplay for my group we have major break through number one: Last session this cultist was a mook not even worth of his own hit location roll.  This session he's suddenly elavated to a major NPC that every player genuinely cared enough about to work really hard to rescue him.  NEVER in the history of my group have they tried to kill an NPC in one session only to be desperately trying to save him the next.  All this thanks to a little romantic involvement.

Anyway, the hard part was convincing the daughter to testify.  This of course would mean publically admiting that the daughter of the great Reverand Zale was cohorting with an agent of the devil.  Not an easy thing to do and honestly I wasn't going to let her aquiese.  I just couldn't see her doing it for fear of the reprocussions.

Until of course there was major breakthrough number two: One particular player was desperately trying to persuade the daughter to testify and when she'd finally reached the end of her rope she just blurted out, "If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you and your family's reputation is more important than your love for this man, then I'll consider this matter concluded and just walk away."  That hit me hard and I mean ME, the person, hard.  Not only had someone at that table other than myself recognized some kind of moral dilema (i.e. Premise) as the key to the situation but they'd put it in such away as to genuinely move me emotionally.  This also, had never really happened before, although I knew them fully capable of it.

So, the daughter testified.  And now this is where I got really confused as a GM.  I didn't know how the judge/jury would react to all of this and I'm talking on all levels:

On the thematic story level I was torn.  Does this turn out to be a case of love conquring all?  Should the Jury be moved by the girl's brave efforts and therefore aquit on the basis of his repentence?

or

Does this turn out to be a tragedy?  Two lovers torn apart by societies ignorance and personal biases?

On the reality level I had trouble reconciling the REALLY good case my players were presenting and the fact that in 1877 people were pretty ignorant and very biased against non-Christian beliefs.  Wouldn't a jury full of ignorant cowpokes hang this guy out of just plain ignorance and fear no matter HOW good the defense case?

And finally there was the genre level.  Deadlands is a HORROR game.  Obviously the players were gunning for an aquital wouldn't a verdict of guilty be the most horrifying thing I could do at that moment?

Argh!  It was tense.  I so badly wanted to turn to the dice and just roll for it but the Deadlands' system really doesn't have mechanics for this kind of thing.  In hindsight I realized I could have randomly generated the defense atourney's (an NPC) profession: law score and maybe the Jury's Spirit score and rolled one against the other but I didn't think of that at the time.  And even if I had I'm not 100% satisfied with this.

In the end I comprimised.  I had the jury find the cultist guilty but I had the judge take pity on him and sentence him to house arrest under the care and observation of the Reverend Zale.  In six months time there will be a follow up trial to determine if the defendant is truly repentant of his evil ways.

The player's cheered!  We ended the session.

Anyway, I found all of this most interesting because I found it incorporated so many things from our discussions over the last week or so.

First, there was an element of Romance both NPC to PC and NPC to NPC.  I found just this little bit added a depth to the game that wasn't there before and served to really make the players care about what was going on.

Second, there was all that talk about running a legal thriller as an RPG and suddenly I found myself not only running a trial but a HISTORICAL trial at that.  I found this to be very enlightening.

I learned that while moral issues may be the heart of a legal thriller, the dialog goes a LONG way to keep the audience engaged.  I'll be honest.  I may like the Narrativist techniques and ideals but quite frankly I really suck at, well, narration.  I just can't improv very good descriptions or dialog and neither can most of my players.  As a result the whole trial took place mainly at the metagame level with all of us discussing just what the issues were and how they would be presented rather than in any kind of nail biting, riveting opening statement, cross examinations and closing arguments.  And as far as a legal thriller is concerned that element was sorely missed by all.

Hope this was interesting.

Jesse
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mahoux
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« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2001, 06:44:00 AM »

this is so cool.  I actually couldn't stop reading this thread.  Have you checked out the two related ones in RPG Theory (the big three... and Romance, Happiness...)?  You have done something that people have been talking about as difficult or impossible or tedious or whatever in this trial.  

I say this with great enthusiasm as I used to run some Deadlands games myself, but my group is more into shoot and shoot some more, enjoying the horror aspect of it.  I admire the group that you are playing with, as well as your own GM skills.  The fact that this actually tore you up as to doing the trial and verdict of the cultist is awesome.  I would really like to have a copy of your story setup, as I think I could use the antagonistic nature of two of my group to do this.
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2001, 10:41:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-12-04 09:44, mahoux wrote:
Have you checked out the two related ones in RPG Theory (the big three... and Romance, Happiness...)?


Yes, I have.  That's why I brought this up to begin with.

Quote

I say this with great enthusiasm as I used to run some Deadlands games myself, but my group is more into shoot and shoot some more, enjoying the horror aspect of it.


It's interesting.  I find that the "standard" Deadlands adventure pretty much depends on the Horror element to stand up.  There's a tendency for the adventure to devolve into a Call of Cthulhu style game set as a western.  This gets old kind of fast.  I mean how many mysterious deaths and cattle snatching can you possibly investigate.

Since I've switched styles I've found that the horror elements are still present but they become much more subtle and become more of a flavoring and a spotlight for the human drama rather than the main event.

Quote

I admire the group that you are playing with, as well as your own GM skills.


Well, as I said, it looks bit more exciting on paper than actual play.  The trail itself was much out of character discussing of issues rather than an exciting roleplayed trial.  Emotionally engaging it was but in terms of anything screen worthy it wasn't a pretty sorry sight to behold.  This whole trial was only the last half-hour of play or so.  There was a lot of development on the other plot threads during the session.  

Quote

The fact that this actually tore you up as to doing the trial and verdict of the cultist is awesome.


Yes, it was.

Quote

I would really like to have a copy of your story setup, as I think I could use the antagonistic nature of two of my group to do this.


You're welcome to it.  Although, I haven't finished writing it up.  It's still in an evolving form.  When it's done.  I could put up the raw relationship map but it wouldn't make much sense without all the backstory notes.  It's the notes I haven't finished writing up yet.  I've been able to play because I have the backstory in my head, it's just not all documented yet.  All the major NPCs aren't statted yet either.

Is there a general public interest in this?  I have no problem puting this up either on my website or posting it here for others to see, once it is in finished form.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2001, 12:17:00 PM »

Jesse,

I'm interested. It sounds like a good candidate for personal website material.

When I ran Deadlands, I decided to combine some notions I had for horror-Western (very much in the Jonah Hex sense, not the Call of Cthulhu sense) with the general situation in Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey. I pretty much threw out 90% of the setting material in the rulebook, and most of the characters weren't magical or funny (one was a huckster; that was it).

The entire first run was totally mundane and concerned the basics of a Mormon community in the wilds of Deseret (that's pre-Utah). I held the icky gruey stuff entirely in reserve until halfway through the second session. It came as quite a shock, and dealing with it was entirely embedded in the context of the human concerns we'd established already.

Best,
Ron
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mahoux
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« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2001, 12:53:00 PM »

That's pretty much how I ran my first Deadlands - the mundane part of it, I mean.  Just as an introduction to the game, I did a slightly supernatural Magnificent Seven, with a Harrowed Colonel holding a town hostage through its children. The nice thing was that by the end of the game the most religious character (a Kabbalist Rabbi) shot and killed a little girl while trying to shoot the Colonel.  He picked up a haunt for any subsequent games.

After that, I switched over to Memphis TN, where I lived for about six months.  The players were now ready to embrace more supernatural characters, and I let the setting drive the game more.  Just the idea of a dark, brooding kind of river port city set a good atmosphere.  However, I never really got a chance to build on characters and interaction as we switched off to other games with the departure of a couple of players.

Just a random post, so I will wrap up by saying yes put the stuff up on a website.  Now I'm relevant to the thread.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2001, 01:30:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-12-04 13:41, jburneko wrote:
I've been able to play because I have the backstory in my head, it's just not all documented yet.  All the major NPCs aren't statted yet either.

Statted? You actually write stats for your NPCs? I'm a Simulationist and I don't write stats for my NPCs. I just guess at whats reasonable. As for a write-up, I think that the people here are more interested in the relationships than the stats. Just get that backstory together and it'll make a great post.

Mike
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jburneko
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« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2001, 01:48:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-12-04 16:30, Mike Holmes wrote:
Statted? You actually write stats for your NPCs? I'm a Simulationist and I don't write stats for my NPCs.


Yes, I actually stat my NPCs.  It's one of the reasons why I've come to love games like Sorcerer where I can stat on the fly and not screw up any sort of numerical balance.  It's one of the reasons I hate GMing the d20 system.  Every little thing trickles down all over the character sheet.

It's one of the reasons I find GMing Deadlands rather easy.  I own a lot of the sourcebooks, all of which come with very reasonable pre-stated archetypes.  For each Major NPC I just copy down one of the archetypes and then season to taste.

I know that the people here wouldn't care about the stats but I haven't typed up how they fit into the backstory yet either.  I've got all that in my head.  I'll throw it up on my webpage when it's done post the URL here.

Jesse
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Tor Erickson
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« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2001, 10:47:00 AM »

Hi Jesse,
 
It's really interesting and exciting to hear about your game, especially the developments on the relationship map level.  It sounds like you're using a sort of retroactive, mini-relationship map technique.  By that I mean you're not using an entire, full-blown map to center the game on, but inserting RM connections into the game as you go along to add emotional weight to the narrative.  Am I on the right track at all?

If so, is this a fairly significant change in pace for the group, and did it throw the players off?  (You know, if they were used to Call of Cthulu horror and shoot-outs, and then all of a sudden there's romance and familial ties thrown in, I could see how it MIGHT be somewhat disconcerting... again, I could see it going a number of ways).

Also, it was interesting to hear about how you made the decision RE: the verdict on the cultist.  Was it something you were forced to decide on the spot, in a split second?  Or did you get a chance to think about it for awhile?  I've found in my Southern Fried Sorcerer game that almost every session something momentous comes up like that--totally unplanned-- and that I have to make a narrative decision that will have serious repercussions . . . and that it's not easy!  Twice so far I've excused myself on the pretext of going to the bathroom or taking a little break, and then in those 2-3 minutes worked out what was going to happen.  How'd you do it?

-Tor
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2001, 11:11:00 AM »

Ah, the old bathroom-break decision technique. My players would get so off the beaten track sometimes that I'd have to just admit that I needed to take ten to figure things out, having taken the bathroom break only a few minutes before. I think that GMs should actually plan on needing these and commit to them before play. Even if things are playing along perfectly well, you should stop occasionally just to check over the notes, etc.

Interestingly, the Tom and Scott, the Primeval guys had breaks scheduled as a part of the game cycle. If it's not alreasy in the rules, I'd suggest to them that they include their ideas of when breaks make sense right in the text. It probably enhances play a lot.

Oh, and not to play if you have a sore throat... you'll lose your voice.   :smile:

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2001, 11:22:00 AM »

Hey,

Sometimes, I just say, "Let's take a break," and we chill out for a while, and talk about movies or sex or RPG publishing or whatever.

My mind does a lot of back-burner processing, and then when we get going the new connections and what-have-you are all in place.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2001, 11:36:00 AM »

Jesse,

Relating to the trial. How much in the way of mechanics did you use to resolve the outcome? Any? Or were the arguments all just oral presentations by the players? How much of a role did the system play? Did it work well if/when you used it? How did you break down the scenes?

Mike
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jburneko
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« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2001, 01:28:00 PM »

Hmmm, Intresting questions by Tor and Mike.

The relationship map in my game is interesting because it was created in a rather strange way.  Basically, I converted a linear simulationist plot path into a narrativist relationship map.  Allow me to explain.  My Deadlands game has been going on for about a year.  It runs only once a month so that's only 12 or 13 sessions.  But each session runs anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.  Before I changed styles I was basically running the game by creating a whole and complete "one shot" scenario each session, Call of Cthulhu style.  But I wanted to make the games slightly more personal so I put in elements that were optional but I knew certain players would latch onto them.  So basically in addition to the mystery of the month scenario each scenario contained two or three scenes that would develop one specific player's personal subplot just a tad.

And then the one-shot well ran dry.  It will fill up again some-day but I just can't sustain a high rate of quality even if it is only once a month.  Thankfully, I had narrativist techniques to fall back on.  What I did was I took all the ideas and elements that I had left for each character's individual sub plots, threw out the railroady elements and linked up the rest via relationships.  The result is kind of large and messy but it seems to be working for me.  In the future I plan to try my hand at something a little tighter in construction.

As for the relationship map being dynamic, yes and no.  I had for a while the idea of one of the cultists being in a relationship with the local reverand's daughter.  The dynamic part came when I decided that, that particular cultist would be the same one Rhette seduced.  This was a retroactive decision.  Also, my Deadlands game is fairly comic bookish in feel so I still want to keep some of the episodic nature to it.  So, each session I usually drop in some new threat that arrises from some of the global problems that the players are constantly working on.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't.  In the last session my "episodic threat" was by passed by the players in that the idea was for the judge to order Rhette and Jim mentally evaluated by a local specialist.  I was going to have the specialist turn out to be some kind of soul eating abomination that steals souls by hypnotizing its patients.  But as you can see, my players got themselves aquited so that plot element was just dropped.

As far as the effect the sudden change in style has had on my players, I think its actually improved their enthusiasm for the game.  The switch really didn't feel that jaring and I warned them about the style change.  I told them not to try and second guess me because there weren't any right or wrong answers to any of the problems or conflicts presented.  Since then they've taken to it very well.  I think I have to find the right degree of pacing between, mystery, action and drama but I'm assuming that will come with practice.  Despite my complaining my players are really "go with the flow" people with a few exceptions.  Most my theories about Simulationism-By-Habit have turned out to be largely true in practice.

On to the timing of my decisions.  This is something I keep promising myself I'll work on and then forget to do during actual play.  I like Mike and Ron's suggestion of taking breaks when I need to work something out.  I think one of my many weaknesses as a GM is that I rush myself.  This tends to make me trip over my words when I'm speaking in character dialog and it makes my descriptions extroadinarily weak.  I keep telling myself that before describing a scene or speaking a line of dialog I should take a moment to breath and forumlate a clear mental picture of what's going on.  I tell myself this every time we play but once the game gets underway I promptly forget.

So yes, I was sort of forced to render a decision about the trial right there on the spot.  I made it clear to the players what I was confused about.  I told them my thematic as well as my realist debate.  It took me a good ten fifeteen minutes to actually come to the decision but this was with the players continuing to shout their arguements and ideas at me.

Now as to Mike's question on the use of mechanics.  I used a lot of persuasion rolls when one player was trying to convince Betsy Zale to testify.  I think a couple of persuation rolls were made during the trial as well, particularly when the Reverand Zale came bursting in looking for his daughter.  Other than that, I just listened to the players and made my decision based on what I thought I could play off of well in the future.  I didn't really break down the scenes AT ALL.  Scene Framing is another big weakness of mine.  As I said previously a good chunk of the trial took place at the metagame level with the players just discussing what they wanted to get across during the trial.  Any sort of role-played trial was nonexistent.  No arguements, no witness calling or cross examination were actually played out.  Basically just the issues were discussed over the table.  

Personally, I think it could have gone better but considering that it was neither a planned event, nor something I had done before, I thought it went well and that the plot ramifications will be interesting enough that my players and myself can forgive the sloppy execution.

Hope that answers your questions.

Jesse
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