Apr 042013
 

Just a little bit of news for all of the blog fans out there. The first of my complete system neutral adventures is now available from DriveThroughRPG. This is considerably later than I would have liked, as it turns out I’m rubbish at maps. Sure, I could have asked for some help, but since I found out yesterday that the store I work for is closing this Christmas eve, I couldn’t really justify offering anyone any money to take that job away from me.

I do owe some thanks though, Namely to the blogger known as Cirsova, who offered some tips and proof reading for me, along with my good friend Mr. White who did similar. I also want to thank a whole bunch of people who helped out by playing the game in the first place. It went from a sprawling 6 week adventure to a seven hour game ran in two halves at the Student nationals, and changed every step of the way. I’m sorry that your characters never got used chaps and chapesses, but I hope you can see where I got the inspiration from.

So, head on over and check it out, and keep heading back as I take a Cyberpunk trip for the next one. Hopefully, I won’t leave you waiting quite so long, as the next one should have less maps…

Apr 012013
 

This is still an idea in progress if you get my drift, but I’ve been thinking about fight scenes lately, and how to avoid repeating myself. I dislike fights that run along those oh so predictable lines of ‘hit with sword’, ‘take X damage’. I’m sure all gamers at some point have ‘been there’, and almost all of you will have ‘done that’. Sometimes the creative juices slow to a drip, and if combat drags on past the fourth round, it can become a rush to get to the end of it, and back on with the game. So keeping instructions simple saves valuable time.

As I said though, I dislike it, and as a GM, I try my best to add descriptions of damage dealt and received to the numbers handed out in terms of hit points lost or wounds gained. I take great pleasure in getting quite visceral, as I don’t want any of my players to take combat lightly. It should be seen as deathly dangerous, and each wound should matter. So I talk about cracked bone fragments, the sounds of blood spattering against windows and other such delights. Even that though can run its course. Well today I ended up over at Beyond the Pale Gate, and in the middle of a post about OD&D combat, there was a sentence that struck home about damage taken in combat, but not necessarily directly from a weapon used to attack.

Click for image source

Click for image source

I really like this idea, and my brain went into Cyberpunk mode as that’s the game I’m currently running. Below is a short list of possible other damage sources that could be applied with a bit of dramatic licence. Be wary of keeping such things in mind as players wanting to know that the huge hand cannon they’ve bought is capable of doing a whole heap of damage, but other than that, I think this could be fun. As long as you let them roll all the damage dice and make sure that every point is applied, I think most players would be up for a bit of inventiveness.

  • The gun shot goes wide, shattering the plate glass behind you, and the large shards fall, cutting through armour and flesh.
  • The arrow/bolt (I know, it’s Cyberpunk, but trust me, the archery weapons are amazing in CP2020) sinks right through your arm and pins it to a wall mounted vid-screen, the electricity running through your body as you twitch helplessly for a few seconds until it short circuits.
  • The Wolvers slash your shirt front open, but you duck backwards out of the way. sadly, you step off the sidewalk and the wing mirror of a passing sedan shatters against your back, tearing the skin open almost to the bone.
  • You’re hit with such force, you stagger backwards trying not to fall, your foot goes back hard, through the plexi-glass of a data booth and you lose balance, your ankle twisting out of joint as you fall hard.
  • The bullet goes wide and hits the wall you’re using for cover, the shards tearing the flesh away from your face, coming close to taking an eye out as you reel backwards.

That’s just a few, and will need to think fast to come up with environmental hazards on the fly in the middle of combat, but I think that the pay off could be worth it. If it goes well, I might think about doing a similar list for some more fantasy/medieval environmental dangers.

This was written a couple o days before my last CP2020 game, and I’ve since had the chance to try it out, and the players were very responsive to it. I did have to explain what I was doing as some damage done seemed to ignore the bullet impact, but once they knew what was going on, it flowed really well. I would advise everyone to at least give it a shot, and if you have any ideas of your own to add to the list, then please feel free to drop them into the comments section.

Mar 262013
 

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Kobalt Enterprises are hosting this months RPG blog carnival, and I’ve been wracking my brain to think of something suitably epic to qualify. True, there have been some excellent moments in games I’ve been in, and I don’t want any GMs to feel bad for not being the one who got a personal mention. That is why I have made a very self referential decision and decided to show off about one of my moments of epic GMing.

I know this is going to sound big headed, but please, bear with me. As I wrote recently, I was not the easiest gamer to get along with back in the day. I thank all of my current friends for sticking with me as long as they did, giving me the time to grow into the capable and socially aware gamer/GM I am today. The reason than I’m picking a moment of my own GMing for consideration is that it came during this rather bloody awkward phase of my life. I had bought my first full RPG system, the original Deadlands game, and had been running it for a few months with mostly positive results. I then decided to try something a bit different, and if it had gone wrong, it could have been catastrophic. What I did was simple in its way. I invited the players to tell me stories instead of having me tell them one for the night. It was a bit more involved in than that, and if you want the full details, and maybe even to try it out for yourself, then head on over to Stuffer Shack where I wrote about it as part of my weekly column.

It went superbly, and I can’t thank the players enough for joining in. It might seem like quite a bit of extra effort, but trust me, the pay off is worth it. So there you have it, a moment of GMing epicness, and it came from a rather annoying young man who had only just discovered the thrill of being a GM. Take from that hope, all new GMs, that when you have a crazy idea about doing something that seems totally off kilter, it could just end up being something that people still talk about for years to come.

Mar 182013
 

Unless it’s part of the system and will be expected of my players, I rarely run games that are action packed. I like it this way, as it gives my players time to think about what they’re doing. It also gives me time to think about responses to what they’re doing. This is especially true of my current game, as the plot is very loosely written, and depends an awful lot more on what the players choose to do. This means that several times a session, I have to contend with something that I never would have thought of, and then need to integrate it into the plot. This is no way a complaint, as I love running games this way.

I try my best to make player agency very important, to let their actions decide the fate of the story, and maybe even sometimes the world. It also means that I need to be able to think on my feet and not let things slow down too much. Sadly, this has been happening a bit more than I would like recently. The game I’m running uses the CP2020 system, but is not set in that world. Instead of action, I was looking for in investigation based game. this is all down to talking to the players about what they would expect, and I think I’ve been living up to my end of the bargain.

The last three weeks’ games have been very intense. Things have gone wrong and needed sorting, conspiracies abound, and all that jazz. But for the 3 sessions before that, it hit an almost snail like pace. Looking back, there was one big reason why it got bogged down for a while, and that was people going shopping in character. CP2020 has all manner of great things that can be bought for the characters, from weapons, to computer programs, through sub-dermal video screens and a whole array of cyberware. I wanted to try and limit the amount of time that would be spent shopping for obvious reasons.

The group doesn’t meet up apart from the time we spend gaming,so shopping needs to be done during the game, and really sucks up time. True, my girlfriend is in the game, and she can take care of her shopping out of the session if she wants to, but even that doesn’t work if it happens half way through the game, and she really needs a new voice box. One way I was cutting down this time sink was by keeping money a rare commodity. This was only ever going to be a stalling tactic though, as they were trying to earn money, and I had no real in game reason to stop them, nor would I want to. Punishing the players to make my life easier would very much be considered a dick move.

Plan B was to keep the various chrome books and weapon catalogues out of their hands. I have played and run CP2020 long enough to have a pretty good idea about what’s available, and even if it isn’t I would be able to quickly make something up for them. Keeping books full of shiny toys away from the players proved harder than I would have liked though, and thus explains some reason for the slower game. But there was something else.

The plot line had plenty of downtime written into it. True, there are deadlines for completing certain portions of the plot, but my players have been kicking ass and taking names, and are currently ahead of their deadline by a few days. This means that I either invent busy work for them, or just declare that a couple of days has passed and move on.

Busy work generates its own problems, as it just adds extra threads that can be tugged at, and when they don’t lead anywhere, it is obviously going to be frustrating for the players. I could fudge things and tie random encounters into the plot, but doing it in a way that seems realistic is pretty hard considering I’m doing an awful lot on the fly as it is. I could also just let them carry on with the threads, adding story to them if that’s the way they want to go.

This has been very tempting on more than one occasion. There’s a whole big city out there to explore, full of people and stories, but I have a time frame of my own to work with, and the more I deviate massively from the meta plot, the harder my job of giving the players a conclusion to several months of gaming that would be worth the effort. So, neither of those options are great in the long term. Instead, I’ve been letting the players use their down time in character.

This has meant trips to the casino, drunken flirting with wealthy widows, and setting off explosive devices inside giant robots; none of which has anything to do with the plot. It has meant that on occasion, players have little for their characters to do while others are getting more attention. Far from an ideal situation, I think you’d agree, but better than skipping over some chances for character interactions and some top notch role playing.

If you find yourself in a similar situation then, my advice would be to let the players set the pace. Don’t keep them busy with things that don’t concern them, and give them the chance to explore the world at a speed that’s right for them. Just keep an eye on all of them, and do what you can to lessen the breaks when one or more of them just sits around waiting for the rest to catch up.

Jan 072013
 

A friendly request here, since I’m writing this article after finishing part one of M. Dumas’ rather wonderful work, so please, no spoilers in the comments section. I know I’m a bit behind on this one, but I have more books to read than the time to read them, so some have ended up on the back shelves. Anyway…

When I run a game, one of the biggest things I try to push on my players is that they should be aware of the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t matter if I’m running a sandbox sprawling campaign, or an on the rails one off for a convention or similar; if your character does something, they should be prepared for the world to respond to it. As an example; bullying a town guard to get past them to the next plot point is perfectly fine, and a lot of characters have skill sets that encourage that type of interplay between characters. But here’s a thought: will the guard then return to his position, and never mention to anyone that some loud mouths have just breached his defenses? Or will they run to a superior for help?

A lot of the time, it’s a fairly safe bet they they’ll keep schtum. They wouldn’t be too keen to run off and admit that they had failed in their duty to their boss, and would certainly not brag about the encounter with their friends over an ale that night. But that won’t always be the case. Some city watchmen would take the risk that their own career would be forfeit if it was for the good of the city that the people who had just violently threatened one of it’s civil servants were brought to justice. Also, what ever they’re getting up to almost certainly isn’t in the city’s interests, as they’ve broken the law to accomplish their goals. So, why not – on occasion – give your NPCs a bit of a conscience and have things come back and haunt your players?

This is just on example, and I’m sure that most of the GMs reading this have done something similar in the past. And I don’t only mean negative consequences by the way. Player characters are more often than not heroes, and if they are seen to do something heroic, they should be rewarded, and sometimes it’s a bit too easy to just throw some XP their way. The world they’re playing in should give ample opportunity for rewards that they didn’t expect. A round of drinks brought for the party; townsfolk coming to them for help and offering rewards; people coming to their defense when they are set upon by villains. A short list there to be sure, but all worth keeping in mind and expanding on during your own games.

Back to my primary point though, that of a bunch of player characters who think of consequences in only one way: If I do this, it’ll look amazing, and I’ll feel awesome.

If you haven’t read the Three Musketeers, then what follows could be considered a wee bit of a spoiler: they are a bunch of almost universally unlikable rogues and gadabouts who care nothing for the people they trample over – sometimes literally, while on horseback – on their quest for self aggrandizement. This by itself might not be such a major problem, the world they inhabit is one of massive class divides and quite often those on the lower rungs do nothing to upset those better off than themselves, for fear of even more horrifying repercussions. I can’t even begin to list the insults – both verbal and physical – heaped upon the lower classes in the course of the novel.

They are also unbelievably happy to get themselves into fights with anyone, over the slightest perceived insult. While I understand that there does exist a type of gamer who loves this style of play, for me it is just a bit too simple to get my teeth into. Also, unless you apply repercussions to their actions, it becomes one long game of fight after fight, with no meat on the bones at all. They are all almost superhuman in their fighting abilities, and have access to some kind of near magical unguent to heal their wounds, so they have nothing to fear from the actual fight. They are also so totally self obsessed that they can’t even comprehend the danger of fallout from the fights they needlessly instigate.

Now, if I was GMing these players, I would be constantly looking for a ways to get them to understand that every action creates reactions, but the gusto with which they throw themselves into perilous situations would leave me constantly back footed. Until, that is,  they build up such a collection of enemies, that poisoning them, or silently sticking a dagger through their throat while they slept would be the only feasible way to deal with them. I don’t mean that that’s how I the GM would deal with them by the way; I am not a fan at all of that kind of petty game playing, by players or GMs, but instead I mean what the NPCs of the world would be forced into as a way of achieving vengeance or protecting their loved ones.

Of course, this post is more than just a rant about a style of play that I don’t particularly enjoy, I also have a tiny bit of advice if you find yourself with such a group a players and would like them to curb their excesses somewhat. A properly considered back story can work wonders for getting players to find an attachment to their character, and also provide a GM with some leverage when it comes to consequences. Sure, the Musketeers were near indestructible warriors, but they had love interests, and dark parts of their past. Threaten these connections because of the PC’s actions, or have a risk of certain past transgressions coming to light, and watch as they bend over backwards to right their wrongs. True, they will probably do this in the same gung-ho fashion as always, but hopefully it will make them think twice in future when they have the opportunity for mayhem.

On a final note, I don’t want anyone to come away from this thinking I’m not so far thoroughly enjoying the book. I’m have a grand old time reading it, and can’t wait to get back to reading a bit more each evening. Sometimes though, it’s not easy to take your GMing hat off when enjoying a fine piece of story telling.

Nov 262012
 

This post comes on the back of an entertaining little read that can be found over here by The Warden. I liked it a lot. So much so that I chucked a link to it up on Reddit so a lot more people could take a look at it. The Warden seems unhappy with money in his games, and I can’t really blame him for that. I’ve seen games get bogged down by the time and effort it can take to allocate treasure and wealth, and then sell it off, and spend the profits.

I have also played games with a basic ‘wealth’ mechanic. The World of darkness manages this pretty well, with ‘Resources’ acting very much like a skill; the more points you put into it, the more money you have. It still doesn’t do away with money however, and most GMs (in my experience) just set a minimum level of Resources that are required to buy an item, rather than allowing it to be used as a skill. I think it could instead be rolled, with success granting more than expected, failure meaning possibly losing points in it for the session as you catastrophically mismanage your finances. So, a possible solution is making money a bit of an abstract, but for the most part, I would be happy leaving it as is, or maybe with some kind of middle ground.

It’s quite odd for me to say that, as I usually prefer to keep things abstract and almost movie like in a lot of the games I run. True, I run a realistic combat, but that comes from an appreciation of biology and a rather worrying knowledge about what weapons can do to the human body. For pretty much everything else though, I tend to go with what feels right for the game, and for maintaining the mood my players are comfortable with. As long as they don’t push it too far, I tend to let realism take a back seat, and keep all its charts and modifiers back there, while I take the wheel and have a lot of fun. Money though? I like my players to keep a good track of it.

In a lot of games I run, it can be just as important to the character’s survival as their skills or other equipment, and it’s worth knowing if they only have 25 bucks, or the 30 they’ll need to bribe their way past a guard. I also will admit to being practically unique amongst the gamers I know, and say that I love the bit at the end of character creation where you’re handed a rule book and told to spend your money. Cyberpunk still remains a firm favourite for this, with four Chrome books, and Blackhand’s along with a good few pages of cool stuff in the main book, I can spend longer equipping my character than creating them.

Don’t get me wrong, during game play there are plenty of times when it is unnecessary to keep track of each copper coin; if the players are buying a meal, along with getting rooms for the night, and having some drinks, I find myself often just coming up with an appropriate amount of money, and asking them to pony up a bit more if they’re planning on getting drunker than usual. This kind of thing just makes game play quicker.

It’s the same for reloading a gun. I expect that the characters will know that once a fight is over, they will need to replace spent casings, or replenish the rounds in a magazine/clip. I don’t worry too much that the players might forget, as I have no problem seeing that they have different priorities than their characters. Just like I don’t worry that they haven’t kept me up to date on their latest bowel movements…

So, I love having money to spend as a player, and I like my players to keep track of this when I’m running a game, but I’m not a fan of endless book-keeping. Is there a way to keep  me happy on both fronts? I’m glad you asked, as I think there is. I’ve mentioned on here in the past that a couple of my friends are working on a game of their own. Well, it’s getting remarkably close to completion now, and they’re seriously considering Kickstarting it to get the funding for the first print run. Well, I have no money to invest in such a venture, even though I really wish I could, so I’m doing something a bit different, I’m talking about their game whenever I get the chance, and talking up some of their finer ideas as I do so.

A player character in their game will of course have access to money, and it is expected that they keep track of it throughout the game. But in terms of small purchases like food and drink, as well as keeping a roof over their heads, this is handled differently. At any point during the game, the player can take money from their character’s purse, and put it to one side as a living maintenance. At the end of game month, the GM just checks how much you have in the fund, and checks what standard of living this has afforded you. Too little spent, and you run the risk of contracting a disease due to poor living conditions and a sub-standard diet. Hit the average  an everything is good, but you can spend more than that if you have it, and could end up with a bonus. And all this means that there will be no more tracking every small coin denomination as you buy drinks and meals, leaving you to spend money on interesting things, like weapons and armour. Even the state of repair of your clothing, and how fancy they are is covered by this ”Lifestyle Level”.

If anyone else has their own ways of handling in game finances, then I’d love to hear about them; post below as always.

Oct 222012
 

I’m going to be running a longish campaign again soon, for the first time in over a year, and as such it’s been on my mind quite a lot (for other things that have been occupying mental space, take a look at some thoughts on a card game I’m designing).When deciding on how I will GM the game, I tend to take quite a few cues from the type of game I would like to play. This is tempered somewhat by the players’ expectations and the fact that I’m running the game for people I may not know very well, but it’s more about what I enjoy as a  player. So, what do I like, and what don’t I like?

Well, I dislike a railroaded game any longer than a simple adventure that lasts one or two sessions. If you’re working on a narrow time frame – and I have for games that have been run at events etc – then those confines mean that you will have to keep your players on the straight and narrow. One good trick for this, and it works if you totally commit to the pretense, is to keep them going where you want them, but fake a little bit of despair. As if the group has pushed you off plot and then you have to come up with something killer to bring it all back together. I know it’s a bit dishonest, but the players will love thinking that in a short game, that’s probably been played with other groups in the past, they’ve broken the boundaries and made the game their own.

Just enough to point them in right direction…

For a longer game, what I love is a sense of a huge open world. Actually, that’s not quite right; the sense of a huge open adventure comes a little closer. I’ve played games where we’ve barely left one or two city districts, and been very happy knowing that there was still countless things to do, people to interact with, and places we could go. This feeling was helped by a GM who made it clear that player actions would guide the plot to a conclusion. So this is what I want to do in my next game, a sprawling adventure where consequences of actions will drive the plot forward. However, I’m running for a gaming society that meets one night a week, and the game will be finished by the next summer; that means that a pure sandbox is out of the question.

That’s not a bad thing, as I think that sandbox games aren’t always the best way to run games. Sure they offer a world of possibilities, but they can also mean a lack of resolution or an ending that fits with the expectations of the players who have had an awesome adventure. Not everyone wants to carry on playing until they become a warlord, ruling the local area with a band of mercenaries at their disposal. Some people just want to know that the threat to their way of life has been dealt with and that they can now reap the rewards for dealing with the problem. To make this work for me, I draw your attention back to the header at the top of this article.

My game will be set in a huge and sprawling metropolis, and after the first couple of sessions – during which I will be leading the players a little, just to get them used to the setting and system – I hope that my players will take advantage and explore The City. They will find plenty to do, and an awful lot of places to go and people to talk to. As they’re walking around they will stumble across a few hooks and seeds that I’ve planted around the place. Which ones they take a swipe at will let me know the way they expect the story to go, and from there I will be able to see a way to get them moving towards the end.

What I don’t want is for the players to see what’s that far ahead of them. Instead I want them to enjoy the freedom to make decisions and live with the consequences. My solution is make sure that the players know that just over there, whenever they’re ready to take a look, there’s something cool that should help them out. As long as it’s done with a hint of subtlety, there should be no feeling of railroading, instead just the plot moving forward. As an example – and not one I will be doing, in case any of players end up reading this – the characters could be quite happily planning a job of their own, researching how to use explosives maybe? They get put in contact with a guy, who likes where they’re coming from, but needs a little something doing before he’s free to lend a hand. It’s nothing major, but for the sake of them helping him out, he’ll waive his usual fee. This job could easily lead onto the main plot, giving plenty of opportunities to drop in other important NPCs and give the players a heads up on larger developments.

If that seems to obvious, then who’s to say that the job they’re planning won’t have it’s own seeds littered about it. With a well planned plot, and a setting you know inside and out, there are many ways to let the players know where they could go next. After all, it’s fun to play in a sandbox, but if you see a sign that promises  some great toys to make the playing even more fun, you’d take a look at where it was pointing, wouldn’t you?

Sep 142012
 

This month, thanks to Dice Monkey, we look at placing an RPG in an established setting. This is something I’ve done in the past, but right now I have two examples in mind about games I’m going to be running in the future. The first I have talked about before on this very blog, and it involves taking an established comic book setting and turning it into an RPG world. This may not be quite what the creator of this month’s blog carnival had in mind, but so many established settings started life as something other than an RPG. I’m sure everyone reading this can think of at least one game based on a movie/book series/computer game that they’ve either played or ran. The D&D world of Krynn leaps straight to mind, and recently I was thinking about taking a look at the Dragon Age RPG that someone else was blogging about. These games exist because they’re based on settings that are evocative enough for the reader/player/viewer to want to experience them for themselves. After Lord of the Rings, it’s easy to suppose that there was an upswing in sales of RPGs as people wanted to take a shot at being Legolas or Aragorn, and there’s so much fantasy/sci-fi/historical content out there to supply a steady stream to us gamers. But still, it’s not enough. My girlfriend and a mate of mine have done a quick Savage Worlds hack for Mass Effect, and there’s a great free game on Drive Through RPG based on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere book/comic book/TV series. The tools are out there for gamers to make an RPG in any setting they desire, so why not use one that is familiar to them due to experience and exposure, that you can make your own? And, why use a pre-created setting at all?

To answer that, at least for myself, I’m taking you into the future a little bit, or at least my possible future when I finally get round to running a Warhammer 40k game that I’ve had on my mind for a couple of years now. It will almost certainly be using the Only War core book (don’t get me started on why the hell Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) don’t just put out one core rule book and then create setting books for the rest of their lines). For people who don’t know much about the 40k universe, go read about it and I’ll be waiting right here. What I want to do with it is to set a game on an Imperial world long abandoned by the Imperium, that has devolved slightly and the imperial cult acts more like contemporary real world religions, but with the same militaristic feel that the game world does so well.

So basically, very different to almost everything that Games Workshop and FFG have put out. And for me, that’s why you can play in established settings; you have the rules all sorted out for you – barring some personal tweeks – and if the setting can’t be used to tell the exact story you and the players want to tell, it takes a hell of a lot less work than making one from scratch. Just change one or two fundamentals, and once more, you’re playing in a world that you created.

Aug 062012
 

So, the players have broken up a major crime ring/necromancy lair or some such, and fancy cutting loose and celebrating. This of course would be a great time for the kingpin/necromancer NPC to strike back! That is at least according to every film made ever about such things. But would they? Really?

What’s just happened is a small bunch of people have done possibly millions of dollars/gold pieces worth of damage to his organisation, and the costs still haven’t been counted for if they decide to restart the operation. What profit is there in going after those people? They have already proven themselves to be highly capable and resourceful killers who it would seem foolish to annoy further.

This post is inspired by the soon to be released film Taken 2, and the comic book series Sin City: Hell and Back by Frank Miller, touching on how the idea of revenge as a plot device could be handled in an RPG. A lot of what you take from this blog comes from the type of game you’re going to be playing. I’m not talking about sci-fi versus fantasy, but high adventure/Hollywood movie action versus dark and gritty/life on the line kind of games. If you’re rocking some high adventure kind of game, then you’re going to have players who are nigh invincible, especially if all the bad guys have to throw at them are mooks by the bucket load.

In this instance, I would advise sticking to using revenge as a motivator for the characters. It may be tricky to think of something that will drive all of the party to action. If the group are already well established this could be easier, as they may already share common goals and associates that could be compromised by the bad guys. In this kind of story the avenging angels (read:player characters) will almost always succeed, but the reverse is never true. Boss bad guys will look at the damage wrought on them by a group of heroes and send wave after wave of increasingly tougher mooks against them, all of whom will die without being much a challenge to the PCs. Only in the final act will the party face a real challenge other than attrition, usually in form of a right hand man, who’s been itching for a chance to take them out from the start. Even this will be an easily surmountable obstacle that will open the way to final Boss who will be the only real challenge before the thirst for revenge is satisfied.

This kind of thing is certainly fun, but the final speech from the head bad guy in the comic book mentioned above is far more realistic,

Revenge is a loser’s game. There’s no percentage in it. All that matters is profit… and power. …As for Wallace… let the man be on his way – and prey we never see his like again”.

After watching the trailer for taken 2, all I could think was, Why the hell don’t more bad guys think like that?!

Not every band of heroes is a mook grinding machine though, and if your game lends itself to more realistic combat, then it’s much more likely that the threat of revenge from a powerful criminal consortium, or even dark wizard, would be something worth worrying about. Handled well it will drive the players away from their safety zone, away from friends and allies, and will make them watch over their shoulder every second. It will take some thought on the GM’s part to give a sense of genuine peril without just killing someone,but there are plenty of ways to do it. My personal favourite is to play the first round of bad guys that are sent after them as way more clever and well organised/disciplined than the players would expect from a random group of NPCs.

Expect them to know how to use the terrain; know that trying to take out the PCs in a single rushed charge will do very little, but whittling away at them while keeping themselves as safe as possible makes a lot more sense. They will also know when to withdraw from a fight, and know to keep an eye on their own resources, not wasting anything while doing their job, but doing what they can to reduce the party’s supplies. It’s also a foolish evil overlord indeed who is stupid enough to send out only the one team. Don’t feel the need to swamp them with everything all at once, but use a second team to stymie the PCs as they seek to get themselves squared away after the first attack. Markets or inns that they would run to in times of trouble will be nothing but scorched remains, or closed to them, the owners fearing threats of violence for helping them in any way.

This all sounds very much like the characters are eventually going to die, or just stay on the run, fleeing for their lives for as long as the bad guy keeps his attention focused on them. There are a few ways to combat this, but if you have a strong group of role players, I’m sure they could figure a way out of it that their GM would never see. The opportunity to turn the tables on the  bad guy should be presented though, just to keep them interested.

Maybe one of an attack party over plays their hand and could be captured and ‘persuaded’ to give up some goods on the antagonist? I’m not going to do all the work for you, but you see where this could go. As long as nothing that happens is easy, and the threat from the bad guy remains constant, then there’s a lot of fun to be had with the consequences of your players’ actions, even if they were carried out from the moral high ground and especially if they thought they were doing the right thing. Eventually though, they will want to take the fight to the big bad, and this should be a hard slog indeed,but still a workable option. To deny the players closure after putting them through so much is just plain mean.

So, I hope that’s been useful, but if you have any ideas of your own, or some examples from play that you want to share, sound off in the comments and let us all know.