I’ve been pretty lucky to have adult — psychologically, if not physiologically — at my gaming table for the last thirty years or so (Am I really that old!?!), so this hasn’t been much of an issue for my games, but judging from some of the gaming boards and Facef#$% — I mean Facebook — discussions this is not the case for others.

That most cootie-rific of issues: romance!

I’ve covered a lot of the issues connected to romance at the game table in a few posts from the past —

1) This was a response to Dom Mappin’s piece on Gnome Stew in which I discuss the issue of romance between players. While the piece still has some good thought and advice, my opinion on it has matured to a 1) It’s none of your business what the players are doing together, and b) It’s none of your damned business what the players are doing together…but it can still screw up a group’s dynamics.

2) As to romance between characters: Just do it. Especially if you are looking for good motivations for characters, or for a more realistic world for the players to game in. Which naturally leads to sex and romance — where do you draw the line? G? PG? R? NC-17? That depends on the players and the nature of the game.

As with anything, romance in-game means you have to know your audience — who are the players and what do they want or abhor? As to romance between players? It’s going to happen, and it’s none of your damned business.

Most game designers are very concerned with the notion of “balance” in the games they make. Systems that use a point-based creation mechanic for character creation often have levels of generation points that allow a player to customize their character, yet are all bought for the same “level” — being it novice or beginner, experienced/whatever, or expert/master, etc. In Dungeons & Dragons, characters used to start at 1st level and work their way up, but later iterations allowed for starting at higher levels…but you still had the same approximate range of abilities.

Until you hit the min/maxers and rules lawyers that can manipulate the system to build a character more effectively than other players. (I have a mathematician in the group right now who is an expert at this…)

The point to this notion of “balance” is “fairness”. Young players, players that use gaming to vicariously experience success or greatness, often don’t like the notion of having a player be weaker or stronger than others in a campaign. Everyone wants to be the hero, and balance is supposed to push the players toward a more ensemble model, where everyone is equally important to the game. It’s a nice ideal — and one that I subscribed to for a long time — but it’s not really achievable.

Problem, the first: All players are not created equal. Maybe your characters were all created for X number of points, but you have a rules lawyer that has made a character perfectly tailored to the sorts of adventures you will encounter, making them the “go to guy” all the time. It’s great for that player; they’re almost always now the center of attention. Even if, somehow, you managed to have characters that were all highly specialized and had their particular spotlight moments in a game session, some players are more passive, and others more active — one guy may spend all his time in his room inventing things, and only becomes a factor in play when the fight is on. Maybe a player is particularly clever at using a “weak” character to achieve greatness. Maybe one of them is just too funny to reign in and makes the game enjoyable. These players are going to capture most of the airtime.

Problem, the second: It’s not the way good storytelling works. In books, movies, and television — even with ensemble casts — there’s normally a lead or two that the stories focus on. For example, let’s take any of the Star Trek series from The Next Generation on…there’s an ensemble that sees the whole cast get some screen time, but normally, the focus is on one or two of the characters per episode, and often over the course of the series. Let’s look at The Lord of the Rings (books and movies) — Frodo is the main protagonist on the quest to destroy the Ring, with Sam as his sidekick, but arguably just as important. But Aragorn is the lead for the portions involving the return of the king and opposing the forces of Mordor. Frodo is in no way Aragorn’s equal (and arguably not up to that of Sam, either…) But he is the lead and the lead not need be the biggest bad ass of the bunch. Even Merri and Pippin are stuffed into the middle of great conflicts, and probably couldn’t resist a late-night mugging in any modern city. It’s not about being bad ass; the interesting part of characters is their weaknesses and how they overcome obstacles. Simply hacking your way through a problem like Schwarzenegger might have a certain appeal, but it’s not especially memorable after the first hundred kobolds, is it?

Problem, the third: Not everyone wants to be the bas ass. I have a player whose real interest is in the politics and social machinations in nearly every game we play. He often winds up being the politician, ship captain, leader because that’s the sort of thing he likes. Even when he had action star-type characters, he would often use other characters as proxies in fights. Some guys thrive on being the ass-kicker and trying to suss their way through a mystery is either boring or taxing…they like to sit and wait until it’s time to break the “in case of emergency” glass on their barbarian and let the carnage begin.

So what’s the point of attempting game balance, other than an attempt to preserve some sense of Harrison Bergeron-esque enforced equality? I’d submit none.

Here’s an idea — when in the planning stages of a campaign, there are a few things the GM and players can do to create engaging characters that are appropriate to the sorts of adventures in store for them. On the players’ side is arguably the harder job — letting go of the ego long enough to create characters that have a reason to be together, more than focusing solely on your cool concept.

Example 1: I had a player that had his high concept character — a Starfleet engineer who was super-talented, so that he didn’t have to play by the rules and regulations. Great idea, save for a few points: 1) everyone in friggin’ Starfleet is smart, educated, and competent, 2) the character’s purpose is to spotlight hog and create artificial conflict (specifically with the GM and the adventure itself, I suspect), 3) he’s got no logical reason to be there, other than to annoy everyone else at the table.

Example 2: In a short-lived Supernatural game, one of the players decided to play the overweight, stereotypical hacker/geek that ran a supernatural conspiracy website. He was the outsider of the group, but was useful (and played very amusingly) enough that he was essential in the investigation portions of the adventures, but was completely out of his element once they found the creature of the week. The spotlight then shifted to the other characters. They meshed, even with the built in conflict between the characters because they needed each other, and — after a few encounters — wanted to work together.

The first example was built to the same number of creation points as the other characters, but was specialized in away that, while it could have been highly useful, was mitigated by the assholish persona of the character. No one went to him for help. The players and characters hated the character in question.

The second example created highly memorable moments in the game that were fun enough that the other players gladly gave up their moment just to watch the hacker have his long-winded, hysterically-funny meltdowns. The characters might have hated the guys (and there was one in particular) but the players loved him. He fit. He was built for less points than the bad-ass exorcist priests that were the “leads” of the game.

A last example might bring this home: Most of the players in my last pulp game were built by the GM (me), based on character concepts the players had and I fleshed out to make work better. (This was more a function of my knowledge of the period and the manner of game I was planning.) They were all customized to play to the concept. The brick was a combat monster and utterly useless in other venues…yet was played with such joyful idiocy that he rapidly became our “Jack Burton” of the game — in the center of things, but clueless. The archeologist lead was built for more points and was talented in almost everything, but tended to use the first character to get the action bits done because a) it gave the other players stuff to do, and b) the player is risk aversive and uses the others as meat shields in almost every game.

It was the character of an 11 year old street urchin, however, that was the surprise. Built to be much less experienced, talented, and having a lot of the social and physical downsides to being a small Chinese girl in 1936 Shanghai, she was nevertheless highly effective outside of her niche of thief because of out-of-the-box thinking by the player as well as an obvious delight at playing a unique character. Everyone had their niche, got their airtime, but also frequently worked together in ways that were memorable and unexpected.

So…what’s your point?

Build to a character concept and their role in the game and to hell with stat and/or skill advancement (except where applicable to the story), and focus on how these characters interact.

For instance, our current Battlestar Galactica game saw characters generally built at “veteran” level — the median for stats and skills, then given assets and complications that made them unique. But the commander was built to a slightly higher level — somewhere between the veteran and seasoned veteran. It made sense for the commander to be more experienced and talented…his role of leader might put him in a position of power over the other characters, but also limits his ability to participate in some of the action. Unlike the captains of Star Trek, BSG captains (andreal military leaders) tend to have to stand powerlessly in their CIC while they listen to their subordinates succeed or fail based on their mission plan. One of the lead characters in the ensemble is a viper pilot. She’s great at flying and fighting in the cockpit. She’s also a gullible prat who acts before engaging brain. It’s appropriate to the character. She was built with less points than the commander, but her role is such she sees much more of the action. She’s just not in on the big decision-making…that’s not her role.

By building characters and playing them to the role and concept envisioned, you can craft a group that all work together and enjoy the story, even if one of the characters is more of a lead that others. I frequently see one of the players’ characters as the “lead”, with the others as the main supporting cast, and try to rotate that central role between the players per campaign. But if you play one game (looking at you Pathfinder folks!) for thirty years, rotate who is the lead in a particular adventure — maybe Bumbo the Barbarian was the lead in the last couple of sessions, seeking revenge on the man that killed his family and burned his childhood village, but for the next few, he’s helping his thief friend Sticky Fingers snatch a valuable McGuffin. He’s the sidekick for this one.

For players, this means giving up the spotlight and being the sidekick from time to time. For the GM, it means making sure everyone gets to be the hero every once in a while.

The last two sessions of our game have been particularly brutal for the players’ characters — in two session, we’ve lost three PCs, almost lost another, and scads of popular NPCs, to boot. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of players lose characters, either to bad rolls, bad decisions, a hostile GM, etc. Their reactions have varied from one player that claimed he was haunted by his character in a dream (the character [read, player] thought his death heroic, but he had actually done something incredibly stupid) and was upset that he wasn’t getting respect; to players who were overjoyed that their character went down doing something incredibly heroic, and just about every variant between. No matter the event, losing a character that you’ve invested a lot of time and effort on breathing life into, that you have used to vicariously experience danger, adventure, and heroism, can be a traumatic experience.

There are a few key points for players and gamemasters to keep in mind at point. First the players:

1) It’s only a game. It’s fantasy. It might not feel that way; good role playing can make the characters seem as real (and sometimes more so) that actual people in your life. But they’re not. And like all good things, they will eventually pass, as well, if the game goes long enough.

2) It’s not personal. Sometimes the dice screw you. (As infamously cried by a player in one campaign, who dropped to his knees in a moment of frustration and bellowed, “My dice are fucking me!”) Sometimes no amount of tweaking and hand waving by the GM is going to save you — as in the six, count ’em, six botches a player rolled trying to get control of his fighter in the middle of a massive battle, only to punch out and get humped on that last test, as well. Sometimes…it’s your time.

The same goes for when you make a bad tactical error in the game. Maybe you shouldn’t have read from the Book of the Dead. Maybe aggressing that company of Martian warriors armed with harsh words and stick wasn’t the epitome of strategic brilliance. Maybe taking that turn at high speeds on that twisty road by Lake Como in the spy agency’s Aston Martin was ill-advised. (That’s how they killed two DBS sedans while driving them to the shoot for the initial chase sequence in Quantum of Solace. Not while filming it. While commuting.) Sometimes…it’s your time.

 

2b) It’s not personal…except when it is: Yes — there are the old school DMs that take an adversarial pose in relation to the players and their characters, but that’s less common today. Your GM is (probably) not gleefully killing characters for his own enjoyment, then ritually burning your character sheet or keeping it as a trophy in his death room like some serial killer. Unless he is. Then it’s either time to find another person to play with, or it might be insanely cool in a freaky sort of way. YMMV. And on that note –A GM obviously looking to off your character might indicate an out of game issue that needs to be brought up and resolved.

Just don’t do it in his character death room.

3) If you are so torn up over a character’s death or incapacitation, or their failure, or their losing a loved one… you should reconsider your hobbies, at least for a little while.

As to the game master side of the equation:

1) If you are looking to off your player’s characters as a punishment for not showing up (more on this in a moment), or because you had an argument over whatever, or you’re just a malicious jerk like the lead character from Zero Charisma — see point 3 for the players. You’re not creating high drama; you’re being a jerk.

2) Try not to kill players’ characters when they are not there that night. a) It makes you seem like a jerk, b) the player is likely to see it as “punishment” for not attending, c) especially if they’ve been playing the character for a while, it makes the player feel they’ve been stripped of their agency. “I wouldn’t have done X” is a common refrain here.

This is one that I try to hew to, but inevitably, there’s going to be that “big fight” night that one of the players — usually one that’s going to be in the thick of things — doesn’t show up. At this point, I try to use GM fiat to avoid putting them in the crosshairs, but sometimes that just doesn’t work. I think we’ve only had it happen thrice in the last two decades that someone’s character was topped while they weren’t there. (Last week being the second time.)

3) Try and give the player some kind of “moment” in exchange for the loss — maybe the hero got blasted by that narco hit squad, but remember that grenade..? Good thing he had it to do a last action and save his team mates, huh? Or as their starfighter is coming apart around them, they set the nose toward the bad guy’s ship and do a bit of damage (or destroy it, if they roll well enough…) Or in the case one of the characters the other week, he last action before dying was to unlock his phone so the others could gain access to his notes on the bad guys. Or even just a nice dramatic death — something cool to go out on. (Think Tom Hanks’ shooting his .45 futilely at the German tank in Saving Private Ryan…useless, but damned cool.) I remember an early D&D campaign where my fighter had died, back to a tree, surrounded by bad guys — but he had provided a distraction for the rest of the team to achieve the victory over the Big Bad. This sort of thing gives the player something to hang their memories of the character on.

Characters’ deaths can be a hard moment in a gamer’s life, but it can also be a heroic memory to frame the character and campaign. Even useless deaths, in the right kind of game, can provide the proper tenor for campaign — “I can’t believe he’s gone…it was so useless!” is a very appropriate thing for a Call of Chthulu game, for instance, but sucks for a Hollow Earth  or other pulp style game. And while the character might be gone, there’s no reason you can’t reskin him or her with a slightly modified personality or stats — there are plenty of gamers who play the same thing (kinda like Harrison Ford or Paul Rudd…if the formula’s working, no need to change it.) There are gamers who like new and interesting challenges — character death gives you the opportunity to try something new.

In the end, it’s just a game.

I’ve already talked abouthow a gamemaster can try to “sell” his group on a new campaign, and how players can attempt to aid the success of a new game by how they design their characters. However, not all (or most) campaigns will come out of the gate running on all cylinders, with everyone happy about things are progressing — this is okay; it’s normal. So how do you work around the birthing pains of a new campaign? I like to use movie and television as a framework for this sort of thing, as readers of this site know by now…

The first adventure is a pilot. This is the ultimate sell on the game, much like it is on a television show. You’ve sold the premise to the network (your players, in this case), and now you have to sell it to the audience (in this case…the same people.)  Pilots, let’s be fair, often suck — especially when dealing with large plot arcs. Your best bet is to start small: the pilot is your chance to show off the world you’re playing in, and introduce the characters, and much like a TV pilot these may need some tweaking.

First, maybe the GM had an idea for a galaxy-spanning political space opera for a game (you can tell I’ve been reading through Mindjammer, can’t ya?) and it becomes apparent that your initial set up tended toward a more focused campaign dealing with the corruption of the characters’ home planet or organization…you can still do the former, but turning your attention toward what grabbed the players might require you to do a bit more development of a world or organization than you planned on. Or you were planning on playing in an established universe like Firefly, but the players are more interested in the cyberpunkish core world you presented, rather than playing at space cowboys on the Rim…retool and focus on life in the Alliance, and slowly introduce the down-on-their-heels worlds as a counterpoint.

Second, maybe your Big Bad isn’t that inspiring, or the players disappoint you by blowing the villain that was supposed to be a recurring character into his component DNA… Who was his boss? Create a more compelling bad guy. Don’t be afraid to steal your favorite baddies from movie, Tv, or books and reskin them for your game. (I’ve always been a fan of using Hilly Blue from Trouble in Mind — the character just clicked for me.)

But the big element, third: Characters often change between a pilot and a full launch of a show. That’s because their concept might not have been fully realized, or the character’s stats didn’t quite play out properly, or some aspect of the character just wasn’t clicking. For the first adventure (for us usually two or three sessions), the players are allowed to retool their character stats, etc. to match how they are playing the character. (Here’s a post on “fixing” a campaign that ties into this pilot model for a game start…)

 

Most players would probably agree that they want their characters to be hearty and hale — playing a weak or sick character is “no fun.” I would say that means they haven’t considered the role playing aspects that disease can bring to the table when a character has some kind of chronic injury or disease.

One of the player characters in a former Hollow Earth Expedition game had the flaw “dying” — in this case, he had emphysema from chain smoking (which he still was doing.) The character didn’t see much limit, mechanically, until he was pushing himself physically. For the most part, it entailed the player wheezing and coughing when playing the character — little touches that may the character realistic. But once in a foot chase, or a protracted fight, he was hampered in his dice pool from the disease. As a result, the character was the master of the knockout blow; if he couldn’t finish a fight in a few moves, he knew he would get put down. It required the player to think differently about what actions he could take in an action sequence, or if he should attempt to talk his way through encounters.

There’s a character mentioned in the piece on age from the other day that addresses the idea of chronic injury — a character that has back issues from skiing and car accidents, as well as a recent broken arm. His physical activity isn’t necessarily curtailed, save where the use of the arm or things like running are concerned. It’s mostly just roleplaying the fact he’s got a bad back.

Disease can be something as innocuous as allergies.  Most environmental allergies — hayfever and the like — are uncomfortable, can make the character tired and irritable (not to mention snuffling, sneezing, and blowing your nose have a tendency to give away your position at the most disadvantageous moments.) They can make for challenges that don’t have to be immediately life threatening, but can make for obstacles that need to be addressed in a different way. It’s hard to sneak up on someone when you’re in a coughing jag from your 3 pack a day habit, or you sneeze explosively in the middle of a car chase.

Chronic injuries could be something as small as arthritis — you are still functional, but maybe that heavy trigger pull on your revolver is problematic at the best of times — to missing limbs, which have an obvious limiting factor. But I’d point out there is a motorcycle racer in Australia missing his left leg and arm. It required modifying his bike, but he wins races. Similarly, this could lead a character in a game that might be considered “unplayable” to simply have to work around his issues.

One thing I’ve noted is that players tend to choose one of two age groups for their characters — they are either in the prime of their life, somewhere in the 20-something range, or they are very close to the age of the player themselves. For some types of campaign, the late teens/early 20s coming of age story is appropriate; a lot of fantasy campaigns, this is a good starting point for a first level character. For modern games, late 20s is usually the default starting age — this is about the period where a character would have finished college or whatever prior experience would give them the in two the spy/cop/mercenary world.

But some of the best characters I’ve seen in our games over the year were when folks broke the mould and played something different. One was an aging college professor/archeologist that was absent minded to the point of forgetting major details the players needed, the other was a 12 year old Chinese street urchin. Both characters required the players to think about what their player could do, how they would think, and what their limitations were…and for good characterization, it’s the weaknesses that make them interesting.

Most recently, we have a character who isn’t old — mid-40s — but who has had a few fairly traumatic accidents: a ski accident in his background that left the character with a chronic injury that hampered him in physical efforts. During the course of play, he’s been in a car accident that broke his arm (leaving him unable to fight or function for three months of game time), and who nearly had his neck broken in a fight. He’s a mess, and while he’s still young enough to be spry, the aches and pains are starting to catch up with him. Recently, the player started to reference his crappy reading eyesight, requiring him to use reading glasses. His vanity keeps him from using them as often as he should, but the character is more human for it.

The kid was a particular challenge for the player — how would a 12 year old peasant girl living on the streets of Shanghai react to things? She had to reach back to how she thought as a young girl to try and look at what would scare the character, how she would problem solve, and also had to take into account that the girl did not have the strength and training that some of the bad guys had. It broke her out of her comfort zone, but the player was able to come up with some unique solutions to some of the problems presented to her.

In a modern or sci-fi setting, it’s entirely possible for an older man or woman to be adventuring and be just as capable as their companions. Modern medicine, fitness, and diet allow for people to be active, strong, and resilient well into their 60s. They’re still rarely going to be holding the line in a foot race with a young man or woman, but they are realistically able to survive an action sequence. This isn’t so much the situation in the medieval period, where the average lifespan was 40 and hard living and bad diet broke a person much quicker. Bad medicine also meant injuries were more likely to be debilitating.

Thinking about not just the physical aspects of age, but the mental ones, is a good challenge for a player, as well. The youthful arrogance and feeling of invincibility disappears as one progresses through their 20s. The surety of their opinion gives way (if they’re paying attention) to an understanding they don’t know every damn thing. By 40, most folks have had kids and have priorities that match king or country; they also start to learn patience, or at least to tolerate things that might have caused non-career-enhancing actions (as a sergeant once described is to me.) Most of the folks I know over the age of 55 reach a point where, even if they give a shit, they often are willing to sit on the sidelines of an issue and see how it plays out. There’s also a feeling of entitlement that comes with aging, a different kind of arrogance that comes with looking at younger people doing the same stupid crap you did at their age, and knowing that no matter what you say, they’re going to do it anyway.

These kinds of insights that a player could glean from paying attention to the opinions and actions of their elders or the kids coming up behind them, could be useful in crafting an interesting and realistic character.

I was reading over a couple of pieces on 11 Things to Help Your Players Be Better Roleplayers over on Gnome Stew, and the referenced 11 Ways to be a Better Roleplayer on LOOK, ROBOT and realized that several of their ideas were on display at this week’s game session.

The last few weeks have been a clusterf#$% regarding player attendance — between GenCon for one, another as a speaker at the Transformers convention over in England, and the third have to be away for work and other issues, we’ve been at least one player low all month. The past two weeks had me adapt to this by throwing together a murder mystery for our Battlestar Galactica game, set on one of the ships in the civilian fleet.

The two characters are members of the new Colonial Marshals Service, tasked with looking into violent crime, hoarding, and other immediate issues to fleet security. “Victimless” crime is ignored. However, in the aftermath of the Fall of the Colonies, there have been an understandable spate of suicides and suspicious deaths…they all have to be investigated. The veteran, Chaplain, is annoyed by this — he wants to focus on the Cylon menace, but I need the guy investigating crimes for this episode…right here, the player was doing what Grant highlighted in the second piece as points 3 and 4 — “Don’t Try to Stop Things” and “Take Control of Your Character”: The player didn’t pull the “my character wouldn’t do that” shtick — he followed the instructions of his boss, who told him he needed these cases closed and to get on it; the second character also had a case on the same ship — a missing 16 year old girl. The two decided to pool resources and investigate. The characters both bitched about their assignments — that was fully in character, and they were given the opportunity to harangue their boss…but they’re doing their jobs. In that, I was engaging in point 2 of Phil’s piece on Gnome Stew, Create Opportunities for the Players to Express Their Characters.

Points 3, 4 and 9 of the Gnome Stew article come into play here: One of the things I’ve always tried to do was act more as a director than a writer in games. The characters were given enough information to take action on their own. The players don’t lolligag — they immediately start looking into their respective cases. The whole time, I try to not just play the NPCs, but give possible queues that they might miss in the action, or might not have occurred to them while playing that tie into their character — getting inside the heads of the characters, as it were. Example: The new guy is a geek, an overweight former programmer than helped stop one of the prongs of the Cylon attack. He’s a coward, but he takes on the responsibility of being a cop seriously. As he realizes the parents of the missing girl are hiding something, and the younger brother is upset, I suggested that — this guy, the guy that no one would notice at college, that spent all his time playing a hero in RPGs and computer games, was suddenly the one guy that actually could make a difference and save this girl — he might find this both terrifying, but also an important moment for his self-esteem and personality. The player ran with it. They didn’t have to.

The veteran realizes that the suicide couldn’t possibly have happened as the report says — the safety protocols, etc. are too complex for a guy who was, in essence, the garbageman of the ship. He was murdered. The character is pissed, because now it’s not a check the box suicide investigation…he has to take it seriously. The two both run into a lot of stonewalling by crew and passengers and start to realize they are in real trouble…there’s something going on aboard the ship. They could, at this point, try to get backup or something, but they investigate further (Point 1: Do Something), checking the ship’s cargo manifests and the coming and goings of cargo ships and shuttles (the vessel is a major logistics hub for the fleet.) They also note the tattoos on the security men and crew of the ship — they realize it’s a Ha’la’tha (Tauron mafia) ship. They get the brother of the missing girl alone and find out she’s was sold to the HLT for extra food and clothing rations.

Point 3 for the GM: Keep things moving. Paraphrasing Raymond Chandler, the pulp mystery writer, when a scene bogs down, have guys with guns burst in. That’s what happened here. We’d been building up the suspense for a while and it was time to get things moving. The newbie’s questioning of the kid brings the gangsters after him. There’s a chase and hiding from the bad guys scene in a crew habitat that I described as being a lot like the living quarters in Outland. (I wanted the catwalks, the multiple tiers with points that would require jumping from level to the next. See the movie — it’s a great action set piece.) The vet has to come rescue him and they proceed to kick serious ass. Having done that, they find out they work for a HLT lieutenat operating out of the “box city” — an area of interconnected pressurized cargo containers (like those on a real cargo ship, but with pressure doors, etc.) The same place where the suicide-now-murder took place.

The encounter the bad guys, whom the vet taunts for their obvious lack of forethought on trying to kill them. “What do you think is going to happen? You’ll just wind up with more cops of the marines in here!” Of course, the gangsters are planning on scattering and changing their identities — easy enough with the terrible record keeping currently in the civilian fleet (it’s less than a month from the Holocaust.) It’s a Mexican (or in this case, Tauron, showdown…)

At this point I realize we’re getting close to quitting time for the night and seek to wrap the night before they get to the part where they rescue the girls. The question — do I go for the anticlimactic “Oh, you’re right, here’s the girls” ending, or step it up. I go Chandler — the area is suddenly sealed by other bad guys and the “big bad” (now just a minor functionary) tells them they’re all dead. The gangsters included. The trail will dead end here.

The area is getting vented and the characters had a series of misadventures trying to get to safety including attempting the classic air duct crawl…only to get stuck. Really stuck. Two botches in a roll stuck. At this point I invoke point 10 in Phil’s piece: Make Failure Interesting. The vet is stuck and goes seriously claustrophobic/ upset that after all the shit he’s been through with Cylons and other dangers, he’s going to die stuck in an air vent…and he doesn’t even know why! The players embraced failure, as grant suggested and ran with it. Eventually, they managed to get clear, but it gave a great half hour of entertainment.

One point grant had: Don’t try to stop things came into play here: the newbie is a coward, had been nearly killed, had to shoot a man, and he’s a wreck…his beloved top-end datapad was shot (saving his life) in the hab fight. He wants to get on the first ship off the craft, but the vet knows the HLT isn’t going to let them do that. They settle for hacking the comms system and firing off a report/call for backup from the CMS before they go after the big bad (see above.) The characters argue, they alter each other’s pans, but they don’t try to undo what the other player is doing. They built on it.

We ended for the night with the characters stuck on a gangster controlled ship, who were nearly killed by nameless baddies, but they know where the brothel/club that the HLT is running is on the ship and the newbie — cowardice pushed aside by pride and the chance to be a hero — is determined to save them.

The thing for players and GM to remember is that RPGs are a collaborative form of storytelling and play. The GM (at least in more traditional sorts of games) creates the outlines of the world and the players flesh it out with their actions. Sometimes it’s just offhand comments like the newbie stating the bad guys were trying to make their deaths look like accidents. Well, no, I was trying to come up with a quick ending that didn’t involve the characters getting killed by the ready to shoot villains…but it sounded good, so I ran with it. Take what the players are doing and mold it to work with what you intended — or it their idea’s better, purloin it [without telling them] and run with it. Ultimately, as long as everyone is having fun, you’re doing it right.