Paranoia: Shattering The Trust – Part II
From Ross Shingledecker (~Acolyte)
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #212
Part II: Major In-Game Events
The use of these tactics can permanently alter your campaign, its setting, and potentially even your system. If you are dedicated to creating paranoia at all costs, these tactics are for you.
Potentially a cliche, this tactic can be very useful. Prophecies have two elements: the condition (“When x happens…”) and the result (“…y will occur”). If “y” is something extremely negative, you have a Dark Prophecy.You can make “x” a condition currently affecting the PCs. If the players know that the “Greatest Evil will rise on a moonless night in the Year of the Apocalypse,” and their characters are living in the Year of the Apocalypse, you can bet their knees will be knocking every time there is a new moon.
You can also make “x” something the players might do, or better yet, have recently done. If the Nebulae Texts say that spacefarers who visit the Lobster Nebulae will “carry with them the seed for the galaxy’s destruction,” and the players find this out just after visiting the Lobster Nebulae, they might begin to distrust themselves.Since you as the GM know pretty much everything, you can tailor the prophecy to your players and their characters’ actions.
You can lift this tactic directly from slasher movies. In a chase scene, the PCs can either be the chasers or the prey. If they are the chasers, when they finally corner what they are chasing, they would find it unnerving to discover something utterly different than what they thought they were chasing.If they are being chased, they would be similarly unnerved (but perhaps more relieved) if they turned to face what they were afraid of and found something utterly different than what they thought was chasing them.
Examples:Alone in the wilderness, the PCs are attacked by a mysterious force and begin to run away, even though they haven’t got a good idea of what’s chasing them. They can always hear it crashing along behind them, but it seems to avoid any traps that they hastily set. Night falls and the chase continues. Eventually, the party turns wearily to face certain doom…and nothing happens. The noises vanish. From the opposite direction appears a beautiful female NPC who they’ve never seen before, who appears friendly, and who has apparently not heard the loud chase. Will they trust her?The party, alone in the vastness of space, catches the signal of a raider ship and enters full pursuit.
The chase enters an area full of debris containing radioactive isotopes that block sensor readings. When they come out on the other side of the debris field, the only ship for light years is a small luxury cruiser that doesn’t have a raider signal, but is of a type they’ve never encountered and which isn’t in their databases. The luxury ship’s communications officer claims that they have seen no sign of any raiders. Will the PCs trust the crew of this new ship?
Tell the characters a secret and tell them to keep it at all costs. Then introduce an organization dedicated to finding out the secret, and have the organization guess that the characters know what they want. Make the organization a legitimate part of society (so killing them all isn’t an option).Example:The characters were given a piece of a dead god of benevolence. They were told to keep it safe at all costs by the dying breath of the man who gave it to them.
They were also told they’d know who to give it to when the time came. However, a branch of the King’s law courts, the Inquisition, is dedicated to preventing the resurrection of the dead god. They know the characters were with the man when he died, and everywhere the players go, they are watched and confronted by the ever-present red-cloaked members of the Inquisition, an organization known to use whatever means necessary to get what it wants. This example is easily applied to science fiction (substitute a piece of ancient technology for the piece of the dead god).
This tactic goes hand in hand with Secrecy. Once the players have uncovered a single spy working against them, anyone around them could be a potential spy. When the next spy they discover turns out to be someone they thought they could trust, they start distrusting everyone around them. They wall themselves away from former allies and make snappish remarks to innocent questions.NPC: “How are you doing today, fine sir?”PC: “Oh, wouldn’t you like to know? Do you think you can trick me so easily? Do you think I’ll give up that information without a fight? Do you!?”This tactic works best if the players have some sort of secret to hide or some powerful enemy.
If the players are aware that they are up against an extremely powerful enemy, that this enemy works through proxies and agents, that these proxies and agents are of all shapes and sizes, and that they can be found anywhere, the players will become paranoid.Perfect candidates for this type of enemy are gods (Lord Foul), organizations (like the Inquisition mentioned above), ghosts or otherworldly things (Osiris), unknown alien species (Yuuzhan Vong), powerful demons or creatures of evil (Sauron), AI (Colossus), or the like. This often works in conjunction with the Secrecy or Spies tactics.
Challenge What They Know
Knowledge is a player’s bastion against paranoia. Raze this bastion. Wait until the players assume something about the world around their characters and refute that assumption. This is easier in a game where there is no magic (and thus no explanation for why the water is running uphill).Examples:The characters are in a rural agricultural area full of rolling hills and pleasant people. While traveling through this region, they crest a hill that is a little taller than the others. Shockingly, they see a vast, desolate wasteland that has not appeared on any maps of the region, and indeed was unmentioned by the farmer whose house is less than a mile away.
Strange creatures rise from the wasteland and attack. When the characters return and question the farmer, he pretends to know nothing of it. If the PCs insist, he hushes them in fear. [The site could be the place of an ancient magical/nuclear battle, and people who mention the place are often the target of attacks by its denizens.]Jonas the barkeep has been manning the tavern (or spacebar) that the characters have visited for several sessions. They have developed a small friendship with him and with several of the other long-time patrons. One day, they enter and find him replaced by Sheila, a sullen woman who communicates only by grunting.
The characters ask around, but no one seems to know where Jonas has gone…one patron even denies ever knowing anyone named Jonas. [He could have been targeted by an Inquisition-like organization for consorting with smugglers, and Sheila could be a spy for more illicit activity.]Eating food no longer sustains the people of a remote planet, and so they eat a rare ore. They are still human, and have no other oddities. To get this ore, they attack the characters’ homeworld or another peaceful planet. [This could be some sort of disease or poison or deficiency caused by gravimetric fields.] Everyone who comes in contact with the ore-eaters also crave the ore.
A group of ore-eaters approach the characters…One day, the sky changes color. The next, all the rats in the village/colony die. The next, water begins to taste brackish, even when purified by spells/technology. The next, people’s skin starts to change colors. These changes baffle the magic users or scientists. The players live in fear of the sunrise each day. [I wouldn’t want to be them. Maybe some ancient prophecy is coming true.]
Lie to your players. Or, more appropriately, have your NPCs lie to the PCs. This could be called the “Boy-Who-Cried- Wolf” effect, and it works even more effectively in roleplay heavy intrigue type games. After Erica (authority figure) lies to the PCs about the job she wants them to do, they turn to help Lolita (underground figure) instead. Lolita then lies to them, so they turn to Joseph (middle class figure), and he lies to them. They turn to Pierce (paragon of virtue figure), who is not only a liar but is Lolita’s friend Bud (other underground figure) in disguise.The end result of all this is, after such a series of betrayals, the PCs refuse to listen to the pleas for help from Judy (damsel in distress figure), who really is telling the truth. Too bad for her.
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
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Combat Descriptions – Provide Round-End Summaries
I’ve been seriously GMing for about a year or two and I play with a slightly younger crowd. They love combat, though they still roleplay and enjoy the other aspects of the game.
They always crave fights, but two of them have *insane* ADHD, so during the others’ rolls and the descriptions of their results, they would disrupt the game. This was annoying, but even when it was their turn, the pause between calculations and descriptions would be too much for them, and they would lose concentration. Then I changed something.
Everyone would take their actions, in order, with 10 seconds apiece, each receiving brief and sketchy information. Meanwhile, while they were quickly moving through combat, I would mark who hit when and the severity of the hit. At the end of the round, I would explain the six seconds of battle in crisp detail.
Here’s an example with two PCs:
PC#1: Okay, I run here and slice with my longsword. (Rolls dice for attack and damage.)
GM: You hit and deal 6 damage. (To other PC) Your turn.
PC#2: Uh…I cast fireball right here. (GM rolls dice with PC.)
GM: Fireball deals half damage for 20 points. (GM rolls dice to himself.)
GM: Green Dragon slashes you for 10.
GM: (GM stands up.) PC1, you dash up to the Young Green Dragon and lacerate it with your blade. Dark warm blood showers your arms, when a sudden burst of light explodes behind the beast. PC2, your fireball nearly engulfs PC1, but your precise aim has only damaged the Dragon. It screams in pain and lashes out at PC1, striking his chest with a severe blow. Roll again PC1.
I’m having more fun every game, thanks.
Player Handout Ideas
From Chris Heisman
Some of the things I’ve done over the years:
- One campaign revolved around the PCs fulfilling prophecies, and each of the 144 prophecies was engraved in an ancient language on golden coins. I created a whole set of the “coins” on goldenrod paper, laminated them, and cut them out. Every time the PCs found one of the coins, I’d give them a “physical” one. It was also nice in that the prophecy they found was actually random, as I pulled them at random from the bag.
- At one session, the PCs were dining with a local noble. One of the refreshments served was a fine elven wine that loosely translated to Golden Fire & Ice. I made “wine” labels and applied them to bottles of apple juice that I served to the players. An NPC had poisoned one of the bottles, so I had discretely marked one of the bottles. Those players who drank from that particular bottle had to have their PCs make a saving throw against the poison.
- I’ve used Campaign Cartographer’s Dioramas expansion to create 3 dimensional “books” to use as props for significant books the PCs have found.
- Using a word processor and a CD-ROM full of handwriting fonts, I constantly have the PCs find and/or receive letters. Typically, these “letters” have significant meaning to the campaign, but some are red herrings. Right now I have a long distance romance going on between a PC and an NPC, so “love” letters from the NPC to the PC are a real big hit. In a similar vein, I’ve “sent” wedding invitations/ announcements to the PCs from significant NPCs.
- I’ve created menu “signs” for some of the PCs’ favorite Inns.
- Speaking of signs, I’ve created drawings of signs the PCs have encountered. The most significant was a broken one they were able to assemble to find out the local lord had outlawed non-humans from entering his lands.
- Maps are an old stand-by. One session, I took a fairly important map and ripped it into pieces. I then mailed 2-3 pieces to each of the players several days before the game session. One player hadn’t checked his mail, and was sent home by the rest of the group to get it. Another player failed to show up without telling anyone, and was given a hard time by the rest of the group for his inconsiderate behaviour. On a side note, it was a great way to have the players handle a player who had attendance “problems.”
- Pictures of jewelry, weapons, and magic items. I typically laminate these and decree that whoever has the picture has the item.
- Not my campaign, but a buddy’s: He was an assistant manager of an arcade. He collected the buckets’ worth of tokens they had accumulated from other sites and used them as coinage – the only gold your PC had was what was physically in “your” jar. It worked fairly well, but I don’t see many people having the resources to get a couple thousand tokens.
- For a science fiction game, I made a Powerpoint presentation that imitated some communications between two important NPCs and burned it to CD-ROM. I then let the players find it, and later view it.
- For a Traveller game a long time ago, I used magazine photos and the ID forms that were in the Forms & Charts supplement to create various IDs for several NPCs and PCs. If I were to do that again, I would probably get the players to help me create an ID for each of their PCs, and I would create them from scratch using Word or Corel Draw instead of a Xerox and typewriter.
- I actually gave a player a sword once. Yes, a real sword that represented the PC’s sword. The PCs had done some pretty significant stuff for the High King, and so he gave them each a magic sword with their name engraved on the pommel. Each of the swords came in a fine wooden box and wrapped in a purple velvet bag.
Two weeks after that session, I got married – as a gift to my best man (one of the players), I gave him the actual sword I had based on the pictures for the game – and it had his named engraved on the pommel and was wrapped in a purple velveteen bag. I couldn’t afford the fine wooden box, however. It was probably the second most significant gift I’ve ever given someone, and had a real impact on the rest of the players at the next game session -they suddenly connected with their PCs’ new swords more. Probably not a practical suggestion for most campaigns/GMs.
Things I haven’t done, but have thought about trying:
- Medals to award the PCs/players and/or find.
- Using Sculpy polymer clay to make some miniature “replicas” of magic items.
- Using test tube vials filled with things like apple juice and chocolate syrup to represent potions.
- Control panels to represent a starship’s controls – similar to the ones that were found in FASAs original Star Trek RPG.
Roleplaying With Younger Children
From Adam Carter
RPT#185 – Innkeeper Intrigue
I recently started hosting a fortnightly group at our house, and found a great way to integrate my son into our group: I let him play my wizard’s familiar!
My son is 11 and has shown an interest in the game, and I’ve DM’d some stuff for him alone, but I wasn’t sure what the rest of the group would think if I asked them if he could play.
A few of sessions ago, my son quietly pulled a chair up to the table and just watched us play. The next session, during a frantic battle, I handed him the character sheet for my badger familiar and said, “here, you run Chief.” Just like Cris’ article described, he knew what a badger was, and more or less what it was capable of, and was able to contribute to the rest of the session. One of the other players has since suggested that he roll up a frontline fighter type to help bolster our combat skills a bit more.
The result: my son gets to play, I get to share my hobby with him, and our party is that much more capable! A win for everyone!
Thanks for the time you put into the newsletter, keep up the great work!
Using A Hazard Roll
From Dariel Quiogue
RPT#176 – Role-Playing And Giant Robots
Imagine a medium to high power party getting shot up by ordinary goblins (very weak in most systems) using either bows or darts. You can play this up by rolling twice as many dice as there are monster attacks.
I have a mechanic in my homebrew RPG, Cineflex, that allows for this. It’s called a Hazard Roll: basically a Dexterity check to see if a PC can make it through a “zone of danger” safely. Failure means the PC is hit; critical failure = critical hit. This frees me from having to roll separately for each attacker and so revealing how many there are. Perhaps this can give you ideas for your games.
Getting Everyone Into The Game
From The Goblin
I run a beginner’s game on Fridays and my group’s gotten quite large, so I had a more experienced player join to help the group out. Unfortunately, he gets into it a lot and ends up doing many of the battles by himself and roleplays most of the encounters by himself.
So, I decided to throw some stuff in that would be hard for him to handle. For example, he’s a dwarven wizard (weird) so I threw in an elf who is a very important NPC but has a bad dislike for dwarves. Whenever the dwarf tries to talk to him the elf just insults him or ignores him all together. This creates a good opportunity for other players to get in and do some roleplaying.
I’ve also singled the PC out in some combats with attacks that incapacitate him or take away his magic capabilities. This lets others participate in combat.
I don’t do this stuff all the time cuz’ I know what it’s like to play and he’s there too have fun too, so if you need to do something like this don’t take it too far.
Tips For PC Derangements
From Jamie LeBlanc
I was having some problems with my players playing characters who had in-game derangements, so I created the following set of guidelines to help them through:
Instead of just saying “my character does this because it seems crazy,” start with defining what is affecting the character and how that happened. After that is defined, figuring out how the character acts is easy. I usually recommend that characters consider the derangement in the following order:
- WHAT is the derangement? Does the character hear voices or see apparitions? Does he feel uncontrollable urges or emotions? What exactly affects them?
- WHEN did the derangement manifest? This is very important to understanding how a derangement manifests. Was it caused by a magic spell, or did the character endure a horrible experience that left her mentally scarred?
- HOW does the derangement manifest? A character that hears noises is not going to go around saying “I hear noises.” They may talk to the noises, or run away from them, or try to pull up the floorboards in inns/hotel rooms to get at whatever is making the noises. It is hard for anyone but the character experiencing the derangement to connect the physical manifestation (like pulling up floorboards) that the other characters see, and the actual cause (hearing noises).
- WHAT prompts the derangement to manifest? Is there a trigger that’s possibly connected to when the derangement manifested? If a teenager developed schizophrenia after using illegal substances, she might see apparitions every time something reminds her of the party where she used the drugs. Alternately, the derangement may manifest in times of stress or whenever the character is faced with something they want to avoid.
- REMAIN consistent. It is unrealistic for a derangement to be triggered by avoidance one week and then from reminders of a car crash the next. It is also unrealistic for a character to feel obsessive one week and hear voices the next. Keeping consistent will also allow the other players to slowly figure out what is going on with your character and to possibly help them.