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Referee's Lounge Discussion of how to (and not to) Referee Traveller and Cepheus Engine games. No edition warring allowed.

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Old August 13th, 2017, 12:59 AM
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Default Encouraging your players to stand and fight

This has been bugging me for 30 years now. I ran "Across the Bright Face" three times, and the second time I had something like eight or nine players, each playing a single PC.

The encounter was that they came across some disgruntled miners who had converted a large bore laser drill into a field piece. The miners were otherwise armed with low tech weaponry; a few rifles, some hand to hand stuff and what not.

I had visions of my guys getting off the tram or monorail (been so long I can't remember what it was) and taking cover behind rocks and in ditches and craters while slugging it out with the miners. The Miners fired their bore one time, and turned one of the train cars into slag.

Lo and behold the players cowered, made some kind of deal with the miners, and reversed course, which forced them to go all the way around the planet in the opposite direction to get back to their ship.

Pretty uneventful stuff.

If you've done the adventure, then you know what I'm talking about.

How do you encourage your players to slug it out as opposed to running away without tipping your hand? Can it be done?
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Old August 13th, 2017, 01:15 AM
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My usual problem is getting them to negotiate. They are mostly a shoot first and damn the torpedoes kind of bunch.

Maybe it is the thrill of surviving chargen.
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Old August 13th, 2017, 02:30 AM
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Well, the guy leading up the group was not someone I would invite back to my group. I thought for sure that the guys would brave the laser canon, and fight their way up to it.

Oh well. Whatever.
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Old August 13th, 2017, 02:52 AM
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Each time I ran Bright Face the problem was not shooting.

The problem was they would destroy the train one way or another.
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Old August 13th, 2017, 02:55 AM
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Originally Posted by pendragonman View Post
My usual problem is getting them to negotiate. They are mostly a shoot first and damn the torpedoes kind of bunch.
Same.
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Old August 13th, 2017, 09:17 AM
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The way I run my games I have no expectations how things will turn out, or what the players will do, or any cool scenes in my head of what I can't wait to see.

If I have images that I can't wait for the Players to play out for me with their PCs, then I am asking them to do what I want without expressly asking them to do it. I am, in other words, asking them to intuit what I want or I'll become frustrated.

All I can do at that point is to try to shove the Players, via their characters, into the situations and actions I want (as opposed to what they want), manipulating and re-working moments on the fly to finally get those images and idea that I couldn't wait to get to... images and idea my Players might have no idea about unless a) I either simply tell them what I want or b) they can read my mind (full disclosure: they can't).

At his blog, Hack & Slash, Courtney Campbell has a post called "On a Guide for New Dungeon Masters."

Campbell's position is basically my position: That as Referee my job is to set up interesting situations -- and then let my Players have at it in whatever manner they deem best. The PCs are their characters and it's up to them to decide how they want to handle the situation.

He writes in the post, after laying out the basics of an evening's play...

Quote:
THIS SEEMS TOO EASY

Oh yeah? Let me tell you how you're going to screw it up.

You are going to imagine an exciting scene and then be tempted to try to force it to happen. Don't. This is agency destroying.

You are going to imagine a wonderful NPC, and then have him do all sorts of cool, bad-ass things. Don't. Nothing is less fun then sitting listening to how awesome someone else is. Seriously. The Worst.

Fudging the game. If you feel the need to fudge (change) a die roll, then you rolled a die for something you shouldn't have. Be very careful! If you are playing with adults, letting bad things happen to them will benefit the game, because then their choices have meaning. It is important that players feel a sense of agency. This includes such traditional errors such as having the bad guy escape/teleport away at the last second.

Attempting to dictate player actions. Don't. You want to know what's worse than a conversation about religion or politics? A discussion about what someone's character should do! Like any conversation not based in verifiable fact, it goes nowhere. Worse, the player takes it as a personal critique. If the players behavior is disruptive, then it should be dealt with directly and assertively; not using the argument 'your character wouldn't do that' to avoid a confrontation.

Opening your big fat mouth about what you had planned or what they missed. Don't. Talking about this stuff makes the game less fun for the players. Let them enjoy the sense of mystery.

Wanting things to happen. Let it go. No, Let It Go. Really. Let them miss the treasure or avoid the encounter. It feels like you are wasting work or they are missing fun, but in the end your players have to have the freedom to fail. There are always ways of reusing content.

Making the players jump through hoops. Don't. If it seems like they are about to make a colossally stupid decision then you have failed to communicate well. Don't punish them because you presented a situation poorly; clear up the misunderstanding. This can also be known as pixel bitching.

You may think there's only one solution to your situation. There's not. Design encounter with flexible solutions and allow the opportunity for your players to come up with their own solutions.
I think those are some wise words for RPG play, and for Referees in general.

Finally, it is important to remember that Traveller is deadly. (Though the deadliness varies with different editions.) Classic Traveller, which is the edition I know best, is deadly. You are wise to not get into fights if you can avoid it. Your character can die fairly easily once the guns come out.

The combat system is there to define what happens once a fight begins... to establish the clear consequences for what will happen once the fight begins. The rules do this to encourage the Players to think beyond what the rules suggest. In other words, "Hey, if we fight with this guy, the rules say we could die. What do you think? Should we talk to the guy?" Then you move to the Referee making a Reaction Roll (if we're playing Classic Traveller we're making the reaction roll, right?) and then we see what happens from them. The guy might attack them immediately, or he might be overjoyed to have some new folks enter his life. Let's find out!

(By the way, here's a really smart post about how Combat figures into the play of Dungeons & Dragons. Given the comparative deadliness of both original Dungeons & Dragons and original Traveller the point the poster brings up are valid for Traveller as well.)

I think the idea of "Let's find out!" is vital for the game of Traveller. You don't expect certain behaviors from the Players via their PCs. You find out what they care about, where they draw their lines, what they can't wait to go attack, and what they are indifferent to.

That doesn't mean No Consequences. If they behave in manner where you think, "Yeah, this guy's family is going to hunt them down now," then so be it. But if they decide to not bring trouble down on themselves then they decided to go that way. I can't get frustrated with that. They had some mission as treasure hunters and they did smart things to mitigate risk. So they're playing well.

I have learned to delight in that in certain kinds of game play. My Players make me happy when they do things I could not have expected or solve problems in ways I did not anticipate. And keep in mind: I seldom have specific solutions or expectations about how they will solve problems. I simply give them situations and then play it out as honestly as I can from the decisions they make.
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Old August 13th, 2017, 12:55 PM
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I'm with creativehum on this one. I role-play for story and creative ideas.

When I read one of the Chamax scenarios I understood why those sorts of modules turned people away from Traveller. "The party makes several stupid choices so this really ignorant event can force them to do dumb stuff. Then the game begins." No thank you.

I start a game with things going on, an existing story. Generally bad things as I prefer to run for "good" characters. Whether or not the PCs get involved with what's going on is less relevant. Along with "things going on" there are always two NPCs; one who might help the party if approached well and one who can kill the entire group without much effort. Sometimes those are the same NPC. Other times they are dire enemies. Depends on what's going on.

That's one of the reasons I like PbP games. By the time I offer a game I've spent a few days or a couple weeks mentally setting up the story. The players bounce character ideas around and I can help them connect raw ideas to the setting and story. Often NPCs are spawned by conversations or PC background or just weird dice rolls.

In one game an NPC rolled a really bad reaction to something the PC said. Wasn't sure why, so the NPC fled the scene but got the PC a ride to the encampment like he had promised. The person that gave the ride is now a major NPC in the game, the PC has discovered why the NPC fled, and the player seems emotionally engaged in the game.

In that same game it was real time months, I think, before the PC was ever really exposed to what the big background story was. By the time that happened the PC has a lot of "skin in the game" and has significantly altered the story.

One of the traits of engrossing fiction is "transposition", the reader becoming the main character in the book. Maybe it's a minor character but the reader is still "in the story". I work to help the player achieve transposition. There's a lot of good stuff that happens. There are some gut wrenching events now and again. My wife says she should be required to give "pre-game counselling" before I let anyone play in one of my games. Generally there are a lot of bad things going on that the PC can jump in and help fix.

Don't set expectations. Tell your story and let the players tell their part. Much more enjoyable.
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Old August 13th, 2017, 02:46 PM
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The thing is I had reffed several massive fire fights, including a major boarding action on an Aslan mercenary cruiser. Our LMGer practically melted the barrel on his weapon (I think I forced him to roll for a failure or weapon jam ... he made it) plugging boarders with several belts. Pirates, psionic animals, Vargr corsairs (pirates with dog fur), Zhos, Apache like gunships firing into the penthouse suite they were hitting, and what not. And it's like the minute they face one piece of heavy artillery, not even real laser gun but one cobbled from an industrial tool, they got yellow spines.

I really couldn't figure it.

Upon reflection, it was a different group (second or third ... maybe my fourth), and they were a bit more cautious, but it's like they didn't even want to even try to take on the miner militia. I think had it been one of the younger player groups, they might have gone for it. I guess once you're an adult, even in a PnP RPG kind of way, you lose your sense of invulnerability ... it's baffled me to this day.

I'm wondering if it was because it was the first time that group had gone up against heavy artillery.
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Old August 13th, 2017, 02:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blue Ghost View Post
How do you encourage your players to slug it out as opposed to running away without tipping your hand? Can it be done?
The same way they're convinced to go toe-to-toe in any scenario: they need to have something at stake to make it worth fighting over.

Mercenaries may do it because their professional reputation is on the line, or they have the equipment and skills to effect a kinetic outcome within the time limitations on their contract.

Troubleshooters may elect to engage in a shooting match if they can't effect a solution to the problem that's within the acceptable parameters of their employer. Again, that would impact on their reputation and likelihood of further employment.

What have the players got at stake that's going to point them in the direction of accepting they have to get into a stoush, rather than negotiating or just turning tail?
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Old August 13th, 2017, 03:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ulsyus View Post
The same way they're convinced to go toe-to-toe in any scenario: they need to have something at stake to make it worth fighting over.

Mercenaries may do it because their professional reputation is on the line, or they have the equipment and skills to effect a kinetic outcome within the time limitations on their contract.

Troubleshooters may elect to engage in a shooting match if they can't effect a solution to the problem that's within the acceptable parameters of their employer. Again, that would impact on their reputation and likelihood of further employment.

What have the players got at stake that's going to point them in the direction of accepting they have to get into a stoush, rather than negotiating or just turning tail?
I get this... I really do. I was going to type something like it in my long post above. And then I realized that for a variety of reason the Players *still* might have their characters choose to talk rather than fight. That sometimes the Players turn out to have different goals and agendas that are only revealed or discovered right there on the spot.

For this reason I really advise never to have the expectations of how you want things to play out or how things should play out if the Players do things "right." The Referee is stuck trying to make sure to front-load all situations so the Players will fall into line.

Such expectations still and always can and will depend on mind-reading from the Players or mind-control from the Referee to make sure things work out properly each time. Given that these two things are impossible I suggest that, for the most practical reasons, such expectations are best put aside.
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