One of the most important points in any undertaking can simply be summed up as having the right man for the job. Or woman, but let's not argue semantics. With this past weekend dead and gone, I continue forward with the memories of two really good games. Oddly enough, both occurred in the same night for once. We started out with a Pacific Rim themed Mekton game. Mostly just a thinly veiled brawl, we settled in for a whopping three mass combats of Jaegers versus Kaijus. Wall to wall cinematic action. Not yet settled for the evening, we carried on into my first exposure to All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Another momentous event happened as a direct result: my first character death! And a TPK! (that's a Total Party Kill for the uninitiated)
This probably had less of an effect on me than it should by pure luck: it was a one-shot character rather than something I had run for months on end. I had heard of AFMBE so I kind of expected it. The best part of it all was that all deaths occurring that evening happened in what could be stated to be the best mode possible. Follow along with me while I explain my point of view.
A number of the people I game with have certain qualms with how characters interact with each other and the world at large. This leads to various ideologies and habits that, in some respects, hamper the efforts of lesser experienced GMs learning to handle myriad situations. Two prime examples are cooperation between PCs and character death/dismemberment/wear-and-tear. Thusly, by virtue of the players present/absent, we got to do some truly heinous stuff for once.
A Word on Cooperation
Under normal circumstances, cooperation between players is essential, or at least recommended, for a game to run unimpeded. People should be working together in the best interests of the group at large for a party to function in the normal context of the game. What if, on the other hand, friction between characters was the goal? In a normal campaign, this would be characterized some minor drama emphasizing a differing of ideologies and opinions. A difference in methodologies or ethics can lead to a great exchange. What would be the outcome should the characters in question come to blows and actually strike at each other? The 'player versus player' debate is one I've seen discussed in numerous forums and message boards, and is generally taken as unacceptable behavior. I can agree... in most circumstances.
There are times when it can be done cleanly. Like supposing two characters start a prank war. Or, as in this case, you are in a one shot, so long term effects don't matter and the goal of the scenario precludes the possibility of mutual success. We had five characters and an escape boat that can only hold three, and it already had a pilot. The characters, all premade by the GM, had goals at odds with each other from the start and were designed to hate each other. From there, the roleplaying was priceless! My friends and I, all pros at trash talking, threw out our best insults, often leaving the group speechless. By the time it was all over my roommate's brother and I had guns at each others heads no less than four times. There would have been a fifth, but he was armed with a pitchfork for that one!
Why did this work? What made this situation different? I would say a mutual respect for keeping things in-character and an unspoken agreement to prolong the conflict. Kind of metagaming it, but all for the sake of drama. A different type of cooperation. Not so much as between characters but as between players. We seemed satisfied to keep it going until the final act. Then it all hit the fan. While I wasn't the only one scheming, I did have the honor of taking the first shot. Pity I missed.
PCs Can Die?
Yes, by all rights, they can. Depending on the game we're running, we end up with either plot armor or just really resourceful players. As a side effect, a character dying doesn't come up much at all. As I mentioned already, we had quite a few deaths this time. One happened during the Mekton game that was amusing. The very last Kaiju for the evening, and we dog-piled the scaly thing. The dice were certainly not with me as I repeatedly failed. Two others got in close and gave it a sound thrashing but, alas, it still stood tall. That was when our ranged guy got the bright idea to launch a nuke. The biggest frikking gun he had, that would no doubt catch the rest of us in the blast, was his trump card on this final monster. Our sword and board tank of a Jaeger blocked as much damage as he could, while my iron clad wall of a mech took it all with a smile. Our lancer didn't fair so well. The light-assault Jaeger didn't have much in the way of defense and sadly melted in the blast. Our first death of the night and it was friendly fire. Lucky for us it was the last fight. Lucky in the sense that no one wants to die early in the game only to sit on the sidelines while everyone else has fun.
This kind of set the tone for what came next. All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Remember that unspoken agreement I was talking about? We could have killed each other at any point in this game, but we understood that this would end some of the fun. When we got to the endgame, all bets were off. Everyone was scheming at this point, and when the crap hit the fan it went everywhere.
The setting was during an Irish uprising in the 1890s. Our side was an British Lord and a Royal Dragoon and the opposition was a pair of Irish brothers and an Italian Catholic priest, fighting to survive zombie Irish peasants. We got to the docks and the boat couldn't hold all of us. We were the first to drop the facade when I missed my first shot trying to kneecap someone. Once that happened the gloves came off and bullets went to both sides. One of the brothers tried to snipe from the shore while the rest went swimming to the boat. The man in the boat was British and helped return fire until we ordered him to leave. If we couldn't have the boat, then no one would. The priest and the lord drowned while the brother on shore was overwhelmed. It came down to my dragoon and the other brother. He won out, pushing the dragoons's head into the icy depths. It seemed he would be the one to escape this nightmare if not for one other detail. Earlier in the fight he had hit the boatman with his axe. His axe had been covered in the infected blood of the other things he had killed. When he went to climb into the boat, the boatman, now a zombie, fought and won out.
We had our Total Party Kill, but we had one in fitting fashion. It was only a one-shot. It was the end of the game. It was action-packed and dramatic. It was all resolved very quickly. Most importantly of all, it was all in good fun. Sure, we back-stabbed the hell out of each other, but that was all in-character and in the name of fun. We were all prepared for this to happen. That was the expectation we had set up when the game began. We probably wouldn't do that in a long running campaign, but in something like this, or perhaps Paranoia, sure. Why not?
The Butcher's Bill
What can we take away from all of this? Cooperation can mean more than just blindly going along with the other PCs for the sake of cohesion. Not all PvP is bad. Character death can, in the right circumstances, be just as fun as 'winning'. Never trust an Irish peasant in a potato famine. Nuclear ordinance is not a melee weapon. But what about you, dear reader? Have you ever had a good time where the whole party killed itself? Have you experienced this level of subterfuge, and things still went well? Was the fun worth it? Until next time...
Fight the good fight and Stay Classy!
(A small sidenote. My good friend Ross Watson is currently in the middle of his first kickstarter, promoting his new game: Accursed. If you are a fan of Hammer horror monsters, Ravenloft, or Castlevania, then you might enjoy this setting. Give it a look over and maybe drop a dime or two. Cheers!)