Thursday, April 14, 2011

Embracing the Chaos

Man, so how many times has this happened to you? You sit down with your players; you've all agreed to play a gritty sci-fi game, where there won't be tactics skill rolls, just the maneuvers the players try to do. Everyone is on board, character completion is done, and you get going on the first mission. You decide to start things off with a bang, to get the point across of how gritty this game can be, and put the PCs in a situation where the odds are definitely against them. Do they stick around and fight? Or do they run and live to fight another day? They try to stick it out, combat begins, and happens. The PCs just will not stop rolling critical successes. The next thing you know, your gritty combat game has turned into a light hearted slaughter fest as the PCs mop up the opposing force like a team of super soldiers in the beginning arc of some anime. The gritty feel of your game is gone for now what do you do?

Don't Panic!
Like always, the first thing you need to do as a GM when everything goes wonky is not panic. If you panic, you're going to freeze up, or worse grow angry and antagonistic, and that isn't going to help anyone. Keep in mind, it is not your players fault that the dice have gone crazy good in their favor. Just take a breath, breathe deep, and move forward. Remember, this is an amazing feat, but as luck would have it, you can totally play into that. The world is gritty, so stuff like this is not supposed to happen. That means that your own incredulity can be played into the NPCs reactions. Let the PCs enjoy their victory, and just go with the flow. No need to freeze up or panic at all.

Don't Compensate For Good Rolls
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. The PCs have been mopping the floor with everything I throw at them lately, so they can easily handle something twice as hard. This is a natural reaction, and as a GM it is pretty much your job to do it. After all, some fights need to be more challenging than other fights. However, you need to be careful when upping the difficulty that you aren't going too far. Pay attention during fights to see why your PCs are winning. Are they winning because of good tactics, good equipment, and the power of their own characters, or are they winning because they are regularly and repeatedly rolling well?

If it is the first one, by all means, up the ante however you feel is best for them. They are crushing what you throw against them with their builds, gear, and skills, so you should respond in kind. If it is the second one, you want to be careful. Luck has a way of running out, especially when the GM has reacted to the luck of the PCs. It could be that the fights you are giving your PCs are already plenty challenging, or would be, but they are getting lucky on their dice rolls and that is pulling them through. It isn't that they're ridiculously more powerful, it is because they keep rolling crit hits and max damage. If this is why they are winning, you want to up the scale slowly - if at all - and be ready for the dice going bad and risking a total party wipe.

Of course, if they're being arrogant and stupid because of their previous victory, nothing you can do will save them. Just make sure to point out every now and then while they're gloating about how awesome they are, that part of it is because they're rolling very well. No need to steal their fun, but make sure they at least have no excuse for not being aware when things go the other way.

But I Want The Fight To Be Challenging!
It sucks when your hard work and threat assessment go out the window because the PCs rolled eight critical hits and four instant kills in the first two rounds of combat. I mean, sure, for them it is awesome and they are probably laughing, but for just seems like a waste of work. When it keeps happening - and trust me, some games it will keep happening - you may feel like you want to go nuts with some set ups to make them challenging regardless of what the PCs roll. This is fine, but you want to be careful with it.

My recommendation? Be creative with the terms of the fight, not necessarily the enemies that they are encountering. Give the bad guys a win condition other than killing the PCs. For example, maybe the bad guys just have to keep the PCs from leaving a room for 4 rounds. Alternatively, maybe it is a race to see who can reach an item of power first. Maybe the PCs have to solve a puzzle - during combat - to turn off the invulnerability field on the big bad guy, and until then nothing they do will so much as scratch him/her.

The thing is, there are lots of ways to get around the damage the PCs are putting out and make things challenging. If the PCs are going nuts with the die rolls, then maybe you just need to try some other things for a bit, and see what happens.

In Conclusion
The bottom line is this. If everyone is having fun, then you shouldn't stop playing the game. However, be sure to include yourself in everyone. You, as the GM, are just as important as the players when it comes to having fun. Why should you keep dedicating time and effort toa  game you don't have fun playing? If you find that you can't have fun, then you should talk to the players. Otherwise, you may just need to embrace the chaos as the luck gods run rampant across your campaign. You can take steps to mitigate the impact luck has, and you can throw in other challenges, but you should also just take some time to revel in the insanity.

Oh, and for the record, the blurb at the very top? That situation happened in a game that Atraties ran a few years back. It was a good game, but it was certainly a lot more cinematic than gritty by the end. Course, that is what happens when the PCs keep maxing out their die rolls....

As always, if you've got something to add, a question, or just a fun anecdote, I'd love to hear it. Sound off in the comments below.

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