Friday, June 27, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: Reaction rolls with irresistible PCs.

This post is part of a the GURPS Social Academy in support of my new campaign The Empress of India.

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll

This post is the outcome of extensive playing with reaction rolls in a Social-Engineering centered campaign. I discuss here things that came up in play.

It naturally follows that... a campaign based on social interactions that the PC are going to grow very good at manipulating everyone. In a way, this is fine: they spend the points and the natural reward is to be able to pull off crazy stunts. Otherwise, someone else would be the main character to that story. 

There is a situation where I feel less certain that kickass-charming PCs are always awesome. This is the case of the reaction roll, which is a non-skill based, non-opposed 3d6. 

In actual play, you'll get Reiko walking into a room and meet a man. She is pretty, has high birth and some charisma thrown into the mix. All in all, she gets a +6 to reaction. On average, she will get a very good reaction. Is this a problem? 

Everyone giggles every time so, not really at first glance. However, being like by everyone will cramp the GM's style after a while so here I propose a few ways to mitigate that:

  1. Make the outcome a mystery -- You tell the PC whether it is positive or not and force them to use their social skills to figure out what is really going on. You'd be surprised how a critical fail lead to funny situations (The hard part is keeping a straight face). Sometimes, awkwardness will affect the reaction as well in the process. Get the PCs to be detailed on how they approach the NPC and select the skill that match the description rather than the best skills to read others
  2. Immediate reactions are capped --  Anything better than good at first glance makes little sense. If the reaction gets higher to very good or excellent, grant +1 or +2 to the next influence check instead. 
  3. Don't be afraid to make it hard on the PCs -- If a NPC has a good reason to be pissed, give a stiff negative penalty and cap the lower bound on reaction levels. For example, Reiko may have +6, but the average Joe in the same situation would be bad (5). This implies a -5 narrative penalty which could be capped at bad because going too low immediately doesn't make sense in this situation. The final reaction roll is modified by +1, which means an expected neutral reaction. A more extreme case: The NPC has a -12 to reaction for a final modifier of -6 but with a minimum cap to poor. This means that only a bit of luck will give something better than poor, but without Reiko's charms and other attributes, it would be nearly impossible to do better than this. The overflow translates into a penalty for a future Influence check as described in point 2. 
  4. Olden school GMs would argue against using dice to decide the outcome... where is the sport in that as a GM? It isn't because that I GM that I don't want to play as well. Main event in my campaign have been decided by a die roll, live: I call this fun to deal with.


I think that we should never penalize a PC for being good: this means that the difficulty of a situation shouldn't scale with skills/attributes levels. Great social characters should breeze through simple situations and it is probably better to simply not bother with the dice. Scaling up like it is done in video games, and pretty much disregards character advancement. 

I think that these three strategies will be at the top of my list from now on to make sure that failure a source of fun happens while respecting the PCs' awesomeness. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

K32 - Insanity and Hatchets

The royal party has freed a mysterious bride from a sarcophagus and pulled her our of her own crypt despite the protest of kleptomaniac wraiths and a hungry hungry black pudding. 

Bain's dream sequence

Bain fell asleep with his body straddling a narrow hallway. They found a safe haven in a side crypt that wasn't defiled like every others that they had run into so far. As Bain drifted to sleep, an aura built around the viceroy. He slipped out of body in the glow if the Eye of Irmo hanging around his neck.  On the other side, he could make out the shapes of his companions. He headed for the Bride, and zoomed into her inner sanctum as he was sucked into a slow vortex. 

He found himself attending a wedding. A large hall, the bride was standing there but there was no groom. She was walking to a sarcophagus. Bain probed the dream, wondering what he could find. He heard the name of the bride uttered: Denma. Bain was wondering whether he could find out whether Denma liked Khazek. His answer came from behind a curtain where Khazek, as a groom, moved forward with a smug smile on his face, and the head of the Balrog in his hand (a tiny version). Bain wondered whether the bride knew about the Balrog. A drop of black shadow dripped from the Balrog's head. The shadow crept along the floor, passing between legs in the crowd and slithering at a dazzling pace until it reached a deep well. Bain felt himself falling and woke up suddenly. 

The conspirators

Khazek was half asleep when he heard the muttering coming from Helg. Helg was on guard duty. He slipped towards the sleeping body of Lathmelen. The elf was, awkwardly enough, wearing on the dowery dress of the bride. By the time Khazek smashed Helg's knee with Oin's staff, Helg had the time to lodge his hatchet between Lathmelen's shoulderblades. 

A lot of dwarves into a small area
Gror was also on guard duty. He ran over his father to wake him up and rammed his forehead into Helg's shoulder. Helg rolled sideways and turned just on time for Gror to smash again through the bridge of his nose. Lathmelen utters an elven word and Helg dropped his hatchet then dropped to the ground. 

In Gror's wake, Nalik followed with his axe over his head. he was responding to the call by Helg to do away with the elf. Bain tripped him. Nalik fell over the bridge and grappled her body. Bain kicked him hard enough to make him snap from his compromising position. 

Rogi moved into the fray, responding to the renewed calls to eliminate the elf. By then, Gror was in a scuffle with Nordan who was trying to save Helg from further harm. Bain let out a loud yell which paralyzed everyone where they stood.

The dwarves of the battleguard were driven nearly mad by the curse by then. Some had convinced themselves that their predicament was the fault of Lathmelen the elf. Many blamed their commanders for associating with her. Thordar, drew a line with his smallsword in the air, Lathmelen said something obnoxious inadvertantly, but in the end Bain explained in no subtle terms that the elf was a mean to an end and was to be used to complete their mission. This seemed to appease the dwarves, but left Lathmelen perplexed. They set out for the known exit of the 4th level before more insanity would set in. 

And thus concludes another Chapter of "Reclaiming Khazad-dum"

The dwarves returned to the towers and made their way back to the Rising hall on the second level. The dwarves of the Bronze Attack had repelled the hunters once without too much trouble. They covered the bride with Thordar's cloak to avoid her curse to ensnare yet more dwarves.  They settled in the dwelling of the Hatchet farmers. 

Gesdrek conjectured that the Balrog's repose must be the seat of the curse. They decided to delve deep into the underdeep to find what is there and deal with it. The little folks won't do: the curse is too powerful. However, the most heroic elements were eager to get going. 

Let's return to Arda's hell: the bowels of middle-earth opened up by those who delved too deep.