Sometimes #RPGChat on Twitter inspires me to write about a particular topic on the blog. Last night’s chat was no exception.
To Fudge, or not To Fudge? That is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to say “to hell with THAT!” and give the Big Bad extra hit points during a fight with the PCs?
There are those who will proclaim that it isn’t fair to fudge in the Big Bad’s favor. There are those will will say that it is breaking the rules. But really, what’s the better story here: “our group trounced the monster in the first round before it even got the chance to move”, or “it was an epic struggle, the battle waged on and on, and then I bit Cerberus’ balls off!”?
(Yes, this actually happened.)
You really need to consider carefully before you fudge. Sometimes the PCs do something that is just so incredibly epic that letting them kill that baddie so fast is just the right thing to do. For example, years ago when a friend of mine rolled a critical hit – decapitation instant death and killed a dragon in the opening shot of an encounter (a fight he was supposed to avoid mind you)… as a first level character… that was a pretty big moment and the GM absolutely let him have it. He should have had that moment. It’s a great story!
Other times the fight ending early is just anticlimactic. The first time we brought the Mages and Werewolves together to fight a big bad evil spirit we severely underestimated the amount of damage they could do. When we constructed the baddie we didn’t build a high enough defense for it because we wanted to make sure it was possible for them to hit it. They had ludicrous rolls with all kinds of roll-ups and it wound up totally spent before the end of the first round. Sure it happens to all guys every now and then, but does that mean they want to tell their friends all about it for years to come? Hells no! So my co-GM and I exchanged a quick glance, tripled its original hit points, and continued the fight. The players never even knew. (Well… they know now.) “Cerberus” (we never explicitly called it that, but the legend comes from somewhere!) got to try out a few nifty abilities, the PCs were battered around a bit, and yes… the fight ended when a Werewolf castrated him with his teeth. Two years later we still talk about it!
The fact of the matter is that those stats: the Defense, the Hit Points… they were just numbers we chose. Sure they were based on various other stats, but we made up those stats too! We could just as easily have made up higher numbers to begin with, and truth be told we almost did but wanted to make sure the PCs had a fighting chance. No matter how hard you try sometimes you get it wrong. Sometimes you need to adjust on the fly. What’s important is to remember that everyone is at the table to have fun, and in the case of RPGs (generally speaking) to tell a good story. If you err in the service of those two goals then chances are you’ll be forgiven if you get caught.
Just remember… next time you give that baddie more hit points! And better armor… and minions…
With Halloween right around the corner it seems like the perfect time to talk about bringing some terror into your players’ lives. It’s only fair, since if your players are anything like mine they make you shudder with fear and loathing every time they show up for a session. You need some pay back, and I’m here to help.
The fact that my campaign takes place in the World of Darkness makes it somewhat obligatory to have an element of horror, but you don’t want the horror to become too “one note”. You can only hold suspense for so long before the players simply get used to it. Additionally, it can be difficult to sustain a feeling of dread when you have to pause and pick things up next session. That said, there is no reason to not add horrific elements into your long-term campaign.
My current chronicle started out as so many do: with a dead body. The scene was pretty gruesome. A stop-motion animator had been killed (Sorry Matt!), and his body had been vivisected and filled with modelling silicone. A careful examination of the body revealed that whoever filled the body’s cavity with silicone actually color matched it to the animator’s skin. There were small patches of silicone on a flap of skin at the wound site that were clearly a form of color palette.
This sounds like a job for Post-Cognition!
Since I am a particularly evil and twisted GM I was prepared for this. I pulled the Acanthus aside and asked her what she was looking for. I was prepared for any number of things she might want to see. How did the animator die? Why was he killed? Who was the last to see him alive? The event she asked to see happened to be the one I was hoping she would ask for: how did the silicone wind up in his chest? I thoroughly enjoyed describing to her in gruesome detail the small, stubby hands cutting him open with the sculpting knife, testing shades of silicone against his skin, and squeezing gob after gob of silicone all around his internal organs. She asked the natural question, “Small, you mean like a child’s hands?” Oh no… I mean very small hands… hands that don’t look quite real… in fact they kind of look like they might be made of silicone.
“We’re in a stop motion animation studio filled with puppets… aren’t we?” The GM smiles innocently in response. “And they’re being ridden by something… aren’t they?”
Puppets and modelling knives cover virtually every surface, except of course the ones covered with bottles of turpentine, cigarette lighters, and the tools you need to build small scale set pieces: duct tape, hammers, nails… caltrops anyone?
The fact of the matter is that the puppets didn’t kill the guy – they were just a red herring. Still, I had hoped that a rampage through the studio would commence. Of course I couldn’t count on my Guardian of the Fail to point out that keeping spirit ridden puppets around isn’t a good idea. Instead he’s totally fine with teaching them to tend bar in the sanctum’s basement. #facepalm
Then again, using the puppets to help clue the players in to the fact that something was decidedly wrong in their basement several sessions later was enjoyable, but I digress.
When they finally did get around to Post-Cognitioning how this poor guy actually did die it involved blunt force trauma to the head perpetrated by an invisible assailant, a very strong invisible assailant. They couldn’t tell at first because the assailant, clearly a Mage, had cast Corpse Mask to make it look as though this person had died of an overdose of some sort. The detail I gave of the actual killing was just enough to be creepy without taking away the player’s imagination as a factor completely. Always let the player come up with some of the detail in their own mind. What they come up with on their own will always be creepier to them than anything you make up for them! Instead of describing the damage itself, try describing the type of action that would have been necessary to cause “this kind of damage”. It gets them every time.
Afterward Aenaiyah found a dead guy in the parking lot of the bar where she works. Hello Post-Cognition old friend! Don’t worry Aenaiyah, I won’t make you see anything too gruesome…
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a science guy – a guy who does science. Your mission in life is to find out how and why the universe works, and you’re doing pretty well with that (you think) until you hit this stumbling block. There’s this point in your theories where something is wrong. There is some piece of vital information that you just dont have. There is one elusive key ingredient with which you could unlock the mysteries of everything if you only knew what it was. How irritating is that?
And then one day you wind up figuring out that the piece you were missing was the the Awakened Will… and now you have one! Good Morning Niels!
So now what? Sure, you’ve Awakened, and you have all this power… are you just going to throw away your quest for the answers to Life, The Universe, and Everything?
This is when you can really find things out. You’re gonna play with it! You’re gonna push the boundaries. Sure, the “Wise Mages” know that there are limits to the understanding of a young Mage that should limit what spells that Mage attempts… but as a scientist you understand more than the average newly Awakened rube! Why shouldn’t you try playing around with making ephemeral lab assistants and turning your lab space into a hallow? Paradox shmaradox. That never happens! Honestly, it’s probably just a scary story the elder Mages tell the younger Mages to keep them in line while taking bets as to how long it will take them to figure it out. Honestly, when was the last time you managed to invoke a paradox?
OK, there was that one time when Arrow claims a paradox he induced turned his toilet brush into a non-sentient and nondescript hotel maid while trying to disguise himself… but no one else was there and there aren’t any pictures so did it even really happen? And besides, if you can’t repeat the result by following the same steps then it’s scientifically insignificant anyway! He probably just miscast the spell.
And speaking of repeating the steps of an experiment to see if it can produce the same outcome, maybe it’s about time to try recreating that situation that happened in the basement a few weeks back. Yes, I know, Aenaiyah swears that it would have vaporized Manhattan in a billowing cloud of fiery death in 24 TO 48 HOURS (!!!) but who really believes her anyway? She’s just being excitable is all. That girl drinks way too much coffee… I mean tea… something with caffeine and sugar in it.
And I suppose that walking manifestation of Prime Magic that looked just like you was a bit unexpected, but it was also pretty cool wasn’t it? Can’t the world use another Niels? Sure it can!
Then of course there was the extra-nummy mana! All that double-strength super-potent glowy goodness flowed right into you every time you stepped foot in the lab. You have to admit that was pretty awesome. The speed of light may have been slightly altered by some aspect of the effect, true, but you can probably fix that problem if you have enough time to tweak the experiment. Just think of all that super-charged mana that could be yours! Eyes on the prize Niels!
And really, what better time than when your cabal mates are mucking around in Damien’s ex-Wife’s brain? It’s hardly as though they’re paying much attention to what Niels is doing at the moment, what with their being all preoccupied with astral constructs and stuff, and since your player has missed the last two sessions it really does feel like the right time for another breakthrough, doesn’t it?
Why, if you keep on experimenting Magekind could benefit in many ways… many of them good!
What could possibly go wrong?
The Principles of Time Travel
as I (Sort-of) Understand Them (in Theory)
Before I say anything else: The First Rule of Time Travel is “Don’t.”
The Second Rule of Time Travel is “Don’t Talk About Fight Club,” but I think that was someone’s idea of a joke. Possibly mine. In the future, that is. Anyway, not important.
Seriously though, “Don’t” is a very important rule. Time Travel should never be undergone lightly. If a Moros Mage f@#ks up, the worst that can happen is the zombie apocalypse or the complete and utter destruction of all matter in the universe. In the case of a serious Acanthus fustercluck, the whole of existence—at best—never happened. The problem is if you’ve done enough Time Traveling that someone’s teaching you the rules then you’ve gone and broken the First Rule of Time Travel (and possibly the second) already.
So, you beautiful little rule-breakers, welcome to my domaine.
Most people who have studied (read as: “mucked around in”) the workings of the timestream conclude that there are only two ways the universe could stabilize itself with so many people disobeying the First Rule of Time Travel:
The SPLIT TIMELINE or MULTIVERSE theory suggests whenever someone travels back in time and changes something, two timelines branch off. In one the original event happened unaltered, in the other something completely new happens. Apparently Nintendo subscribes to this theory, much to the chagrin of obsessive Legend of Zelda fans wanting to know how the various games fit in the Zelda continuity. If you are one of those fans, let me try and settle that debate for you once and for all: There isn’t any continuity. None of it ever happened. It’s fictional..
The INEVITABLE FATE or YOU’RE PROBABLY SCREWED theory is best demonstrated by any episode of Disney’s Gargoyles that involved a handy little item called “The Phoenix Gate.” Essentially, If you try to change something you’d find yourself the catalyst for the event you wanted to prevent. For example, you travel back in time to save your childhood friend from being hit by a car. When you see them alive and well and just how you remember them after so many years you shout out in joy—but this shout catches their attention and they step into the street without looking both ways and. . . . you get the idea.
In my opinion, both theories suck. The first creates an overwhelming number of possible universes (and even more debates over said universes), and the second is just damn depressing. I like to believe in a different theory, which I’ll call the BACK THERE theory, after the Twilight Zone episode of the same name. This suggests that “Major Events” are stable, but “Minor Events” can be changed.
Let’s say you decide to get all noble and assassinate a certain crazy German leader from the 1940s. That would be the historical equivalent of rewriting the Harry Potter series so that our eponymous hero croaks in The Chamber of Secrets. Lord only know what horrors you’ll unleash when you unravel that intricate weave of cause and effect. Actually, the Lord doesn’t know. . . but other Time Travelers do. Should you manage to kill Hitler you’ll find yourself a massive target for every (Somewhat) Responsible Time Traveler, and if you’re lucky your work will be undone before you can even begin it. If you’re unlucky, you’ll blink out of existence before you can say “What do you mean my father was never born?”
Saving one Jewish family from the same era doesn’t rewrite as much. It’s similar to the removal of Peeves from the Harry Potter movies. It alters things, but the changes are manageable.
In essence, a Time Traveler is like an editor; The universe is a finicky author. If you want to rewrite things in the author’s beloved manuscript you have to do it with a light touch. Otherwise the author will have a temper tantrum and things will turn out poorly for everyone involved.
All right my little rule-breakers, I’d write more on this but I have to be somewhere yesterday. Good luck on your journey, but if you can slip back and teach yourself the First Rule of Time Travel before you get started that’d probably be for the best.