Being A Devil With The Details – Intriguing GMing Tips Gleaned From A Con, Part 2
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0850
A big learning I had at IntrigueCon was to watch the timing of your details.
The second game I played was Night’s Black Agents. I was Kee, an analyst and hacker. When the mook whacked our informant Kee traced his plates, hacked the traffic lights in the ensuing car chase, and recovered media files from a burnt hard drive.
The premise of NBA is pretty cool. You know the book Dracula? Well, it’s real.
In 1893 British Naval Intelligence tried to recruit Count Dracula as an agent. The mission went sideways.
Dracula is Real
The book Dracula is actually a heavily censored version of the after-action report.
Now vampires are the world’s puppet masters. And it’s up to a special group of international agents to stop the machinations and atrocities caused by these evil beings lead by the infamous Count.
In my game we were sent to Marseilles to find the root of terrorist activity. We traced it to the Russian mob using a high-level French bank account manager to launder their money. The local operation was lead by…you guessed it…a vampire.
We finally tracked the vampire down in his private mansion with minutes left to go in the game. Mace, Persephone, Gabrielle, Felix, and Oliver threw everything we had at the creature.
My small contribution was using parkour to leap off a wall, bounce off a fancy dish cabinet, and while tumbling through the air throw a silver knife into the chest of our foe. That damage slowed him down enough so a couple of other teammates could land their shots.
We barely won. Characters were down. The rest of us were wounded. There were explosions.
The GM wrapped up the game by saying, “Not bad guys. And that was just the most basic minor vampire. Wait’ll you encounter the tough ones.”
GumShoe Skills Are Great
What I liked most about NBA were the two skill pools. The second pool had action skills in it. You burned your ranks in those skills during scenes as modifiers to your d6 rolls. Those ranks replenish a couple times during a session, so you don’t have to be a miser with them. You can actually get pretty strategic burning them off. In play, this worked well and fast.
The first pool was for investigation skills. Any skill with a rank of 1 meant you were an expert. Any skill with a rank of 2 meant you were world-class.
During play, when you use a Rank 1 skill you automatically succeed at all but the most extreme tasks. Rank 2 means you’ll automatically succeed with all but the impossible.
This was a really cool gameplay dynamic. If you know you’re going to succeed in your skill attempt in advance, the game becomes less about success-friction and more about finding and pursuing the clues. Then pepper with action scenes such as car chases and boss battles as desired.
In addition, players were responsible for coming up with the details of why and how they succeed. The GM referees the world and reveals its secrets so players can proceed through the investigation.
For example, rather than pixel-bitching over equipping our characters, we used flashbacks to explain how we brought the right tools for the job once gameplay quickly brought us into a situation.
Once the group realized we weren’t supposed to over-plan the details, gameplay went fast and furious, which is a feature of NBA if you choose to play that way. Players became the storytellers, and that was a ton of fun.
Watch Your Details
Something I noticed was two out of the three GMs I played for during the con weekend kept stalling gameplay with details.
I bet I do this too when I run games.
And this is especially a source of friction for an info-rich and faster-paced game like NBA.
Sometimes the group was about to make a decision and the GM suddenly added new details that weren’t super important or relevant.
For example, the GM had answered all our questions and we had finally come up with a plan for assaulting the villain’s mansion. Just as we were about to execute, the GM mentioned more details about Marseilles, the neighbourhood of the mansion, and the French banking system. None of the details mattered to us, in my opinion. But it caused us to hesitate and rethink our plan.
Wrong details at the wrong moment set us back each time. Discussion regressed again. And we had to claw our way to new group consensus points.
And sometimes the GM would finish his narrative, start to hand the mic back to us, but then keep adding details.
Important info you’ve left out is good and worth interrupting for. But flavour details and whatnot don’t add right now because the players have started collaborating and roleplaying.
The GMs of my Fate and NBA games were fantastic. I’m only picking on them about this point because I do this too.
So when I GM next I’m going to watch for these two gaffes that I have probably been committing for ages.
When I’m done sharing the info the players need to either roleplay or take their next action, I’m biting my tongue and not interrupting.
Likewise, when the group comes to a decision and is ready to take action, I’m not going to derail that by adding extraneous details at the last-minute. (I will intervene though if the players are working from something I’ve miscommunicated.)
Assuming I make my Stay Silent roll, gameplay should speed up and players who get frustrated with too much party indecision will be happier.
Watch your details. Offer them at the right time and with the best clarity you can muster.