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Thread: A GM Dilemma

  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Jan 2012

    Default A GM Dilemma

    I've got a giant flustercluck in my campaign, and I need some outside advice.

    So, some context:

    For about a year now, I've been running a game on Roll20 using Modiphious' Infinity rules, which use the same 2d20 'house' system that powers some of their other licensed games like Star Trek and Conan. The game has been going pretty well overall, although I've had a rotating cast of players for various reasons. I'm running a pretty standard scenario, where the PCs are agents for an organization called Bureau Noir, which is the espionage branch of a faction called O-12, which is essentially the 'Space United Nations'. They may indulge in some ethically dubious behavior, but in general they are meant to be the 'good guys' of the setting, trying to keep the Human Sphere's various competing factions working together for the good of humanity in the face of recent hostile alien contact. I've been using Modiphious' pre-written adventures for the setting, modified (or just mishandled!) by me as necessary.

    This week's game has run into some snags:

    1. One of my longer-lasting players bowed out about a month ago, citing some personal difficulties. When it became clear he wasn't going to return after a break, I started recruiting to fill his spot. I currently have a new player, who has not yet created a character, 'waiting in the wings' so to speak. That in itself would be a minor issue and not worth seeking help over.

    2. One of my other longer-lasting players recently had a work schedule change and can't play in the time slot we were using anymore. She's waiting on more information, and I would be willing to move my game around to accommodate her, which might create other time conflicts with the other players, so this is an information-gathering period. This situation sucks, but sometimes that's just how life rolls, and in and of itself, would also not be worth seeking help over.

    3. One of the player Characters has split the party. This particular PC is a master of disguise, and created a new persona meant to 'bait' a terrorist organization the team has been investigating. He got a bite when the team landed on the world of Svalarheima on a different case, and elected to pursue that lead instead of stay with the team. He is now in a completely different system, surrounded by enemies, and has no backup. Now, that's kind of a bad position to put himself in, and an awkward position to put the players in, as now I have to split the spotlight between him and the rest of the group. On other hand, he is actually engaging with the setting and contributing to the mission of taking out threats to the Human Sphere. In the administration world, this is a 'Good Problem', because even though I'm having to do extra work by writing new material for the adventure to accommodate his actions, his goals are in line with the campaign. And again, not really something worth seeking help over.

    4. So, I've got 3 other PCs, representing 2 active players and my player with the schedule change. They have essentially resolved the mission they were on, which was tracking down a hacker who had managed to project her consciousness into the network, but had gone insane in the process, and was using modified android host-bodies to commit assassinations to avenge her dead husband. They are now sitting in a supposedly moth-balled military bunker in the middle of south polar Svalarheima, a world which largely resembles Ice Planet Hoth of Star Wars fame in that it is very cold, and home to 3-meter tall people-eating monsters. They are surrounded by deactivated, military-grade host bodies that have been illegally modified to serve as puppets for hostile intelligences on the Infinity version of the Internet. The nearest human population is Nykafjord Outpost, a military base run by the PanOceanian faction. The PC team is in possession of a land-crawler vehicle that can navigate the Svalarheim surface, but don't have any transmitters strong enough to send clear signals to Bureau Noir unless they get back to the Outpost.

    Now to me, as GM, the sensible thing to do in this situation would be to either (a) destroy the defunct host bodies so PanOceania can't get exclusive access to the technology used to modify them, or (b) send a signal to Bureau Noir and guard the bunker until a team can arrive to take control of the situation. In either case, they need to then go and back up their buddy who is infiltrating the terrorist organization.

    What the players decided to do was this: take half the host bodies and load them into the crawler. Get close enough to the Outpost to send coded messages to criminal contacts in the underworld with the intent to negotiate a price for and sell the illegally modified host bodies on the black market.

    There is just a whole host of problems there. Here are just some:

    1. Both of these PCs are extremely wealthy, financially. They really aren't going to get much richer from selling these bodies.

    2. The player of the remaining PC would normally serve as a brake on the insanity of the other two players, and might not agree to this transaction. However, she's not here to represent herself due to the work schedule issue.

    3. The PCs belong to an organization which is supposed to control illegal technology. While they might be able to sell these things as part of a sanctioned operation, by doing it independently for a profit motive, they just became the bad guys.

    4. The only way they have to send and receive messages is by going through the communications network of a Military Base that is not controlled by Bureau Noir. Anything they send or receive is liable to be intercepted by PanOceania, and because they are contacting criminals, they can't use Bureau Noir encryption or status to protect their transmissions.

    5. Communications in the Infinity setting are not instantaneous. FTL travel occurs by controlled wormholes that generally form on the outskirts of systems, so it can take days for signals to travel by conventional electromagnetic radiation before it arrives at a jump node. Meanwhile, they are sitting, with diminishing rations, in a bunker in the middle of a frozen wilderness surrounded by flesh-eating monsters.

    6. They are selling illegally modified combat bodies on the black market, to any psychopath or terrorist group with lots of cash. Clearly, there is no way that could ever come back to bite them in the ass...

    7. When their illegal contacts come to pick up the bodies, the PCs are expecting to negotiate a good price, get paid, have their contacts amicably agree to divide the combat bodies equally, and then expect to get a lift back to orbit where their own ship is... a ship crewed by a small cadre of loyal O-12 space navy officers, who totally won't think it's suspicious that the PCs found other transport to orbit...

    8. Meanwhile, their poor colleague is actually advancing a mission, surrounded by enemies, light years away, with no backup, and waiting even longer for everybody else to show up.

    And that's just what I can think of right now.

    So, the ringleader of this carnival of stupidity is doing it I think because he plays his character as though his character were 'doing Bureau Noir a favor' by being an agent. He is pretty vocal about wanting to be independent, hating authority, and has definitely had his character do impulsive things in the past. Up to now, while there have been some annoying things, in general it's been fun, and he has a lot of personality and gets things done, even if sometimes they are kind of stupid and pointless things. This, I think, is definitely going too far, though. Even if they are totally successful in their plans, the very best outcome I can foresee is that body-hopping murderers in stolen host-bodies are going to be used to commit terrible crimes, and it will basically be all his fault. A more likely outcome is that he is going to get caught in some fashion, and canned from Bureau Noir, and will have to make a new character, perhaps one that isn't quite as pig-headed.

    The henchman, my longest player in the campaign, is a nice guy, but he is also the type of player who likes to roll dice and find out how many orcs he killed. He chose to play against type for this campaign, making a hacker/investigator, but he's clearly not happy with a role that requires more intellectual involvement with both the game and the rules. I think he feels a bit bewildered by the complexity of the scenarios, and is going along with this because it feels more proactive than his usual role. He tends to be very reactive in situations, and follow the lead of other players, which I guess just kind of bores him. The consequences to his PC, though, are still likely to be dire, because he is peddling illegal technology on the black market for profit. Maybe his next character will be something a bit more violent.

    So, I'm planning on fleshing out some details on Nykafjord Outpost, as part of their plan keeps involving trying to hack the base; fleshing out their criminal contacts, because I see a potential Resevoir Dogs scenario occurring. There is also the potential of hungry ice-trolls munching on the inactive host bodies, a PanOceanian military patrol stumbling across them, PanOceania tapping their communications, etc., etc. They seem to really want to make this the new scenario, and as much as I've tried to discourage it, they really seem to want to go through with it. The problem is, they are bringing one PC along with them who can't defend herself, leaving another player out in the lurch, and making it very hard for me to find a good inroad for introducing my new player, and I'm afraid she's going to get a very bad impression of my game and might just quit because of this situation. I am, myself, pondering if this might be a good time to close the game down, or at least put it on hiatus for a bit.

    So, what do you folks think? How would you handle this situation? Any advice?

    Thank you!

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Orc in the Playground
     
    HalflingRogueGuy

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    Dec 2007

    Default Re: A GM Dilemma

    The bureau gets wind of the PC's plot (through a mole they HAPPEN to have planted in the underground if an explanation how is needed). Word comes back to them (however you choose, perhaps just direct from the mole) that if they stop now, all is forgiven because they've been good agents in the past, but if they proceed ANY further they are officially state criminals - terrorists, traitors, war crimes, whatever applies. They'll not just be cut off, they'll be actively hunted as the crooks they are. If they... come in from the cold... give them immediate arranged passage to reunite with the isolated PC.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Jan 2012

    Default Re: A GM Dilemma

    That does sound like a good idea. It stands to reason that Bureau Noir would have at least one agent, even in a place like Nykafjord Outpost, to monitor the situation and watch over any agent teams active in the region. And for that matter, with at least one of the underworld factions the PCs contacted. Thanks! I think a bit of objectivity was what I needed...
    Last edited by Chogokin; 2019-04-05 at 11:27 AM.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Orc in the Playground
     
    HalflingRogueGuy

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    Dec 2007

    Default Re: A GM Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Chogokin View Post
    That does sound like a good idea. It stands to reason that Bureau Noir would have at least one agent, even in a place like Nykafjord Outpost, to monitor the situation and watch over any agent teams active in the region. And for that matter, with at least one of the underworld factions the PCs contacted. Thanks! I think a bit of objectivity was what I needed...
    Easy to get too close to the problem and not able to see a way out of the corners we paint ourselves into. :)
    Last edited by D+1; 2019-04-07 at 08:41 PM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Feb 2006
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    Default Re: A GM Dilemma

    This is a situation where I wouldn't engineer an in-game response, honestly, lest it circle around and rear its head again at the next opportunity. Then you end up inventing a reason that plan got detected or won't work, and eventually they either feel railroaded or plow through regardless.

    This is a situation where everyone had bought into one kind of campaign (mostly-heroic government troubleshooters) and it's about to veer into another type (amoral criminal rogue agents.) That's not just a player decision affecting their character, it's a decision that affects the whole group. I'd pause play, bring that explicitly into the open with all players OOC - so the one with scheduling issues and the one whose character is physically separated should absolutely be part of this discussion, and probably also the new incoming player - and take the temperature of the whole group.

    If the whole group says "that sounds great," roll with it. If the half of the group that's not there says "whoa, that's not the game I wanted to play," you've got more than your own word as the DM backing the idea that this will be a problem. Then you can have them change plans or even roll back the timeline a bit to pick things up without wrecking it.

    This is just good game stewardship, protecting the fun for everyone, and it would give me a good impression as an existing or a prospective player if you just pulled this out in the open and let us have a say.
    Last edited by Lapak; 2019-04-08 at 03:16 PM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Jan 2012

    Default Re: A GM Dilemma

    That too is sage advice. I am certainly concerned that even if I stave this off, it will just rear its head again unless I can figure out the reasons underlying it and do something about it. Well, we shall see how it goes.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Jan 2012

    Default Re: A GM Dilemma

    Well, we had the next game session, and we started out with a discussion of what was going on. I did have an opportunity to discuss matters with my former player (the one with the job time conflict) as well. In general, it doesn't seem like anyone really desires to play a 'villain campaign', but at least one player would rather be freelance than working for an organization.

    I think that what this comes down to is that the "Ringleader" of the troublesome twosome is really sticking to his view that his character has special prerogatives to 'act out' against the direct orders and perceived goals of the team handler and Bureau Noir. That attitude was amusing earlier in the game, when other players helped to quash his more excessive nonsense, but the player composition has changed, and his behavior is getting worse.

    There really doesn't seem to be much ground between a player character whose defining trait is being combative toward authority, and a player becoming combative toward the GM. We had a discussion, we got the LHost situation resolved, and then he throws two more wrenches at me over the course of the evening.

    As the team is now tooling around in a small freighter vessel, I have been giving them the opportunity to engage in some speculation. This wasn't something I had put a whole lot of thought into, and it isn't an activity well-supported by the rules. I think their first cargo was a load of space beanie babies they bought on Neo-Terra, and managed to unload on Svalarheima for a small profit. For Svalarheima, I actually came up with a list of goods they could buy. The Troublesome Twosome went for the high-ticket items, and then spent half an hour badgering me about what the selling price was going to be. My reply was something like "I don't know, I'm making this up as I go along, I'd rather think about it out-of-game, and you'll need to find a buyer, do some roleplaying, and make some skill rolls to get a final price." Internally, I'm thinking "Geez, I'm doing you guys a favor, and you're still finding ways of wasting everyone's time and giving me grief."

    Finally, we managed to get things back on track, and we started the next scenario. The PCs are handed the cover identity of being a drone-racing team, and asked to infiltrate an illegal drone-racing circuit to find out why a terrorist organization is running a team. I figured this would be cool: the PCs get to create cover identities, match their skills up with the various roles required for a drone racing team, and even get a cool toy, namely the racing drone. What could go wrong? Well, the Ringleader immediately balks at having to go undercover, and demands that the team instead portray the roles of investors looking for a team to back. I basically said "No" to this change of plans, and we spent some more time persuading him to play ball, and then, rather than having some fun in-character discussions about how the team would shore up their covert identities, I reduced it to a bunch of rolls so we could end the f-ing night with some forward progress.

    I think my game plan now is to survive one more scenario, the one we just started. Once we've gotten to a logical place to pause the story, I'm going to ease Ringleader (and possibly Henchman) out of the game, do some recruiting, find someone else to fill in the role of team "Face", and see how things go from there.

    Anyway, thank you both for your advice. And, anyone paying attention, thanks for letting me vent! It does help to organize my thoughts and get some of this off my chest.

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