“I’ve got 13 points in Breaking Stuff, specialized in ‘The Plot'”

Note, the following meandering bit uses examples from X2, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet (and I’d recommend it to almost anyone who’d be reading this page), do not continue.

On the rpg-related discussion group I’m on, one of the participants posed a little mental teaser:

“Your home base/world/Shadow/Chancel/whatever has been invaded by a highly-competent combatant who has the quality of “Immortal”: only one or two things in the whole of creation can kill them (you don’t have any of them) — and in any other case they recover practically instantaneously. Even imprisonment is a temporary solution. What do you do?”

Many interesting responses followed, most of which were at least mildly entertaining, until someone else posted this:

Chopping your enemy into pieces and burying them in the strongest material you can find strikes me very strongly as trying to erase them from the story. It suggests a mentality that wants to resist change.

Well, it suggests a mentality that wants to definitively ‘win’, that’s for sure. That is to say, it sounds like a gamer’s response.
A common challenge/frustration that I run into when GMing is that players (and by extension, their characters) don’t think or act quite like characters in a story (regardless of the medium the story uses) — the characters in a story act dramatically. PCs act efficiently.
Let me give an example of this, using X2 as an example:
The situation: loved ones are being held by the bad guys for a pending, deadly experiment at a hydroelectric plant (which is being used to power the experiment).
Right about when Mystique says “most of the power from the Dam is being rerouted to this room here, so that’s where they probably are” the story-as-told diverged radically from what would happen in a game.
x In the story as told, the character’s immediately begin to plan how to rescue their friends and escape. That is their primary goal. (Logan has a secondary goal of ‘find out what my history is’, but that’s not germane to this example.)
x In a game, the character’s immediately begin to plan how to destroy the turbines, thus negating the experiment’s threat entirely. Once the time constraint is eliminated, they can effect a rescue at their leisure.
Hell, the characters in the movie were RIGHT THERE where they needed to be to do just that, even though it was an ACCIDENT, and they didn’t do it.
I leaned over at one point in this and whispered to Jackie: “This plot would be so broken by a group of players by now.”
Her response: “Totally.”
It’s one of the reasons that, for example, the Amber Chronicles (or really any other fiction) only work to a certain point as a basis for an RPG: PC’s extropolate from the text and do things that ‘should’ logically work, based on what’s already presented — such extropolation doesn’t usually remain balanced, so things suddenly skew out of balance.
Why doesn’t it affect a ‘real’ story? Because, frankly, the characters are being written by an author who keeps them from doing such annoying experiments. They can force everyone to be Polite to the story and setting.
PC’s aren’t polite. Yes, many fine players pay heed to the elements of the story, but even the best fiction writer will, when playing a game, try to do something because it seems like something that should work if you just push the envelope a bit — something that offends the original creation, so to speak. 🙂
I’ve gotten great stories from some of my games, and I’ve got some great players, but in my experience, if you give players a choice between Rescuing the Kids and Blowing up the Turbines… you’d better put more work into working out the stats for the guards around the Turbines.


  1. Many games/gamers follow the idea that “I win if the bad guy is GONE” and “I lose if the bad guy is in any way still operating”.
    But here’s a thought:
    “You win when the bad guy helps advance your agenda. They can’t do that when they’re dead.”
    There are many in-character reasons to look for a less than final solution to a problem. Political consequence, reputation, personal ideology, whatever.
    Now, it sounds hard to achieve, except I just realized that I’m actually playing in a game where this happened by ACCIDENT. In Cry Havoc, we’ve got at least a dozen NPCs that we interact with on a regular basis that in every instance at LEAST one of the PC’s wanted DEAD DEAD DEAD at some earlier point in the game.
    But they were allowed to continue on their merry way and have invariably proved far more interesting as continuing story elements.
    (That’s not to say it’s not a good thing to have a few dead enemy skulls to use as drinking cups, but at the same time it’s good that they aren’t ALL dead in this case. Really, it’s one of the reasons I think Cry Havoc has been steadily improving and continuing for over a year.)

  2. You’ve touched on a point that escapes many folks who debate Amber DRPG.
    The most efficient solution is rarely the best or the “immortal” perspective. Efficiency tends to eliminate options when acted upon.
    Immortals preserve their options — if they can.

  3. It would also depend highly on what kind of characters are being played.
    Take the DnD game for example. It would almost be an even split. Grim, Ran, Shayla and Gebbit would more than likely be after the turbines while Whisper, Karina and maybe Drame would be interested in rescuing the kids.
    Most of it depends on the character and how the player runs the character.

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