Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Join Us Or DIE!!!"

The words just tumbled out of my mouth, and I regretted them as soon as I uttered them. I was GMing what looked like our final session of Wild Talents (transhuman, far future, sci fi version) for at least a while (and perhaps forever). These were the words of the Big Bad, the leader of the invading, universe hopping, barbarian, alien horde, and these guys were flat out stronger than the PCs. At least one of the PCs didn't like the position he was put in - he felt as if he were offered no choice and was essentially being railroaded to "join," and this is literally the last thing I want in a game. For a second, I thought about taking it all back, but hell, I was the GM, and I wouldn't allow a PC to do take backseys on an important decision made in the heat of the moment. In the end, a compromise was struck between the PCs and the Big Bad - the PCs joined, and the aliens would only occupy their universe for 5-10 thousand years on the way to domination of reality. In retrospect, I don't think my decision was that bad. Here are a couple factors to help you decide:

1) The PCs were more physically powerful than anything else in the game thus far, and flat out dominated (partially because of the version of the rules we were playing with). There were lots of diplomatic ramifications of the use of extreme force throughout the game, but the PCs could physically overcome anything until the alien horde. They knew it was coming, but didn't know how powerful it was.

2) The PCs largely ignored the horde, focusing instead on local diplomatic issues and immediate threats, until it hit them in the face. Part of our game setup was the impending threat of the horde, so it's not like they missed any hints.

3) We had intended to hack in Burning Wheel's social combat rules, because they're great (and work much better than their mechanically similar cousin rules for real combat, IMHO), but I forgot all about this until afterwards. That's a shame, because diplomacy was what won the day in the end (well, sort of won).

4) The PCs saw themselves getting torn apart by the horde in space, but proceeded straight to their leader without any subtlety. One PC (the one who complained) actually set a charge on his ship to blow up if things went to hell. He didn't use it. Let's just say I would've looked favorably upon interesting decisions besides fight or talk (you know, like escape or something creative). Also, one of the PCs could construct teleporters in a single round.

5) I certainly could've said something else besides "join us or die" that would give the PCs other options. Like: "Go back to your leaders and tell them my proposal. You have 5 hours, Earthlings. Don't be late. AHAHAHAHAHA!!!" But then this would've become more like a choose your own adventure instead of a rpg, right?

6) We definitely wanted to finish off this arc so Pat can run his west marshes game he's been talking about.

7) I really had no preconception about how all of this would turn out, and I actually had a lot more adventure planned for the evening. But it was all moot after this encounter, and it seemed like the obvious stopping point for the arc because it changed the game world so drastically.

Looking back after writing all this, it certainly seems to me like I didn't screw up. Though, I'm sure the PCs would add in 7 more points that bolster their side. At the very least, this seems like the flip side of Pat's stormtrooper post below (man, his low-level survival game is going to be a hell of a contrast to Wild Talents - I definitely think it'll work better than WT because I'm much more of an abstract spacey type than the other players...and most people I know).

Anyway, I'd sure appreciate any feedback our readers. You know, in the name of trying to become a better GM and all.


Patrick W. Rollens said...

OK, here's a little perspective from one of the players.

First off, I felt like we left the game in a very cool place. The conclusion had shades of BSG's occupation of New Caprica. Plus it sets up the next story arc, which is obviously going to revolve around the PCs realizing their mistake and struggling to free humanity from the clutches of the barbarian invaders. It doesn't get much more operatic than that.

With respect to Ben's description of the PCs' physical prowess, this did prove to be a detractor for the game. Simply put, we were using a beta version of the Wild Talents rules we shoveled off Bit Torrent, and our characters were horribly overpowered. We hardly ever failed, and that meant that Ben had to come up with creative ways to move the plot forward in the face of our preternatural success. This was magnified tenfold by the fact that we were playing ultra high level characters: trade envoys, corporate tycoons, fleet admirals, etc. When we made dice rolls, it was to decide the fate government bureaucracies and military brigades, not bluff rolls or lockpicking checks. So our inadvertent and nonstop success wreaked havoc (I suspect) on Ben's plot.

There was definitely no screw up. I'd chalk up any "huh?" moments to a screwy system that we leaned on a bit too heavily at the beginning. Ben bought the Wild Talents 2.0 rules at Gencon, so we're all set to re-build our characters prior to the next session to make them a bit more human. So to speak.

Current Version said...

More player perspective:

The ending was just fine story wise; sometimes, we need a little soul crushing despair at the end of a episode to keep us hooked for the next installment. However, the "Join us or Die!!!" bit is spot on.

We tried diplomacy from a common sense approach, from a scientific approach, and even from a religious approach, quoting from their own holy book. We got 5,000 years of slavery instead of 10,000, maybe.

We tried kicking their ugly alien butts but ended up facing off against Superman and some dude with a black hole for a body, immediately after we had fought a swarm of baddies and had our big galactic ship blow to pieces by the endless horde of alien invaders. Pat's character was still missing half of his arm from the previous episode, for goodness sake.

Escape was impossible. We were surrounded by the horde on both sides of the portal, outgunned, and trapped behind enemy lines. Kevin's pc's teleportation power wouldn't have engaged quickly enough to get us anywhere useful, even if it could transport us through another dimension. Even if we could, would we just run away while the universe burned? What kind of heroes would we have been?

Suicide with the warhead was still an option, but it wouldn't have stopped the invasion, and then humanity's greatest hope for survival, us, would have been obliterated along with it. We also didn't have any guarantee that nukes would even put a dent in their fleet.

However superpowered our scions were, we were still most definitely mortal. Our armor was crap and nobody in the party was anywhere near indestructible. My guy died in one encounter after taking a blast from a plasma rifle to the head, which, incidentally, seemed to happen to him quite a bit, while everyone else got shot in the foot or the arm.

It may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not. Our episodes of Wild Talents were some of the funniest and most enjoyable roleplaying sessions that I've had in forever, and I absolutely insist that you run it again in the future, starting from where we left off. I loved the setting, the silliness, and the lethality of it all. But Ben, remember pacing. Characters get wounded, deplete their resources, and can't face the same degree of challenges time after time. A lot of encounters, social or otherwise, should be 'gimmes.' You can't throw legions of minions sporting high end weapons at the pc's *every* time.