Keeping their Interest

Jim Vassilakos (jimv@uia.net)
IgTheme: Challenging the Heroes
Here are several tactics to help keep things interesting in long-running campaigns. Likewise, his monsters behaved convincingly, using all sorts of interesting and often desperate tactics. It was amazing to watch, and from what I saw, most of the players loved it. Unfortunately, this is a talent I simply don't have, and I wouldn't even know how to go about acquiring it. Perhaps if that GM trained me in this particular technique, I might have a chance of emulating him. That was more or less the point of the top-half of my essay in A&E #363. There are all sorts of techniques we can learn from one another, but in order to do so, it would take some actual effort in this direction. re Plamondon's five points: What he seems to be saying is that if somebody says something particularly rude, simply ignore it. But what if they don't realize that they're being rude? Or what if their definition of polite discourse differs remarkably from yours? Simply don't communicate with them? I don't know. It seems somewhat craven. Likewise, I think there's something to be said for standing up positively for the sort of dialogue one hopes to see. Otherwise, one is just leaving the playground to the "bullies", so to speak. Perhaps we should have a new abbreviation: RADEYC&apRP's5PDNTR (read and didn't enjoy your comment & as per Robert Plamondon's five points, decided not to reply). re PW: Yeah, you're right. I probably shouldn't have used that as his name in my little story. My bad. Thanks for the comment. re feedback questionnaires: Yeah, I'm surprised that you came up with that idea so long ago. I recall thinking many years ago that for a GM to ask the players to evaluate the game might in some way undermine the campaign or the GM's authority, but now I'm rather of the opposite view. Do you still use these questionnaires or have they gone by the wayside? re Mike Travis and his stolen ring of regeneration: Thanks for sharing that story. I always like to hear about these sorts of situations. Did he ever learn the story of what was really going on? If so, how did he react? Also, are you still friends with the guy who was

Comments on A&E #365:
Michael Cule: ryct Marco Subias: Yea! Let's here it for sloth! (We fellow loafers have to stick together.)1 Also, loved the quotes from Hugh as well as the things player say. Oh, and minor difficulty #1 was a classic. Robert Dushay: re meddling mentors: please see my comments to Lee. Lee Gold: re introducing former masters and fellow students: Although it was actually a long-lived campaign, I only got around to introducing two former masters. One was the master of the group's resident chaotic-evil mage, and for a brief time the two had great fun causing all sorts of mayhem, albeit to the disgust of the rest of the party. This was so long ago, however, that I can't really remember what finally happened. Another former master, I seem to remember, pointed the party in the direction of an adventure, but in neither case did these powerful NPCs pop in to resolve any intra-party disputes. Part of the reason, I suppose, was that I didn't establish that there was any magical connection between master and apprentice. Robert Dushay makes the point that such an arrangement "smacks of deus ex machina", but I think if it's a wellestablished part of the rules, it would be accepted just like any other part of the rules. Nonetheless, as he points out, it would cause the problem of the meddling mentor. Spike Jones: re descriptive combat: The only reason I brought it up was because in one of the gaming groups that I visited (albeit briefly), the GM's great talent happened to be descriptive combat. He wasn't particularly impressive in other respects, but in this one area he excelled as no other GM I've ever witnessed. The combats were colorful, and he seemed genuinely excited, jumping to his feet and yelling out what was going on.
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Unique Combat Settings
Back when I was in college, I ran a campaign that, after a year or so, began to feel a little bit humdrum. One of the players made a suggestion that my combats could be improved by situating them somewhere exotic. The very next combat the party had was conducted while they were hanging from chains down a bottomless pit, fighting nightmarish creatures from the plane of the dead.

Character Introduction
I used to also have a policy of introducing at least one, potentially important NPC per session. That way, over the course of many sessions, the players would get to know quite a lot of NPCs, and as the campaign progressed, I could use these NPCs to somehow make life interesting or difficult for them. I also discovered that the more NPCs I had in play, the more options I seemed to have as a GM for generating various plots and subplots. In short, having lots of NPCs on the stage seemed to make my job easier rather than harder.

Upping the Ante
Even if the characters save the world, there are other worlds, and so too, there may be higher (or lower) worlds of stupendously, greater consequence. This is more or less what happened with the Jinx campaign. She simply outgrew the prime material plane.

Remote, Powerful Arch-Villain
No matter how powerful the PCs become, if the arch-villain is even more powerful or difficult to find/confront, then they're going to have to keep looking over their shoulders. And that's great exercise for those neck-muscles!

So long as it doesn’t require too much effort.

playing the thief? If so, does he regret doing it? Looking at it in retrospect, would you handle it the same way all over again? What sort of advice would you give to GMs who find themselves in a similar situation? re political discussions: It was mainly because I enjoyed discussing politics with you, as well as Joshua's plea that we take such discourse out of A&E, that I decided to move our discussion to the web. I figured, why pay money simply to generate chaff and irritate people? In any case, since you don't want to take this dialogue outside of A&E, I guess we'll just have to let the threads die, as I really don't want to continue them in a place where they're unwanted. Nonetheless, this outcome is probably for the best, as discussing politics doesn't get me any closer to finishing my many projects. Basically, politics is just a time-pit that is probably better avoided. Louis La Mancusa: re political debate: Yes, I suppose political debate is exasperating to a degree, and your comment about it typically occurring between participants who, although working from partial information, are nonetheless often 100% certain of the correctness of their views, is, of course, seemingly indisputable. I'm also reminded that even with so-called 20/20 hindsight, differences still occur (just bring up the subject of FDR's New Deal in a group of mixed political persuasions). Sans the ability to go back in time and examine the long-term ramifications of what would have happened if another path were taken, all we can do is speculate. In any case, your quote from Casanova is right on the money. Until people determine to change their very nature, trying to discuss such matters will be a haphazard endeavor at best. re Apollo: I'm a fellow conspiracy theorist, but as I told you in Las Vegas, I'm still unconvinced as to this one. In any case, it's a somewhat explosive accusation, and so I'm not sure A&E is the best place to discuss it. re Collapse: Even discounting Easter Island, there's still the Greenland example (among others). I don't think anyone can blame that one on rats or disease or slavery. Overall, the whole book makes me think that my freedom

perspective2, although understandable from a purely historical/sociological standpoint3, perhaps ought to take a backseat to an environmental perspective, and this, perhaps, is Diamond's point. Jonathan Nicholas: re your impending departure from A&E: I'd prefer to see you stay, however, I'll also admit that I was having similar thoughts just yesterday. I was asking myself, "Is A&E helping me move forward with my ideas/projects, or is it just sucking time away from them?" I guess that's a question that each of us probably asks ourselves from time to time. Like Paul Mason, you might find that once you leave, ideas will start flowing again, and you may want to come back to discuss them. Perhaps you might consider becoming an infrequent contributor. After all, there's no law that says it has to be all or nothing. In any case, I was thinking that I'd eventually want to go into greater depth with you about useful precepts for designing a "good" tactical space simulation. I'll keep your email address on hand and perhaps engage you on this when I get my own thoughts sufficiently organized. Lisa Padol: re a game about AIs in conflict (and/or cooperation): Yes, I think it has definite possibilities, although, with respect to the question of market viability, you'd probably know better than I would. I really have no practical experience in the industry. However, I could see the basic premise: You are part of an AI brain, and as such, you control various androids and robots. You undertake missions in cooperation with your specific community. Perhaps each player would control a number of androids (characters), each with a shared personality. Some of them might be registered (known to human authorities). Others might be, for various reasons, operating clandestinely. It would certainly be an interesting premise to explore further. Patrick Riley: As I said before, I loved the Ingrid write-up. It's probably the single best write-up of a new, 1st
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level character that I ever seen. Would be very interested in seeing more of your character backgrounds since you clearly have a talent for creating them.

About my Crazy Idea
At the end of my zine, last month, I talked about a crazy idea involving roleplaying in such a manner as to produce a precise, written record of the dialogue. I now feel the need to confess that this isn’t merely a crazy idea that just popped into my head. Over the past few sessions, Kurt and I have been conducting the Jinx campaign in this manner. I think what prompted us to segue into this form of roleplaying was that some years ago, we began continuing the campaign by email between faceto-face sessions. Then, when we tried AOL’s Instant Messenger, we discovered that we could make even more progress with a scene than we could sometimes make in face-to-face play, and I noticed that the level of the dialogue was as high as PBeM play. It seems worth noting that perhaps this campaign is particularly well suited for this mode of play. After all, Jinx has well above the maximum human intelligence, and likewise, many of the devils with whom she interacts are similarly gifted. Now, Kurt and I are poor, intellectually deficient humans. We could never hope to carry conversations at the level at which these characters are capable of conversing. This is where written conversation comes in handy. By giving each other the necessary time to form that perfectly worded reply, the characters are able to perform “on stage” at a level of competence that face-to-face play simply wouldn’t allow. The whole process makes for some bizarre, convoluted yet carefully worded conversations where more is implied than actually stated and where double-meanings have a veritable field day. Hence, we’re enjoying it a great deal, myself so much so that I’ve begun to question whether or not I could ever go back to traditional roleplaying. It also seems ironic to me that in the process of playing AD&D, of all systems, we are embarking upon such new and strange waters.

See my essay in A&E #357. I'm an American, after all.

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