Are you ready for some 4dventure?
All of a sudden, I’m glad I didn’t buy 3.5 just yet.
It’s happened to everyone at one time or another: the party is facing off with the Villain just as he’s about to sacrifice the Mayor’s Daughter in his dark altar of doom, when suddenly, the ranger takes out his bow, and shoots the gigantic, wrought-iron, spiked chandelier above the villain sending it crashing down on the fiend…and the Mayor’s daughter, killing both instantly.
Your ranger’s excuse? “I didn’t know it would kill her too.”
Before you throttle the ranger and shove d4′s down his throat for another spectacular feat of sheer idiocy, consider what just happened there. Is the party leader just being stupid or annoying, or worse, both?
As players, we often find ourselves operating in a semi- vacuum. We are ideally supposed to help each other out, but lack of communication, planning, and the need to show off sometimes blur the need to cooperate, and we find ourselves either doing something really stupid, or getting ourselves in deep trouble. Perhaps the issue at hand is awareness, which the ranger would do well to develop. Here are a few things that can help players increase their awareness and make sure that the party runs like the well-oiled machine that we would all like it to be.
Leadership is vital to any team. It does not necessarily have to fall on the shoulders of a single individual, but it is important that trust and loyalty are present with the people that lead. It is also important to note that Leaders do not hog the limelight. Leaders go out and do things, but they also inspire others to do things for them. Leadership is built on trust and that trust has to be earned and given. It is impossible for a leader to be good at everything. Instead, it is a true leader who knows when to delegate tasks better suited to someone else to that person rather than risk pulling the party down with his own ineptitude.
The other thing worth noting is common sense. In real life we are often aware of our surroundings because of the sheer amount of data that we process with our senses. In the game, however, we rely on the GM to feed us this information. For the most part, GMs do their best in trying to describe your surroundings, making sure that everyone is on the same page, so to speak. If there’s something that isn’t clear, ask. The GM won’t take off experience points from you for asking him to describe something.
Knowing the place can be of great help, for either using the environment to your advantage or for positioning tactics. Also, it can help you organize yourselves, planning for any possibilities as presented by the environs.
The real reason for asking about the environment though, is because of the rule of action-reaction. If you do something, expect repercussions, effects and changes due to your actions. A few examples include if your canary dies in a mine shaft for no apparent reason under no circumstances should you cast a fireball. If innocents are in the way, don’t bother to throw a supercharged attack that can level mountains. Remember that your characters are meant to be people, and for most people (barring psychopaths) killing innocents with massive overkill attacks is considered a big no-no.
My last bit of advice lies with the simple fact that since your character lives in a fictional world in our imaginations, NPCs that live there with him are every bit as real to your character, as he is to himself. Killing is never easy (unless it’s necessary, which is a different thing altogether) and most people who have been responsible for the deaths of others (even enemies) don’t really get to shake off the experience and walk away with a smile on their faces.
(Hey guys, just remembered that I’d written a few articles for roleplayingtips.com, so I figure I’d reprint some of the stuff here for more accessibility.)
I’ve gotten to thinking about the many ways to handle Cinematic Mass Combat. Being a pretty standard situation that GMs will have to face sooner or later, I’ve decided to type out how I handle such situations.
Take note that we’re talking about combat on a huge scale of armies taking up the horizon. For consistency, I’ll use a fantasy setting for my examples.
Cinematic Battles are still Cinematic. One of the best rules for running Cinematic mass combat is to keep it as simple as you can, avoiding rolling and rules that might break the tension and the excitement of an otherwise well- paced battle.
Zooming In and Zooming Out. Another concept that’s good to keep in mind is that you can use two “lenses” to cover the battle, which I prefer to term as Zooming In and Zooming Out.Zooming In is keeping your descriptions to things immediate and personal to the characters. This is usually used when the characters find themselves stuck in the middle of the combat. As with all things, be descriptive here: blood spurts, weapons clash, and the screams of the dying fill the air. The smell of blood, bile, excrement and sweat mix as the two sides devolve into a (usually) chaotic mess of people determined to walk out of this fight alive. This is the lens by which you handle hand-to-hand combat. Barbarians, Fighters, and Dawn Caste Exalted players love this kind of stuff.
Zooming Out, on the other hand, deals with the tactical view. This is the lens that I use to describe the battle to the players on the castle walls, away from the melee. When I’m detailing the battle using the Zoom Out lens to a player, I focus on the movement. Battle is dynamic and should always be portrayed as such. For the “feel” of this lens, think back to the last time you’ve played a Real Time Strategy game (like Starcraft, Red Alert, Battle Realms, or Warcraft 3) scrolled up to the bunch of red dots crawling to your base and you went, “OH CRAP!”
In the Zoom Out lens, the player on the castle walls gets to see the big stuff… The sudden appearance of enemy cavalry from a hiding spot in a nearby forest to flank the infantry on the side, the explosion of magical energy that tears apart a friendly formation like so many toy soldiers, and the great flaming chunks of burning pitch streaking across the sky in great arcs to smash against the castle walls. Never confuse this lens with a dry description of events. Even if they’re on the castle walls, they are still participants of the fight, and time is of the essence.
Think of the possibilities:
Each PC type can do something that will benefit the battle, and make *all* the players heroes.
No plan survives contact with the enemy. Not everything goes according to plan. There will be ambushes, underhanded tactics, elite bands of enemy soldiers magically teleporting into courtyards, and the ever-happy feeling of watching the battle from the castle walls only to realize that those steadily-growing dots on the horizon are dragons.This will keep the battle from becoming stale. Fighters are suddenly flanked by enemy units, mages suddenly have their spells countered, and the solo ranger might be misled to ambushing the enemy’s reinforcement wagons rather than their supply train. Nothing adds more fun to a game than uncertainty.
Dying is for the stupid. This being a discussion on Cinematic mass combat, I’d like to make things clear: dying is for the stupid. If your fighter constantly ignores your paladin’s pleas to, “fall back before it’s too late” even if his men are dead and he’s in the middle of the opposing army then there’s something wrong. Perhaps you could help give him a few moments to try and make a run for it, but if he ignores those…then perhaps the PC will be better off dead. If not because of the impossibility of saving him, then for the added shock value it will have for the other players.Sure it might not be fair to the player of the fighter, but five different second chances are more than enough. Be sure to make his death as heroic as possible to help soften the blow (think Boromir). The player of the fighter will be proud of his epic demise at the end. This will also make the other players jumpy as death is something that’s suddenly become a little too real. A win-win situation on my book.
Time is crucial to Victory. The last tip for running Cinematic Mass Combat is setting a time limit. This is crucial for players who are in the Zoomed Out lens more than the others, as their decisions have major effects on the battle. If a player is ever stuck in a moment of indecision, give them a five second count. If no response is given in time, then the situation goes unchecked and he’ll have to live with the consequences of his indecisiveness.Watching allies get mowed down by the barn-sized golem summoned by the enemy mage, just because you didn’t know whether to tell your men to shoot with their bows or try to dispel the summoning by yourself is never a happy experience.
Split them up (related to Zooming in and Zooming out). Another method I use is to split the party up. I GM some to become officers of their own (vanguard?) units and I GM the less combat intensive PCs to get involved in events on or behind the castle walls.This makes for some great roleplaying opportunities for all involved. The front liners can lead their units to victory, and feel the joy of having men respect (or fear) them, following the PCs’ orders because they know that the PCs will (somehow) get them out alive. Meanwhile, the Mages, Thieves, and Bards can watch from the castle, overseeing the situation from a tactical point of view. From their vantage point, they can cast spells, issue orders, and go off on “secret missions” (really fun for thieves).
In any case, it’s always good to keep things moving. As long as you don’t get bogged down by the details narrating cinematic mass combat should become easier and more enjoyable. Have fun, and don’t forget to watch your supply trains.
And Escapism is put on hold.
Apologies for not having updated the Life and Times lately but things have been pretty hectic in the working world that pays for my gaming vice. Still, there’s enough time to start looking at upcoming rpgs that will be hitting the stores very soon:
Changeling: the Lost is on it’s way this week, and I’ve already got a reservation in my Friendly Local Gaming Store. Should be pretty interesting, as it’s a big departure from the classic Changeling: the Dreaming of the old World of Darkness. I’m looking forward to the changes they’ll be making to turn this into a truly darker game about the Fae, more Pan’s Labyrinth than the strange LSD hallucination that Changeling: the Dreaming games tended to be.
The Emerald Empire supplement for Legend of the Five Rings, 3rd Edition RPG is also coming out, hopefully this month, and will probably only be available if we order it online. I’m not really all that convinced that the Local Distributor will even put an order into this, even if I have seen them bring in the L5R 3rd Edition Corebook 2 years after it was initially released.
I’d really like to get back to writing a long article as I’m used to doing, but those are the RPG books that I’m looking to getting.
On the Tabletop side, looks like my brother and I are about to give Hordes a spin. We’re just waiting for the shipment of books and figures to arrive, and hopefully find some guys to run a demo for us so we see how a game goes. The Quickstart rules are useful, and the downloads from boardgamegeeks gave an idea as to what the Warpack contents do, but it would be great if we could get our hands on the real deal. I’ll be taking an 11 day vacation next week, and I’m hoping I can get some model assembly and possibly painting going on by then. When I do, I promise to take a few pictures of my crafting skills and assorted injuries.
The year is 2070, and the world hasn’t just awakened with magic, it’s also crawling with tech. Mythical creatures walk the streets as spellslingers delve into the arcane. Cyberware makes you better-than-flesh, more than human. In the background, gargantuan corporations back stab each other’s in the war for the bottom line. You are a shadowrunner, you are the “deniable asset” hired by those same corporations to do something they don’t want to be caught doing. That is what shadowrunners do, and they get the job done.
Then the world went bonkers
Long story short, magic emergence, plague outbreak, a horrific computer crash, war in western Europe, Amerindian tribes clamoring for independence, and a whole slew of other things leave world government and political structure broken and battered. With their fall mega-corporations step in with their own brand of sovereingity.
He ain’t heavy
Strange things start happening to some people due to magic returning to the world. Humans started giving birth to cute little elven babies and dwarf babies. This was known as the UGE, or Unexplained Genetic Expression. In addition to that, some years after the first UGE baby came the Goblinization. Adult and juvenile humans started turning into something else, namely Orks and Trolls. These are, the metatypes of metahumanity: (that could be the title of an old 80′s cartoon… I’m not too sure)
Homo sapiens sapiens
Making up a slight majority on the average of Earth’s population, they are seen as the norm and measuring stick to which the other metatypes are compared. The fates, however, are kinder to humans.
Homo sapiens nobilis
Elves are taller and slimmer than the average human. This doesn’t mean that their bone structure and musculature are weaker than a human’s. They have those distinctly pointed ears, which is why many wear their-normally very fine-hair long to cover their ears. Their eyes are capable in dim light.
Elves hold an unchallenged position in pop culture, which is mostly due to their looks. Many media icons – from models to singers to politicians to porn stars to high-profile lawyers are elves. Unlike dwarfs, orks, and trolls, who are discriminated against on the basis of being “different and ugly,” elves get looked down on for being “different and beautiful.” They also have their own language: Sperethiel.
Homo sapiens pumillonis
Short, stocky, and barrel-chested, typically has shorter legs than other metatypes. Dwarves possess natural thermographic vision which helps on the stereotype that they used to live underground. They also possess a hardy immune system, rarely getting sick even when exposed to toxins. Dwarves tend to be quiet and unassuming about their abilities, they also tend to be the most assimilated into mainstream society. They encounter less prejudice as they aren’t feared like orks or trolls, or seen as glamorous or conspiratorial like elves, but when they encounter those that equate short with child-like they get the paternalistic attitude. The shortness doesn’t end there, they have to cope with living in a world built for taller beings as well as being literally overlooked when equal opportunities come.
Homo sapiens robustus
Proportioned similarly to humans, but with a heavier build that adds to their overall bulk. Aside from size, orks have large lower canines, often making them look more alien when paired with the characteristic thin lips and flat noses. Orks also have ears like an elf’s, though not as elongated. Orks also have eyes adapted for low light situations.
In 2060 the Or’zet codex, was published and established the basics of an ork language. Or’zet soon became a cultural phenomenon and helped fuel “ork pride,” but also lead to the explosion of “orxploitation” media stereotyping orks as poorly tempered or prone to criminal activities.
Homo sapiens ingentis
The largest and most exotic of the metatypes, they stand two and a half meters tall and can weigh upwards of 300 kilograms. Most trolls have arms longer in proportion compared to the other metatypes, and their skin is often ridged and lumpy due to natural bone deposits. This acts like a natural armor effect. They also possess thermographic vision. Troll ears are pointed, they have two extra teeth (for a total of 32), including prominent lower canines, they also have a pair of horns that grow in all manner of ways – straight, curled, twisted, etc.
Stereotyped as stupid or frightening, trolls are no less intelligent or well mannered as other metatypes. Though they are predjudiced for it, many trolls have found employment for those said traits: size, strength, and intimidation.
Racism is a thing of the past, speciesism is in Gone are the days of hating others because of their skin color or ethnicity, here are the days of hating on someone plainly because you’re human, or an elf, or whatever when walking into the turf of some go-gang.
You are what you do
Shadowrunners aren’t from the same cloth, they do different things differently. One might hurt people really well; the other may empty his bank account, steal his car, and his life in one execution of code. Here some of the more common character concepts:
These are the charismatic individuals, good looking, sweet talking, quick-witted or just have a great personality. Usually the front man in any negotiations with Mr. Johnsons, dealers, fixers, info-brokers, and any situation where legwork and networking in necessary. A face may be all natural, or packing bioware such as tailored pheromones.
Magicians use their force of will and the power of their beliefs to bend and manipulate magic to their whim and control the spirits of their tradition. Magicians of similar beliefs tend to gravitate toward each other, adopting schools of thought known as traditions. They are all capable of casting spells and summoning spirits. Most can percieve and project themselves into the parallel mystic realm of astral space. The most common traditions are the hermetics and the shamans. Hermetic mages believe magic is all about knowledge and structure. Shamans believe that magic is attunement with the forces of nature.
Modern day ninjas or berserkers. Adepts use magic to enhance their body’s abilities, enabling them to do stuff a normal uncybered person dreams about. They tend to be athletically oriented, with good stealth and combat skills.
Specialized in accessing and manipulating data on the Matrix (the world’s super-version of the internet). While illegally logged into the Matrix, they can search and sift through information of all kinds, tap phone calls, disable security systems, and enable other systems at will. Most hackers are experts in cybercombat- a battle of skills and programs against other hackers or intrusion countermeasures (IC)
Riggers are a subset of hackers that deal with manipulating and using modern vehicles and drones. Whether it be jumping in the vehicle, effectively operating the vehicle as if it was part of their body, or controlling multiple drones armed to the teeth, riggers have their metal friends around him at all times.
These are the ones that love hurting people. These razorboys and razorgirls use cyberware to make them combat monsters. Implanted with cyberware, bioware, and combat skills they attempt to become the meanest, fastest, strongest killing machine on the street. Street samurai is a catch all term for people who hurt things. Some may identify themselves as mercenaries, bodyguards, assassins, or with similar labels.
“Watch your back. Shoot straight. Conserve ammo. And never, ever, cut a deal with the dragon.” -Street proverb