Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Meeting At Corvallis or A Little of This and A Little of That

One problem with reading a series of books by the same author is that sometimes the author is so intent on getting his message across that he's going to pound it into your eyes again and again. This seems particularly true of S. M. Stirling as he continues to hammer home the difference between those who were adults at the time of the Change and those that were children or weren't alive at that time.

This can be something that you may need to bring to your own game if there has been a huge campaign change and the characters are playing in a time line that goes beyond merely entering into dungeons and spending the loot at the local town. What differences did the change make to the campaign? In Dungeons and Dragons, with edition changes, the Forgotten Realms took a hammer to the head in both the 2nd and 4th edition turnovers. The very setting changed in order to accomidate the rule changes.

If you're going to be going for such changes, contrasting how things are done now as opposed to how they were rumored to be done is always something to keep at the back of your mind. In some cases though, it's part of the lure of fantasy settings in the first place. In most generic fantasy campaigns, magic used to be more powerful. Warriors used to be the sons and daughters of demi-gods if not outright gods themselves. Everything was better and anyone who has a hint of talent in the new setting must have some deep relationship to those passed ancients.

As far as A Meeting At Corvallis, below I'll be pointing out some specific quotes and how they may get your own brain juices working. All quotes are to the paperback version so spoilers will be found below.

Ever have non-player characters that you'd like to have the players encounter more than once? It can be tricky. Most abilities that characters have are geared to do one thing and that's kill the opposition. In many games, it's actually harder to take an enemy alive with a penalty to 'pull' your attack or to only do subdual damage.

This doesn't count what happens if the players don't kill the enemy but do take them prisoner. Now they have to worry about the prisoner trying to make an escape and being a general pain all around. Probably better to just kill them right?

What if you can make it worth the player's time though?

"We'll turn him over when his steward sends us five years' yield, " the Lady of the Dunedain replied curtly. "In cash of equivalents in cloth, horses, tools, and provisions of types and quantities to be agreed. We won't release him until the ransom is paid in full." (p.154)

Having the NPC tell the players outright when they're about to deliver that final blow that he's worth something alive is a quick way of possibly adding the character to the campaign latter on.

Other options would be to have the character know someone who knows something that the players need to know. The character himself is useless save for that one bit of knowledge.

Another option is that the character, due to race or class or training or heritage, has the ability to do something that none of the other players can and they need to keep him alive.

Note though that this can be good for a few chuckles if the players are smarter than the Game Master. For example, in the Dark Blade comic, there is a wizard who puts a map on his own skin thinking that will keep him alive. The dark elf cuts the skin off the wizard and kills him. If you've seen Minority Report, you'll note that some security is tied to other body parts.

If using this technique, make sure that it's a live heritage that's needed and not merely a body part unless the NPC is with a group of paladins or other nobel characters or you want to see how bloody the party is willing to get.