Monday, May 23, 2022

Side Quest

Recently I've been considering starting a new campaign to replace my Wednesday night one, albeit temporarily.

Our Traveller campaign is on hold as one of the three players has just become a parent and is realizing just how much time and energy it takes caring for a tiny human being. While he and his amazing wife do time...sorry...take the time to do the whole 'have a baby' thing, he suggested the rest of us do a fill-in game..

The problem is, there are only two other players not including myself as GM. I can certainly run for two players but that isn't my preference [at all]. Followers of the blog know that I am both accustomed to and have a love of larger groups. Three is pretty much bare minimum for me. I've run 1-on-1 and two person games, a few with great success, but those feel like special cases and were all in-person. Online, if there isn't at least three, I always feel like I could be doing something else (including prepping material for another game).

There is also the matter of what to run. This group, with one removed, is very methodical, cautious, and hesitant to engage in bold, cinematic action. I on the other hand really enjoy bold, cinematic action. Big fan. This begs the question: Do I run a game that forces them outside of their comfort zone or that caters to the style of play they default to? Also, do I get another player who compliments the group by matching their approach or someone who will shake up the status quo and give me some daring-do?

Finally and perhaps most importantly for me as GM: What [kind of] game works best for strategic, mindful players prone to being a tad overly leery of taking chances?

I posed this question to one of my Social Media groups and was surprised by the responses I received. OK, that's not entirely true. I was not especially 'surprised'. I get that most people think a little differently from me on gaming subjects. It was more that in this particular case, I know it wasn't me; it wasn't the way I worded it or some failure in communication as some people did get it and so the answers from those who didn't stood out even more. 

A large number of responses suggested a Game System. Not a type of game, a genre, or a setting but instead a way of addressing this situation mechanically. Furthermore, they were particularly interested in supplying me with games that rewarded strategic planning and combat options. The remedy for risk adverse players is a more dangerous game?

Maybe. These players are quite accustomed to or at least familiar with playing such games. Ya'know, an RPG heavy on tactics and specific abilities given for dealing with specific situations. Games in which the Referee, perhaps best called a 'Danger Master' (wink), is out to get the Player Characters by making everyone and everything they encounter a deadly enemy or fatal trap. Likewise it was the Players' job to see that their PCs outwitted the DM and survived the constant onslaught to become rich, powerful, and famous. At least that's what'll happen if dice probability randomly allows them to survive to that state. After all, that's where the 'fun' comes in, right? (Eye roll).

I have met dozens upon dozens of gamers over the last decade or so who grew up on these types of games, resulting in Players whose instinct is to cover their private parts before entering a room or talking to an NPC. Players feel the need to cross all their Ts and dot all their Is less their PCs get killed off unceremoniously.

Now, not all Player cross Ts and dot Is as quickly as others do and so this phase of the game can therefore stretch out the time it takes to engage with and complete a given task. This makes what should be the most exciting part of a game - having a battle, dealing with a trap, negotiating with a potential patron, ally, or adversary - take way too much game time, making it feel tedious, even boring, and pulling the drama, thrill, and energy out of the scenario. 

Sorry, ranting a bit as I go through my thoughts on the subject. Where was I? Oh yes...

I guess there is some validity to suggesting a rules system to solve the problem of what kind of game works best for a particular gaming group and their dynamic. I tend to think system is the least of our concerns. What the game is about, how it rewards or discourages certain actions/approaches over others, and how the setting deals with PC life, death, and combat is far more important to me when developing a campaign. Once all that is worked out I can always find or make some system to support it. In fact, it is easier to do it this way, as I can customize the mechanics to showcase the feel and atmosphere of the game once I determine exactly what that is. 

Anyway, I already have some ideas and maybe, just maybe, a solution to the third player issue. 

We'll talk again soon,

Barking Alien


  1. Hi,
    First, it seems that there was a change in blogspot, I was unable to 'sign in' with Firefox or Edge to leave a comment. Only Chrome worked (I only tried those 3, there might be others that work).

    Secondly, I can recommend Mythras (especially Mythic Britain & Mythic Constantinople).
    - The system is d100 based (being evolved from Choasium's BRP), thus not that complex to learn and fast to use.
    - You have many options in combat (some might depend on weapons, other requires a critical, etc), you can end a fight without actually killing your opponent.
    - Fight can be deadly, but PC have luck points that can & will save their asses. Your cautious players might learn that Traveller is not that dangerous.
    - Mythic Britain is based on 5th-6th century british isles (the time of Arthur & Merlin). With 2 cultures & 3 faiths clashing. Lots of opportunities for roleplay if you have a mixed (Celyic / Christian) group.
    - Mythic Constantinople is based on Constantinople (Obviously =^.^=) on a pretty large time frame (IIRC you can play from 4th to 15th century with a big emphasis on 15th).
    - Both are low magic.

    Otherwise you can go for a good old Flashing Blades game of intrigue & politics under King Louis the 13th.
    Too bad it has not been translated in inglish, there are a few good ideas to poach from a serie of books called "Les Lames du Cardinal" (The Cardinal's Blades) from Pierre Pevel.

    1. I've never used Firefox or Edge so I am not sure what the issue might be but I will double check with my more IT savy friends. I do know that Blogger / blogspot is a Google feature so the fact that it worked with Chrome over other web browser.

      As for the games and settings you mention, they do sound interesting. Having looked at Flashing Blades in a dog's age. Not sure these are what I am looking for though. We played Ars Magica and that satisfied our desire for Historical Fantasy for now.

  2. I have found that Doctor Who is superb for two to three players. When I ran it, I used the FASA Doctor Who RPG with the saving roll rules from Tunnels & Trolls, but I'm sure the Time Lord RPG and the Cubicle 7 Doctor Who RPG are perfect for small groups, too. (I know you're not concerned about the system, but I think Fudge would work well for Doctor Who, and that's what I intend to use the next time I run it.) Sure, there's danger, but role-playing and creative problem-solving are supreme in Doctor Who RPGs.

  3. It seems like a Heist type scenario would reward their careful planning play style, but two players is maybe too few for a Ocean's Eleven or The Sting.

  4. For me, the place where cinematic action and cautious PCs intersect is military campaigns. Players being methodical and trying to avoid risks is very in character, but, at the same time, it is inevitable that things will explode into chaos sooner or later. However, your players need to be OK with taking orders.

    As for a specific game, I suggest Achtung! Cthulhu. It is available in one system you like (Modiphius' 2d20), one you loathe (Savage Worlds) and a classic one (Call of Cthulhu). Depending of your choices as a GM, it can feel more like Indiana Jones or even Captain America than Saving Private Ryan or Inglourious Basterds.