So today I wanted to write about an exciting new GMing technique I tried out at the retreat. Mike created this technique for his Amber group down at Georgia Tech. I think he might've gotten the idea from my series of Devil games that I've run with the experienced Amber crew up here, where hard choices made by the characters shape the world around them. Unlike my decisions, which for the most part took place outside of combat, Mike places these decisions entirely inside combat (well, I should say that I assume he has hard large-scale choices outside of combat too, but that he also brings them inside combat as well). What results is something very interesting: roleplaying doesn't stop when the swords come out.
At least if you're me, every time your character resorts to violence you feel a twinge of regret that you aren't talking in character some more (I'm not saying this ever stops me, as people who play with me will attest). Additionally, if you're me, you probably wish that you had more character-based decisions to make in combat. In the current phase of my roleplaying career I look at combat as a place to make the action cool, not as a place to do interesting character decisions or create interesting changes in my characters. But by forcing hard decisions on the players in a combat, I think it is possible to put the characterization back in the game, even after the thugs start their work.
Basically how it works is this: say I've got a character who is just a normal, everyday fighter. For some reason they have gotten into a shouting match with the local village tough, and a fight has broken out. A standard intro could be something like: "He pulls out his sword, threatening you." or even, with more stunting, something like "His metal-laced scars glinting in the twilight, he begins a chant that draws forth a magical blade from his heart, blackened by his own evil. He begs you to lay your life down on his blade". Both of those are fine, if all you want is a fight. But what could be more interesting? Perhaps something like, "Without a second's thought he lunges for a watching lady, his fingers dig into her arm drawing blood. You see an opening, but the woman will probably be hurt by him as you thrust home, what are you doing?" Or perhaps he has captured something of value to the players and they must risk breaking it. Either way, the purpose is clear: by making a choice you reveal something about your character. Does she care only for justice, thrusting her sword deep into the ruffian's belly? Does she try to bargain for the woman's life? Does she purposefully run the woman through in order to complete her mission? I believe these are much more interesting questions to answer than just how you attack the bad guy, no matter how great a stunt you can make.
In the game I wrote about yesterday, "Both Alike in Dignity" the second half of the adventure consists of a couple of combats, with a couple of moments of rest to allow the players to do something I didn't think of. In the most recent iteration of the game, I used this style of combat quite a bit. Now in my particular setup I didn't have to work to hard to make the players make choices, since their "one true love" was right there with them. Do you gain an advantage over Benedict or protect your lover? Do you save the king of Amber or prevent a single scratch from befalling your companion's body. The best choice I thought up all night was "do you risk your unborn child or allow your lover to be stabbed". But even when the choice was easy to make, I felt it allowed the characterization to continue to flow. I really felt like we discovered stuff about the players during the second half that we hadn't in the first, even though the first was pretty much geared solely towards characterization, and discovery.
I was super pleased with how well this worked and the engagement I think I saw in the players, and I know that the next campaign or adventure I run I will be trying this technique again (perhaps my players will jump in on the comments and tell us otherwise, but I felt it worked well).
Tomorrow some thoughts on stunting and characterization or perhaps comments on player-assisted engagement!