Death is Always an Option
As a matter of fact, not only is the death of PCs an option, it’s the one I look forward to each time I run the game. Sadly, it sometimes just isn’t very likely. Even more sadly, tomorrow’s Mage game is looking to be one of those times as it seems as though my players will actually spend some time gathering information. It’s been a while since they’ve done anything remotely resembling research, which I have to admit isn’t entirely their fault. Sometimes fans get hit, and things need to be sanitized. When that happens sooner is generally better than later.
For example, on their way back from dealing with the “crazy homeless guy” who was actually a former police officer that was about to change into a Werewolf for the very first time*, the Mages and Werewolves stumbled upon a nun that was possessed by a demon. This is the kind of thing you typically want to fix as quickly as possible. you want to take care of it even more quickly when you realize that the demon is Sangre Santo:
Sangre Santo is not much fun at parties. He does enjoy making deals though!
My co-GM and I made sure that there was at least one way to come out of the encounter unscathed. We also allowed for the possibility that they would figure out other ways to come out of this OK, though we could only think of the one, and we were reasonably certain they wouldn’t avail themselves of it.
As you may have already guessed – they didn’t.
Death was very much an option during this encounter. In fact Sangre Santo made it quite clear that he might kill them all quite by accident if he wasn’t careful! The sad truth is that this is one of those cases where simply killing them didn’t make sense. Quite frankly, that would have been way too passe for Sangre Santo. He didn’t want to kill them, he wanted to corrupt them. If he had to knock each and every one of them unconscious and then play “Let’s Make A Deal” with the first one to wake up over and over again until someone broke down and decided which one of their friends should be killed, so be it. After all, being an abyssal entity means that Sangre Santo has too much time on his hands. While this made a TPK unlikely, it did make it quite possible that one of the characters would be forced to sentence another one to death in order for the majority of them to live. Since it is unlikely that any player would make this choice, a successful “RESOLVE + COMPOSURE” roll would have been needed to not give in. The corrupted PC would have suffered some Morality loss and a possible derangement, the other PCs would be shocked and horrified (well, the ones that weren’t the dead one anyway), and my co-GM and I would have congratulated each other on a job well done.
Of course, failing that Sangre Santo would have eventually gotten bored again and just killed them all in the hopes that more entertainment would arrive soon.
The PCs actually caught a break here. It was down to final health points for several of the characters, and the big guy himself. Aenaiyah pulled a Hail Mary and managed to sever the connection between Sangre Santo and the mortal plane just before he managed to kill her.
This entertained him so much that he later sent her a gift!
Sangre Santo is nothing if not appreciative of a good time.
It’s important for death to be a very real threat in the campaign. The possibility of character death creates a sense of urgency and tension. The specter of death makes it clear to the players that the choices they make for their characters are important. The trick is that too much death, senseless death, and unavoidable death cause the same problems that no fear of death causes. If the players know that their characters are going to die anyway it takes away that very sense of urgency and tension – they are going to die no matter what they do!
Death needs to always be on the table, but it should always make sense, always be meaningful, and always be avoidable. If it isn’t it becomes cheapened. It becomes a certainty instead of a risk. Once the outcome is certain it just isn’t much of a game anymore.
*Let the record clearly state that the Mages and Werewolves actually opted to help this guy! (Let it also clearly state that previously the Gaurdian of the Veil handed him a fresh bottle of whiskey and pointed him toward the nearest subway tunnel.)
What will they think of next?
A time honored dilemma of GMs everywhere is trying to figure out what those annoying PCs are going to do next session so that you can plan adequately for it. I generally try to only plan for the various pieces of information that will be available for them to find without worrying too much about how they will find that information. This method frees me up a bit in session by allowing me to adjust to their ever changing assortment of crazy schemes.
For example, recently my players ended a session on the decision to storm the antagonist’s headquarters. I won’t lie to you, this was a bad plan. It did have the charm of being a plan I was ready for them to execute however. (I do so love the word “execute”!)
Instead they decided to kidnap one particular antagonist in the middle of Central Park. It being Central Park, no bystanders reacted to this event. (It helped that they had a Fate Mage to help steer people away from the area.) This I was completely unprepared for. So was the antagonist in question, who promptly botched her sense motive roll (WITS+EMPATHY) and convinced herself that they were ready to talk. (See: The Hits Just Keep On Coming) Now I have to start my session with the players holding an NPC in the Consilium prison. This causes much more work behind the scenes than the players realize (grumble grumble grumble), and leaves me wondering what their next move is.
Interrogating the prisoner would seem to be an obvious next step… but not necessarily to these guys. After all, the last time they captured an antagonist alive they wound up finding out that he had let loose a Goetic Demon in a park in upstate NY and they never did get around to asking him where in this many acre park he might have left it. That would have made way too much sense! Instead they decided to go to this park and just wander around until they stumbled across it with no idea what its bans might be. Sadly, I had planned on them interrogating the antagonist, finding out some interesting things about him and his goals (and the origins of one of the other PCs who had no memory of her past), and then going off to take care of the Goetic Demon. Instead I had to improvise and ask them precisely how a group of 6 people without a single Resource Dot between them intended to get to upstate NY and hilarity ensued. (You’ll have to remind me to post that tale here at some point… it was more than a little hysterical.)
So interrogation… not necessarily. They may decide to actually SPEAK with the prisoner, but since all she wanted to do was talk to them in the first place (and look how that wound up) this seems highly unlikely. I do have one player (a Moros Mage) advocating to kill her and interrogate her ghost… which does sort of qualify as an interrogation and could get interesting on many levels.
Another interesting option has been proposed by her Mastigos ex-husband who is contemplating taking a stroll through her Oneiros. (For the non-Mage players that would be her personal dream space – her unconscious mind) This is an extremely interesting idea that I actually like a lot, and I’m hoping to get a bead on what areas of her Oneiros he’ll be specifically looking for so I can make them suitably awesome. (Damien – I’m looking at you.) I actually have a solid back story for this character already since she is a a PCs ex-wife which makes her a pretty important character.
You never can tell what my Obrimos Guardian of the Veil will do (for the record, I totally blame my power outages this week on Argus!), and my Thyrsus Silver Ladder is convinced that the missing kid-sister of Aenaiyah the Acanthus is being held in a little town in upstate NY named Arcadia. (Don’t think I haven’t thought about how hilarious it would be should he be right!) Neils won’t be there this time around, which means I will have to come up with some awful reason why his character isn’t there. (Mua-Haa-Haaa!) My remaining Moros Mage (an Adamantine Arrow) worries me in that I have not heard him weigh in on what they should do with her just yet. This can only lead to madness.
And then of course there’s a little something that my favorite Time Mage has which could yield some interesting results. I had only considered the implications of this as I was leaving the house for the last session, and I came up with the most wonderful possible result before I reached the game store. It really would be fun on many levels – for the whole family!
No matter what happens, it should prove to be an extremely interesting session!
One of the trickier things to deal with when running a long term campaign is player absences. It’s bound to happen from time to time when a campaign stretches out over a couple of years, and when it does it leaves you stuck figuring out what to do with that player’s character during the session they missed.
Many GMs would say that this is the perfect time to put that character in mortal danger. This approach does have the advantages of:
- Being fun
- Making an example of this player to others who would dare miss your glorious session
- Being really fun!
- Deterring this person of questionable priorities from ever missing another session
- Did I mention that it’s fun yet?
Keeping it Real
Life is stranger than fiction. Pretty much anything you can think of, someone out there has tried to do. Scary thought, isn’t it? That very fear makes life excellent RPG session fodder!
Even as I type this I’m watching Ancient Aliens. I know what you’re thinking. Ancient Aliens isn’t exactly chock full of gritty realism – but it is an attempt to explain some pretty strange real world stuff. Could the Carnac Stones have been arranged by space travelers visiting our planet in a long forgotten past? Maybe. Or maybe it was actually Ancient Mages. Maybe Carnac holds some clues to the location of Atlantis, and the nature of the Fall! Atlantis itself gets screen time on the series also, as well it should!
And if you’re looking to build an ancient civilization (Awakened or otherwise), you owe it to yourself to watch Engineering an Empire. Then let your players try to tell you what features should or shouldn’t be in your city! (Bonus: the more you know about the architecture, the easier it is to lay sneaky traps!)
Programs like History’s Mysteries provide wonderful background for modern day stories. My own campaign’s story involves the truth behind the secretive project MK-Ultra, and what hopes (and fears) LSD brought to Awakened societies.
Of course your game world is your own creation, and as GM it’s up to you to decide how to adapt reality to your setting. Remember, any shows you’ve seen or books you’ve read, your players can find them too. If you take things too precisely from the research you may find that your players can guess where the game is headed a little too easily. The research is a starting place, and the truth for your game world need not exactly mirror the real world. You don’t have to stick strictly to reality, but taking a real world situation and tweaking it just a bit can bring a very real sense of dangerous urgency to your campaign.