Thursday, April 23, 2009

Deputize Yourself

The Trail of Cthulhu RPG has a two-page spread of advice for players, and my favorite bits are:
"the best way to fail is to become defensive and do nothing.... Instead, talk through the most obvious options, quickly pick the one that seems the most appealing, and then execute that plan. Will something horrible happen? Of course it will - it's a horror game! Something horrible will happen no matter what your plan is. "
"Passively playing the good citizen won't save you. You must carry the ball into the enemy's court, and part the dark veil of the unknown. A few moments of reluctance is understandable and realistic. More than that is boring."
Sound advice. Frequently, players get "analysis paralysis", or are so fearful of the consequences of action, that they just sit back and let the plot happen. In a game I'm running, at least, that's always a mistake.

Think of it this way. If the player does something, it's got at least three possibilities:
  1. Paying off! It's the solution to all your troubles.
  2. Ineffective! Despite your action, things keep on the same track.
  3. Disastrous! Something bad happens, and you feel like it wouldn't have if you'd not done anything.
Now compare that to what will happen if you do nothing. In this case, there's only one possible outcome.
  1. Disastrous! The Big Bad already has plans, and I guarantee you don't want them to happen.
Trust me, what I plan to do to your character is far worse than any complications you're likely to get yourself into by taking an action. A Big Bad with wimpy plans that can be survived by turtling or dragging your feet ain't a Big Bad at all. The main plot, left unaltered by player action, will always end in the worst possible situation.

An example drawn from Session 5 of my Trail of Cthulhu campaign. My wife (who previously would often over-analyze RPG situations) took the TOC advice, and Deputized herself in the most recent session. 4 NPCs were hauling stolen artifacts into a warehouse. So, armed with just a two-shot derringer and the "backup" of a 60-year-old NPC librarian, she stormed into a warehouse to face four individuals she suspected might be possessed by aliens or demons. It was a very tense scene, and nearly went south at one point, but by quick thinking (and quick acting) she recovered the truck full of artifacts, and got out without having to fire the second bullet.

Had she dithered and wimped out, even just to sneak back under cover of darkness, the world might have ended in the meantime. I mean, it is Cthulhu, and I have a track record.

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