Killer Game Masters

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Killer Game Masters

Postby Scottsman » Mon Jan 23, 2012 8:40 pm

I was sitting at my computer playing a rougelike when a thought occurred to me. Almost no other game with a similar feel to these kinds, where the player is really fighting. From my observances in DMing IRL, the only thing needed to stay alive is to not be excruciatingly retarded, and even that won't necessarily kill you. As such, I want to come up with a new system, or possibly modify an old one that isn't RTD, that allows the players to feel strong, while still having them face challenges. Not to mention, most rougelikes seem to have some pretty creative stuff that can work for and against players. This has been a bit of a rant, but now it is a call to arms. I call upon all killer game masters! Let's show them what we can do! And, in addition, let's show them their own livers!
This sounded a lot less stupid in my head.
Last edited by Scottsman on Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Creating a system

Postby Keldoclock » Mon Jan 23, 2012 10:30 pm

If you want to kill players just play 0E D&D. Actually, don't do that, play Swords & Wizardry or one of the modern 0E clones.
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Re: Creating a system

Postby Scottsman » Mon Jan 23, 2012 10:39 pm

Killing the players is not quite the goal, but the goal often kills players. The goal is to make the players fight, become better, and still have to fight for everything they've got. Or something like that. More imaginative and devious ways to kill players helps.
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Re: Creating a system

Postby knolli » Tue Jan 24, 2012 7:49 am

You are talking about a P&P RPG here, right? Then you don't need to create a new system but use the means a GM always has. If you want the fights to be harder, just throw in some stronger enemies. If you want there to be a real chance to die, then don't offer safety lines to your players. GMs often tend to go soft on the PCs, have foes ignore them as soon as they are down or use the deus ex macina-super-NPC to save the group whenever they are about to lose. Hell, they even change the results of a hidden role from crit success to crit failure to save the day.

I just played a game of at a convention with a very strict GM and he warned us that he would let us die and wouldn't bend the rules to save us. As a result we had one of the most thrilling endfights ever. At the same convention there was a workshop "Death of Player Characters" where they discussed that the GM should only kill a PC if the player agrees. And only after asking "Do you really want to do that?", twice.
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Re: Creating a system

Postby OneEye589 » Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:40 am

Yea, up the challenge rating. That's kind of given.

But, D&D is also not just about combat. You need puzzles to really rack the players' minds. In combat, you can usually say it was the luck of the dice that made the character die. If you add a puzzle into the mix, such as a weak spot, or fire/acid in the case of trolls, or actually chopping the head off of a zombie, or even a wooden stake through the heart of a vampire, it will make the players feel like they're doing more than just rolling dice.

However, since all the above that I mentioned are common knowledge, you're gonna have to come up with new ones.
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Re: Creating a system

Postby lilomar » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:48 pm

A really good way to get into that mindset, as a GM, is to read through some of the old 0ed DnD modules. The ones written by Gary Gygax are my favorite, but they all have that lifes-tough-get-a-helmet attitude towards player characters.
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Re: Creating a system

Postby Keldoclock » Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:07 pm

Eh, difficulty is good, but Gygax was just unfair. The ceiling was a lurker, the floor was a lurker, the walls were lurkers, the doors were mimics etc etc.


Play an NPC in combat as you would in role-play - wolves trip and go for the jugular, cannibals try to grapple and drag away their targets, soldiers won't bother with a downed foe, etc.
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Re: Creating a system

Postby Scottsman » Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:25 pm

This makes sense. Since I'm going into a new campaign arc with my PC's, I might just start doing this. I'm gonna change the subject to something more apropraite.
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Re: Killer Game Masters

Postby Scottsman » Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:52 pm

One problem I noticed about upping monster CR was that my group wound up fighting the same monster over the course of several sessions, and it was only one or two levels higher than them.
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Re: Killer Game Masters

Postby OneEye589 » Tue Jan 24, 2012 9:56 pm

Scottsman wrote:One problem I noticed about upping monster CR was that my group wound up fighting the same monster over the course of several sessions, and it was only one or two levels higher than them.

Make them humans or the basic races. Not everything has to be monsters.

A good thing for opening adventures is humans (with or without classes). So many adventures and plots can just be based around humans. If you have an overarching campaign story, it makes more sense, too.

Suspense can also be made by throwing something unexpected. If the players have been fighting just plain orcs and goblins the entire time, an ogre is all of a sudden really scary. Humans the entire time? How about the pet lion or bear the warlord has?

Also, don't go for monsters with more CP right off the bat, just go for more with lower CP.
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Re: Killer Game Masters

Postby Scottsman » Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:20 pm

That makes sense. I've been planning this for a little bit (we had a large span of break around winter), and the general plot of the story does revolve around some very powerful humans, both physically and socially. If I need something monsterous, I can take something more normal and give it a fucked up description.
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Re: Killer Game Masters

Postby OneEye589 » Tue Jan 24, 2012 11:24 pm

Yea, people underestimate the job humans and common races have in D&D. Most people try to go all out and include everything they can jam into one instant. That doesn't do it for me.

Read most fantasy and it only uses magic and myth sparingly. It should be the "mundane" that is the norm, as then it makes everything else even more amazing than it would already be.

Imagine an entire adventure of just fighting human cultists. You're going to stop some ritual. They may use some magic, but most of them are just ordinary people who believe in a god. You run through the forest and get lost several times because all the trees seem to look the same and the sun has set. You can hear coyotes in the distance and deer running outside of torchlight. You make camp.

Everything seems normal, but you're woken in the middle of the night by a strange feeling. You get up and grab your sword. In the distance you hear something, but you can't tell what it is.

You go toward the noises, which eventually turns into chanting. There's cultists surrounding a stone, performing a ritual. You ambush, and interrupt. The ritual can't be finished as you kill the last cultist. You head back to camp, weary, and ready for the trip back to town in the morning, crisis averted.

You're woken again by a deer running by your tent. The demon that actually was unknowingly summoned is coming.

Way more suspenseful when there's a lot of known stereotypes and expectancies to begin with. Leave the heavy surrealism and fantasy for the climax.
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Re: Killer Game Masters

Postby knolli » Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:04 am

Bonus: A sacrifice was the final part of the ritual. Originally the cultists planned to offer an animal/random NPC/important NPC. But: By slaying the cultists, the PCs completed this part of the ritual themselves. And because there now is so much more blood spilled, the demon becomes even stronger; powerfull enough to raise his loyal servants who obviously sacrificed themselves as prove of their faith, or somethiong like that.

On another note: When doing a dungeon crawl PCs are on full allert and rather paranoid (thanks, Gary), but as soon as they get to a seemingly secure place, i.e. a city, they tend to become careless and even naive.
They have to get into contact with someone who lives in hiding for various reasons. The PCs have to ask around and get to hear the wildest stories. Then a dirty boy offers them to bring them directly to their goal, if paid. After that long fruitless search, the PCs are reliefed and accept. The boy guides them to a run down house near the slums and tells them to go down the gloomy hall and then the last door on the right side. After the bright sunshine outside the PCs can't see much. As soom as they reach the said door, all other doors fly open and the only way back is blocked by thugs. The robbers tell them that they've never heard of this mysterious person they are searching and command them to hand over their gold or die. The PCs have fallen for the simplest of traps.

That's one of the scenarios the GM I told you about used.
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Re: Killer Game Masters

Postby morganm » Wed Jan 25, 2012 7:25 pm

Some players like the risk of death around every corner. They don't mind rolling new characters and joining back into a campaign. To them if there's no ultimate consequence for their actions it's all pointless.

Yet you'll find others who don't like their characters dieing unless they are OK with it. Usually as part of the story or in some other meaningful way. They don't like wasting time rolling new characters and trying to integrate back into the campaign.

Most of my players enjoy the risk and I try to live up to their expectations. I often throw at them challenges above their level because they are seasoned players, they want the risk, and that's the game we play. Another thing that keeps me honest is that I roll everything in the open. I asked the players if they wanted me to roll in secret or in the open; they said they don't want me fudging in their favor and to keep everyone honest then everyone rolls in the open. I don't use lame GM PCs or super NPCs to babysit the PCs... to me the game and story is all about the players and their characters. Their actions and the dice dictate circumstances... it's not really up to me who lives and dies. They stated their actions, they rolled the dice, and I tell them the results.

We occasionally have a player who I can tell doesn't like high risk. I try to go easier on them because I can appreciate their play style and I don't get any satisfaction out of killing characters. I try not to be too obvious about it and generally these players are more cautions anyways. They tend to survive as a function of their caution and by me easing up on them slightly.

The reason I know the expectations of my players is because we communicate. I ask them out right what kind of game they want to play. I ask them "hey, I got this really awesome scenario you guys would like.... but it's a real meat grinder... you OK with that?" which is replied with a "hell yeah!". Again; I asked them about rolling in the open because they know secret rolls = fudge... they wanted me to roll in the open. I ask them after game sessions what their favorite parts were.... I get responses like "That last battle was awesome because I ALMOST died and we barely won!" I've had characters die and nobody got mad or rage quit. They knew it was a result of their actions and were OK with it... again reaffirming the type of high risk game they enjoy. To contrast that I had one player throw a fit because they got level drained by a monster... "note to self: go easier on him or there will be drama" =P Everyone else at the table was fine with it.

I could see where a GM at a con would say "This is how I GM and if you don't like it then maybe this isn't the table for you". I mean they don't have the luxury of getting to know their players well. I assume there's other tables at the event... you don't like one? Move to another...

With regards to game systems I've also found that our more rules-lite games make people more open to higher risk because it doesn't take an entire freak'n game session to research and roll up a new character. Unlike so many other systems the rule sets and characters are so overly complicated and convoluted that unless you've committed much of it to memory you spend hours putting together a new character. Honestly we are more about role playing and enjoying a good game than debating rules or rolling up new characters.

I'll shamelessly plug Pathfinder LITE as our game system of choice! Everything you need and nothing you don't. A simple yet robust version of the outstanding Pathfinder d20 system!
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Re: Killer Game Masters

Postby knolli » Thu Jan 26, 2012 12:04 pm

Well said.
Another aspect that influences the difficulty level of a game but is rarely mentioned in any rules is the intelligence of the foes. There are mean, stupid monster that attack head on and usually miss the right moment to retreat. But there may be other foes, especially humanoid ones, who become dangerous by superior tactics - you know: "Always kill the mage first!" and such. Even goblins can kill a high level group if they fall into their trap or weaken them bit by bit using guerilla tactics. And don't forget that most lifeforms have a instinct of self preservation and usually don't fight to the last breath.
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