Hopefully this will be a little bit more coherent than the post written for Thursday last week. Mostly because I'm writing it after a night's sleep and not after a 5 hour gaming session full of violence, explosions, and combat. Today though, I don't want to talk about the Shadowrun game per se (I actually really do, but more in the "GLEE! SHADOWRUN! YAY") but rather the way and why to mix up the challenges in your game.
The Tedium of Perfect Challenge
Ever play in a game where the GM carefully micro-measures every encounter to be the exact perfect challenge for the group? A lot of D&D games I've been in have devolved into this. Not the DMs fault either in a lot of the cases, the system is geared towards just that sort of play with the Challenge Rating for monsters being further backed by XP rates based off of it and really the whole game, as a game, wants to be done at the perfect. The problem is, eventually it gets boring and tiring. Eventually the group basically does one fight a day and then they rest. Adventures bog out as the group has to balance their ability to press on versus their ability to survive the next encounter. If they ignore this? They could very easily get wiped. There is no variety, and that just bogs everything down.
Four Types of Challenge
Personally, I prefer to spice things up. I like there to be four types of challenges in my game with the break down being: Easy, Deceptively Easy, Challenging, and Deceptively Challenging. Technically, there is also "not a challenge" categories for both easy and hard (i.e. a cake walk and the GM wants you all to die now) but those aren't really challenges so much as they are things so I'm not going to list them. Now, as anyone who has read my Thursday post will know, I've had problems with pushing myself with the harder ones but that isn't for here and now. So, how do these work? It's simple.
Easy and Challenging are just how they sound. They are tasks that don't hide themselves. Six PCs versus a group of 8-10 mooks is easy. The PCs should be able to push through that task without any real problems, they know it, I know it, and it is just a quick and easy thing. At the same time, Six PCs versus 5-6 characters of equal power level as the PCs is challenging. It has to be approached differently than the mook fight and it really could go either way depending on who has a lucky day with their dice pools.
Deceptively Easy and Deceptively Challenging are where things get fun. These are used to keep the players guessing, but in a good way. It will make them take a bit more caution towards that group of mooks but also be a bit more ok with the presence of a group of heavily armed mercs. My personal favorite for this is the injured dragon. It works out exactly as it sounds. The party comes into a fight with a dragon, only the fight is a lot easier than the PCs expect because the dragon is already injured and low on spells/abilities. It generally has two effects. The first is elation as the PCs kill a dragon and it is super easy. the second is annoyance as they realize that they only did it because someone else softened it up for them.
The point of all of this is to have variety in your game. This is especially important in your stories. Easy encounters will help bolster your party's confidence. Hard encounters will make them more cautious. Mixing them up, and doing it well, can be the key to controlling the pace and feel. As the game gets serious you may want to up the challenge so the players feel the stakes rising. If they start to be acting gun shy or super paranoid, then maybe you want to throw in some easy encounters - remind them they are bad ass or show how much they've grown - and let them cool off a bit. Either way, just having the mix helps keep the game fun. Besides, who knows, maybe you'll find different PCs shine at different challenge levels. This makes it a good way to give everyone their moment in the light too.