Saturday, December 12, 2009

Individual Spotlight In A Group

In Berserk 29 there is some party seperation thanks to the size of the city and the need of the group.
Initially Schierke and her new friend Sonia are on the docks and while not accosted by pirates, a misunderstanding leads them and their allies Isidro and the duck knight to having to fight the pirates and are saved by an unlikely ally whose apperance is known by the readers.
During the fight, we see Isidro who has no problems stealing, fighting strange monsters, wieldling magic items, or even sparring with a swordsman like Guts, not go for the kill against the human pirates while the duck knight has no such problem.
A player's personality and character traits can come out in combat. Because so much of games like Dungeons and Dragons are combat focused, that's indeed where it most often comes out. Are they part of a special order that has a particular loathing for the undead? Do they hate fighting against members of their own race or culture? When you know what the players prefer in the campaign, its easier to customize the battles to both please and antagonize them.
For example, players who hate to fight against paladins may be struck by a sense of befuddlement if they learn some vampire count has an elite carde of paladin knights protecting his castle. But what if those knights are the only thing keeping certain things IN the castle to begin with? Do the players try to fight their way through, work out an arrangement with the paladins or something else?
Latter on in the story, Farnese, who hails from a noble family, feels that she can be of use to the party using those connections. Here, a character whose background hasn't been extensively dwelt on gets more page space and we see her father, mother, and one of the brothers, even as we learn some of the other brothers in details.
These 'side' missions if you will, allow the players to bring up more details and background and allow the Game Master to weave a larger world. For example, the brother Farnese meets, Manifico, has a marriage arrangement for her with Roderick, that turns into an ally, whose utility isn't in his sword play, but in his trade of being a navy man.
Some might groan at how fickle fate is to provide just what is needed when its needed but on the other hand, its partially a reward. The party has made it to the city, the party has done a little snooping and a little shopping and done a little mingling. Unless the goal is to never give the party the means to move on, having events fall into the party's lap is exactly what should happen. Even bad televsion shows like the Seeker know that "there are no coincidences'.
In terms of not keeping the party seperate for long, there are numerous reasons why. Mostly it involves the Game Master having to entertain one person at a time and having other players just sitting there doing nothing. When possible, let the events fall into place naturally but don't be afraid to keep things moving. Idleness, especially if the players aren't really sure where they should be going next, can only hurt the flow of the game.
By the book's end, Guts is on his way for a reunion with Farnese but Guts comes into conflict with Serpico. Guts is a wild card to Farnese and one that Serpico worries will get her killed so he challenges Guts to a sword fight. This is a clear case of player motivation versus party motivation. When not overdone and not resulting in the death of players by players, it can add drama and tension to the session. When playing with an adult group that is more interested in how the story flows than how powerful their characters are, even character death isn't necessarily a bad option if it flows organically.
But as the fight gets started, it's apparent that Serpico has lead Guts into a position of strength for himself. The so called Forest of Pillars within a colonnade chamber with little space between the columns with a large number of them. This works to his advantage because Guts wields a huge blade. It also continues to showcase how quickly and easily Serpico uses the terrain and the unknown to his advantage. Keep the terrain a part of the combat itself and keep the players wondering what utility they can gain out of it.