Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Make It Stronger

Recently, my Saturday group ended up in a rather interesting scenario: our GM humored me in designing an encounter for him to run. I gave him the bare-bones concept and some points of interest and he filled in the blanks and turned it into a really good session. Being an artist who is his own worst critic, I've already started looking at how I could have improved it. I'm not saying that our GM did a bad job. In fact he did incredibly well. On the other hand, I'm more looking at how he or I might improve our skills for the next time.

I can't emphasize this enough here, this is not for bragging rights or to belittle anything. This is entirely for analytical purposes. I want to turn a good scenario into a great scenario, not to reduce what was done. In picking this thing apart, you might find something you may use for your own game.

Here's the scenario: two members of our party, wounded in a previous session, are in the same wing of the hospital. One of the other members is visiting the more seriously wounded PC. The rest of the party have just arrived to pick up the other member who is being released on his own power. That's when the lights go out and the nasty things start coming out of the walls and dark corners. Before I look at what could be done differently, I'm going to look at what happened and what worked.

Don't Split The Party

As a general rule, teams should stick together. Seeing as this is a bit of a horror campaign, putting the PCs at a disadvantage is perfectly fine. The PCs start the mission in three groups: 3 PCs coming off the elevator, 2 in one room at one end of the map, and the last one all by himself in the other corner. As a result, the first order of ops was for the team to establish contact with the missing members. Already we have reasons for people to crawl all over this map instead of sticking in one spot. The tight corridors and twists and turns really limit lines of sight, so it's easy for things to hide around corners as well.

Personally, I love it when you have a large scenario that forces the players to move around an area and use the terrain to their advantage. If you have ranged combatants, like we have in this campaign, an open arena means they have a clear line of sight over a no-mans land for the enemies to have to slog through. Broken lines of sight  allow the bad guys to close distance and even seemingly pop out of nowhere.

Those Wonderful Toys

Our party has a gunslinger, a power-armor pilot, and a gadgeteer in it. The fastest way to hammer the disadvantage is by taking their toys away. Considering two of these characters were the ones wounded and the other is just visiting, it's an easy excuse to remove the very items that make them strong. To be completely fair, it's not like these things were taken away permanently. Once they get out of the building, they get their stuff back. 

If you're thinking that it's easy to say that when you're not the one at the disadvantage, I'll say this: the gunslinger was mine, and she spent the entire session running around in one of those paper-thin hospital gowns and bare-feet. That's right, I was the only one without armor, and 0 health to boot. I have no problem putting myself at a disadvantage in order to make things interesting.

Mind Your Surroundings

Hospitals are usually highly populated areas. I'm not just talking about people, but also objects. Anyone who has been in one can tell you that there is stuff everywhere. It's been my experience that players get more creative in what they do in combat when there is more stuff to interact with. Bar tables. Beer mugs. Crates. Coffee machines. Anything not nailed down can be turned into a weapon. This group has even tried to kill somebody with a forklift. this scenario was no exception. One player did try, and succeed, in converting an oxygen tank into a projectile weapon. My gunslinger made good use of the half globe mirrors as well. More stuff means more crazy antics, I believe.

Looking Back

As I said previously, I like to look at these things and try to see how I could do them better the next time. Immediately after the session, I was already at work on it. Hindsight is 20/20 they say, so naturally this is a great way to kick yourself in the head over what you coulda, shoulda, woulda done. Instead, take it and look to what 's going to happen next time. I re-emphasize this, because it's too easy to fall into the trap of dwelling over it. So let's briefly look at a few things that might take this from a ten to an eleven.

1: Population density. By the time the bulk of the party arrives, they're just mopping up what remains of the monsters. On the other hand, while they were on the approach, describing the other patients sitting in the waiting room and the subsequent hallways could have been used to build atmosphere. The infection that overtook the building could have been foreshadowed this way, as well as giving the PCs an opportunity to roleplay with various NPCs and perhaps build some rapport with the populous. One of our PCs is a flesh warper and a bit of a germaphobe, and this could have been an op to cause him a bit of grief.

2: More stuff. As I mentioned previously, more stuff leads to more improvisation. while did get the few things that we asked about, the halls could have been cluttered up with gurneys and wheelchairs and other things to further narrow the hallways. Why? When depicting these things on a map, you get the benefit of making the scene feel like it's taking place in a real setting, and the visual appeal can inspire people who wouldn't normally think in those terms. 

3: Description. My GM and myself are both admittedly unskilled at making florid descriptions of things. In horror gaming, this skill is golden for setting the mood. As I look back at the session, I start to think about how things may have been described in a different light to further evoke the mood. I know for this kind of thing you'd want to at least touch on the five senses to give players something to latch onto in their minds. However, the trick is to do so using vivid terms without getting too much into purple prose. I know I'm going to make the effort to experiment in doing this.

Closing Thoughts

My brain loves to pick things like this apart. I do the same things with video games and movies. It's not being critical for the sake of criticizing. I'm actually trying to learn. I can only hope that if my GM sees this, he may take some of these notes and use them as much as I hope to as well. I can say that this campaign has been a marked improvement since the last run he did, and I look forward to seeing how far he can go. If I can assist in that effort, all the better.

Keep trying and Stay Classy!

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