Episode 2028: Who am I to This Foresee?

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Episode 2028: Who am I to This Foresee?

Taking notes during a game session so you can remember story details is a good idea, but there's nothing like a recording for remembering exactly how silly everything was.

aurilee writes:

Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)

That's not Luke! That's NOT Luke at all! Why's Kylo Ren here in this crazy vision?? This is definitely not the direction I thought the vision was going to take. I'm pretty sure that's meant to be a lot younger Rey in the second to last panel there too; that makes me wonder if this is a selection of scenes that have happened or are meant to happen. And since this is vision world, it's probably got the usual echoey voice over or something too.

This definitely has the feel of something that could be really hit or miss for movie viewers. Lots of sudden scene transitions, large changes in color palette, and the probable echoey voices seem like they'd be quite off-putting. On the other hand, this doesn't seem like it'd be that long for viewers to be overwhelmed for, plus it shows off the major bad guy being evil. And this would definitely give everyone something to talk about if these scenes don't show up in the rest of Episode VII.

Keybounce writes:

Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)

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Transcript

Episode 2027: Pete’s Dreams Are Made Of This

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Episode 2027: Pete’s Dreams Are Made Of This

Visions are a staple in fiction, so naturally one may consider them for use in a roleplaying game. The basic mechanics are simple: One or more PCs encounter something that initiates a vision, then the GM describes to the players what their characters see and experience during the vision.

The hard part comes when the GM has to figure out what should be in the vision, and how it relates to the current game plot. In traditional linear fiction, the author has complete control over the past and future, and can insert visions of unknown past events, as well as events that will come to pass, or helpful glimpses of potential futures which may be averted by the heroes.

In a game, things are much more difficult, because players are notoriously unpredictable. Providing visions of the past may conflict with a player's own concept of their character's past, and they may not appreciate having that messed with. And visions of the future... How can you predict the future in a game that's just as unpredictable as real life?

As it turns out, you can actually have some idea of what will happen in the future of a game story, because when planning the adventure you're setting up a significant item for them to find, or a major villain to be confronted, or something the heroes need to do to complete a quest goal. And if there's something the heroes need to do, you can lay good money that at some point in the future they will probably get around to doing it. You don't know the details of how they're going to do something, but there's a general current running through the criss-crossing streams of future possibility.

So you can make your visions align with those currents, while avoiding anything that ties it down too specifically. If your villain is in a castle, there's a pretty good chance your heroes will visit and explore said castle. So having a vision set in a castle corridor should work fine. If you know there are hobgoblin guards, the vision can be a quickly shifting scene of some hobgoblins charging to attack in a castle corridor. Don't provide any specifics of who gets hit or injured, or what the final outcome of the battle is, and you're gold.

Keep your visions generic and vague enough and you should have a pretty good strike rate. And if anything goes wrong, you always have the fallback that visions aren't 100% reliable.

Keybounce writes:

Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)

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aurilee writes:

Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)

There's two more of the cameos I'm expecting! Now all we need is C-3P0 and Princess Leia and the circus will be complete! One could argue that Luke doesn't count because we haven't seen his face yet, but I bet that'll change in the next bit of the scene. Since this a vision, I bet Luke's face is going to look exactly like he did 30 years ago. That, or he's going to look way more wrinkly and scarred than Han Solo, with burns or some other disfigurations as well.

At least in this setting, you can get an artificial hand, Rey! Perfect opportunity for Pete to min-max too. On that subject, I'm predicting that Rey will end up with a prosthetic in the movie. There's just too much symbolism between Luke losing a hand and Anakin losing a hand arm not to have that get a repeat performance in some form. Perhaps with an extra twist of some kind to try and make it even more dramatic to fit with everything else being flashier and larger now as well.

I think this is a much better "trap" to spring on the players, or at least Pete. It keeps the spooky or uncertain atmosphere that a trap would have while providing a tease of information. So in a sense, this is a meta-trap to hook the players more into the plot. As if trying to destroy a ginormous cannon built into a planet isn't cool enough.

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Episode 2026: Very Superstitious, Writing’s on the Wall

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Episode 2026: Very Superstitious, Writing’s on the Wall

We talked about hidden traps a few strips ago, and the problem they cause: namely that they make players paranoid and slow down play while their characters exhaustively search for traps.

Traps are actually fundamentally problematical for a roleplaying game. Traps work in traditional fiction because you can always have your protagonist be just paranoid enough when they need to be, and get on with the story when they don't need to be. And of course you can always control the danger and lethality of a trap in a traditional story so that the protagonist is dramatically threatened but can escape.

It's tempting to try to simulate cool traps in a game. But you don't control the players. So, firstly, they have no idea where and when they need to expect and look for traps, and when they can safely ignore the possibility and just get on with the adventure. Playing safely bogs down the action, while playing more loosely and getting on with the story risks lethal danger.

Secondly, how do you mechanically handle searching for traps? Games have evolved at least three different options:

  1. Players must actively announce a "search for traps". They then get some sort of observation/detection roll against a skill or attribute. If the dice roll succeeds, the GM tells them they found a trap, if it fails, the GM tells them they didn't find anything. This is one of the oldest approaches used in many classic adventures from the 1980s to 2000s. The problems with this approach include: (a) it encourages game-slowing paranoia; (b) if the player gets to roll dice, they know when they failed to detect something; (c) on the other hand if the GM rolls the dice in secret and says they characters don't detect anything, they will remain suspicious that there may be a trap and potentially continue slow play.
  2. Players have a "passive observation" score. The GM secretly applies this to the obviousness of any given trap, and either rolls in secret or simply notes if the score exceeds the trap's detection threshold. On a success, the GM tells the players—unprompted by them—that they notice a trap, or something suspicious. On a failure, the GM simply doesn't tell them anything, and lets them blunder into the trap. Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition uses this approach in many published adventures. The problem with this approach is that it takes away player agency. The GM is simply determining success/failure in detecting the trap and the players have no say whatsoever about it.
  3. The GM describes a location in enough detail that players can look for traps by stating that their characters physically examine specific sub-locations or manipulate specific items. For example, the GM may describe a fireplace, and then the players may need to specify that they examine the flue, the firescreen, the sides of the mantelpiece, or the inside surface of the chimney in order to discover the trap trigger. This is a more organic approach, but: (a) it relies on the players being observant and clever rather than their characters, and (b) it really slows down play.

So how can traps be used in a game in a way that gives the players things to do, without making them paranoid and taking forever to examine every game location, and also utilising the skills of the characters? One radical option is to not have traps at all! Games don't really need traps, especially if the adventure plot is political or simple gung-ho monster fighting. However traps are a genre feature in traditional dungeon exploration adventures.

Another approach is to make traps more or less obvious, and then let the players/characters figure out how to not get caught in them. The GM can simply announce the presence of a trap or a likely trap, and the roleplaying challenge is to work out how to get past/through the trap without suffering the ill effects. This turns the trap into more of a puzzle - a puzzle with dangerous or deadly consequences. So it still feels like a trap, but the players don't need to be paranoid to detect it in the first place, and their characters get plenty of agency to decide what to do about it.

As a simple example, the players are exploring a corridor, when they notice a net hung from the ceiling. It looks rigged to drop on them as they walk beneath it. There's no way around, and it's not clear what the trigger mechanism is. The GM just announces this information, and lets the players decide what to do. They could look for a trigger and try to disable it, they could mechanically prevent the net from dropping, they could use magic to fly down the corridor without touching the floor...

aurilee writes:

Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)

The Moon Ghost is totally superstition; we already know that's Old Man Gunray. Of course, it would be in Nute's interest to continue perpetuating the lie so that he could continue spreading without interruption. It would take a highly coordinated effort to oust him at this point I think.

And that is quite a devious trap by the GM! Contact poison, intelligent weapon taking over, ethereal guardian of some kind; there's lots of traps that could be set up to trigger off only touch without being found before then. Maybe this is going to be the source of those conflicting emotions? It's probably not actually a dangerous trap as I don't see any reason for something to happen in movie, but this is definitely keeping the tension up!

That laser sword looks kind of familiar. One of my childhood friends back in the 90s/00s had some extendable/collapsible plastic lightsabers, but I don't remember which colors they had. Based on all of the other callbacks so far, I'm going to guess this lightsaber is either Darth Vader's or one of Luke's. It looks like the same grip here and since red has always been reserved for the evil side, I think it's going to be Luke's first one. Even if it would be highly improbable for it to have been retrieved from Cloud City or the depths of Bespin.

Keybounce writes:

Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)

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Transcript

Episode 2025: Commune: Itty Chest

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Episode 2025: Commune: Itty Chest

One method of delivering campaign-spanning surprises in a game is to keep some major aspect of the setting secret from the players when the game begins, and have them discover it during play.

Some examples (N.B. there are certain games and works of fiction that could be mentioned as examples of some of the below, but doing so would be spoileriffic for those who haven't read/seen/played them, so we won't mention any by name - those of you who know them already know!):

  • A modern day setting. Without further details, players would likely assume there are no supernatural elements. It can then be a surprise or shock when they discover active magic, spirits, and so on.
  • A low technology setting, which the players may assume is historical or pseudo-historical. But then it is later revealed to be the leftover remnants of an advanced civilisation after some sort of apocalyptic war or other event.
  • A low technology setting, which the inhabitants discover during play is actually the interior of a giant colony starship, after something went wrong and previous generations lost that knowledge.
  • Any setting which the protagonists discover to be a computer simulation.
  • A setting which is ostensibly some specific historical time period, but which turns out to be a recreation of that period in the present or future.
  • A world which is assumed to be an alien planet, which then turns out to be Earth.
  • Somewhere which seems like a normal place, until the inhabitants discover it is a giant prison from which they cannot (easily) escape.
  • Somewhat similar, a place that seems normal, but is actually a giant "movie set", built to provide a setting for external viewers to be entertained by the activities of the inhabitants.
  • Somewhere that seems normal, but is actually a dreamworld or psychological illusion happening in someone's imagination.
  • A fantasy world with magic and monsters, which turns out to be a technological construct, with the magic simulated by technology.
  • Any of the above, with robots.

Keybounce writes:

Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)

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aurilee writes:

Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)

Definitely an odd place to store a laser sword; what if the power supply leaks or explodes! Lithium batteries are already extremely dangerous when they fail, and we actually use those. Lightsabers would need to have a much stronger power supply to work, are already shown to cut through just about anything, and that's when everything is working properly! Maybe the real reason lightsabers are so rare to find is that they level the building they're inside when the power supply fails catastrophically.

Hmmm, do Force ghosts count as undead? The people we've seen as Force ghosts all died at some point before then, so that'd likely be a yes. Or in-comic, how about brain uploading? Sure, there's no organic body or even a shape of the person they were, but I think that could count in a high tech setting if the brain was uploaded after death. Neither seem likely to take the shape of a chest though. However! We do know that mechanical beings are a thing in Star Wars. No reason there can't be a robot with an outer shell made of wood! Droids famously don't show up as life signs after all...

Transcript

Episode 2024: One Giant Leap for Game Time

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Episode 2024: One Giant Leap for Game Time

If players are being a bit obtuse, resist the temptation to teach their characters a lesson within the game, because it'll almost inevitably backfire. Sometimes—such as here in this comic—it won't matter too much in the big scheme of things.

But the game should be a game - fun for everyone involved, first and foremost. If a player's playing style isn't quite a match for the rest of the group's expectations, handle it with a frank but sympathetic discussion away from the gaming table.

aurilee writes:

Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)

Aha, it was a proximity sensor that opened the door up, so these are probably more like curtains to keep random passersby from looking in. Not a great design for living quarters under a bar. Could be pretty cheap though, especially with the noise over head. Hmmm; having said that, I've also been assuming that Kanata lives here rather than just using this place as a store room for some of his stuff. Not sure if that'd solve more questions that it'd raise, but I should keep assumptions like that in mind all the same.

And here the GM really stepped in it. I could see a few different ways the GM could rescue this part of the scene. The first is to take one roll for each sense and go with only those sense rolls for this scene to just get on with it à la snake swinging. The second and more dramatic option is to go through a few of Pete's trap checks before inquiring how much time Rey's willing to spend on trap searching. Then proceed to throw a few other aliens into the mix that BB-8 will either need to deal with (to make this not all about Rey) or have Rey risk getting interrupted and set off these probably nonexistent traps.

Keybounce writes:

Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)

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Transcript

Episode 2023: Spotless Check

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Episode 2023: Spotless Check

When players are in full-on paranoid mode, it doesn't make much difference what the GM's responses are, because anything the GM says will be interpreted in the most suspicious way possible.

Seriously, the real way to deal with this is to set expectations before the game, so that the players don't get into this sort of paranoid mode to begin with. Old School gamers of the 1970s and 80s often played in this fashion because many of the adventures published then contained merciless deathtraps and myriad other things that could kill them unexpectedly if they weren't paranoid about everything they encountered. While this can have some appeal for players of the appropriate mindset, it can get tiresome.

Fortunately since those days the types of adventures and games have proliferated and now most adventures strive to have interesting plots that don't rely on the shock value of deathtraps. So the players can relax a bit more and assume their characters won't be unexpectedly killed just because they failed to check a ceiling. For many people, this is a more enjoyable mode of play.

The GM should be aware of what style of play is expected, and respect that - not springing these sorts of unexpected traps on PCs without some sort of reasonable foreshadowing or warning.

Keybounce writes:

Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)

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aurilee writes:

Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)

Dust cleaning is much easier than rust cleaning, Pete. And with decent ventilation, dust shouldn't build up bad enough that a roomba or some other cleaning robot couldn't take care of on its own. This also isn't Tatooine where sand is likely to get everywhere; it's a really wet planet, probably with humidity to match. Really, it's a testament to the cleaning crews that it's only somewhat rusty and still works well enough to open on its own.

I do think the GM phrased things badly here. Saying something like, "There are no traps. Also, the door opens in response to your investigations. Nothing else continues happening." would be at least a way of explaining there's no point in holding the game up to poke at the door more. As it is, with no authentication needed and neither of the other two doors opening, this is very suspicious.

BB-8 hanging back is kind of odd for the movie though. I suppose it allows for the camera shot like this, but then again, I don't know why this angle would be needed in the movie. I'm pretty sure BB-8 can roll as fast or faster than Rey can run and there's no one else, so why not stick close? Maybe the duo isn't supposed to be down here and BB-8 is being a lookout? That's the only in-movie reason I can think of at the moment, but it also doesn't seem like it'd match up with the previous actions by everyone, especially if there is a laser sword/lightsaber down here.

Transcript