Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Is Fair?

let's just wrap up the content discussions for this week with another problem I'm currently facing as a GM. See, I'm in kind of a tight bind as I work on the prep for my Deathwatch game this Saturday. The PCs have taken it upon themselves to jump on a Thunderhawk Gunship and make a landing atop a chaos corrupted titan. One of the really big Titans too. Now, presumably - I did tell them after all - they know this is going to be super seriously mega incredibly horribly dangerous. Problem is, that doesn't leave me as the GM in much of a better place.

The Problem
The problem that I am facing as I work on this is simple: as I am setting down what the forces of Chaos have aboard this titan to defend it - a Titan for the uninformed is essentially a walking genocide dealing battle fortress that can single handedly wipe out a planet given time to walk across the entire surface - it begins to look more and more like I am just trying to insta gib the PCs. Seriously, the PCs are all super high level and have shown me on a number of occasions that they can dispense an ungodly magnitude of death themselves, but the nature of the system leads me to believe that one merely average round on my part is going to have over half the PCs down for the count. Which is just going to make the next round even more deadly as there are less targets, and likely not significantly less enemies to shoot at them. So, what to do?

Solution 1: Make It Easier
I don't like this solution for a number of reasons. One of them is that this is a big event in a big story line and the PCs have chosen to do it with that in mind. Just making it easier feels like I am robbing the PCs of trying what they want. It also feels like I am robbing the universe of its feel. The 40k universe is one in which heroes drop dead as casually as flies because, ultimately, one person doesn't matter. Sure, it is also a place where the impossible can happen, but that doesn't mean the universe flinches away from stacking the odds, just that something carries the one doing the impossible through it.

Solution 2: Blame The Players
In a sense, this is honestly the right solution. As a friend is explaining to me right now - and as I would to another GM in the same situation - this is the path that the PCs have chosen to take. Would I balk at telling a player that his char died if he jumped off a skyscraper? No, not really. The problem here though is that this isn't me saying "the direct result of your chosen action is death." This is actually playing through it, seeing how far the PCs get, and if they can defy the odds and pull it off. It's not even implausible, it just will take some really bad rolls on my part and some really good ones on theirs.

Solution 3: Handle It Narratively
The other solution I heard was to handle it more narratively. Normally I'm fine with this, except that it also kind of robs some of the sense from the game. The group decided early on that we were going to go as close to "by the book" as possible with things, and in this instance it was also decided we'd go through with the fighting. They may be able to pull off a miracle, they may not, but that isn't something for me to take away.

The REAL Problem
All of this brings me around to what my real problem is here. I do not enjoy killing PCs. That isn't to say that I shy away from it when it has to be done, because I don't. However, that doesn't mean it is something I enjoy. Especially when the game has been going on long enough that you almost feel like you know the characters involved. They're well developed characters that you've been enjoying running for; that you want to see move on and take on other challenges. This, however, isn't a real problem unique to me. The solution is also the same for everyone: you run the game as fairly and objectively as you can. Sometimes that means dishing out the bad consequences instead of the good ones.

What I'm Going To Do
With all of this writing and thinking, I've been working this all out. The only thing I can do is go forward with things the way I have them. Nothing put down thus far is truly outlandish or unbelievable - any more than the plot line already is -  but that is what it is. In the end, the PCs can choose to fall back or press on. In the end the PCs chose to take the course of action that they are on. I just have to present the challenges that that course has and see what happens. I'm nervous about it, but also kind of excited. I guess we'll see who pulls through in the end.


  1. Why not bring the players in on your dilemma and offer them the following:

    Each player should/can make a new character to go along and add more firepower to the player's side of the table.

    The added benefits of rounding out the party with these alts should be obvious to the players, but it also benefits you twofold -

    1. Each player now has a fall-back character to play should their primary drop early.
    2. Adding more fodder lessens the speed at which the death spiral occurs.

    The drawback to this concept is that there might not be enough time to get these new characters in story with the others and (depending on the system) creating an alt takes time.

    Maybe not an optimum solution, but it's a thought.

  2. All of the PCs actually have 2 characters already. Some have their main going on the titan, some have their back up while their main is on a different mission. It is something we've addressed. The system also has tools for mitigating lethality. But some of those I'm not sure I like for this situation. Still, a good idea to have posted.

  3. Let the dice fall where they may. The players willingly stepped into the maw of hell, let them survive or die fighting. To do otherwise is a cheat.

  4. Go with it. They chose that path and it sounds like they knew very well what would wait for them at the end. If they die, it will be epic and if they live and win, it will be even more epic. At least that's how I would feel about it as a player.

  5. You could make it so that even in death the players don't feel their effort was entirely wasted. Maybe they disable a part of the titan that enables others to finally defeat it told as sort of an epilogue.

    Alternatively, maybe their efforts inspire others to try taking the thing down and eventually it falls again told as an epilogue.

    Mainly the idea is that yes they died but they made a (small) difference and so the effort wasn't wasted.

  6. I believe this is where I, one of the players in said situation should speak up with the most appropriate response.

    BRING IT ON!!!!

    Either we all die in a blaze of glory, we all die with a squeak, or we fall back after realizing we're in over our heads. Do your worst, well, Chaos's worst.

    1. "BRING IT ON!!!!"

      I'd say there's your answer.

    2. I've previously wondered if the folks you gamed with read your blog, particularly the players of games you run - and now I have my answer.

  7. Given that the players do have alternate characters, I'd let it happen. But remember a few things.

    1) Titans may deal lots of death. But some options are going to be lessened in fighting enemies actually on them.

    2) Chaos is not disciplined. The machine spirit of the Titan may not react well to something it doesn't expect. Likewise, the crew may work at cross purposes.

    3) While the Titan is worrying about them, it's less efficient at destroying anything around them. I don't know what other resources they have, but they need to take advantage of this.

    4) As you've said, Titans are legendary whirlwinds of descruction. If the PC's damage it, or distract it so the other forces can damage it, they will be considered heroes. If they die, but manage to take it down, they will be remembered for giving their lives to defeat Chaos.

  8. Seems like the general consensus is to do it. Guess we'll see what happens :D

  9. If you want to play this cinematically, my solution would be to reduce the odds of a hit for the Titan (presumably as it slaps blindly at the characters who scurry about on top of it) to something like 1-3 on a D20. While this may not be considerate of the stats and abilities the characters have built for themselves, it represents the aggregate of skills and abilities that even allow them to be capable of this impossible feat.
    When it connects with a hit, the results are understandably devastating - perhaps even moreso than they would be if simply playing "by the book". If not insta-death, at least "on the ropes".
    The characters can do damage and attack as normal, but if the HP of the Titan is truly ASTRONOMICAL, you can give them an edge by making missed attacks by the Titan deal damage to itself.
    I think this would be a somewhat fair and respectful way to handle the situation, while simplifying the math involved, and making fate, as opposed to poor combat balance, the true decider of the end result.