Episode 75: Teaching Woodlice to Sing

This month, Mike and Roger consider characters cleverer than they are, fail to assume they’re sitting round a table, and consider the narrative implications of The Law.

We mentioned:

Ironclaw/Jadeclaw at the Bundle of Holding, Paranoia, Torg, Whartson Hall Aethernauts, Savage Worlds, Genesys, Roll20, Tabletop Simulator, Everway, Leicester conventions, The March North, GURPS Cops, SLA Industries, Falling Down, Gotham, Blades in the Dark, Judge Dredd, Judge Dee, Ars Magica, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce and Dexter.

Here’s our tip jar.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com.

In discussing the possibility of PCs being the Law, you mentioned GURPS Cops, but not GURPS Mysteries, which was an oversight, I think. Mysteries contains excellent material on the natures, requirements, and differences among four types of mystery story calling for different types of investigators:

  • The police procedural calls for cops
  • The cozy calls for eccentric geniuses
  • The thriller calls for specialists
  • The hard-boiled calls for private eyes

GURPS Mysteries explains why (p.11), and understanding this is very helpful to a GM in planning a mystery adventure that will suit an existing party of PCs or a party of PCs suitable for a particular sort of campaign.

The rules are guidelines of course. But if you know what they are and why they work you can then figure out how to bend them. Because I know what specifically makes cops usually unsuitable for thrillers and hard-boileds I can (and have) set up a campaign in which the adventures can be hard-boileds and thrillers in disguise as police procedurals. That in turn let me escape the problems that usually make it difficult to have the same characters figure in serial thrillers or serial hard-boileds.

Re your comments about Whartson Hall and Savage Worlds, Roger, we played a lot of it at conventions and around a table but not online. In large part that was due to the card-based initiative and other fiddly bits, which at best are an extra complication when not sitting together. Plenty of people do use it online, but for me there are other games able to do just as good a job while still being better suited to the video link environment.

@Agemegos - I think we didn’t go there mostly because GURPS Mysteries is already near the top of my GMing toolkit and I sometimes feel I talk about it too much. But yes, it’s certainly relevant.

@BigJackBrass - thanks, I’d clearly misunderstood. But I do still think that playing it with all players remote from each other would be Hard Work.

Absolutely. Savage Worlds is interesting in that it’s hard to play satisfactorily online but might actually be even harder if everyone is sitting around the room in comfy chairs. A table is practically required.

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Totally agree that SW is difficult online unless you use a map in Roll20. Also difficult lounging around on chairs. So best around a real table, but possible on a VTT

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When creating Champions characters I once observed that the active point cap for the game had reached 80 and I proposed a character with 80 active points in intelligence. I proposed that to model the character I would be given five bullet points as an outline of the adventure and could two times in session say “ah I planned for this.”

The GM was not up for it. I think that second part was just proposing Leveage early.

I had a similar but not quite identical list in Transhuman Mysteries: the classic mystery, the hardboiled/pulp/noir mystery, the police procedural, the cozy, and the young detectives story (classic, like Nancy Drew, or modern, like Veronica Mars). Phil Masters did quite a well thought out take on the last in one of his sets of characters for THS.

The thing about planning points (and I wrote a version of this for GURPS) is that the simpler it gets the less fun it is. At the very least, I think, you need to narrate just what’s going on - not just “I get out of this bind” but, say, “that group of cops is actually more thieves who are on our payroll because we intercepted the call”.

The other side of this is that you need to put the preparation in. In a film this is the scene where people are, say, talking their way into a room and opening an electronics cabinet; you don’t know at the time what it signifies but when they say later “we intercepted the call” you can flash back to that scene.

(And of course the Thing I Always Say is that there are some players who enjoy planning, and they aren’t necessarily wrong!)

My players in Fixers didn’t much enjoy planning; for one thing, it took them right out of character. But what they really detested, to the point of being ready to call the campaign off, was playing out the perfect working out of a plan.

I agree narration is an important component. I think part of the issue was discussing player narration of that sort with a champions group in 1998 vs now. The other challenge was just how champions used active points for pools.

We discussed the mode of a transform power but couldn’t ever come up with a target like body would be.

I think part of the issue was comfort with an effect in game that always works but has limited availability vs an effect in game that can be used many times but always has a chance of failure.

Same game you mentioned in the Fermat, Huygens-Fresnel thread, presumably?

There is a GUMSHOE game called TimeWatch, about protecting history from meddling time-travellers. The game has an integral mechanic that allows PCs to use time travel to solve problems, much like the heist movie-style “We planned for this contingency in advance” flashback scenes, but with, y’know, travelling in time, instead of having thought ahead at some point in the past. If PCs get traumatized during a game, they can even nip off for a quick four-week vacation of competetive eating on a SAN-restoring cruise ship, and return to the action mere seconds after they left.

That is indeed the case. I had one player who loved the planning part, but the others wanted the thrill of risk.

A thing I’ve heard suggested is to have the planning and genuinely overcome foreseeable obstacles thereby, but to have unforeseeable obstacles and thus opportunities for cleverness too. Not sure how well I’ve managed this.

Behind the furry-ness of Ironclaw is a nifty pseudo-European (or Asian in the case of Jadeclaw) setting. For those used to fantasy games in a pseudo-historical European (or Asian) fantasy game, there may not be much here for you, but I found it interesting and easily transported to other systems with or with the animal-people.

Thanks! I’m not sure I know a group I’d run it with… but at the very least that means I can pinch ideas from it. :slight_smile:

I have had the Sanguine edition of Usagi Yojimbo on my shelf. I loved the comics and must get that book out and absorb the rules

In short: Roll20 is as granular as you wish and allows all you said you wanted.
We have used Skype/Discord/Go-to meeting with Roll20.

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Trying it out is still on my list… some day…

(Though as I said I’d like to try tabletop simulator some time.)