Shadowrun: Zompocalypse

GMBlog2 - Fail with a Side of Potential

Ok, so this game didn’t go as perfectly as I had hoped. That’s really disappointing when you consider all I didn’t to prevent problems. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an ok game. The PCs rolled into Walmart with a tank and started a shoot-out with a family of red-neck dwarfs. That’s cool, it’s just the wrong kind of cool. I’m going for gritty and I’m getting superhero.

After the last game, I spoke to a few people about the “feel” of our game. I knew it wasn’t gritty, but I couldn’t figure out why not. I got several suggestions and, armed with those, I was sure I could pull it off. The most pressing pieces of advice were increase NPCs to interact with, increase number of places to interact with, depersonify the ghouls and, finally, use environmental hazards. I went to pains to implement each of these through the entire area the PCs could travel, but, as all good GMs know, the plan didn’t survive first contact with the PCs. It never does. I suppose I should have planned for that?

We started really late due to players being held up with work. It makes me yearn for the days of no responsibilities when we could game whenever we wanted with no work/school/kids mucking up our schedules. The lateness did cause some problems, but nothing that couldn’t be dealt with. Our first real situation was caused by me… last game. You see, in a gritty game you don’t want the PCs to have any REAL power. Little bits of power, yes, big power, no. Last game, I established the tank wouldn’t turn on. The plan was to start an extended test (to use one of the player’s skills in mechanics). It worked great. I figured none of the guns on it would work, so there’s no big deal. Of course, I missed the fact that they would be DRIVING IN A TANK!!! I didn’t realize the problem till they got it running and said “To Walmart!”. I had to come up with something to correct the issue. My answer was the driver. She had stated that she has sudden fits of Tourettes. So I had her spaz out and run the tank into the mud near a turn-off. That’s when they called me on it. “It’s a tank. It’s mud. Shenanigans.” I had to admit, they were right. Not about the tank being stuck. Crazy stuff happens. I was wrong to take it from them. They earned it and they felt I was robbing them they spent so long getting. If felt cheap. I had to adapt, so I decided to give her a driving test to get out. She made it and off they went to Walmart.

Once there (one of the 13 locations I fleshed out for the game), they jumped out of the tank and sent it driving the other direction to distract the ghouls. Great idea, but made me feel terrible because I know they only did it because they KNEW I didn’t want them to have it. Oh well, lessons learned. Anyway, they broke into the store to find themselves being aimed at by 3 dwarfs behind the checkout isles. One of the players decided to do something crazy and shoot an arrow into the barrel of one of the shotguns. And problem two rears it’s ugly head. Gritty characters getting shot once and desperately seeking medical attention. Gritty is not shooting an arrow into the barrel of shotgun for “intimidation”. Luckily, ShadowRun gives me the tools to be as strict as I want to enforce a certain feel. So I said it was a called shot. Mistake. Called shots give a -2 to the roll leaving him plenty to be Robin Hood. There was a question about the rules, so I made a mistake and stopped the game to look it up. I NEVER do this, but I was desperately trying to find a way to fix this. I wasn’t thinking clearly. He ended up chiming in with another rule he thought was more applicable about the time I was reading it. He mentioned it was a small object (-6) instead of a called shot. Note for other ShadowRun GMs out there: it actually SHOULD have been a -8 after reading further, but it did the trick, so whatever. I’m glad he was on his toes on this one. You know, I realize now this was my fault too… Disturbing trend.

So one of the players says something offensive to the dwarfs and bullets started raining. I liked the tension between two groups, but it got tedious quick. The players were treating this like a D&D encounter. As if it’s nothing they could avoid or change. One player was actually thinking in terms of “surviver must stick together”, but she was out voted. I wish I had introduced ghouls coming in through the door. That would have fixed the situation quickly. Instead, I figured it was a good time to use those NPCs I had written up. So, I had one shout something that informed the party that they were a family. Amazingly, the entire group started saying that they now felt bad about what they were doing. That’s good, I think. Not quite gritty, but at least it provokes another emotion other than destruction (if you don’t believe destruction is an emotion, you have never been to our games…). I think I got lucky here, as they players could have just kept shooting. I had just introduced most of the rest of the family to interact with, but by then it was late and no one wanted to invest themselves. That’s the Que to pack it up and (hopefully) finish next time.

I’m glad I’m writing up these blogs. If I hadn’t, I would still be blaming the missteps on no player investment. Turns out, while that is a concern, there is a lot of stuff I can do to avoid these kinds of situations. So, what am I going to do to avoid this next game? Conveniently, I have compiled a list :)

1) I’m starting with the role playing with the dwarf family. I’ve been over stressing combat. Not just this game, in ALL games. The gritty nature of a game is felt when you see consequences. So I’m going to show them just what was up with the family.
2) Consequences. They just started a fight in a ghoul infested area. I already said as they were boarding up the whole that they were coming. I think a whole lot more are coming than that…
3) Seeds. Now that I can get them interacting with people, I’ll start dropping info that they have. This will give the players reason to visit different places.
4) Pain. I’m going out of my way to hurt someone. Not sure which PC, yet, but they are gonna hurt. I’m aiming for 3/4 health in damage. Put them on their knees. This will enforce that damage is bad. I might throw them a bone later, but maybe not. We’ll see. If the dice aren’t kind, they might bite the dust.

Hopefully this will correct the issues I’ve been having. I might go through a pre-game update where I play up the gritty stuff. Maybe I’ll get a bit more buy in this way. We’ll see. I plan on writing a game planning blog soon to update everyone. Since Christmas and New Years is coming up we won’t be having this game on schedule. I will finish this game if it kills me!!!

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