Author Topic: Non-combat RPGs  (Read 2106 times)

42

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Non-combat RPGs
« on: November 13, 2003, 01:30:23 AM »
So I'm wondering how to best play non-combat characters and sessions that are still interesting. I think this is something that I find myself struggling with and I've noticed that many other players seem to struggle with this as well. All the non-combat stuff is supposed to build tension/drama/humor and all the story stuff right? So what are good ways to approach this?

And please don't give me the response that I just need better players. That's the same as saying "I don't know how to answer that."
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JP Dogberry

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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2003, 01:48:57 AM »
I got some of this goign really well in an Ars Magica campaign I played. Although all the payers had basically decided what they were going to do, for the sake of roleplaying we spent about half an hour arguing trivialities. The fact that each of us had several characters (grogs) and the political intrigue helped. It also didn't hurt that I was playing a vastly interesting character who is certifably insane.
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Mr_Pleasington

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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2003, 01:49:17 AM »
I really think it depends on the group. I've ran and played in sessions of many games where not a single die was rolled.  Everything was just roleplayed out.  

My Ruins game, for instance, had very little combat.  It was all about exploration and politics.  Each week the PCs had to make difficult choices and then later had to deal with the ramifications.  I'm a big fan of characterization and when I GM I like to roleplay a variety of NPCs.  I like to see the PCs roll their eyes when I start using the manarisms of that annoying NPC who keeps showing up and complicate things.  I like to see the fear when I use the "bad guy voice."  I want for them to hate the villains and love the innocent.

I also try to work in a lot of atmosphere.  In depth descriptions of areas and NPCs can really help build the tension and increase the verisimilitude.

And sometime we throw all that artsy-fartsy stuff to the wind, beat down some bad guys, and take their stuff!  :)

If your players aren't comfortable or keen on roleplaying between combat, break them in slowly.  Let them roll the dice for social interaction instead of playing it out.  Slowly get them to describe more and more what they're doing when they roll and eventually (hopefully) they'll be speaking in character to the GM.

Some groups are bored by social interaction. Some groups are bored by combat. Most groups appreciate a good mix.  Think about what your group likes and pander to it.  As long as everyone is having fun you can't go wrong.

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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2003, 02:01:32 AM »
Ahh!!! Mr. P you gave me the answer I didn't want to hear. I already know that it depends on the players in the group.

I'm more interested in the details of making non-combat interesting. What works and what doesn't?

  • What's the best way to approach social role-playing and how can I better prepare for it?
  • What kind of problem-solving and puzzle playing works best?
  • What consequences get the players the most involved other than the threat of dying?
  • How could character developement be bestincluded that's not cheesy?
  • What are good hooks?

I guess a lot of this asking for better storytelling (not storywriting) techniques taht go outside combat.
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Eagle Prince

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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2003, 04:31:56 AM »
What I think leads to a successful session is first you need some type of objective.  You need obsticals to reach that objective that are not too hard and not too easy.  You then need some type of reward for achieving that objective.  The reward has to be good, something that the players want- wealth, power, a cool new toy, whatever- but its got to be something they want.

If the game is supposed to be social then every character also would need some type of social thing to do.  Maybe one character wants to raise his own army or castle or such.  Socially, he might have to deal with underlings and such.  A common reward for him would to be gaining more followers, and a common penalty for failure would be loosing followers for mistakes he made while roleplaying with the underlings.  One player might want to become some type of wisened, all-knowing sage.  So then he's got to do lots of social roleplay with people to gain knowledge--its not exactly something you can beat out of someone (except for Highlander).  He might gain some awesome book or a new mentor as a reward, failure he might have insulted a mentor so much that they become an enemy.

On objectives, I think you need to have multiple ways of getting past them.  Easier ones should have at least 3, harder ones should have more.  They should also have about 1/3 to 1/2 of additional ways of "beating" them that don't involve success, but failure.  Best case senerio, the failure choices should feel slightly less as good as the right choices.  You could mix this up though, throw in a clue- has to be fairly blatently a clue, perhaps not when they first hear it but for sure when it comes time to make a choice.  The clue would be something that tells the players that making the "less likely" choice as being the right choice, instead of the normal setup where the right choices are the best ones and the failure choices are the worst.  Having multiple right choices is also important, especially for the hard puzzles, because players might not always think along the same lines of logic as you did inventing it.  This increases the chance of them figuring it out in a reasonable amount of time.  If a puzzle/riddle is taking too long to figure out, namely when its very apparent they are making no progress toward achieving it, players can get frusterated and bored.

In the case of failure, I think there are a few good concequences that don't involve death.  Take d&d for example, a character losing a valuable piece of equipment can be a huge blow.  Also I think its important to make sure  a player feels like they deserved what they got.  A player could get really upset at losing their favorite sword or finding out their family's multimillion dollor corperation just got bought out from under them.  If its obvious that this was a direct result of something they themselves did by making a bad decision or whatever, there's a lot less chance of them getting really upset (they will always get a little upset, you just don't want too upset--if they didn't get upset at all, then there's a good chance they probably don't even like playing their character.  If that ever becomes really obvious, I would probably ask them if it was true and suggest making a new character if they wanted).  You could also have just a general loss of wealth in the case of a player with lots of money, or with loss of reputation.  It could even be something simple like now they have to take the "long way around".  This might actually be best to write down a list of general ideas and save it somewhere to refer back to later.  Maybe even have it with your other DM notes as a type of chart you could refer to in-game if you need a quick idea.

Character development would be very important.  This is of course player-dependent.  Its good to ask players how they'd like their characters to develop, perhaps one long-term goal and several short-term goals; the long-term goal could change during the campaign depending on what happens, so I would put over half of the emphisis on goals toward the short-term ones.  Short-term goals could also be droped because of character development, or achieved, either way probably within 2-3 sessions with new short-term goals replacing them.  I think the goals are important because character development is dependent on the PC's player, not the DM.  Making them think of goals is about the best way you can wing them along and it gives you some insight on the way they feel about their character.
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Eagle Prince

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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2003, 04:32:19 AM »
==continued==

Hooks I think are mostly just watching television and movies, reading books, and just thinking about how this or that event in your campaign could link together.  Its important to set the tempo in the first session.  If you aren't going to have a lot of fights (esp. if your players are really into them), then you don't want to throw one in until at least the 2nd or 3rd session minimum.  If they are that into battles, then you might also want to save them for those times you can't think of a really good reward.  So they might not get something extremely cool that time, but they got to fight to get it, so they're just as happy.  Something else I would throw in a lot of is enemies they might have to defeat, but strait-up combat isn't going to do it.  Like the Beast from Angel, or the Nemean lion from Hercules myth.  They are foes who have to be beaten, but it takes a certain thing to do it.  They actually use this a lot on Angel--he's basically a superhero and could easily take out all the baddies he fights.  He was even strong enough to take down the Beast, save for its invulnerable hide which took a knife made from its own self (same story as Nemean lion).  This is also similar to vampires, if you ever get a chance to read the original Dracula then you could see some ideas of how the players need to put together all these clues before doing battle with the BBEG.  It also wouldn't be too cheesy using it over and over in a game like D&D or urban arcana.  Urban Arcana is easy, just base it off Angel where its the norm for the troupe to 1) meet BBEG 2) find out what it is, how to beat it 3) get the means to do the deed 4) do the deed.  D&D could be a bit harder, you'd have to throw in a lot of creatures like vampires and trolls.  If the campaign was starting from scratch, it might be a little easier with D&D.  Just have monsters fairly rare and already known to the general public that theres usually only a handful of ways to defeat them and not everyone knows all of them.  That would also add a bit more exotic flavor to monsters in general, which can sometimes get boring in d&d because there are just so many of them (which is often why DMs hoard all the d&d classic monsters for special occations, ie mind flayers, dragons, beholders, etc).

I'll post some more stuff later as I think of it, I need to chew on the idea for awhile.
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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2003, 10:05:52 AM »
first, "get better players" is not the same as "I don't know." Some players can't do drama. It's just the type of players they are. You HAVE to make sure you have players who will be interested in drama rather than action. That's the starting point.

If everyone agrees to a game less on action and more on drama going into character creation, that makes everything easier. You have to also reassure players that they will not be screwed if they make a character who isn't so good in a fight. Make sure they know that making a character who's interesting will be rewarded: not only will he survive, but he'll be more effective in the game.

So set the expectations before characters are made, that's my first advice. ANd make sure everyone is interested, and not just going along with it.

As a side note at this point, you may want to check out Pendragon. Yeah, the players are typically knights (warriors) but most of the published adventures actually involve very very little combat. THe focus on the game is on traits, and you get bonuses for having traits the conform with certain ideals: like Chivalry or religion (whichever religion the character belongs to) or courtly love. This both provides mechanical reasons for having non-combat scenarios (entire adventures) as well as motivation for wanting to play those scenes.

On that note: most of the book is crap, but you may want to review Clockworks' Chosen for the way they make living according to traits important. THere's an interesting mechanic there too.

On a play level, reward role playing. Don't just have players make a diplomacy roll. Have them role play what they'll say and do for the roll, and apply a bonus based on how good their material is.

Character generation, again, is the best way to involve players. If they understand that their story is more important than their ability, they will probably include something you can use for a plot. A lost brother, a shady deal in the past, a goal or pursuit, a hobby. You should make sure that every character has soemthing for them in adventures. Not every scene has to directly approach every character, but every character should get a scene in each session. If they feel like they'll learn more about their character by entering a scene, they don't need the threat of dying. But again, that's player dependent: it assumes that they want something out of the game other than combat.

I think I need more description about what you mean by cheesy character development and "good hooks" before I can answer those questions. Basically, if it's character driving, and the players know that and want to see characters development, it's hard to make character development cheesy. Again, check out Pendragon on that.

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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2003, 03:00:18 PM »
NO saying, "get better players" is the same as saying "I don't know what to tell you." It's just passing the responsibility to the players and deciding not to take responsibility as a GM. It's not like I can set up interview for the players and it's hard enough to get players as is. So I tend to always have a mix of blood-thirsty combat guys and storylovers.

I like the idea of objectice and I use them a lot. The problem I have is that the objectives tend to change a lot during game play and more often than not I don't get informed of this change. Also, I notice that players really start to whine when they miss their objectives or become despondant and don't care to play since they aren't getting their objectives. However, some players have such unrealistic expectation of how they are going to reach their objectives that I just can't seem to coordinate with them no matter how many times I tell them that they can't succeed with their hairbrain idea.

As for cheesy character development, well anything that involves the character having a nervous breakdown is cheesy. Having been through a nervous breakdown, I know just how badly (and slightly offensive) the media portrays a nervous breakdown. Amnesia also gets cheesy really fast. The cheesy characters are the ones that just don't seem to fit in. I used to have one player who really liked to play cheesy characters. He based all of his characters off of angst ridden anime girls, which is a big hint on how cheesy these characters were. Having rounded out characters is what I find prevents character cheese.

As for good hooks, well I don't know. I'm hoping someone else will try to define that.
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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2003, 03:04:01 PM »
I have to agree with SE, 42.  A good GM knows and adapts to his players needs, making sure they and their backstory are ingrained in the campaign.  

If you want to see how I use hooks, check the link to my Ruins page and click on rumors.  Each session I throw out tons of various rumors, some true, some false, some undefined yet and see which ones the players bite on.


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Re: Non-combat RPGs
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2003, 03:46:12 PM »
that's not what I say at all when I say "better players." What I really mean is "players that will work with that better." If the problem is that there ARE no other players, well... then you STILL need to know what is a system/game mastering issue and what is a player combatability issue. How much combat is involved is definitely a player issue. You can't force non-combat scenarios on players who don't like it, or you're going to drive them away. THe idea of the game is fun, and the players will have definite ideas of fun, and your games need to cater to that, or else coming to your games will be a chorse and a favor they're doing for you, not something they're having fun with.

If the players are changing their objectives, and you don't know, then explain this to them. There should be some out of game conversation about what people want to accomplish and how. Increase the channels of information exchange. If the players resist, then keep trying, maybe they'll open up. If they continue to resist, accept that the players dont' want to do what you want. If this means that your game suffers... well... that sucks, but there's not much you can do about it. Again, you can't force them to do something and maintain their friendships.

I agree that things like frequent amnesia or nervous breakdowns are a little cheesy. On the one hand, you want to find ways that they can make life-altering decisions without resorting to tactics like this. EUOL did a good job with that with Zhom: He had to choose between his really cool powers and being evil. THat was a touch call, and I ended up with a much weaker character in the long run in terms of power, but it was cool story. And zhom didn't break down or anything.

On the other hand, if a player WANTS to be cheesy... well.. what's wrong with letting him do that? Write the story so being cheesy in that way won't hurt anyone's enjoyment.

I think with hooks, you're looking for good story elements. Do you want brain storms?