Aug 262013

It’s been a while since the last update on the up coming Cyberpunk computer game, but since we have a new edition of Shadowrun, plus a PC game too, the interest in the Cyberpunk genre is obviously still high. With that in mind I thought I would try and capture a few important things about people in the dark near future interact with each other. The problem with that is that not every game set in a Cyberpunk world has the same values. My last game using the CP 2020 for instance didn’t really live up to the style over substance and chrome chrome chrome ethos that’s mentioned in the book. Instead it was a much darker take, with cyberware being sinister and the thought of wasting money of frivolities rather than necessities would have seemed very strange indeed.

images (1)So instead of trying to capture the feel of an entire genre, I am picking a setting that I have reviewed in the past and thoroughly enjoyed: Kuro. If you’ve never come across the game or just prefer a more traditional future noir game, then it’ worth remembering that the Japanese are currently the predominate producers of personal electronics – including computers – and robotics, which will surely set them up well to be an important culture in any Cyberpunk future. So here are a few things worth bearing in mind when dealing with the Japanese either socially or in business.

  • The business card. In Japanese culture, the business card is even more important than the calling card was to the Victorians, and has similar uses. There are very important differences though, and the devil is very much in the details. If one is handed to you, it will be while the giver is bowing towards you, presenting it with both hands. You must reciprocate this action. Bow a little deeper to show respect to the person giving you their card, and make sure you take it with both hands. When you have it, take very special care of it. Whatever you do, son’t just slip into your back pocket while the giver is still in your presence. In fact, never stick it in your back pocket, as sitting on it would be a grave insult. Keep in your wallet or in a special case for business cards until you can put it somewhere safe in an office. You see a business card is more than just someone’s contact details. It is a promise that the person will take your call, and maybe even a personal meeting. Keep all such cards safe, as you never know when it may be required to make a call to that one person who can help you out.
  • Being a Gaijin. Unless your game is particularly focused in such a way, it’s probably unlikely that everyone will be Japanese. In dealings with Japanese people, those from outside the country will of course be afforded all due respect – more on this later – but they are still outsiders, and will never have the access or acceptance that fellow countrymen will receive. never draw attention to this, instead do what you can with the help you will be given. You may never be accepted into the inner circle, but it is possible to make very good friends with individuals within said circle and get them to act on your requests.
  • Respect. By far and away the most important thing to the Japanese is respect. For elders, for superiors, for anyone deserving it, and for anyone that is newly introduced. This might seem strange to western eyes, but rather than run the risk of not showing someone the respect that they are due, a Japanese person will show a complete stranger total respect. This comes across very clearly if you walk into a Japanese store. The staff working there will treat you like royalty, bowing deeply and making sure that everything is to your satisfaction. This even runs counter the above point about foreigners in Japan, they will be also be treated exceptionally well by strangers rather than them risking offending anyone by not showing them the appropriate amount of deference.
  • Conflict Avoidance. The point on respect above ties in nicely with this one. It may sound like a lazy stereotype, but it does seem to hold up the vast majority of case; a Japanese person is likely to go to great lengths to avoid any type of conflict or unpleasantness. This means making sure that you show the correct amount of respect, always erring on the side of caution by going above and beyond what might be expected, but this desire for peace and calm runs through most day to day activities. In a working environment for example, it would be unheard of for an employee to complain about their company, coworkers, or superiors whilst at work. Outside of work though there exist a social contract that allows workers to gather together and imbibe alcohol and get all their complaints of their chests without ever worrying about the consequences. It would in fact be a massive social faux par to even bring up these grievances the next day at work.

So there we have it, a far from complete list of social guidelines for dealing with what could quite likely be a dominant super power in a Cyberpunk future. Most of the credit should go to the excellent writer and blogger Héctor García and his excellent site and book, A Geek in Japan. Most of the points in this book have been researched through reading his work, and if you have any interest in checking out more on contemporary Japanese culture, I can’t think of many better places to start.

Jul 152013

Choose-Your-Weapon-Dice-TabletopOnce more I find myself taking inspiration from the writing process, as work continues apace on my Steampunk RPG: Rise of the Automata. I’m still chugging away nicely on it and have almost finished the section I will need to try a play test of the combat system out. I’m not going to go on at length about what this will entail, as I have a different blog for that, but it has made me think about the kind of combat system I wanted to create, as it would be the kind I also wanted to play.

In the past I have made note of how much I love the Cyberpunk 2020 role playing game, but still felt the need to tidy up the combat system a little bit, as it wasn’t quite what I wanted. There wasn’t a great deal wrong with it, but there was just a bit too much dice rolling for my mind. And that’s what this post boils down to, and what I want to talk about; I want a combat system that truly is fast and fun. In the CP 2020 combat rules, when you attack anyone in close combat, either with a weapon or without, both combatants roll off against each other. Since this should happen at the same time, it technically shouldn’t slow thing down, but it does. There’s an awful lot to take into account when making a combat roll in CP 2020 anyway, two people doing it just takes that little bit longer. And the fact that what you have is a fluid target number also means a heavy degree of unpredictability, so people spend a lot longer thinking about whether or not luck should play a role in this moment.

So I removed the need for people to roll against each other by creating a very basic way of characters to have a target number that represents their ability to either parry or dodge an attack. It worked pretty damned well; the only failing being my own as I forgot to write down what I had used to make this number, or tell the players how to do it either. It was based on a combat skill, and as they were putting points into it, the parry/dodge score should have been going up too. My bad. So in the game I’m working, I have done something similar, but made a special box for it on the character sheet, so that it should be easier to track.

Another combat system I generally like, but could do with streamlining, is Savage Worlds. For a system that claims to be Fast and furious, combat can sometimes drag. Mainly down to two reasons based on my experience: initiative order changing every round, and being Shaken. Initiative first; I understand that combat should be fluid, but changing the order each round by the draw of a card is not the best way to go about it. I have recently been involved in play test sessions for 6D6, and I love one of their ideas about initiative. If there is a narrative reason for one character to go first, then they do – as long as it is agreed upon by all participants – and then they nominate the next active character. This means that the order is fluid, and the players can make tactical decisions in how they operate. A lovely idea, and one I thoroughly enjoy. I’ll be sticking with good old fashioned rolling once then setting the order though, as it’s simple and quick.

Being Shaken in a combat round is a big pain in the ass. I know why the rule is there, but it just means that a player has the potential to be a damned big hero who just lays there for several rounds as they fail test after test to regain their senses. I personally would like to just ditch this rule, but it would make player characters a bit too powerful, and they really don’t need any help in that area. if anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

So far then, it seems the best thing to do to speed up combat is to reduce the number of dice rolls. Before anyone points it out, I know that Amber does that job spectacularly well, but I’m still a bit too much of a fan of random chance to go full dice-less. So I have a parry/dodge mechanic to cut down on one set of dice rolls, and I am also trying out something that should do away with damage and hit location rolls. This idea has not yet been tested out, but it should be fun.

At its heart, the game uses a 2d10 system. So, you roll to hit, adding the two dice together and checking against the target number. If successful, you choose one of the results for hit location, and the other for damage. This works for all characters, so it isn’t just the players who get more control over how they deal damage. This could still be broken, and I may need to insist on different colour dice so that one will always be location, the other damage, but I’d like to try this out first, and see how it goes down.

So there you have it, some thoughts on speeding up the flow of combat, and a crazy idea i want to try. If you have any thoughts of your own, please feel free to share them below. If you think my ideas stink, please keep the raging torrent of bile down to about two paragraphs. I thank you.

Jul 082013

I have a game design blog that I’ll be cross posting this to, but since I have discussed money and keeping track of it in games before, I thought I’d pop this here first for people to take a look at. Expect the idea to be more refined by the time I put it into the actual game.

I have commented on forum threads, and other blogs on such subjects, and waxed lyrical about how much I enjoy the spending of money in games where it makes sense. My favourite example is from my most recent GMing history, and that was running Cyberpunk 2020. With the emphasis of the game being all style over substance, it makes sense for the shopping side of things to take a prominent role. There are splat books full of nothing but things to buy, and I think they’re great for adding flavour to the setting.

But in almost every other game, I would be happier if less time was devoted to the book keeping involved in keeping track of money and flicking through books to find things. In a game I have played in repeatedly – and hope to play again soon – they have a nice mechanism for dealing with day to day monetary spending while still allowing for shopping to take place for specialist items and the like. Basically, money is put to one side to cover your character’s living expenses. If you have little money then your lifestyle will be poor; living in a flop house and surviving on two cheap meals a day. This means more for buying fancy things like armour and weapons, but means you have a higher chance of picking up something contagious. Put more money aside, and you have a better lifestyle. Staying in a single room in a hotel, with meat in at least two of your three meals, plus a few pints of beer a night too.

This works for the game in question and adds to the flavour of it, which is one of the biggest things I look for. So with that in mind I have been thinking about how to handle it for my RPG. The Automata that the players will be taking on the role of  have just as much diversity of personality as do the Humans who made them. They are just as likely to be covetous of the belongings of others, and unwilling to share. As a society though, the Automata have sought to move away from the weaknesses of their creators. After the war the most valuable resource for them was fuel, but since it was necessary for the survival of the Automata, it is available to all, as long as there was enough supply.

I wanted this attitude to permeate most of their society. A socialist state as it were, especially with regard to trade. The only value of objects is how hard they are to create and how useful they are. What this means for the game is that each item has a score that modifies the dice roll required to convince the owner to part with it. This will make the Bargain skill a lot more useful to people, and hopefully stop the Interface Attribute being used as a dump stat quite so much. As a side effect it might also stop players thinking that treasure is so important. Unless something has a use, it has no value. As an example of play, the characters find themselves at an Automata settlement where they make an additive that prolongs the burn time of fossil fuels. One of the Automatons they meet has a lovely pneumatic sniper rifle, that one of the players could really use. This is a rare item, so the base chance to convince any Automaton to give it up would be pretty high, and the two characters would make opposed Bargain checks to see who can be the most convincing about who should own the weapon. If the NPC is a guard of the town, then he would get a bonus, as he has more use for it, but if it was a scientist or production worker who lacked the skills to use it, the player character would have the advantage as they were often in dangerous situations dealing with Human aggressors.

When it comes to character creation, each player character will have a set number of points which they can use to get access to items. Each item is worth a number of points equal to its Bargain modifier, and I’m playing around with the idea of allowing players to spend some of their character points to increase the number of points they’ll get for equipment. Based on a character creation session I ran, one player did ask of there was anything else they could spend their points on as they had picked up all the skills they wanted, and had a point left.

I’m not one hundred percent sure on any of this yet, but I would like to try it out. I know that a lot of gamers are happier without micromanaging equipment and money, and although this will not get rid of such concerns in their entirety, it should minimize them some what. As always sound off below with your own thoughts on the subject.

May 202013

We buy rule books for role playing games at the drop of a hat. We buy for them for the interesting setting, the pretty pictures, and the promise of the fun we can have when we get together with our group of friends and throw some dice. What’s strange though, is that in almost every case, most of the pages are given up to something that we are told fairly early on is optional. If we don’t like the way a rule works, or if it doesn’t fit in with our style of play, chuck it out or change it. And today, this is what I want to talk about.

As the keenly observant amongst you may know by now, I’ve spent a good few months running a Cyberpunk 2020 game. I have spoken briefly about one little addition I have made, but since it doesn’t really change the rules at all, rather the way in which the outcome of a ruling is described, I can’t really include that in this larger discussion. I have changed a few things however, and they fall into two vague categories; things changed before the game began, and things made up on the fly. As for the former of those, it came down to combat.

I like my combat to be quick, involving as few die rolls as is possible, but still giving a nice range of options and probabilities. I think to this day, my favourite combat system comes from a game that a couple of my friends are putting the finishing touches onto now: Orbis. One percentile roll – modified by your opponent’s defense score – lets you know if you have successfully hit, where on the body the hit lands, and how much bonus damage you’ve done as a result of hitting stronger/more precisely. After that, you roll the actual damage dice – modified as mentioned above – and you’re done. Bloody simple, but still gives plenty of room for tactical combat if that’s your bag. I wanted to make CP2020 a bit more like that, but keeping the essence of the system.


Click for image source

As it stands, the rules require a combat “roll off”, with attacker and defender trying to get the higher result. Then hit location, followed by damage. This takes just a bit too long, so I figured out a rough formula for calculating a “Dodge/parry” score based on skill sand stats already in play, wrote that on the character sheets, and combat had one less dice roll to worry about. Not the most all encompassing solution, but it worked for me, and the players seemed to like that combat was less about rolling and counter rolling, and more about trying to engineer the encounter so that their Parry/dodge score was higher than it should be. Now, that’s all well and good, but I think the harder part of the GM’s job comes about when a rule call needs to be made mid-game, and the time it would take to flip through the rule book for a long forgotten bit of trivia is time wasted.

This is when you need to be a games designer in the heat of the moment. The reason for this is that the ruling you make shouldn’t be made for that one situation. If something like this happens again, then you’re going to want to make the exact same calling, and for it to still make sense. If you’re wondering why this is so important, the simplest reason is a complicated word: verisimilitude. You want your players to know that if the world works in a certain way one day; then the next week, it’ll still be the same. So, it needs to make sense in the wider context of the system that exists, and also the way the game is currently being played.

In the past few years I’ve returned to being a GM much more frequently, and I find the challenges invigorating, but I was surprised at how often I was having to make such calls. Years back, I would have had a much higher degree of familiarity with the rules system, and would only really need to make on the spot rulings if a situation arose that simply wasn’t covered by the rules in any way, rather than because I couldn’t exactly recall something. The more I have been doing it though, the more comfortable I became, and the more I was happy to make calls, knowing that they would be consistent and fair. Even things that weren’t really rules calls, such as the price of an item that wasn’t covered in any of the massive shopping lists that are a huge part of the Cyberpunk 2020 game books; I came close to asking my player to hang on while I tried to find out the price, but then a few seconds later realised that most expedient way to continue was to just name my own price, jot it down in the book, and move on!

So, all that said, is this something that other people enjoy, or are you happier to hold off on a ruling and look it up later? I’m not going to ask if you’re happy to pause the game while you look it up, as I imagine that you all know better than that by now.

May 132013

So, in my last weekly game, we lost a character. I have written recently about death in Role Playing Games, and I’d like to think I managed to fulfill my own short criteria. The character bowed out with a greivous head wound in a high pitched battle with the US secret service, as government operatives were torturing a prime suspect in an abandoned night club, and a Senator was fleeing the scene on a pleasure boat.

For people who don’t know this, the Cyberpunk 2020 combat system is actually pretty brutal. I have changed a couple of bits of it to give it a slightly more cinematic feel, but it still has the possibility to drop a heroic character with a single round from a handgun. Although I am always happier when the combat is more interesting than that. We’d already seen it happen once, but due to the very high tech medical aid that’s available the character in question got better, and was only out of action for a few days. Still injured when they got back into the fray, so they had some negative modifiers, but future science is almost as good as magic when it comes to healing, or at least, that’s how I see it.

Not actually Diesel, but close enough...

Not actually Diesel, but close enough…

This time, the dice gods were not happy, and the first attempt at healing actually made things worse, meaning that the second attempt failed, and what with time passing, there was sadly nothing to be done.  Diesel died. He died well, and it has created some already kick ass role playing with some of the remaining characters. Mainly talking about Ed Winchester here, but others have really brought their “A” game to the table with regard to role playing.

What a lot of you might not know is that my game is almost over. I had a fixed time frame to run this game, and I expected it to last me until June, and that’s coming up fast. The party – or what’s left of it – have been given an option to get closure on their plot, and the choice about how they want to see it resolved. There’s more than one power block in play, and the characters could end up siding with either, or going it on their own. But what to do with the ex-Diesel?

This close to the end, it seems a bit of a waste of time and effort to create a whole new character, and the player has admitted that she doesn’t really see the point of it. I tend to agree, so instead, I have picked one the main antagonists from the campaign, and since he was at death’s door when they found him, he was no real threat, giving the player free reign for some challenging role playing. All I need to do is drop in a few bits of information that Christ had been keeping from everyone that are crucial in bringing the storyline to its apoplectic finale.

And this is the crux of this article: What do you do when a player character bites the big one? Does your answer change depending on system, or even on when the character dies in the story arc? DO they come back as level one – if the game supports such a thing – or of comparable power to the current characters? Do you feel comfortable handing control of an important NPC to player whose character had been happy to see them die? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this, and the comments box is just down there.

May 062013

I read a lot of books. In this I’m sure I have a hell of a lot in common with almost everyone who plays RPGs. One of the authors I used to read a lot by is Stephen King. I mention him as a fan of his work, but mainly of his short stories rather than novels. In these smaller works of prose he writes with a sense of urgency, and doesn’t use a sentence when a word will suffice, and very quickly gets to the of the horror.

In his novels, he has the time to fully explore ideas and concepts, and for an awful lot of his written work, this is done masterfully. I am not picking out any particular novel though, because when I say most of his work, I mean most of any individual novel. The thing that has effectively stopped me reading novels by Mister King is that he doesn’t seem to know when to end the story. Two examples that I have read in recent years are Bag of Bones and It. Bag of bones may not be quite so well known, and it’s easy to see why. The story is OK, and moves along well, but we don’t get any startling new ground broken. And then, he ends the story well. Maybe not a happy ending, but it satisfied me greatly as a form of closure. For some reason there then followed two more chapters.


Click image for creepy creepy stuff…

It” is a slightly better known story, mainly due to the stellar performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the movie adaptation. The novel is amazing, and I know of a friend who simply couldn’t finish reading it alone at night. It is a huge read, coming in at a tome like 1300 plus pages, but once again I can tell you that a big bunch of stuff at the back end is almost totally pointless. We get a great resolution to the story, or at least as good a resolution we could expect when dealing with eternal evil. What follows is just uncomfortable and unnecessary padding.

And it’s this kind of thing I want to talk about today. In a previous game I’ve run I ended up having to write a couple of endings just because I wasn’t too sure what my players would do. They had the chance to take the money and run, and the consequences of that action would mean the horror would come to find them. I ended up being in a position to bribe them into taking on the final job, and they got a huge cataclysmic ending at an abandoned country manor haunted by a ghostly child with enormous powers. And that’s pretty much where I ended it.

I then gave them a very brief description of the return trip back to base of operations and what life was going to be like afterwards, but that was all, and it took me less than ten minutes. What I didn’t do was have random encounters on the way back to the City. I didn’t have them role play the meeting once more with the troops that defend the walls of said city from undead incursion. All of this certainly happened, but it would add nothing to the sense of accomplishment that my players were feeling.

Even the stuff I did talk about was largely derived from what they said they wanted, and I think this is the way I’ll be taking it next time my campaign ends. Instead of running through quickly what happened to them, I’ll open it up, and let the players take the time to think about what their characters would do once the dust has settled. Part of my worries that the characters will suddenly become the super awesome bunch of people they have always thought they were but never quite managed to become, but that’s selling my particular group of gamers short. I think that they would relish giving their characters an end that they felt they deserved, and since the tone of the game has been fairly consistent, I know I can trust them to maintain that, even when it doesn’t really matter that much.

What about the rest of you; how have you handled the ending to a long campaign? If anyone was left alive of course…

Apr 292013

I suck at poker. I understand the game, and have a high level of familiarity with the rules, but I am usually the first or second player out of a group to lose all their money. This is down to my atrocious poker face, and it’s becoming something of a hindrance during my current game.

When I GMing, I like to run games with a hint of mystery about them. Luckily, a lot of my players feel the same way, so I get to indulge this habit fairly regularly. What’s becoming a problem though is the same as it is when I pay poker; I tend to get quite excited about what’s going on. When you have two aces in your hand and a third sat on the table, getting excited means no one will take your bet, and you stand to lose a few chips. When it happens during a role playing game, you can give away valuable plot point information and reduce the investigation element of the game to naught. I don’t think I’ve been that bad so far, but I know I have been pushing my luck.

I’m sure all GMs have had that moment when they grind their teeth a little, silently screaming things such as, “You were given this clue last week!”, or, “Share the information, it’ll all make sense then”! But players don’t often do what we want or expect, and that’s a great thing. After one particularly worrying moment in my Cyberpunk game, the players wandered into a meeting with a very important person after receiving a tip-off from someone that I thought they would trust that the VIP was almost certainly going to kill them. He told them to stay the hell away from the meeting, and to not even go back to their homes. He even left them a substantial amount of money so that they could go on the run without having to worry about where their next meal was coming from, or keeping a roof over their heads until they got settled.

So of course, they went up to the meeting, and were promptly held at gun point by the VIP’s personal goons.

Should I have been surprised by this? Of course not. No GM should ever be surprised by the actions taken by players in their games . But I did get a bit exasperated, as it was far from a subtle clue that something was amiss. It was a comment from one of my long term players and best mate ever that really made me rethink my response though, and also made me want to get some thoughts down on the blog, “dude, you’re forgetting that we don’t know the script”.

Now of course this is true, but I have found myself giving the game away on several occasions recently, not just because the group went against the grain, but often when they did something that I really wanted them to do. Awarding experience for coming up with a great plan, or putting together a bunch of disparate clues to come up with an answer that makes sense is a great idea. Doing it the moment they come up with said plan is a very explicit way of saying that they’re on the right track. Even worse though is just straight out complimenting the player in question for figuring something out. If they know they’re on the right track, they have little reason to explore other ideas even if it would make sense for the characters to do so.

Luckily I have once again been blessed with players who role play to the hilt and really don’t let themselves get swayed by my inability to keep things under wrap, but in a different group, this could be a real problem. So from here on out, I promise to try harder to keep a straight face. To only give the player characters clues that they would get from in character actions rather than through rewarding them for doing what the GM wants. This should be no problem, as instead of handing out XP as and when they do something impressive, I’ll just be keeping a tally during games, and handing it out in the post game wrap up. Hopefully this will mean that they won’t know exactly what it is that they’re being rewarded for, and will incentivize them try out new and cool ideas.

I would hope that this problem doesn’t affect too many other GMs, but if it has been a problem for you in the past, either as a player or a GM, I’d love to hear from you, especially your solutions.

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 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.

Mar 112013

This thought came to me on the back of reading a rather excellent series of posts over at Reality Refracted dealing with death in RPGs. He has several fine points to make, but to me it boils down to two very distinct character deaths I’ve had as a player. In fact, these are pretty much the only two character deaths that have stayed with me, and that I continue to talk about. The first, because I was genuinely let down by the nature of the character’s end, the second, because it could not have been any better.

I’ll touch briefly on the first. A cyberpunk edge runner, that had at least two years of experience points under his belt, gets into a fight that has nothing to do with the plot. Some random gangers causing grief, and the players have a reputation to uphold, so step in to save the day. Very much an average day for Blaze. After the fight is over, I seek medical attention for a bullet would that was suffered to the leg. One critical fumble later, and I end up taking enough damage to require a death save, which of course, I fail. No problem though, Trauma Team are swiftly dispatched, and arrive in plenty of time to attempt a recovery. Another critical fumble is rolled, and I start to get nervous.

We make it to the AV ambulance, and another shot at saving my life. No fumble, and I think that I might be out of the woods. But sadly, the amount of damage I took from the first fumble means the roll wasn’t enough. One last try says the GM, and the whole room hushes as we watch the die tumble. Another ‘one’ is rolled. And the character is in the bag…

Died due to a random encounter, and bad luck, in such a way that nothing bar GM fiat could have saved me. And even though it was a sucky death, I’m glad that no rules were bent, as that would have left me feeling cheated, like I didn’t deserve to still be playing Blaze, although that might be better discussed in a blog post all of its own. No awesome death scene for Blaze then, and that’s exactly why I remember it, because his death meant so little in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward a good handful of years, and I find myself playing Amaruq, stood at the top of a burning flight of stairs, with the woman he loves – and who was currently pregnant with his child (I didn’t know this at the time, or what follows might seem needlessly harsh). The rest of the party had either fled in fear, or were lying dead behind us as we fought our way out through an army. We were both so badly injured that the stairs themselves could have been the death if either of us. And we still had enemies coming at us from behind. I had no other option.

Taking my beloved in my arms, I hugged her tightly and kissed her one last fierce time. Then I pushed her from me, hoping that the fall down the stars wouldn’t kill her, as it certainly would have done me. She fell, tumbling for what seemed like an eternity, before coming to a rest, smoldering from the flames she rolled though. After several epochs – or so it seemed – she lifted her head and looked up to me. There was no way she could come back for me, but at least she was safe. I turned my back on her, hefted my axe in both hands, and walked back into the ruined building, hoping to kill as many villains as I could to buy her time.

She survived, and is still played to this day, and Amaruq’s son is almost two years old. That was a death that mattered. And I will remember it as long as I game.

Now, GMs won’t always get the chance to tweak their game to make every death impressive, but if there’s anything that can be done, to stop the player feeling like it didn’t matter a jot, then go for it. Dramatic licence was pretty much made for this kind of thing. Trust me, they’ll remember it for a long time, and talk kindly of you to others. And years later, when hanging out and having a laugh, getting to hear your name mentioned as the GM who pulled off that amazing character death, well that’s got to feel pretty sweet…