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Author Topic: [WOD} - GM authority without GM force. And demon assassins. a dilemma  (Read 2771 times)
Tim M Ralphs
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« on: July 24, 2006, 07:45:53 AM »

Good Afternoon,

A little background, and then I’ll state my dilemma.

One of the groups I game with has been playing for about 5 years. The games have been fairly GM led sim, being different world of darkness chronicles in the same continuity. Three of the six of us have GMed over the course of the story, passing it back and forth, and whilst to begin with these stories were not part of a collaborative effort they have developed a rich degree of cross over and are building to a conclusion as we play through gehenna/the apocalypse.

As might be expected, several of the characters have been ‘retired’ to npc status as they have grown too powerful/self interested for party play.

The current focus of the story concerns an ongoing feud between two npc Mages, both of quite considerable power. The party has allied itself with one mage, have negotiated a cease fire, and are in the process of organising an ongoing peace treaty. Both of the mages are pretty invulnerable whilst in their respective sanctums, but the party is very close to persuading them to meet at some neutral location to discuss their respective interests. The party allied mage, Isis, is a former pc, and the opposing mage, Joshua, is an npc that was created by my predecessor as GM. Joshua was a principle antagonist of the party for that chronicle, and the old GM spent a lot of time building him up and grew quite attached to him. Incidentally, my predecessor is a current player, and is the principle exponent of the double cross that is being organised, see below.

About half of the party have decided that this neutral meeting is the ideal opportunity to dispatch Joshua once and for all. To that end they intend to summon a demon that has a vested interest in Joshua’s demise, unleash it on the peace talks and have it dispatch the unsuspecting bastard.

So, the dilemma is this: This is a cross world of darkness game in which there is no applicable mechanic for summoning the demon assassin or determining whether Joshua survives. There is also no real precedent for whether such an action should succeed in the world as we’ve explored it. As such it would seem to fall to me as GM to decide the outcome of this action, in a somewhat arbitrary fashion. I’m not entirely comfortable with making such a call, especially as it involves the death of an NPC that isn’t necessarily ‘mine’ to kill off. I’m also worried that such a decision might apparently diminish the significance of the death of such a major contender in the world.

A couple of options present themselves. I could ask the players if they would like for the plan to work, thinking of the story as a whole, but that is so at odds with the way we’ve played in the past I think I’d be looking at a table of blank stares. I could arbitrarily decide that the plan goes without a hitch, which seems fairly anti-climatic, or dictate that Joshua’s mage powers kick in, he spots the ambush and escapes, which feels like a fairly brutal application of GM force.

Perhaps a better option would be a fortune-at-the-beginning-roll. I could have the advocates of the assassination make a roll based not on the quality of the plan they have produced, but on their characters ability to come up with plans at all. In that case the success or failure of the roll would have no influence on the details of the plan, but would ascertain facts about the SIS that would make it a good or bad plan respectively. This feels a little like betraying the sim agenda, and I am not certain that the players will really ‘get’ such a mechanic. I feel even less well disposed to making the roll part way through the plan, because it seems to me that we should not be leaving qualities of the sim ambiguous until that stage.

I have a few more ideas, but I think I’ll leave it at that for now and see if any of the more experienced folk here have anything to add, or any help they can offer.

Thank you
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2006, 08:26:16 AM »

Tim,

I think my option would be to not use the Demon as an item.  From your description, it is little more than a magical McGuffin whose sole purpose in the game is to kill the PC's enemy.  Change that.  Sure, the PC's summon the demon.  However the demon has an agenda of it's own and perhaps can't be easily forced into doing what they want.  Now they have to negotiate.  What if it escapes whatever containment they have devised for it?  Now they have a loose Demon to deal with.  Make the Demon a character.  Play it to the hilt.  Also, if they are summoning demons, reality ought to be popping up to slap them around a good bit too.  That's not inconspicous magic at all.

Now even with all I said up above, given what you said about the players' play preferences, I'd work out some rules for the Demon summoning and the Demon containing etc etc.  Some nifty opposed rolls against the Demon certainly sound reasonable.  As long as the players feel like the rules you are using are reinforcing their fictional space, they'll probably be alright with it.

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Hans
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« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2006, 08:35:58 AM »

A couple of options present themselves. I could ask the players if they would like for the plan to work, thinking of the story as a whole, but that is so at odds with the way we’ve played in the past I think I’d be looking at a table of blank stares. I could arbitrarily decide that the plan goes without a hitch, which seems fairly anti-climatic, or dictate that Joshua’s mage powers kick in, he spots the ambush and escapes, which feels like a fairly brutal application of GM force.

Perhaps a better option would be a fortune-at-the-beginning-roll. I could have the advocates of the assassination make a roll based not on the quality of the plan they have produced, but on their characters ability to come up with plans at all. In that case the success or failure of the roll would have no influence on the details of the plan, but would ascertain facts about the SIS that would make it a good or bad plan respectively. This feels a little like betraying the sim agenda, and I am not certain that the players will really ‘get’ such a mechanic. I feel even less well disposed to making the roll part way through the plan, because it seems to me that we should not be leaving qualities of the sim ambiguous until that stage.

I've GM'ed a lot of WOD myself.  To paraphrase your options, above:

* Simply ask them whether they want to succeed or not, breaking the whole Sim feel, as you rightly point out, or
* GM Fiat most of the resolution, either based on your own preferences, or your best guess as to what the players might enjoy the most.
* Have the players make some kind of contested "plans roll" and have the result of that roll determine the outcome, also breaking the sim feel.

However, here is one other option.  Come up with some actual summoning rules.  Anders Sandberg's Spirit page might be helpful.  It seems to me to be a fairly straightforward application of the Spirit Sphere, its just that it will be HARD for the players, and probably pretty darn vulgar.  You first would have to contact the demon, then summon it, then either cajole or coerce it into doing what you want.  I don't remember the exact levels of Spirit required for these activities, but I think they are all there in the rule book.  Make them work for it and make the summoning the focus of the action, in a way, not the fight with the NPC.   If they succeed at the summoning, then the assumption is that the demon will defeat the NPC; the actual encouter with the NPC would really be the players dealing with minions/extraneous things while the demon and NPC duke it out through narration.  Failure at the summoning could mean any number of things, left, as it should be in a sim game, to the internal cause and effect; they can't get the demon to show up, the demon shows up but is hostile, the demon shows up and is coerced, but isn't powerful enough to beat the NPC, etc.

If none of the players actually has the Spirit sphere, why are they even suggesting this plan in the first place?  And if the players really want to implement such a daring plan, and have the capabilities on their character sheets to do it, make them go through the motions.
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Tim M Ralphs
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« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2006, 02:47:30 PM »

Hans, Andrew, your both wholly correct.

So much so I feel silly for missing it. I'd got tunnel vision on the supposedly significant conflict between the demon and the mage, and missed the actually interesting conflict between the players and the demon.

Thank you.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2006, 10:13:46 PM »

Hello,

My thinking is a little different - the conflict seems to be about the players vs. Joshua, with the demon being a weapon. To turn it into players-vs.-demon at this point seems to me to be dodging the conflict the players are so eagerly driving towards.

Sure, it would be great to have the demon be a source of adversity ... but afterwards, after it's done the dirty deed, and therefore has a moral hold on its so-called masters. Right now, they want to deal with Joshua, and I think that's the conflict at hand.

I guess I'm pretty boggled by this part:

Quote
there is no applicable mechanic for summoning the demon assassin or determining whether Joshua survives.

Really? I'm no Mage expert, but I did read the first edition and the big "madness" supplement that was supposed to be all about demons and wrong-magic. Is this not merely a matter of the relevant rolls? (a) Get demon, (b) hit Joshua with it.

My thinking for (a) is that you need a better idea of what the players mean by "demon" - specifically, what Sphere they're talking about. Maybe they just mean "big scary critter," and therefore it represents a use of whatever Spheres they've invoked, rather than the classical Spirit-heavy ... well, I'm drawing a blank on Mage rules (I used to have them down a little better, but they've never been cemented in my head through play). But as I recall, players can cause a tremendous range of effects, and it's a matter of finding the right attributes and using the magic according to Spheres in unexpected ways - and then roll.

My thinking for (b) is that you could treat it as a simple conflict - one roll, or perhaps a couple of designated rolls. Joshua is defending, of course, and what is he defending against? Why, the magic that the characters are hurling at him! So it's an oppositional roll situation. Shouldn't be that hard, surely?

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2006, 03:03:42 AM »

Tim, do you think they want to roll at all? That'd make it hard if they don't.

By roll, I mean they actually have accepted the possibility of failure (and have some idea what the possiblity of success means, so as to differentiate it from failure). It sounds like they've gunned off their plan and...that's it. They've left it to you, yet don't realise that their balls...sorry, personal investments are in your hands, but will surely realise when you squeeze.

It's hard to describe, but perhaps they think that all their personal investments can come to some happy conclusion together. That none of these investments have to die for another investment to live. I think you realise that it can't work out. They haven't come to this heartbreaking conclusion yet (although after just a few words they may say 'Oh yeah, I getcha'). What do you think?
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Paul T
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« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2006, 04:20:45 PM »

Just to be clear...

As far as the conflict at hand goes, aren't those views both possible? I mean, we have one possible story where the characters are personally involved in defeating the villain, and the demon is just a means to an end. Then we have another story where the villain is really kind of an "off-screen" bad guy, and the real focus of the story is the characters struggling with the demon, with the defeat of the villain just serving as the motivation for the whole escapade.

Now, having read the play account, I would lean towards the former as being more likely to be the case at the table. But... I'm saying that not having been there, it might not be possible for us to say.

Or is there something about the nature of conflict in RPGs that makes one of those options objectively the "better" choice?

All the best,


Paul

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TonyLB
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« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2006, 08:09:06 PM »

Hey, Tim, a quick clarification if you would.

I get the sense, reading this, that the demon is a pre-existing NPC that people have had interactions with before.  Thus the summoning is not "Players create a demon as a weapon, just like they'd create any other weapon," it is "We bring this character to this place and havoc ensues."

Am I right about that?

Either way, I'll say (because hey, more opinions is always better, right?) that the demon should not kill Joshua.  What the demon should do (however you want to make it play out) is to give the players the ability to kill Joshua themselves.

Yeah, sure, maybe they meant the demon to do all their dirty work, but when it actually comes down to it, Joshua and the demon are closely enough matched that Joshua manages to scrape out a victory, at the cost of being (for him) practically defenseless at the end of it.  Now it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the players ... they're never going to see this punk so close to being someone they could handle again.  'course, Joshua genuinely will not pursue vengeance if they let him live.  Maybe he doesn't know, or whatever.  But you hand them the real choice:  not "Will you risk sending a demon you don't particularly care about to do this killing?" but "Will you, personally, risk your life and dirty your hands to take this bastard down?"

To my mind, if you do it that way, then whatever GM Fiat you apply to make get to that point fades in the face of the balls-to-the-wall way that it drops control of the story right in their laps.

How's that sound to you?
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