Encounters that Have to Happen

Posted: July 2, 2012 in Unrated
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There comes a time in every tabletop rpg where an encounter is at least partially scripted. It might be your opening quest hook, it might be a later encounter, or in the case of introducing a new player or a player’s new character, getting the party to play nicely with someone new. Depending on your game, this can be a challenge.

I’m going to have to lay out a bit of background to start with. I tend to think of people playing roleplaying games in two categories: Games and Roleplayers. Gamers think about stats, work on the META (out of game) level and expect story cliches to happen. Roleplayers think about character, ignore the META level and act in the moment, thinking about consequences only on the in-game level. They’re actually pretty familiar to the Stick Jock and Paste Eater of Live Action Roleplaying. I much prefer to run games for Roleplayers, particularly since my preferred system is diceless, but also because I am one myself. However, Roleplayers are problematic. For a Roleplayer, actions need to be justified with character.

So you’re probably wondering how this all connects. Think about it this way. You’re going along on a quest to stop an evil lich from taking over the kingdom and one of your friends gets killed. This new guy shows up the next time you go into town, or out there near the lich’s stronghold. Are you going to trust him and have him join your party? If you’re a Gamer, you know its your buddy at the table and welcome him in. If you’re a Roleplayer, you’re probably going to grill him about who he is before letting him join at best. We actually encountered this problem in my game just last night. The new character in the game is a shapechanger who was captured by a non-magical noble and was being kept in a cage in the form of a raccoon. In order for her to join the game, the other PCs had to go rescue her. The information I gave them involved a mysterious creature never before seen and the strong belief of the nobleman that it was a Faerie creature. The characters were like its an animal, why should we care? And I ended up having to flat out tell the players that they needed to care so I could get a new character in.

So here comes the real question: How do I solve this problem? The first step is to identify the problem. Its a matter of motivating your players properly. If your players are Gamers, they should be pretty easy to motivate. Generally speaking, get a little input about what kinds of powers they want to have and you should be able to provide either in-game monetary rewards or items as an inducement to go play your adventure. If your players are Roleplayers, it may take more effort. Figure out what kinds of characters they are playing. If you have a group of good characters pitting them against evil is generally speaking a good bet. Things tend to get more complicated. Figure out their personal motivations and you have the proverbial carrot to dangle to get their attention.

And all of this comes back to encounters you have to run. If you have to get the players somewhere for the next aspect of the plot, or to bring someone new into the game, you can figure out the proper inducements for your players to lure them there. Think about ways to run your encounter where the players already are or how to include hooks to new content in ways that will interest your players. And remember that sometimes, you have to pull back the curtain and tell your players to suck it up and do what you need them to.

  1. Pi says:

    I’m in a D&D 4e group that is accuiring a new player. In the group, there is a gamer who I think tries to role play but doesn’t understand how to do that any better than having two quirks; there is the brother of the DM who, as far as I can tell, is a role player who is perfectly happy to play a game with little role playing; there is a gamer who enjoys to role play and is good at it; and there is me, and I have decided that this is not the group in which I will satisfy my role playing needs. The new player I believe is much more a role player than a gamer, though he is new to the genre.

    Given those players, if I were the DM, I would just have the new character take the place of some NPC. The party had just found one prisoner after barely searching a cave, and there easilly could have been more prisoners. Later, the party saw a recurring villain trying to sacrifice some tied-up hostage. I pointed out to the DM that, had the new character been in either of these situations, probably none of the players would object. However, he is instead having a 2-session adventure while one of the old players is out of town (at Emagination, as it happens) so the new character can leave some other group of adventurers (since we have all new characters for this) before joining the main party. While there are some groups where I could see this making sense, I think the DM is putting too much effort into something most of the group will hardly notice.

    However, this certainly has a place. This is exactly the sort of thing I would expect from one of my GMs if he wanted to introduce a new character. In the first session with him, he told to the group something along the lines of, “You do realize that you don’t all have to go together, right? Some of you could seek refuge in the savage North while others try your luck with the Halflings in the West.” That party has barely managed to not split up at least three times, and we are almost a bigger threat to each other than the NPCs are. Certainly by number of fights, we are the biggest threat to each other.

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