Piggybacking Part II

Before we steal Piggybacking from GUMSHOE, check out how it works there in Piggybacking Part I.

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The Noisy Cleric Problem

The problem piggybacking solves can be found in all sorts of roleplaying games with all sorts of skills, but the example that comes to mind is sneaking into a castle in a fantasy game like Dungeons and Dragons. In fantasy books and movies, the heroes sneaking into places is a staple of the genre. In D&D games, sneaking is left to the rogue and the ranger for scouting. Once the GM tells the entire table to roll dice to see if they sneak into the castle, somebody always misses, and the exciting infiltration turns into a frontal assault.

GUMSHOE Roots

In games like TimeWatch, Nights Black Agents, or Trail of Cthulhu, the whole spend resources to piggyback fits perfectly, since they are all GUMSHOE games. Most of my players have points to spend in Infiltration, but some have zeros. Every general skill is like that. You aren’t giving the party something for free, they are spending resources they might need later to succeed now.

Let’s look at other systems. I haven’t tested these, but I will.

Cypher System Piggybacking

In games like Numenera, Predation, and The Strange, GUMSHOE style piggybacking is easy, since you’re already spending the resources of Might, Speed, and Intellect to do anything.

The expert spends from their pool as normal, but the difficulty is harder because they are pulling the rest of the party with them. For a sneak into the castle test, the expert has their difficulty raised (+2 sounds good, +1 for less than 3 followers) and uses Speed. While the expert can use their Edge to lower their costs, the followers can not. They each spend one point, no discount.

If the expert succeeds, everyone sneaks in. Move on with the adventure.

Nothing to Spend Piggybacking

In games as varied as Call of Cthulhu, 13th Age, and Dungeons and Dragons, you don’t have resources to spend to sneak into castles or climb up icy cliffs. You’ve got hit points, and while spending those might make sense in a few cases, usually not. Same with Sanity, Recoveries, or Spell Slots. These games are not about spending resources on skill tests, so it seems wrong to try and force them do that just for piggybacking.

In these games I’d boost the difficulty for the expert (+5 for d20, +25% for Call of Cthulhu), but then I’d require the rest of the party to roll just to assist. And if someone fumbles, well then, we’re right back where we started from. That’s the cost right there, the more players rolling, the greater the chance of a fumble. 🙂

 

Who Wants a Cypher-Kiss?

Good News! CypherCaster issue 5 is Out!

Cypher Caster Magazine, issue 5. With ton of great content, including and interview with Bruce R. Cordell, Shanna Germain, and Dennis Detwiller.

Plus an instant adventure by yours truly, Kiss of Death! Kiss of Death, a Numenera adventure, which takes place in Branu’s Kiss, a watery world floating in space found in Into the Night from Monte Cook Games.

You see Numenera fans, I haven’t forgotten you.

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Plus an article on cypher limits by Marc Plourde, another Into the Night instant adventure, this one by James Walls, and a Strange recursion by Rustin Coones & Scott Robinson.

Check it out at DriveThruRPG.

Spotlight Cards

Index cards HipsterIndex cards are a GM’s best friend. Remember the Hipster PDA?

I hate forgetting to give each player time in the spotlight. Therefore, I love having an index card for each player. I shuffle them before the game, and then flip the deck so I can see the top PC card.

On the left I put the information from the game system I need to be able to improv, things from the player’s character sheet. I don’t need numbers, just the background bits that help in roleplaying.

On the right side of the card I put the stuff the player loves to do in game with this PC. Play with his pet bear, drink at her regular watering hole, flirt with their favorite NPC, and so on.

I finish the left side with a question to myself. Has this PC gotten the spotlight yet? If not, I give them the spotlight ASAP, then put this card on the bottom of the deck and make sure the next PC gets a spotlight moment.

What’s a spotlight moment? When you let the PC shine, make them the star of a scene. If they have a favorite action, like pick pocketing, flirting, or flying, I let them go for it. Action scene or pure roleplay, I make sure the character gets center stage.

Here’s some examples. You can probably improve on these because no one knows your players better than you.

Cypher System; Dread Unicorn GamesThis is the Cypher System card. I have another question to myself: Has the PC had a GMI (Game Master Intrusion) yet? I’m talking a GM Intrustion that gives them experience points. The card helps me remember. GM Instrusions are fun, and players love the XP that comes with them.

Spotlight Cards

13thagecompatible250This is the 13th Age card. When I’m working on a spotlight moment, I need the PC’s One Unique Thing, their Icon Relationships, and their Backgrounds. Under the notes I might include favorite icon spirits and agents from past icon relationship rolls.

Spotlight Cards2

Ampersand on BlackHere’s the 5E card. What’s important for spotlighting a 5E character might include the PC’s background, trait, ideal, bond, and flaw.

Spotlight Cards3

gumshoe_logoHere’s a generic GUMSHOE card. Drive and Occupation give me a handle for spotlight scenes.

I thought about doing a card for each GUMSHOE game, but realistically, I’d do them as needed for the games I’m running. On the right side I’d definitely list any sources of stability if they are used in this system, species for Ashen Stars, and so on…

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It’s easy enough to make your own for your favorite game system. They help me, maybe they’ll help you.

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A Plague of Ones, Part II The Bad and the Ugly

Now it Gets Bad.

Now it Gets Ugly.
crapIn Numenera, The Strange, and all other Cypher System games, the rule is: roll a one, the GM gets a “free” GM Intrusion with no experience point award. Ones are supposed to happen. 5% of the time.

But if you game enough, you’ll be sure to run into the dreaded plague of ones. So many ones, what’s a GM to do? A lot depends on what’s going on in an encounter.

Last time we talked about the good side, when everyone is still having fun, despite the plague of ones. Now let’s look at the harder problem, where the ones are wrecking your game.

ZzzA Plague of Ones in an Encounter that is No Longer Interesting

Combat

The cypher system is made for fast, exciting combat. But if the PCs just keep missing and are running out of pool points, what do you do? (For a more general solution, see End With a Bang.)

Adding typical combat intrusions (creature/artifact/environment) will slow down combat. But there’s yet another one sitting there on the table, taunting you. We’re assuming the combat is not spiraling down the TPK drain (see below), so why not try a different kind of intrusion?

If the foes flee, combat ends, and you can move to a more interesting scene. Next time the NPCs will be better prepared for the PCs (+1 level for attacks? Return in greater numbers? Find a higher level friend?). An iron door or a force screen could stop the party from pursuing and prolonging the pain. The foes might jump through a secret door and lock it behind them. Perhaps the foes can wave some treasure, say a cypher or artifact, at the PCs as they vanish. So long, suckers!

Or, give a typical combat intrusion a silver lining that helps bring the dragging combat to a close. The artifact sword slipped out of the PC’s hand and flew across the room, but it also cleaved through a statue revealing hidden cyphers (that are perfect for ending the fight) within.  A creature careens into the PC, knocking them both across the floor, but put itself in a vulnerable position for a different PC. Thanks Nojo! And sorry about the concussion…

Environmental (climbing, crafting, and so on…)

It’s not any fun anymore, so end it. Maybe give some damage for doing something dangerous like climbing, then narrate how the rest of the party got the PC over the wall. The item in the workshop broke, the PC needs new parts, so try again another session. End it and jump to an exciting scene. The workshop’s doors fly off their hinges and in comes a hulking steam powered automaton!

Social

Same thing, wrap it up and move on. Give the PC one last insult, and show the party the door. If this is a critical plot point, an NPC can whisper to a different PC to arrange a private meeting later. “The king will never listen to you now, but the prisoners in the vineyards still need you. Meet me in the park at midnight…”


A Plague of Ones in an Encounter that Threatens to Ruin the Session

Oh noes. Too many sessions like this can kill a campaign. At least you can blame the dice.

Combat

tpkAll these ones are pointing in one direction: TPK. Move to capture or let the PCs retreat. An intrusion could set off a trap that imprisons the PC, followed by an ultimatum for a party surrender. The PC could be mind controlled. A larger trap is sprung, and the way out is blocked while more foes join in the battle. “Surrender!”

way outOr nudge the party into fleeing. Describe how the tide has turned against them, and the foes are trying to encircle the PCs. A friendly NPC could try and hold off the foes. “Fly, you fools!” Drop the PC down the damage track and just let them know “You still have time to flee.” 

Dropping a PC down the damage track encourages them to flee as it makes the player feel vulnerable.

Environmental (climbing, crafting, and so on…)

It’s hard to see how this kind of failure would kill a session, but if the players keep hitting their head on the wall, help them move on. Leave the scene and narrate to something fun. The wall collapsed, the workshop blew up, and a week later the party reaches the baron’s tower (or whatever the next fun scene is).

Social

It’s sad their social strategies have failed, but they did. So move on and narrate them to something exciting. If you succeed here at the tower, those back home might change their minds. But first things first. Like those giant clockwork worms heading your way. What do you do?


Move On

You see a common thread in all of these suggestions? If it’s not fun, cut the scene and move on. Sometimes groups will get stuck trying the same thing over and over again, waiting for the dice to save them. Help the players move on, and everyone will benefit.

It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun. So when it’s not, move on.

A Plague of Ones, Part I

Too many Ones in a Cypher System Game? — It’s All Good

crapIn Numenera, The Strange, and all other Cypher System games, the rule is: roll a one, and the GM gets a “free” GM Intrusion with no experience point award. Ones are supposed to happen. 5% of the time.

But if you game enough, you’ll be sure to run into the dreaded plague of ones. So many ones, what’s a GM to do? A lot depends on what’s going on in an encounter.

Subjectively, more ones than is normal feels like a lot more. If the group’s been rolling 10% ones instead of 5%, they’re sure to notice. And claim that 25% of their rolls are ones! And since rpgs are entertainment, it’s the perception that counts.

A Plague of Ones in a Fun Encounter

This is the easy case. Everyone’s having a good time. People are laughing at all the ones showing up. (For when the Fun-O-Meter flatlines, see Part II: The Bad and the Ugly). The biggest problem is coming up with new and entertaining GM Intrusions.

Go with, or against, the theme of the game. Numenera intrusions should be high-weird. Intrusions in The Strange often work with the theme of the recursion. Playing a horror game? More horror!

Combat

Praithian War Snake from The Sun Below adventures for NumeneraOMG, another GM Intrusion, what can I do? Try another kind of GM Intrusion. You’ve been using creature intrusions? Great, now try a cypher or artifact intrusion. Or have the floor fall in, gravity reverse, objects turn into bubbles. Another foe shows up. A dead foe gets back up, always a table-pleaser. Or have the PC spring a trap.

There’s nothing wrong with going back to creature intrusions, just sprinkle some other types in between.

Environmental (climbing, crafting, and so on…)

The poor nano has rolled three ones in a row trying to climb that wall? OK, falling is good to start with, but then think outside the box. Itchy insects have a hive right where the nano puts his hand. A passerby spots them, and wants to talk. The PC gets to the top, but falls over the other side. At least they’re with the party now.

Crafting? They made something, but not what they set out to make. Perhaps it will work as intended, but have side effects, like being loud when the PCs want to be stealthy, or dripping oil on the Prince’s favorite carpet, and so on.

Social

MasksPerhaps you started with a social faux pas or two, now what? The PC is already looking like an idiot, move on. The PC could convince an NPC to do something, but not at all what the character intended. Communication breakdown! Has the slip of the tongue implied a marriage proposal? Was the party trying to hide their true motives? Oops, they just gave them away.

Next Time

Next time we’ll look at the harder problem when people are rolling ones and the players are not having fun. Attention is flagging or maybe even people are no longer willing to engage. What will you do?