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Author Topic: They're running away and chickening out...  (Read 7041 times)
Jack Aidley
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« on: June 05, 2003, 03:43:05 AM »

So there was this nun, a woodsman and a petty criminal. It sounds like the setup for a joke, but is in fact my current party. I think I'd better tell you a little about the setup before I go on with my tale.

Living With The Talent is set in a low-fantasy world. There are no non-human races, although there are (probably) magical beings. There is a psionic-like ability that some humans possess called the Talent. The Talent is actively supressed by the Braedect Empire (think Roman-esque), with a strange and terrifying group called the Seekers hunting down and burning anyone who possesses it. The characters all have the Talent to one degree or another. In addition to The Talent there a (very) few individuals who wield the True Magic, most notably the Fire Mage who's lands border close to where the players are, and the Necromancer who's lands lie far to the south.

The first few sessions went well, the characters met up in a not-too-contrived way after being forced from their usual places by the coming seekers. An early encounter ended with them killing a Seeker, this wasn't entirely according to plan, since it removed some of their mystery, but it did give the game extra impetous so I wasn't too put out. They travelled onwards and game to Invillius, a Braedect villa and nearby village, where they discovered strange happening - the servants seemed zombie-like and rude, the peasants weren't tending the fields, the one peasant they did see turned out to be farming the same spot all day. On further inspection they discovered some kind of camp within the village, but fled when they discovered they were being watched by about twenty cats arranged in a semi-circle around them.

I was dead pleased, the players were getting well into character, and talking to one another in character, I'd established some interesting going ons, created some worthwhile plot hooks and got the characters' spooked.

And then it started going wrong. They decided to head back to the nearby fort and tell them of the problem rather than investigate further. Then they decided that they needed to continue running, and headed off east along the border road, and away from everything I had set up... As they approached the next fort along the border road, they saw signal fires being lit behind them and then troops being sent back along the way they came.

I'm at something of a loss now, I don't want to railroad them back towards the things I've setup and I don't want to break my cardinal rule of roleplaying:

The Plot Is What The Characters Do

But I also don't want to abandon the events I've set in motion. Or just run a game where they're just running from village to village (it gets old fast). Any and all advice, comments and analysis welcome.
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- Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter
Fabrice G.
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Posts: 206


« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2003, 04:11:17 AM »

Hi Mr Jack,

Quote from: Mr Jack
The Plot Is What The Characters Do

But I also don't want to abandon the events I've set in motion.



The good news : you don't have to.

If you want to proritize the decisions of your players, the only thing not to do is force them to your planned event (via kidnapping, or another form of railroading).

What you can do is understand why they decided to flee. In matter of character's behavior that can be emphasized to be meaningfull. Let me explain...
The characters find something strange and yet the players decide to make them flee. You might want to know if it means :
 1) the players like what is happening but playing their character ( actor stance) decide that it's way to dangerous and that the only logical solution is to get the hell out of here ;
 or
 2) the players don't really enjoy what happen and use the "escape" as a way to say to you : "nope, we're not interested in that". (author stance)

Not being with your group, I can't know if it's either 1) or 2)

If you found out it's option 1), well... You have many options.
- make their choice to flee meaningfull : they go, but they leave behind them all their loved ones/familly/friends/etc. That says a lot about theit characters.
- keep all you had planned, simply remember : now, it's just mere color ; a background to better show why they are on the loose, and why they act like they do.

Remember that if you want  that what your players want is what make the plot, you ahve to consider all your nifty ideas of what shoud happen/have happened as secondary at best.

So, to reacap: find why it went that way ; then, focus upon what your players want and use what you planned/prepared as color to highlight their actions and decisions.

Hope that it helps,

Fabrice.
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Scripty
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Posts: 286


« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2003, 05:45:15 AM »

Who's to say that the fort (or someone thereabouts) is not somehow in on this strangeness? Or even behind it all?

Not to railroad them or anything, but if your game were approached from a cinematic standpoint there's no way that the people in the fort wouldn't somehow be involved.

When players give you chicken...
Make chicken pot pie.
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arxhon
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« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2003, 03:11:12 PM »

Work the Seekers back in. There is a Seeker at the fort, asking questions about the murdered Seeker (remember, the one the PC's killed?)

This should complicate things nicely.

Then,  start having strange things happen at the fort, like being followed by cats, and more peasants "farming the same spot".

They can't run from their problems for long. If they do, the problems just get worse.
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Lxndr
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« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2003, 03:36:04 PM »

Maybe I'm misreading, but they've already been to AND LEFT the fort, so that Seeker arxhon just suggested putting at the fort is still one or two steps behind the PCs.  Or do you mean at fort #2?  Hrm.

Right now, it seems as though they're fleeing Invillius, where the weirdness was first discovered, and are also fleeing the fort, thinking they're not far enough away from the danger.  By the time they reach fort #2, troops are being sent back along the way they came.

The weirdness can still be here.  You can have it happen without even railroading.  What is your reason behind fort #2 sending troops down towards fort #1?  Or do you not yet have a meaning behind that image?
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John Kim
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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2003, 04:08:59 PM »

Quote from: arxhon
Work the Seekers back in. There is a Seeker at the fort, asking questions about the murdered Seeker (remember, the one the PC's killed?)

This should complicate things nicely.

Then,  start having strange things happen at the fort, like being followed by cats, and more peasants "farming the same spot".

They can't run from their problems for long. If they do, the problems just get worse.

In story terms, it seems to me that there is a flaw here.  What do a nun, a woodman, and a petty criminal have to do with what is going on with cats, zombie servants, and so forth?  What makes it their story?  arxhon -- you characterize this as the PCs fleeing from their problems, but it seems to me that this isn't their problem.  That's why they're running away from it.  They have no reason to investigate it, and it seems very dangerous -- probably life-threatening.  

Personally, my approach would be to give the PCs more power and more information.  If you want them to investigate, then they have to feel that investigation is potentially more worthwhile than the risk to their lives.  You need to (1) reduce the perceived risk, and/or (2) suggest a positive gain from their point-of-view.    

To suggest what that would be, I need to know more about the PCs.  That should really be the start in the first place.  Who are they?  What are their issues, their motivations?  If you want a good story, that should be what you should think about first.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2003, 04:52:09 PM »

Hi Jack,

Personally, my approach would be to give the PCs more power and more information.

John is exactly right. Here's how I'd do it. I'd get the events with the players to a tense moment...and I'd cut from the scene. Then I'd frame one of the players into a scene back at the villa, as an NPC. Maybe as a centurion who's about to discover something horrible. Maybe as someone with the Talent, who's overhearing a conversation in a public place. Give them some real drama in these scenes...violence breaks out during a discussion of politics...a bizarre creature attacks. You can do whatever you want, because these NPCs aren't the player characters and it doesn't matter if they die. And I'd cut suspensefully from some of these scenes before wounded characters are firmly established as being dead. I'd do individual scenes like this with each player...maybe twice around the room like this, boldly revealing information about the situation in each scene, before ultimately getting back to the player character group and their own tense moment. If you do it right, the players will return to Invillius...because that's where they'll envision their heroism happening.

Recognize though, that there's an implied contract in it. If you screw them over when they go back, they'll never trust you again.

Paul
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John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2003, 10:39:15 PM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
 John is exactly right. Here's how I'd do it. I'd get the events with the players to a tense moment...  

There's nothing necessarily wrong with that suggestion -- but I would say we really need more information on the PCs and the players before any suggestion is more than a shot in the dark.  Whatever is done, it needs to be about them.  

Quote from: Paul Czege
 Recognize though, that there's an implied contract in it. If you screw them over when they go back, they'll never trust you again.  

This is totally true.  This happened to me in an Ars Magica campaign.  NPC magi kept turning on us and being dangerous and antagonistic for no good reason.  Eventually, we said "We're going to Crete" -- precisely because Crete was far away from everyone else.  We did everything we could to avoid any involvement with other magi.
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Jack Aidley
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« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2003, 02:06:46 AM »

Wow. That's a lot of good replies, I'll try an answer as best I can.

Fabrice G
Quote
the players like what is happening but playing their character ( actor stance) decide that it's way to dangerous and that the only logical solution is to get the hell out of here


Yes, I think that's the correct interpretation. The players themselves seems to be quite interested in what is going, but their characters are already on the run, and really pretty spooked by all this.

Quote
Remember that if you want that what your players want is what make the plot, you have to consider all your nifty ideas of what shoud happen/have happened as secondary at best.


I do, I've run my game this way for a while, and I've never really had a problem before. But this time... I dunno, I think the problem is that the setting concept I'd originally come up with is too narrow. The inital moments of the game wrenched the characters away from anything they were familiar with (as they are all running from the seekers), and I haven't really established any points of contact to work from. I don't really see how I can until they stop running.

arxhon

Quote
Work the Seekers back in. There is a Seeker at the fort, asking questions about the murdered Seeker (remember, the one the PC's killed?)


The seekers are already on their way to the fort. After the PCs told them about the strange happenings at the villa they sent a messanger to summon them. As to asking questions, well, one of the PCs took the equipment from the dead seeker so he could use it as a disguise later. I can't have the seekers themselves asking questions because it has already been established that the seekers can see people who have the Talent.

Alexander

Quote
What is your reason behind fort #2 sending troops down towards fort #1? Or do you not yet have a meaning behind that image?


Along the border road between the forts there are a number of signal towers. As the players approached the second fort (Fort Caro), the signal fires behind them were lit, the passing troops have told them that this means there has been some kind of trouble at the first fort (Fort Ludranius) that they can't deal with. Hence the troops being dispatched from Fort Caro to help. They are told that the signal fires are there in case of invasion from the fire mages land (incidently along the border road, they also discovered a ruined fort, apparently destroyed by fire).

John Kim

Quote
What do a nun, a woodman, and a petty criminal have to do with what is going on with cats, zombie servants, and so forth?


I think you hit the nail on the head there. While my plans for what is behind it all (a powerful group of Talent wielders of semi-debious motivation) are certainly linked to the characters, I haven't introduced things in a way that makes it available to them. My intention was to make the encounter at Invilius mysterious and a little spooky, but as it worked out I put the fear of god into the characters.

Quote
Who are they? What are their issues, their motivations?


Hal Halant A petty criminal, who travels from town to town performing minor acts of theft and deception. He is gifted with two forms of the Talent: Blindsight and Obscure, which allow him to hide his acts effectively from thse who would want him caught. He is highly skilled in breaking and entering type skills, a capable knife fighter and is quite the smooth talker. He is also the richest member of the party by a long way. Hal left his usual hunting grounds upon hearing of the approaching Seekers. A cad and a bounder, but he stops short of being ruthless.

Elli A 'nun', raised as a member of a convent. The predominant religion of the time is Pantheistic, so the term 'nun' is to be loosely interprated. Elli is softly spoken, compassionate, gentle and kind. She is the most Talented of the group. She has no valuable possessions or money. She fled the convent when she discovered that the Seekers would shortly be staying there.

Sladimir Kolonarant A woodsmen, rugged and strong, he has lived apart from society as a charcoal burner most of his life. His biggest fear is the discovery of his Talent. His Talents centre mostly around Animals, and his closest friend is a hound named Afid. He is skilled in survival and no mean shot with a bow. He has but a few copper coins to his name. Sladimir left his home at the advice of an old man in the nearby village, also advising him that the Seekers were coming.

Elli was found lost in the wounds by Sladimir when she was helping an injured wolfcub. Her compassion towards the injured cub, and Afid's immediate friendship with her meant he warmed to her immediately, while she was glad of his protection and company in this strange (to her) place. The two of them met Hal on the road towards Fort Ludranius (on the other side of the wood they in, the Uberwald), almost immediately after they met they were met by the Seeker who Sladimir killed. Their complicity in the death of the Seeker has bound them together since, thus far at least.

As to the players. Hal is played by a friend of mine called Ant, he likes to play the 'talker' in his character, and can if the session gets slow can easily run up large sections of time in entertaining but ultimately unproductive side pursuits. Elli is played by my girlfriend, who I introduced to roleplaying - this is her first full campaign. Sladimir is played by Robin, an amiable and inoffensive geek. I've not played with Robin in a while, although he has played in some of my previous campaigns.

Quote
Personally, my approach would be to give the PCs more power and more information.


The characters are pretty powerful, the Talent gives them a real edge if they ever choose to use it - I don't want to up their power levels too much from where they are now. You're right about the information, I have been dropping in snippets of information but as they move further away it becomes increasingly difficult to do so in a coherant manner.


Paul Czege
Quote
I'd get the events with the players to a tense moment...and I'd cut from the scene. Then I'd frame one of the players into a scene back at the villa, as an NPC.


That's an interesting idea, Paul, but it doesn't go with the way I like to play. The players have their characters and I don't ever have them run anyone else. Doing so would fundementally change the way we play, and not in a direction I wish to take it.

Quote
Recognize though, that there's an implied contract in it. If you screw them over when they go back, they'll never trust you again.


I'm interested to know what you would consider screwing them over? In my experience the 'screwing over' of players I've done in my games has been mostly productive.
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2003, 04:49:32 AM »

Could I ask a question?

Did you design the plot details before or after character generation?
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Ian Charvill
Jack Aidley
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« Reply #10 on: June 06, 2003, 05:09:22 AM »

I don't really design plot details beforehand, I tend to pretty much wing it and see where it goes. The initial setting was designed before character generation, the players were told to create characters with the Talent, and the initial hook (run from the Seekers) was pre-designed. The later wierdness elements were produced later, following on from ideas I'd been mentally kicking around for a while. Nothing in my games is set in stone until it happens. Sure, right now, I think the events at Invilius are caused by a powerful group of Talent wielders led byb a unique and dangerous individual called Sirillion, but until the players find out something that reveals this bit of information it won't necessarily be true - although I don't currently have an alternate explanation that doesn't contradict past events or known world knowledge.

In the past I've found this method of running extremely succesful. I expect there is probably an accepted term for it here, but I've not yet got a solid grip on the Forge Terminology so I'll spare you my abuse of it. But this time? I'm not sure what to do next.
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damion
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« Reply #11 on: June 06, 2003, 09:31:59 AM »

Here is some questions I have:
1)How aware are the players of their characthers abilities?
One possibly idea would be to give them an encounter with a smaller part of the weirdness, in order to show that they can actually affect it, make headway.  Given what you described about
the setting, it sounds like it would be difficult for them to use their Talent and not be hunted down. This may contribute to their running away. (If I do anything heroic, the Seekers will investigate me) Another question would be, how do the common people view the Talent, i.e. if they do something and help someone, is that person going to report them anyway?

2)From the backgrounds you mentioned, none of them seems to have a vested interest in actually doning anything. One thing to do would be atually let them get to a place they like, maybe do a few side plots, and then have the weirdness start enroaching there. Since they have an attachment to their current situation or people therein, they are more likely to investegate.
This requires spending the time to build a real attachment, not just introducing an NPC and then having the NPC be kidnapped.
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James
Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #12 on: June 06, 2003, 10:20:17 AM »

Hello Mr. Jack,

Here's something I'd add:

You write, "Plot is what the character do."  Yes, sort of.

The truth is, a series of unconnected acts by the characters do not create "plot."  Such a series of events might end up being the tale told by the five year old: "And then he went here...  and then he did this... And then he saw that..."  If we love the child, it  might appeal for a few minutes, but one certainly would not use it as an outline for a film.

I'd offer an extension to your statement: "Plot is what the characters do toward somethig."

Luke will Rescue the Princess; Ripley accepts the challenge to face the aliens again; Frodo wants the Shire to be safe, for example.

Now, such an approach maybe not be thematically sound as executed as an RPG, lacking premise and all, but it would produce, at least, a "yarn" or a "tale."  And there's nothing wrong with that.

Here's the direction of the storytelling I've heard so far: Three exceptional characters are threatened by people sent to kill them because of their exceptional abilities and flee.  They investigate further, realize the the threat is greater and more mysterious than they thought, and flee further.

This last point is vital. The players are continuing to do what they were encouraged to do from the opening situation you presented to them.  In other words, they're playing the story "correctly."

You chased the players' characters out of their lives.  The characters have no goal to reach, no solution to a problem to strive for.  They're willing, sans any other available and rational option, to let you have their characters continued to be chased by your characters.

My questions are: Where might the characters be trying to get to?  What might they want to accomplish?  Is there any actual choice in the game yet?

This last question requires explanation:  They are chased out of their lives by a total mystery.  What actual choice do they have but to run?  Luke, for example, is chased out of his life when the stormtroopers kill his aunt and uncle.  But he can choose to hide on Tatoonie, or join Obi Wan on his way to Alderan.  Do the players have any actual decisions on the table before them?

For example: Is there a person they might kill, a fortress they might take, an political institution they might overthrow to free those with Talents from this murderous tyranny that the players and their characters know about?  If not, consider this, or something along this line.

Is there a place they can try to reach where those with Talents are safe?  Thus, you continue the "hunted" mode, as they PCs travel across this cool and strange land you've created, while still being chased.

But, again, it's got to be a choice.  Off the top of my head, I'd offer up both these options and see what happens.  Then they're on their way *toward* something.  Then, as they make decisions as to what they'll do to get to their goal, you'll get your plot.  

Take care,

Christopher
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #13 on: June 06, 2003, 10:23:37 AM »

Quote from: Mr Jack
I don't really design plot details beforehand, I tend to pretty much wing it and see where it goes. The initial setting was designed before character generation, the players were told to create characters with the Talent, and the initial hook (run from the Seekers) was pre-designed.


I suspect there may be more than a little in the comment I've isolated here.  You've started play by telling the players to flee the Seekers and then you're unhappy that they're running away.  You're players may be reading things as 'Band on the Run' rather than 'The Stand'.

Quote from: continuing what Mr Jack
In the past I've found this method of running extremely succesful. I expect there is probably an accepted term for it here, but I've not yet got a solid grip on the Forge Terminology so I'll spare you my abuse of it. But this time? I'm not sure what to do next.


Don't worry too much about Forge terminology, it'll come with time.  A good starting reference is the glossary at the end of Ron's simulationism essay.  Part of what you're talking about (fluidity of plot and possibly setting before it's actually established in play) certainly tends towards Fang's No Myth style first discussed, I think, here.

Edited to note that I've crossposted with Christopher's more eloquent exposition.
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Ian Charvill
Jack Aidley
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« Reply #14 on: June 07, 2003, 02:10:54 AM »

Quote
In other words, they're playing the story "correctly."


Don't misunderstand me, Christopher, I don't think my players have done anything wrong. I think their actions where entirely reasonable and consistent. Unfortunately they don't work out well for me as GM, so I'm looking to both understand my mistake and work things back from there. I think your post and Ian's following post pretty much sum up the problem

As to The Plot Is What The Characters Do this is my way of summing up my solution to what I see as a problem in a lot of other games I have experienced, where there is The Plot and the PCs are involved in the plot and they will follow the plot for it has been decreed from upon high that The Plot Is Holy. This has been pretty much the standard model of play for the players I have taken into my group who, of course, come looking for The Plot.

I think I'm begining to form some ideas about how to turn things round and get an interesting game going. I'll report back after next session and let you know how it went. Thank you all for your insight and advice.
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