Friday, June 18, 2010

When Players Just Don't Get It

I've had a pretty steady group over the last 10 years, really almost 20 for most of us but let's call it 10. I have had new players join and old players leave but getting them integrated into the current campaign hasn't really been a problem. Then recently in the Necessary Evil game I had a player actively avoid joining the party even though he knew that was one of the goals of the session. This has caused me to think about this a little more and I thought I would share.

It's a tradition at this point in my D&D games that if you join in the middle of an adventure then I will integrate you into the next session regardless of all other considerations. Most of the time this means the character is found chained to a wall upside down and naked or in a cage or in a sack but I can be flexible sometimes. My wife happened to join the last D&D campaign while they were in Freeport between dungeons so I had the temple they were working for assign her to the party as reinforcements - simple. Another player died during that campaign during a sea voyage and he was found at the next stop as the petrified victim of a basilisk who was then restored to fleshood. So I try not to stay in a rut, but with D&D I typically force them in somehow during the next session. It's really not that difficult and my players are aware of how it works and warn their friends up front that it may not be a graceful entrance. It's worked for a long time now and everyone ususally remembers how their add-in character made their entrance.

Now with Savage Worlds and with Rifts/Super Powered level games in general I do not have this rule. These types of campaigns tend to be less dungeony and so require less forced insertion. The characters also tend to have different motivations and different methods of travel that are more flexible than low-level D&D. If I know that a new character is coming in I can plant rumors of a shadowy figure seen at a crime scene the PC's are investigating and lead up to the introduction. If I don't they can be appear in the middle of a fight with a flash of light and be hit by a stray energy blast and join in. They might have had a vision of the party that compelled them to seek the characters out - it's possible to work in some plot reasons that might not show up in D&D. So I tend to leave it mostly up to the player as to why they are there - I will tell them when they appear and what the general situation will be, but it's up to them to come up with why.

So in this last session of NE, I had a new player joining in and he sent me his backstory in advance and right away there were problems. The whole premise of the game is that you are super villains who are forced to do some allegedly good acts to throw off an alien invasion because all of the heroes are dead. Well, he made a super hero.

I decided to let it go but then during the session he couldn't really come up with a good reason to be where the party was (despite my dropping him in to the same location - I just left the reason up to him) and he ends up shooting at the PC's - who have not attacked him or even noticed him really at this point - and this changes the tenor of the scenario. Now he's a hostile and my villains have a lot of "vengeful" and "bloodthirsty" hindrances and they reacted appropriately by going after him, so he ran away.

Now this didn't wreck the adventure as the players still accomplished their mission but it did leave the players and me feeling like it was less than totally successful. It actually made me feel like the player in question was actively avoiding joining the team or that he was trying to show off how bad-ass his character was (he wasn't). The party was in Japan to recruit or capture a retired supervillain. It's not tough to come up with a reason for another villain to be there and to help join in - maybe he's an old rival, maybe he hurt a family member and you've spent years tracking him down. Maybe you want a sample of his DNA to try and replicate his powers. Maybe you've been hired to kill him by some shadowy organization he used to work for. Maybe he's a relative and you want to get back at him for abandoning you - those are all examples I gave in a 5-minute brainstorming session and none of them were acceptable although nothing else was used in their place. Maybe it has nothing to do with the villain - maybe the monks at the monastery have something you want. When a fight breaks out there's the perfect time to get your target and then join in the fight to cover your tracks. In the end no real reason was stated and it probably would have been better if he hadn't made an appearance at all - everyone else would have been happier with the evening.

So I spent a lot of time thinking about this and decided maybe I screwed it up somehow by putting it in Japan etc. and that I would give him another chance next session when the team was back in their home city. The other players were a little miffed at him too but were willing to give it another go too. More on that next time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Necessary Evil - Session 6 - Curse of the Monolith!

In our prologue, the team uses their skills and powers to steal various aircraft and fly across the U.S., then the Pacific Ocean, finally landing on a street in Japan. It was a very impressive performance for some very skill-limited characters although Night Terror (phasing) and Nissavin (Mind Control) stood out for their particular contributions. When you can move through any wall or control minds so that you don't have to, it makes theft and trespassing quite a bit easier. This part was actually handled at the tail end of the last session since we had time left, but the real action was saved for this session.

We begin in Kobe, Japan after the team has successfully landed their stolen airplane and fled the scene. They know their target is the Gray Lotus Monastery, a retreat for meditation and contemplation, and that their target is a former super villain named The Monolith. He was defeated by Champion years ago and agreed to go into seclusion and retirement if Champion took up the environmental causes he favored. he has been at the Gray Lotus ever since.

The team wandered around the city a bit, then decided to steal a minivan and head for their target. During the trip there was much discussion of how to get in to the place and extract their target, and a rough plan was formed.

Arriving at the monastery the team attempted to talk their way in but were stonewalled by the monks who were very protective of their most unusual resident. The master of the temple spoke to them at the gate, then sought out The Monolith, but returned saying that he did not recognize their names and did not h to be disturbed. While Nissavin was trying to talk her way in, Night Terror phased out and went wandering around the monastery looking for the big villain. He located the correct building by watching the monks' movements and returned to the team as negotiations were breaking down. MegaStrike smashed down the gate while Night Blade charged in, intending to force the master to comply with their wishes. Instead a dozen monks appeared from the shadows and bushes nearby and a general brawl opened up.

As the fight started, a huge stony figure appeared at the top of a small hill inside the gate. The ground began to tremble and two mighty stone arms flexed and a voice called out "You have disturbed the tranquility of this place and my meditations and NOW YOU WILL PAY!

MegaStrike went straight for The Monolith while 'Terror, 'Blade, and Nissa took care of the monks, including the master. This took some time, during which a new player entered the scene. A man in western dress appeared near one of the buildings, pulled out a rifle, and began shooting at the team, nailing NightBlade with a crack shot. When 'Blade recovered, the enmity was on and he went after this new target, who fled, tossing out a business card and yelling "Call me sometime".

In the meantime, the two titans were still slugging it out when the last of the monks dropped to the ground. Night Blade gave up his pursuit and landed a critical strike on The Monolith and allowed MegaStrike to deliver the final blow. The huge fighter toppled over at last and the earthquakes gradually faded out.

The group made a call to Dr. Destruction who agreed to take care of the pickup. The team waited until a flying vehicle appeared and then fled the scene as another cell loaded up the unconscious villain.

Speeding back to Kobe, the team met a private charter (courtesy of the Doctor) and flew home in comfort.

DM Notes: This was a good session in most ways - the players succeeded despite several setbacks, they were creative with their approaches (even though they ended up going with Plan A in the end - sometimes the old ways are best) and they had a good time.

I had fun as well as I got to play a supervillain who didn't succumb to mind control and I got to use a lot of bennies, keeping him in the fight longer. The monks were really a warm-up act - the real fight was big guy vs. the party and it lasted almost 10 rounds total.

There was really only one thing that didn't go well but it was a big one: Dave the Swordmage from the D&D4 game wanted to join the NE game as well. Now the timing wasn't great as the team was headed for Japan at the end of the last session so I was going to have to work him in there somehow. I told him that he was at this monastery when the team attacked. I asked him to come up with a reason he was there and I would be fine with almost any reason. He struggled with this for the entire session. Once the fighting broke out he decided to get into costume (he's a wealthy millionaire batman-ish type who uses money as his super power and bought a lot of guns and gadgets) and take a shot with his big gun at Night Blade! I asked him if he was sure and he was. This annoyed Night Blade's player quite a bit, especially when it was a hit and a raise and caused a wound! The Gray One was pretty cocky at that point but then Night Blade burned a Bennie, got up and went after him - so he ran away!

This pretty much wrecked the "let's get him integrated into the team" subplot for the evening and I'll write more about that tomorrow. For now though it was a problem.