Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Do The Right Thing

In the past I have made posts that were critical of various aspects of player approaches to the hobby of Role Playing Games.

Specifically I am talking about things like overthinking, doing nothing on your turn, failing to immerse oneself in the setting and/or your character, and the like. These things irk me a great deal, still do, and I still encounter them more times then is enjoyable (which would be exactly no times. These things are never enjoyable).

This post instead addresses the positive habits and things I love to see players do. I am also proud to say I saw all of these leading up to and during the first session of our new 'Year Zero Engine' Science Fiction campaign, FRONTIER. 

Get Into It Before We Get Into It

I first announced that I was putting together the FRONTIER campaign around May 15th of this year. The first session, the 'Pilot Episode', was run on July 6th.

I had most of the character concepts and questions regarding character creation to me and answered by the last week of June. Practically all the characters were completed about 3-5 days before the first session. 

All the players had come to the table with character names already in mind. 

That is how it's done. 

Know Yourself

The first session had a 'cold opening' in which a transport ships nearly collided with the space station serving as the PCs home base. I then announced klaxons and alarms going off all over the outpost as the place shakes like go-go dancer at a 70s LA nightclub during an earthquake.

I then pointed at at player and asked, "It's 0600 hours station time. Where is your character, what are they doing?" 

Each player responded via a short scene that established who they were and how they react to emergency situations. No one took more than a minute or two. Perfect. I then gave them each another minute or so follow up before forwarding to the station's flight deck an hour and a half later.

The group was assembled at the airlock to a Scout/Survey vessel belonging to one of the PCs. Each Player Character had been chosen to go to the surface of the planet below and see if the transport, which crash landed, had any survivors. Also, they needed to retrieve any intact cargo. Every PCs had a different Skill Set useful to the mission. 

In both that scene and the short trip to the planet we got to know a little bit more about their personalities and interactions with each other. Again, brilliant. 

Think Fast

Each player quickly and smoothly decided what their character would do to accomplish the group's goals. They split up into teams - two guys went to look for survivors inside the ship, two went to check on the cargo, and three more went to check out footprints and heat signatures leading away from the transport in the direction of a cliff. The Pilot PC stayed with the Survey Vessel to monitor and coordinate the operation and also stay in touch with the orbital station. 

Team One was investigating but also had our PC Doctor. Team Two had a Biologist and an Engineer - one figured out what was perishable and important and needed to go first while the other figure out the best way to load up and move the containers. Team Three had a Scout to determine how to move along the loose sand cliff, a Security Officer in case they ran into dangerous local wildlife, and a Scientist with a variety of skills for dealing with, shall we say, the unexpected. 

At least one, maybe twice, the teams modified what they needed to do and who should do it. 

Basta! That's it. Quick and clean.

Take Action!

I have to single out one player who really did an amazing job of just freaking doing something. We'll call him Nick.

Nick is playing a Scientist whose specialty is First Contact, Archeology, and Anthropology. There are no intelligent aliens in the setting up to this point in the milieu's history but various clues have indicated there might be, so we need a guy who knows First Contact protocols. OK.

So at one point, Nick, the Scout, and the Security guy drive a buggy/jeep type vehicle to the edge of a loose, sandy cliff to find two survivors of the Transport Ship crash wrestling on the ground.

The Scout and Security guy leap out of their vehicle and run over to drag these two morons away from a long, steep fall to their deaths. In addition, sensors indicate native worm creatures are rapidly approaching that position. 

As the PCs yank the survivors to safety, the vicious worm beasts lunge at the group. Nick's Scientist is still in the car and when I get to him he says something like, "I am not really a combat person. I...I go into the front seat and drive over so they can get into the car faster." A great idea except...our Scientist also has not driving skill and a low Agility. 

So what does he do? HE DOES IT ANYWAY! I think I teared up a little. 

Was he successful? Not really, but he tried and it really pointed to his character's character! Similarly there was another moment when an NPC had a gun, a concealed pistol, and Nick's character panicked while trying to get it away from the guy. He failed to disarm the opponent but his startled reaction made the driver in the front seat at the time - a Security Officer PC - aware of the situation. 

It was AWESOME to see a player act like a Human Being in a tense situation and not like a PC in a RPG. Also, Nick didn't rationalize or argue that his PC SHOULD HAVE been able to do X, Y, or Z. He said straight up, "This guy is not the guy for this moment in time." Ha! I think he was perfect for that moment by being so wonderfully imperfect. He made it extra memorable.

Anyway, I got to run but WOW, if all my players in all my games were like these guys I'd not have felt like I needed to run this one. Wait...I...whoah. That's actually true. Well, thank goodness for varying degrees of awesomeness I suppose. 

Barking Alien


  1. For my next Star Trek Adventures game (hopefuly not very long in the horizon) I want to emphasize two points you touch in the post. First, whoever has the idea and the opportunity (like driving the car), rolls for it. No more "I don't have the skill" (not that it matters that much in STA, at least for common checks). Second, if players take too long planning, the GM starts gaining Threat points. I saw this in the Shield of Tomorrow show and thought it was a great idea, but I haven't found it in the rules.

    Like you say, those things contribute greatly to the game's flow and immersion.

  2. Why is doing nothing a bad move? Maybe you mean something I’m not understanding.

    1. Remember that really cool character in the last Harry Potter book who did nothing to contribute to the Battle of Hogwarts? No? Of course you don't. Rowling didn't dedicate any sentences to them. They weren't important and certainly not cool. Is that who your PC is? That person?

      Do you recall that guy in Avengers: Endgame who sat off to the side and waited to see what would happen, then failed to commit to doing anything. Me neither. No ones recalls that guy. That guy matters not one iota next to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Rocket Raccoon, and the dozens and dozens of other characters who did things. That guy doesn't get screen time. He isn't credited at the end of the film. He's nothing.

      Doing nothing as a player means have your PC take no course of action whatsoever. No clever remarks, no taking a shot with her off hand, no diving for cover, nothing. If you are going to do nothing, why are you playing an RPG?

    2. I did misunderstand you. I thought you meant holding off for a certain turn.