Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When Your PCs Have To Improvise

We hit an interesting shift in dynamic in the last session of my Shadowrun game. A stroke of bad luck potentially compromised the mission and so the team is changing plans from extracting their VIP where they originally planned to grabbing the VIP before then. The only problem with this, for them, is that they have next to no time for doing any serious leg work for this plan and so it will take a good amount of improvisation. This has put me in an interesting spot as a GM, and it is something I want to talk about here.

Player Improvisation Means More Needs To Be Planned
The fact that the players and characters are going to be improvising their plan on the fly means that I need to have a lot more about what is going on bolted down and set to go ahead of time. Normally I can get away with a few guidelines for what is going on, the level of difficulty that should be there, and then look over the PCs plan and make a judgement call about how effective the plan will be and where, if anywhere, problems could crop up. Unfortunately I can't custom build around the PCs plan this time.

Why Not Improv With Improv
The problem with this approach, at least in my head, comes from the singular nature that in a battle of pure reaction the GM will likely either win or give away the whole thing. See, the players are going to be jumping at opportunities, so if the GM is also jumping at opportunities in that things can get messy. It's one thing to see the PCs whole plan and go "Ok, but the security guard at the front door is going to be gay and thus immune to the face's charms, and going for employee of the month so bribery won't work." With the idea being that the players then circumvent that obstacle. It's another when the PC has to jump at an action, then you have to jump to place an obstacle. Why? Because it's very easy to plant an obstacle that can't be circumvented, or can't be overcome without prep, and just screw everything over.

It's About A Chance More Than Winning or Losing
To be clear, I'm not afraid that with improvisation that the PCs might lose. Losing is a perfectly acceptable outcome, however they need to at least have a chance to come out victorious and that is just something you can't promise will be there when everyone is riding by the seat of their pants. I, my players, and the game all deserve more than that.

So What Am I Doing?
Honestly, I'm having a blast. I'm fleshing out a whole chunk of the mission more than I normally would - thus giving me room to work around the players. I know how large (if there is one at all) the security package is around the target. I know what resources that potential package has. I know when backup is coming. I know what complications could get triggered by the target themself. I know what safeguards are in place to prevent an easy grab of everything that the PCs may be after. I've been having a lot of  fun muddling it over in my head, placing pieces and figuring out how they work. The result is something I think could be formiddable, but that is also beatable. The PCs will have their chance to win, but they'll have to be clever - or brazen - and a bit lucky to do so. Hopefully it'll make for a hell of a time.

1 comment:

  1. My players were in a long multi-session battle where they were badly outnumbered & in the wind, and therefore improvising the whole time.

    A recurring theme when individual players were trying to decide what to do on their turn was asking, "What's the plan?" I don't let my players have strategy board meetings in the midst of combat, however, and so there was no real plan.

    However, the situation has changed & they're about to launch an assault on some bad guys. So now they have every opportunity to plan & strategize. I'm looking forward to seeing how much they take advantage of that - or are they going to kind of wing it, like they were forced to before.