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Session Reports from thePerfectGM (Rifts) (ftw)

I am working on an interesting hybrid project. For part of my research I am running a pen and paper RPG. I have learned alot and hope to share the results with you. More session reports to come...

Rifts Session Reports*

 

3 Months of Pre-Production:

The GM’s roommate (player X) found some old pen & paper RPG’s. He was fascinated and, knowing the GM’s interest in game design, requested that he run a campaign.  

 

Having more experience in game groups the GM tried to talk (player X) out of it. But (player X) was determined. Given his status as a Star Wars fan the GM assumed that (player X) wanted to play the Star Wars RPG from Hasbro. However, the books (player X) had come across were Rifts books from Palladium Games and he either wanted to play that or D&D (Hasbro).

 

Having played more Rifts campaigns then D&D campaigns the GM chose the former. As the GM set about crafting a narrative as well as customizing the setting, concepts and rules (player X) began recruiting players. There were a few weeks until Halloween and the team of two decided that the holiday would be a great time to launch the campaign.

 

The GM talked to (player X) about the narrative arc of the campaign. The two strongly disagreed on most points. After talking further, it became clear that (player X) wanted a more ego-driven narrative. So the GM suggested the narrative archetype in which, through precognition and guile, the protagonists always win. One of the most evolved and well known examples of this type of story is the Dune series by Frank Herbert. It then became incumbent upon the GM to put a plot together that contained not only with action but intrigue.

 

Additionally the GM had to abandon the ‘4 archetype crossover’ narrative as envisioned by Tolkien (the catalyst for all tabletop RPGs). Instead one player would be cast in the Archetypal role and the other players would be involved in a loyalty play.

 

With this in mind the GM began taking notes and composing the campaign outline. Rifts is set in a dystopian future, what is left of human civilization has organized itself into a handful of high tech city-states. These city-states are allied to form an empire. This human empire was easily modified and broken into several factions:

 

The Emperor his son and their guards hold an egalitarian agenda. The party of player-characters is loyal to this faction against all comers.

 

Directly opposed to this faction are the treasonous Generals (the cabal!) and their corrupt, hypocritical, draconian and xenophobic concepts.

 

Additionally there are citizens and organizations that prudently fear the consequences of a human on human civil war. Although having no real leadership or organization these neutrals are, by default, a faction. What defines them is that they have no loyalty in particular to the Emperor or to the generals but to the idea of civilization and human survival. Thus they are against any action that clearly results in a civil war. Among those with neutral attitudes are some impoverished (read: non-treasonous) Generals, the Pscience Police, the Military Police, most hard-working citizens etc.

 

Another set of factions are the vendors (futuristic mega-corporations). Their goal is self enrichment and thus their actions are somewhat mercenary. However they will not willingly betray one customer-faction to another. That would be bad business. On the other hand they would take it as a great insult if a customer abandoned them in favor of another vendor. Basically they see themselves as diplomats and above the fray, except in relation to another vendor who they see as a rival entity to be opposed. The first vendor the players are introduced to is the quasi city-state of Medical Monolithica (whose name is a nod to FLCL but not meant as a narrative clue). They provide ceramic age structures for the parties’ home-base as well as mutant grunts for the front line.

 

Finally there are the Rebels. These humans are not interested in becoming citizens of the empire. Some are mere bandits; some have philosophical differences with the laws and policies of the empire. Some would like to support the empire but are in some way alien or not terrestrial and thus the empire is a mortal danger to them.

 

There are other factions but they are not human and not yet essential to the core narrative.

 

(player x) was in charge of recruiting players. The GM encouraged him to gather at least four additional players for a total of five. With five players, if a player failed to appear at a session or if a player dropped out of the group the campaign could continue uninterrupted.

 

At first (player x) approached some of his buddies. One of them was a hit but the others, although they initially expressed interest ultimately declined. (player x) and the GM came up with the idea that gamers and potential good players should be recruited over close friends.

 

Over the course of a few weeks (player x) interviewed potential players and a solid team began to form.

 

On the design side of the operation the GM worked on applying modern concepts from console games and board games to the archaic tabletop RPG. In other words p&p gaming have remained woefully 1st Generation technology. The design goal therefore becomes to apply enough thought and effort to get to a 2nd generation experience.

 

The concept of limitation was the first and most controversial philosophy to be applied. A basic example of limitation can be found in the popular Pokemon games for Nintendo’s hand held systems. In Pokemon a player can collect almost 300 Pokemon and keep them in storage. However the player can have only 6 Pokemon with him, in his ‘party’, at any one time. There are certain buildings in which the player can swap stored Pokemon for party Pokemon. Sometimes it is easy to get from one of these buildings to the next, sometimes it becomes a whole sidequest. It is possible to fail this sidequest which results in the player and all his Pokemon getting knocked out and awakening in the last friendly town they visited.

 

So, it is understood how limitation is utilized in modern gaming, but how could it be logically and thoughtfully applied to the RPG? One thing as numerous at the RPG tabletop as Pokemon are in the Pokemon world are the skills, powers and items listed on the average character sheet.

 

The GM decided that all the players would make 4-slot character cards. Using their Rifts character sheet as a ‘storage device’ they would select four skills/items/powers to bring to prominence and have available as actions. The use of ‘actions’, here being borrowed from modern board games, means simply something a player can do on their turn. Rather then rattle on about the implications and theory of this, next will be a glance at the future; explaining what the players picked and how it all worked.

 

Although the characters are Imperial, the first task of the players was to make a ‘Rebel Character Card’. Reasons for this include: The first mission has the players disguised as Rebels, Also this gives the players a chance to try out the character card limitation before they make their Imperial character card.

 

 While (player A) was creating Security Officer Bob he rolled high (with the help of the ‘magic 6’ dice rolling easement) on some of his stats. The GM pointed out that high stats are tantamount to superpowers. (Player A) then decided to use two of these stats as powers on his rebel character card. Thus [Extreme Physical Prowess] and [Extreme Physical Strength] were added leaving two remaining slots.

 

Although it was easy to look up stat bonuses, at first the true function of these powers was unknown to the GM, who was being badgered at the time by five players in the throes of character creation. Fortunately, through superior roleplaying on the part of (player A) and chaotic system emergence their function soon became clearly defined. For example…

 

 [Extreme Physical Prowess] contains a modifier as well as an action. It protects Security Officer Bob from low-roll penalties including the dreaded ‘1’. Also it allows the player to sometimes (GM discretion) to take multiple actions in a single turn such as dodging, diving, hitting a control panel, diving again, hitting another control panel.

 

[Extreme Physical Strength] allows the player to perform the following as an action: Throw Large Object or Person, Remove S.D.C. Obstacle (no ‘key’, no problem)

 

The Concept of Chaotic Systems vs. Ordered Systems:

 

Frequently in gaming and game design the vocabulary of ‘linearity’, ‘emergent gaming’ and ‘sandbox’ are bandied about like so many marbles. Unfortunately the participants in such a conversation can never reach an understanding unless they first clarify whether they are working under a chaotic or ordered system.

 

The ordered system is well known. It is the system utilized in console and PC gaming (video games). Quite simply, when a player sends an avatar through the door there are two green enemies every time always and forever because they are supposed to be there. In other words set-in-stone data and odd mechanics rule the ordered system with strange and illogical results. For example, something might happen in an ordered system game which the player does not want (character death for example). So, the player decides to time travel to a time before the bad thing happened (via a save file). Although widely accepted this is a very illogical action. The game is not about time travel, my character is not a time traveler and yet the player arbitrarily rewinds time without a thought of breaking suspension of disbelief. In another example characters recover health and energy by eliminating enemies. These characters are not vampires but super heroes or Jedi or any type of protagonist, but not vampires. (As a side note a game about time traveling vampires is an inherently awesome notion which requires no new game feature, merely a designer recognition of features that already exist.) All that being said perhaps some of the ‘safety net’ features of the ordered system can be subtlety applied to the chaotic system.

 

The chaotic system is almost completely unknown especially to the people who are supposedly practicing it; table top gamers and GMs’. The player sends a character through the door, the GM looks down to confirm what he already knows, there are supposed to be two green enemies in the room. An absolute must for any table top GM is to understand that he is the engine of a chaotic system as such he must ask himself ‘does that still make sense’? Did the players flood the ventilation system with sleep gas? Did green monsters in another room raise an alarm which would have changed the position of these enemies? Are the players in bad shape and desperately looking for an escape route, would two green enemies (normally not a threat) possible commit TPK? If this adventure was a narrative in a manga or a novel what would the characters find behind the door? Conversely, have the players unexpectedly steamrolled every monster and obstacle, and would a dead end room with only two monsters be pointless and possibly insulting? If it does not ‘make sense’ the GM must improvise. This is rookie GMing, but is still unknown at most table-tops. The caveat to the need to improvise is that the GM must endlessly prepare for his sessions. In other words, just because the chaotic system sometimes calls for improvisation does not mean that the GM can ‘wing it’.

 

The GM gathered and read almost all Rifts source material including but not limited to: the periodical the Rifter, the Heroes Unlimited source books, The Chaos Earth books (and later the TMNT & Other Strangeness books.) All these books have closely related rules for stats, skills, powers and combat. Percentiles are rolled for skill checks, twenties for imitative and to hit. For the sake of pacing the GM alters how actions and attacks are carried out depending on the intensity of the situation.

 

The world of Rifts is altered to suit the campaign. The ‘Human Empire’ becomes the ‘Imperium’. Instead of being a villain, the Emperor and his young son have an egalitarian agenda. Indeed, (player X) the party of PC’s and the battalion are loyal to the Emperor against all comers. The City States of the Imperium as compared to present-day cities are more independent in some ways and more interconnected in others. Basically a feudal system is in place. Whereby, serving in the military of the Imperium is defined more by who one serves more then rank or philosophy. Of course things get complicated when more then one loyalty is in the mix.

 

Session 1: Character Creation and First Adventure, Sunday Jan. 10, 2010

Adventure: Jailbreak (1 of 2)

 

 

Time: 3.5 Hours

 

 

 

Concept of the Leader character:

Neither fun nor drama is created by ambiguity. Social and psychological interactions are complex. The GM or game designer must recognize this and prepare accordingly. Thus the role of Leader is required in a system of play that is chaotic.

For players to ‘know what they are supposed to do’ or to play their role there must be definitions in the fictional world. In this case the Leader is also ‘the reason the party is together’. The other characters ‘jobs’, outside of their split loyalties, are serving the Imperial military under the direct command of the Leader character.

 

Responsibilities of the leader character include:

1.      At the beginning of the adventure, after hearing the mission parameters along with the rest of the party, the Leader states the basic strategy he wants the other players to employ on the mission.

2.      Makes plot decisions at divergence points.

 

It should be pointed out that in any RPG group it is far more likely that one or more of the players wishes to protect and boost the Leader character then to display jealousy, If something does go wrong during the pregame Leader selection process then the player pool probably needs to be reconsidered.  

 

‘Job’ Selection:

 

The players have been given a character sheet, a notebook, pens and pencils, and set of dice. The notebook is important as it holds the character cards as well as back stories and inventory lists. The notebooks are also a way for players and even the GM to work on characters outside of the gaming sessions. Generally speaking all the materials are kept by the GM.

 

(player X) has already created his character sheet and has chosen Fleet Officer from the list of player roles. As such his is the party’s leader character and driving force behind the game narrative. (sort of a main character if you want to be primitive about it). In keeping with the ‘victorious’ archetype character (player X) wants to win at any cost but must also obey his own rules. 

 

(player A) and (player M) are both looking at the Security Officer job. Ultimately (player A) takes the job. (player X) helps (player M) look through some of the source books, some of the art work he sees inspires him to take the amnesiac robot job.

 

 (player E) was specifically recruited with the propaganda officer job in mind. It will be his duty to read a debriefing of the previous session at the start of every session. He will read this description in the manner of a wartime film reel.

 

 Finally (player K) selects the Liaison from the Pscience Police job.

 

 The Liaison from Medical Monolithica job was chosen by no one, thus many of the GM’s plans for the campaign go right out the window.

 

Character Creation: The Gm handed out notebooks and the characters created their character cards, inventories, vehicle cards, detailed skill explanations etc.

 

 

 

Session 1 play by play:

 

After character creation was complete GM explained the mission:

“The Emperor (who the players are loyal to) has one child, a son. This son has a group of protectors. The captain of these protectors has been arrested by forces loyal to one of the generals. The Emperor fears that his son will be in jeopardy without his most loyal and effective protector. So he has dispatched Jade Eclipse, FO of ‘the Black Templar’ and his team to break his son’s protector out of the detention center. In addition, he has ordered them to perform the mission disguised as rebels. (Conveniently, the players chose these disguises as part of character creation)”

 

The players look over the floor plan of the prison. The GM informs them that, according to their ‘intel’, their target is definitely housed in one of the four cell blocks. The GM further informs them that the detention center is not constructed of Ceramic Age materials. The amnesiac robot (Player M) asks what the large area indicated on the floor plan is. The GM shrugs. The amnesiac robot (Player M) becomes the voice of caution advising other players to steer clear of the large area and to focus solely on the mission objective.

 

The GM turns the floor over to Fleet Officer Jade Eclipse (Player X). He comes up with a plan on the spot. The amnesiac robot will charge into the detention center (literally) causing havoc and distracting the guards. Then the rest of the team will enter (engaging the guards only if needed) and proceed with the extraction. The player group is eager to begin the adventure and agrees to the plan.

 

The amnesiac robot (Player M) builds up a speed of over 200 mph ([Extreme Speed]) and crashes through the entryway of the detention center. Debris and dust fly everywhere. Entryway guards look on in stunned surprise. The Robot, named ‘Tin-man’ (Player M) builds up speed again and crashes through another wall into the central area of the prison.

 

The GM rolls to see how many guards are in the central area. He gets an odd roll of ‘1’. He improvises and informs the players that a lonely janitor is mopping the central area and he looks on, disenchanted, at the vandalism of ‘Tin-man’.

 

‘Tin-man’ now has a visual of the doors that lead to various cell blocks. Looking at the detention center map again (Player M) has found the one door that clearly does not lead to a cell block but to section that serves an unknown purpose.

 

Deducing that only trouble can come from this area (Player M) aka

‘Tin-man’ engages his Flame-thrower eye to melt/weld the door shut.

 

 The GM rolls and informs (Player M) that this ‘melting’ will take 6 turns.   

 

The rest of the party has reached the entryway of the detention center. Security Officer Bob spots three guards emerging from a guard post. He gains the initiative and chooses to charge the front most guard.

 

(player A) rolls a (d20) ‘1’ to hit. The dreaded ‘1’ is mitigated by Extreme Physical Prowess.

 

The GM translates this low roll ‘1’ as the following: Officer Bob is experiencing an adrenalin rush over the engagement and has tripped himself up and lost a turn.

 

(player X) decides that one hole in the wall is not enough and lets loose on the exterior of the prison with his plasma rifle. (player E) ‘The Voice!’ a human character with Dwarfish proportions and a high Physical Beauty stat, is not merely disguised as a rebel, he is disguised as an imperial munitions crate. Thus he can remain still and have a good chance of not being recognized as an enemy combatant. (player E) makes it into the entryway undetected.

 

(player K) having heard tell of a janitor, rushes through the entryway. (player K’s) only purpose to slay this enemy of enemies. (player E) is flustered and calls out that HE is the rightful slayer of the janitor and that (player K) is dealing with forces (he) she cannot possible comprehend.  

 

(player M) asks if he can speed up the melting by using BOTH of his flame thrower eyes. The GM rules that he can. (player A) finally gets another turn and charges the three guards he announces that he will grab and throw the guard. He Rolls a (d20) ‘3’. The GM translates this to mean that he has grabbed the guard’s arms and that the guard is now firing his S.D.C machine gun, which is pointed at the ground, in panic.

 

(player K) reaches the lonely janitor and separates his legs from his torso in an elegant stroke. (player E) Edges his container along the floor. (player X) Finally breaks through the outer wall and opens fire with his plasma rifle on a set of guards who are flooding into the North side of the entry way he rolls high and five of the guards are stuck to the floor.  (player M) succeeds in melting/welding the door shut.

 

(player A) Heaves the guard, his nemesis, at the other two guards, they all crash back into the tower entrance they came out of. (player K) Announces that he will take the janitors keys. The GM created the janitor as an improvisation and so, not knowing what items the janitor owns, has to make a decision. The GM decides to reward (player K’s) logical thinking, that a janitor would need access to all of the detention center, and so (player K) gains the janitors key card. (player E) arrives on the scene and claims the janitors mop handle he also manages to ‘pants’ a passing guard on a roll of ‘19’. (player E) then, using his espionage skill set, creates the improvised weapon ‘taser on a stick’.

 

(player M) Builds up speed and crashes through a wall into one of the cell blocks. The GM refers to his omniscient map, luckily the cell was unoccupied.   

 

(player A) Finds a door, that does not have guards coming out of it, in the entryway.  It is not a M.D.C. door so he yanks it open. It is the contraband room. Due to the hour the GM pauses the adventure and ends the first session.

 

Post-Game

 

Most of the time was spent on character creation which was expected but there were a few problems that should have been foreseen. 1. (player X) pointed out in post-game that a generic example character card should have been prepared and a copy handed out to each player, perhaps even with instructions. This would make the players more independent and prevented mimicking of (player X’s) character card choices. 2. All five players needed one-on-one assistance from the GM, (player X) was able to help (player M) make a character selection and (player M) was able to help (player K) understand stat Rolls and his character sheet. In the end this problem was defeated by the player’s positive attitudes and patience. This was a good and necessary process; one that is not easily prepped away. 2a. (player E) and (player A) had some minor difficulty transcribing so much text in such a short time. (player M) was saved from transcribing (and from sharing/waiting for sourcebook) through use of the copy machine. (Recommendation: use copy machine early and often, certify one of the players for copy machine use, ((player M) seems to be the most reliable)

 

* These session reports were originally posted on the now defunct German site HEROICSnHIRELINGS.de by ThePerfectGM. I later obtained his permission to repost them. Please consider this material protected and do not repost it.

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