Posted in Gaming Advice, Star Trek Adventures

Star Trek Adventures: My First Taste of Space Combat

Last night I had the opportunity to run Space Combat in my Star Trek Adventures game.  I was running the scenario A Vulture Among the Stars by Fred Love that was in Issue 2 of Modiphia.   Combat called for a single Ferengi Marauder against my player’s Intrepid Class ship.

I had 4 players at the table that night so that meant it was 4 crew turns against the 5 of the Marauder (it’s scale) a round.  This is where I come to my first recommendation in running space battles.  Since the Initiative is ‘popcorn-like,’ jumping from one side to the next unless momentum/threat is spent, I recommend having markers for each player and each enemy initiative slot.  Something you can flip over to denote that person/slot has acted this round. I found a shorted the enemy an initiative or 2 because I forgot the players spent momentum to keep the initiative a time or two.  Having a clear indication of who has and hasn’t gone each round would have helped.  Especially when determination can be spent to take a second turn in the same round or the commanding officer can direct others.

Tip #2 versatile is going to generate the players momentum and you threat so go ahead and use both before you roll damage.  Phasers have Versatile 2… meaning every Effect rolled grants you 2 Momentum/Threat.  Due to the Momentum Limit, you might as well spend it before you roll damage to gain extra dice on the attack roll and extra damage.  Be sure to leave 1 behind for a reroll of that damage dice if necessary.

One of the cool parts of the scenario is that it’s not just a pitched battle.  The players had 4 lifeboats to worry about as well as a pending warp core breach on wrecked vessel.  All of this put some urgency on the players and gave me great things to do with my threat tokens and complications rolled.  So, try to have either a cool location with your fight with environmental hazards that add an unknown element or outside factors that the players need to worry about.   It will add a lot.

One of the things that is mentioned in the book that I think really worked well to keep the feel of Star Trek, was not hiding what the enemy was doing. There wasn’t a PC sensor operator at my table last night, but every time I had the Marauder do something I had the Sensor Operator(me) say to the table “Captain they are moving into attack formation.  Captain, it appears they’re recharging their shields.  Captain, we are being scanned.” And so forth. It pulled the players from all the dice I was rolling back into their characters and to the scene.

There is a bit of bookkeeping in space combat.  Power management will be a factor in longer engagements.  It may be a good idea to have a visual representation of that rather than having to erase a number over and over.   We used poker chips for Power it worked well.  However, in this instance the combat went quickly it was over in 3 full rounds The Marauder fled the field after suffering 3 breaches.

Which brings me to my last point.  Space combat is vicious.  With good momentum spends you can easily Breach with just about every shot.  The Marauder breached the Intrepid class vessel twice missing it’s third phaser blast altogether.  While there was a bit of flipping through charts and descriptions to find out what each breach meant the end result was great.  Describing the hit; the players shaking about in their chairs; the consoles sparking; my players really enjoyed it.

I do have to say hats off to Fred Love the writer of the scenario it worked quite well.  Also, Captain Brasha became an instant favorite villain of my table.  They wanted her to escape so she can be a reoccurring menace to them, and boy do I have plans. 😊

 

 

 

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: Fly You Fools

The castle is being over-run; the King has been Usurped and the town is crawling with the enemy; Imperial troops have entered the base, or the undead have broken through the walls.  It is time to use discretion, the better of Valor, and live to fight another day.  In an RPG getting players to flee overmatched fights is hard to do, but when presented with an overwhelming force they may decide it’s time to fall back.   In this Set Piece, I will discuss how to run a fun encounter where the heroes are on the back foot.

Scene:

The Players are forced to flee overwhelming odds.  This kind of idea requires some setup.  As a GM you can spell out the scene.  The army arrives and your forces are falling there is no way you alone can stem the tide.  This scene could follow an epic Hold the Line type fight that failed or could just be the result of events the players had no hand in.   Try not to be rail-roady; if the players wish to fight to the end you should let them. Just don’t let up on them.  This should lead to a captured or imprisoned set-piece or maybe just player death.

Mood:

The mood could be utter chaos and fear or it could be composure in the face of adversity it really depends on how the players play things.  Do they give orders? Do they calm the hysterical? Or do they find a shadow to sneak in towards a hidden way out of the city?  Take your cues from them.  Show the effect they are having on the people around them with their fearless demeanor, or show the chaos and death occurring as they run away.  If they choose the latter route you don’t have to punish them.  Maybe show others trying to lead and get swarmed by the fearful mob, or cut down by a defector or the enemy.   Sometimes making whatever decision they choose seems like the right decision after-the-fact makes for a more enjoyable role-playing experience. Continue reading “Set Piece: Fly You Fools”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Rants

GMing Better: Failing Heroically

Games of late have given GMs a lot of new tools; rules that allow us to interfere with the narrative.  Whether it’s a GM Intrusion or a Despair dice roll we now have a codified reason to declare the player’s dropped his sword, slipped in the mud, accidentally insulted the princess, and ran out of ammo.  Lately, I have seen a lot of GM’s go mad with this power.  Myself included.

Recently I was talking with the GM of a Worlds in Peril game I was in and we were talking about these new mechanics.   He told me that he always tries to make sure to describe complications in a Heroic way. In the movies Captain America’s shield doesn’t accidentally fall off his back as he’s running for cover in an ‘oops’ kind of way; instead it gets blasted out of his hand by an enemy he didn’t notice, this causes him to dive after it, grab it and launch it at this new enemy.

This line of thinking open my eyes.  Too many times I would hold up 2XP in a Cypher Game and describe how the character “misjudges the weight of the grenade she’s about to throw, it hits the door jam and bounces back landing a few feet away from another PC,” only for that player to instead Hand Me an XP denying the intrusion.  I realize now that it wasn’t that the complication was bad per say, instead the problem the player had was with how I narrated it.  I made their Heroic character seem inept, or unheroic.  The Intrusion description did not fit with how the Player saw their character.  Intrusions are great in the way that players can buy them off if they don’t like how it paints their character, but in other systems, the player isn’t so lucky, so be mindful.

If I instead described: “you grab the grenade, yank out the pin, wind up, and as you are in the processes of throwing it down the hallway a sudden hail of blaster fire erupts from the far end of the hall, knocking the grenade from your hand, you watch in horror as it hits the ground and rolls next to Roselyn,” the odds are better the player will take that intrusion.   The PC wasn’t made to look like a fool, instead, something unexpected happened and caused the same result.

When you are describing the complication that is about the befall your player, make sure you take the character in mind.  Don’t have the sneaky thief accidentally knock over a metal candlestick, instead have a cat unexpectedly round the corner and hiss at the intruder. Same result but the catalyst doesn’t make the PC look bad.

There are of course exceptions.  The generally pacifistic hacker who doesn’t use guns is, of course, going to have the safety on the first time they go to fire the strange new weapon they are handed and odds are they don’t know where the safety is to turn it off.   That’s a humous beat that fits the character, and can lead to some great inter-party exchanges.  That same Hacker however isn’t going to fail to get the computer up and running because he forgot what he changed the password to.

So in closing, I will say:  When you as a GM are interfering with the narrative of the game, know your players and make sure your descriptions aren’t at odds with how they see their characters.  Do that too many times and you’ll have disgruntled players. Instead, if you can, make them seem more heroic.

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: Hold the Bridge

Olin, Hildr and Frode stood stalwart as the undead army approached.  They had set their traps, prepared all they could but it was a long time till morning.  They knew that the only way to keep the Illustrious City of Silasthorp from falling was for the three of them to hold the Bridge.

“Well Olin,” Hildr began as she grabbed her axe from her belt and turned toward the hardened warrior.  “We may feast in the halls of Valhalla before this night is through”

“Odin owns us all,” Olin replied.  The three then shouted the known refrain in unison as the undead army was upon them.

 

Introduction:

Whether it is the rickety rope bridge in The Temple of Doom, a strategic bridge to war effort like in Saving Private Ryan, or the last place you have to stop the Balrog a la Fellowship of the Ring,  a Bridge encounter is always a classic Set Piece.  One of the more exciting ways to use a bridge as a chokepoint, a place to hold from an overwhelming force. So let’s give that a go.

Scene:

Evil must be stopped and this Bridge is the last place for your heroes to make their stand.  Have they had time to prepare or are they desperate?  There is hope however, they only have to hold out for so long. Wherever the scene is, be sure to describe the bridge itself in great detail make sure you include features for the players and the enemies to exploit narratively. How’s it lit? is the railing weak in areas? Are their pot holes? Is there cover? This is going to be longer encounter be prepared with a few ‘intrusions’ that could alter the landscape and shake things up. Don’t be afraid to choreograph them in your description maybe your players get the idea to trigger events first for their benefit.

Continue reading “Set Piece: Hold the Bridge”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: The Reverse Pickpocket

Introduction:

Will Smith is in a lingerie shop buying a present for his wife when an old friend (Jason Lee) runs into him.  The friend slips something in Will Smith’s bag, then runs off proceeding to get himself killed.  This, however, kicks off Will’s involvement in the wonderful suspense film Enemy of the State.    The reverse pickpocket idea is not a new concept.  It’s been used in fiction, film, and television for years.  Scott Lynch’s book The Republic of Thieves has got a great scene where the method is used multiple times by two opposing thieves on some unsuspecting officials.   Needless to say, you can kick off quite an adventure with a scene like this, without requiring much of any buy-in from your PCs.

Scene:

The PCs are in a crowded market buying good our trying to find a buyer for their cargo.  When someone runs into them.  Classic pickpocket scam right.   They check their belt pouch or wallet.  Their cash is still there.   What they don’t realize is, something else has been added.  A crowded market of any type does well for this.  However, any public space or city street will do.  Even an Inn, Bar, or shop could be a great location for this scene. Continue reading “Set Piece: The Reverse Pickpocket”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: The Gladiatorial Arena

Introduction:

The protagonists being forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena or fighting pit is littered throughout sci-fi and fantasy mediums. (Star Wars, Star Trek, Planet Hulk, Game of Thrones, John Carter, Mad Max, Hunger Games).  It is also a staple of roleplaying games.  It is an interesting way to start a campaign(DCC funnel anyone) or a great place to introduce new players into your game.

Scene:

The players are forced to fight for spectators in an arena.  This could be a grand coliseum or a fighting pit.  How they got in this situation is up to you.  It could be the result of them being captured or part of a bargain with the authorities of the place or even something they volunteered as a show of skill or as part of a contest. Continue reading “Set Piece: The Gladiatorial Arena”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: Captured

Introduction:

Heroes being captured is something that happens a lot in adventure stories with villains, but less frequently in RPGs.  (Unless you’re Leenik Geelo and your go-to plan is to be captured on purpose) Most gamers refuse to accept defeat and will fight to the death instead of being taken prisoner. Many GMs, however, balk at killing a character or railroading their players by forcing a capture.   My advice is to do the former not the later.  If your players outsmart the antagonist and find a way out of the ambush and avoid capture, good for them!  However, if the Antagonist has them dead to rights and your players refuse to surrender, killing, maiming, or knocking unconscious a PC may be in order.  Though you should probably appeal to the player.  Ask them what their character would really do in this situation.  In the heat of the action, some players forget they are playing characters and do what they think is right or would ‘win’ instead.  However, fighting to their dying breath is the right character decision for many player characters.  So make sure you are aware of that and plan accordingly.    With that said I am going to talk about how to run a “players are captured” set piece.  This is different from a ‘players are imprisoned’ set piece I’ll get to one of those later.

Scene:

The PC have been captured and are being held in a temporary or makeshift cell, something not designed for long term holding.  This could be in something like a prison wagon, (Dragonlance, Way of Kings, Game of Thrones) a cage, a holding cell in a police station, locked in the basement, or simply confined to their quarters. Continue reading “Set Piece: Captured”