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…
I previously promised to get to the dream-invading “nocturnal activities” of the most recent session. Sadly, due to some players who shall remain nameless (but not unpunished!) who missed the last session, I can’t do that just yet. I will, and it will be hilarious, but I can’t… yet.
That’s a big yet for some, eh Arrow?
My current dilemma is this: The Recap.
You see one of my players was there for most of the session (during which he caused all sorts of trouble at the Vatican and the Temple Mount), but had to leave early. Ordinarily I would not forgive this, but his brand new baby boy is adorable enough that I will let it slide this once. His character was very much present for the hilarity, and I did in fact feel compelled to make a few decisions on his behalf. I believe I made the decisions he would have made if he had been able to stay – which is to say that they would not necessarily have been the best decisions he could have made under the circumstances. It’s his way.
My current plan is to take the opening moments of the next session and hit him with some “decision points”, by which I can accurately judge how well I know this particular player. I’m guessing I know him pretty well but there’s only one way to find out, right? Along the way maybe I’ll have him make a few WITS+COMPOSURE rolls to see how much of what was going on around him his character was actually paying attention to. This is likely to amuse me. I like this plan.
My next problem is the two slackers who missed the last session altogether. I already have a plan in place to punish Niels, and I am hatching a wonderful plan for our memory-challenged Cabalmate Rex. Their punishments will be slow, drawn out, and brutal (as they should be) and are not my problem per se. My problem is what to do with them while we catch Argus up to speed on the things his character was around for, but he wasn’t. On the one hand – they weren’t there and in theory should not hear the recap. On the other hand – it will be even more hilarious to have them around hearing events unfold as Argus finds out what he missed and certain others start to squirm uncomfortably in their seats.
I suspect that I will err on the side of hilarity.
As part of this I have to decide where their characters are right now. Since the Cabal is on an Astral journey it’s always possible that their characters will simply show up later than the others did because it took them longer to enter a meditative state. Rex probably fell asleep a few times making the attempt, and Niels was probably distracted by Physics. Damien was using spells to help everyone arrive in Astral Space together so in theory they would find the others eventually. Since this is not a physical journey, and dream-time is even more wibbley-wobbley than real time, they could be arriving just in time to bear witness to hilarity. This would completely excuse their being party to The Recap since their characters could in fact have witnessed it, which in turn would have a synergistic effect on the hilarity!
Are you squirming yet Arrow?
You will be!
You. Will. Be.