Monday, August 15, 2016

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 10

This is a good question, but a tough one. I've experienced more than a few big, in-game surprises. 

I think I'd go so far as to say that if I didn't, I don't think I would still be doing this 39 years later.

I've experienced most of my jaw-dropping moments as a GM. There is nothing I love more than seeing players digging deep emotionally, and using truly creative, often unorthodox means to solve a problem.

Mini rant coming on...

I've noticed a distinct difference in the way I, and those I've gamed with in the past, handle difficult in-game situations as compared to those I've played with over the past five years or so.

It seems that most modern players are waiting for the moment when the GM is going to reveal the 'right answer'. The assumption seems to be that at some point, the gamemaster will tell the players the exact thing they need to do to solve the mystery, or how/where to find the victory condition.

Not only does this make absolutely no sense to me, but it sucks the key element of surprise away from both sides of the table. If I (as GM) know that the players aren't going to take action until I reveal the villain's secret vulnerability, I should just do that right away and save us all some time. If you (as the player) know I'm going to do that at some point, why investigate, or better yet, come up with a plan based on what you do know.

It goes back to my lament that modern gamers aren't very pro-active. They don't make assumptions, or have theories. They just look at the GM's hand waiting for him to drop the piece of meat so they can snap it up. 

That's what a German Shepherd does. Not a RPG gamer. Unless that gamer is, themselves, a German Shepherd. Then, yeah, I guess both ways work.

...rant ended.

As a player, I've only had really major reveals in the oft-mentioned Champions campaign I played in in high school. Wow. There were so many surprises, and reveals I am not even sure where to start. Gamemaster, and Champions Guru William Corpening always had a plot to uncover, a secret to discover, and a hidden meaning behind the Superhero Comic Book action

Hmmm...there was this one time...

I may have told this story before, but it's a doozy, and it describes a single surprise that ended up backfiring, and surprising the surpriser, as well as the GM.

One of the PCs in our old Champions game, a hero in our group, was really for all intents and purposes a villain. He fought along side the team, and operated as a regular member of our Superhero group, but he hated aliens with an unbridled prejudice that rivaled the worst disdain for mutants Marvel comics has ever seen. 

Two of the heroes on the team were aliens.

So while fighting beside us as his allies, he would secretly concoct plots to ruin our reputations, destroy us, and otherwise make life miserable for us.

On one occasion, I was out sick from school, and the player had his PC enact a rather complex series of events designed to cause my character's Galactic Empire to go to war with the Galactic Empire of the other alien hero PC. 

It was a rather complicated plan, and he had to have been working on it for some time. I believe someone told me he'd been waiting for either myself, or my friend David to be out sick to start the whole mad scheme. He'd even hired two PC villains to assist with a portion of the plan.

When I came into school the next day, I didn't even know anything had transpired. Some players asked me if I'd heard what happened the day before, and when I said no it was a lot of head shaking, sorry looks, and tongues clicked against teeth. When I finally sat down to play, the other players filled me in while the player whose PC had caused all the trouble sat back and smiled smugly.

The two interstellar governments, my beloved Imperium, and Omni's estranged Republic, were about to break a century of cold-war rivalry with all out attacks. 

I was surprised. Very surprised. At the same time, I kept my cool. Implacable calm. Poker face. I listened very carefully to the description of the events, who did what, where, and when. Then I nodded solemnly, and said, "When does my character find all of this out?"

"When he returns to Earth from a mission in deep space," said the GM. Apparently the disappearance of my character coincided with my absence. Since I the player was not in the day before, it was implied that my PC had been called off on a mission to the far reaches of the stars. The PC hero/villain took that opportunity to cause the mayhem that would end in the deaths of billions of extraterrestrial soldiers. 

I looked up at the GM, catching the culprit out of the corner of my eye, and said with no preamble, nor excitement, "I put all but ten points of my Power Pool (which was a lot) into my Flight. I fly down the emergency access tube to the basement, and I go into the Time Machine".

Several sessions early, the other alien gave me a tour of our base. In the basement, amount other devices, ancient artifacts, etc. was a Time Machine taken from a villain the PC group had captured before I joined the game. It looked like a free-standing revolving door. It's center column was the time device itself. Placing your hands on a bar in front of you, and running on the floor in faster, and faster circles you could travel forward in time. To travel backwards in time you needed to run backwards, and essentially pull the revolving doors, not push them. 

It was like a mix of Flash's Cosmic Treadmill, Doctor Doom's Time Platform, a smidge of something Doc Brown would invent.

By moving at maximum speed with no warning, or heads up to anyone else, I was able to arrive at the time machine before a single character realized what I was doing, or where I was going. Switching to Super-running, and with my PC's great strength, I traveled back to right before an a very specific moment in time.

Based on the description of the events, I found a key 'linch pin' moment, and I undid it. I prevented it from happening. One third of the plan fell into ruin. I smiled slyly. I then undid two other key moments in the story, lesser perhaps but pivotal for the plan to work. Finally, to prevent the paradox of two of my character living in the same 'present' time period, I took the time machine with me into the distant future. I then destroyed it. 

The entire thing took about thirty minutes. In half an hour I completely obliterated a plan that took weeks to figure out, and an entire day to implement. 

William's jaw dropped. After he closed his mouth, he just shook his head, and laughed. The antagonist player sat dumbfounded. The rest of the team gave me a standing ovation (yes, they clapped). 

How's that for a surprise?

Barking Alien


  1. I think the "so tell me what the answer is" tendency is the offshoot from video games going all the way back to King's Quest where there was one way to unlock the next portion of the game.

    1. I blame video games for much of my table top RPG agita over the last few years.

  2. Being proactive requires knowing your GM will make something of it, which is not always the case...

    Player vs player plans can result in the biggest surprises. I've, as a GM, once managed to have one player in A Song of Ice and Fire attending a tournament as a mystery knight, using her character and rolling the dice herself against another PC, without most of the group noticing. But the biggest surprise I've had was discovering that one of the PCs in a Vampire campaign was, not only a traitor from the start, but also the same character from a previous campaign! As you say, we live (game) for those moments.