Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Most people get up in the morning with a fair idea of likely events during the day ahead, and very rarely run into invading Martians, marauding dinosaurs, or deranged serial killers. It seems unlikely that anyone reading this has fought a gun battle on the wings of a biplane, or unravelled a sinister web of deceit to unmask the machinations of an ancient cult and a nameless evil from beyond the stars.

Life is different in a role playing game, and characters don't lead routine lives. They are adventurers, encountering excitement wherever they go. Sinister cultists kill victims on their doorsteps, or decide that an adventurer is the reincarnation of their god. Their airliner is the one that is hijacked, their spaceship the one that picks up a strange alien parasite. They suspect weirdness in the most mundane events, and are usually right. The snag is that the referee has to prepare all this for the players.

Sometimes plot elements are implicit in the game background. Let's take an example set in 1911, a decade after the War of the Worlds was won by the wrong side. The Martians control the world, and are using their machines to exterminate humans, apart from a few survivors kept as food animals. There are still human enclaves, hiding places where a resistance organisation is gradually acquiring the tools needed to destroy the Martians. Think of a steam-powered version of the resistance organisation in the "Terminator" films. Here the staple plot will be commando-style raids on Martian bases, and attempts to destroy Martian war machines. The aliens aren't invulnerable; cunning booby traps might literally bring a machine to its knees. Long-term goals would be capture of Martian heat rays and other weapons, and discovery of a way to use them safely.

This is fine for one or two sessions, but it won't sustain a long campaign. You can only destroy so many tripods before the novelty wears off. Let's add another plot element; the Martians have implanted electrodes and transmitters in the brains of a few of their prisoners, and brainwashed them to wipe out knowledge of the implants. These spies have been allowed to "escape" to the resistance organisation, where they unconsciously report to the Martians. The Martians use the information to catch raiding parties; they prefer fresh-caught food, not the unhealthy blood of their ageing "cattle". The resistance base is allowed to exist, because the occupants are accomplishing little. The Martians know its exact location, but don't move in because it would cut off their most succulent food supply. Now raids will start to go wrong, and the adventurers may start to suspect a spy in their midst. Throw in more complications; a resistance commander who thinks that one of the adventurers is a spy - possibly correctly. An escapee who is behaving very strangely, but for a completely different reason. Sooner or later someone will realise that escapees knew something about every failed raid. Proving anything will be VERY difficult; the spies don't know that they are spies, and aren't doing anything unusual.

By Marcus L. Rowland
Copyright © 2005, portions Copyright © 1993-2002

No comments:

Post a Comment