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Doc Democracy

Handling complications

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I notice a query from Zarthose to Steve that I think will come over here.  Might be worth getting a head start on the issue but I thought I would broaden it out.

 

How do you handle PC complications?  Hunteds and other things have a chance of turning up.  I frontload all of this.  When I create a scenario, my first action is to roll for all of the complications of the characters likely to play.  I then try to weave those things into the scenario from the ground up - I dont want things bolted on or causing a distraction from the main action.  It also makes it easier to build in the disadvantages related to powers not working in certain circumstances.  If a hero has "only in Hero ID" on his powers then I will, every now and again be building scenes where this is going to become an issue.  Where DNPCs feature, it is easier to involve them when the scenario is created with the explicit knowledge they will be involved.

 

So.  My system is to roll the dice for all complications (sometimes simply based on the fact that a complication or disadvantage should impair 1/4 of the time or more).  Once I have all those details I can begin to weave a story around them (sometimes the way the complications fall down, the implied story is better than the one I was thinking of!!).

 

How do other people manage it?


Doc

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I do the same as to rolling for complications at the start of designing the scenario.  A few times, the complications that came up were such that I changed the planned scenario.  This is especially true if a "critical success" (3) is rolled for a given complication.

 

I have an Access database that I use for automating the game speedsheet creation, so I added a table listing the PC complications, and some code to roll all of them and report which ones come up (including the actual roll made for each complication). 

 

FWIW, I also roll the complications for the villains who will be featured in the adventure, and try to work them in.  If the villain's Hunteds include PRIMUS or UNTIL and are successfully rolled, the PCs are likely to get some useful info from that organization.

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In my experience, the process goes something like this: 

Two weeks before session 1: Tell the players that hey, we're shifting GMs for a bit and it was a major story arc we just finished, switch PCs if you want but get me the sheet by [one week before session 1]. 

One week before session 1: I have one PC's sheet.  Ask the players for their sheets ASAP.  Plan anyways, hope to get sheets soon. 

Week leading up to session 1: Complete silence from the players. 

Session 1: All but one player sends me their sheet day-of, generally no more than two hours before game starts.  Plans are already finalized.  Half the PCs have obvious issues that require immediate attention to fix, so there's no time to work the game around the PCs.  The last player seems utterly determined to not hand over their character sheet, for reasons beyond anyone's knowledge. 

After session 1: Too angry at players refusing to provide sheets to give a flying fornication about working them in. 

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    With all great respect for Doc Democracy I handled this in the exact opposite way.  He rolled everything up just the way it says to in the book.  ((ALL HAIL THE BIG BLUE BOOK!!!!))  I just kept a mental tally using 8 or less, 11 or less etc. as a guide for how often these things should show up. That way I could build episodes in a more natural way.

 A Hero’s 14 or less hunted hadn’t shown up in a while....well let’s do a three or four part story with them as the prime villains. Then you might not see them for another six months of real time.
Doing it this way let me spend more time on the storytelling side. It all depends on the GM’ing style your comfortable with.

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1 hour ago, Tjack said:

    With all great respect for Doc Democracy

 

Quite so! Harrumph!  😄

 

1 hour ago, Tjack said:

 He rolled everything up just the way it says to in the book.  ((ALL HAIL THE BIG BLUE BOOK!!!!))  I just kept a mental tally using 8 or less, 11 or less etc. as a guide for how often these things should show up. That way I could build episodes in a more natural way.

 A Hero’s 14 or less hunted hadn’t shown up in a while....well let’s do a three or four part story with them as the prime villains. Then you might not see them for another six months of real time.
Doing it this way let me spend more time on the storytelling side. It all depends on the GM’ing style your comfortable with.

 

Well.  I tend to plan my sessions in advance and, by memory, the book talked about rolling up ahead of the session.  I have the next four sessions - each one with complications rolled for.  I might admit to a little cheating, if a DNPC or Hunted has not shown up in a LONG time, throwing them in.  I sometimes swap things out.  I might have a hunted appear that really does not suit the adventure planned but someone else does, in this case I would use the suitable hunted but kit him out such that it really impacts the player whose hunted should have shown up ("But Sergeant Disaster NEVER used to use a flame-thrower - Paper Guy is in real trouble this time!!)

 

As you say, narrative need often over-rules book-keeping.

 

Doc

 

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1 hour ago, Tjack said:

 He rolled everything up just the way it says to in the book. 

 

I was so busy being smart I forgot a point I meant to make.

 

The book explicitly mentions rolling for hunteds and DNPCs.  It does not make mention of vulnerabilities or that crazy rider you allowed on Captain Swiss Army that limits his flexibility.  You do all that on the fly too??  I assign them dice numbers and throw it all into the mix....

 

Doc

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I do prefer things to flow more naturally from the game, but decent complications will flow into the game pretty naturally.  Of course, if our heroes are on a Space Opera extended scenario, it's pretty tough for frail old Aunt Nellie to show up.  But she could be struggling to pay the mortgage while Our Hero can't be reached, and when he gets back, she's one step away from foreclosure.  That Complication has not shown up for quite a while, relative to its frequency?  It will likely be more significant when it does rear its head.

 

I'm also leery of Hunteds, DNPCs, etc. on more than 8-.  They need to be super-engaging to show up more than half of the time, especially if you're dealing with 4 or 5 players.  Imagine if even the Joker featured in 50% of stories where Batman appeared.  Even 8- is a lot, really.  14- becomes like some of those Supers cartoons where virtually every episode involves this villain or group of villains on the other side.

 

Mind you, that depends on whether you view that as "11- every time we game for three hours" or "11- that they will at least put in an appearance or be seen off-screen at some point in time over this multi-session arc".  It's more an art than a science.

 

If I got frequency on vulnerabilities or limitations right, they'll show up with appropriate frequency.  If not, maybe swapping out Frost King for Lightning Lord every now and then, or just equipping VIPER agents with experimental "new SFX" weaponry can do the trick.  You told me electricity was very common - that means you are either a human lightning rod, or a lot of villains use electrical devices, have electrical powers, hit you with downed power lines or knock you back into electric fences and generators.

 

I do like 6e lowering the number of complications so we can limit them to central character concept issues.  When everyone does not need a couple of Hunteds just to make the character sheet balance, it's easier for those that remain to be more central to the game.

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Hugh has a good point about things happening off-screen.  A complication successfully rolled pre-game doesn't necessarily mean it features in the main plot (at least in my game).  It could be a mention in the news (I create a one-page news sheet each game session which often recaps or finalizes the prior session, has an article or two related to that night's adventure, and often has an article that either foreshadows upcoming events or is filler). 

 

If a successfully rolled complication just doesn't fit in with the current night's adventure, I've held onto them until the next adventure.  And if the vagaries of the dice (or the random number generator, in my case) mean that a low 8- complication nonetheless rolls successfully several times in a row, I've opted to ignore it after the first appearance or two. 

 

One thing to clarify:  I roll for hunteds, DNPCs, and Secret ID.  (I suppose if a PC had another kind of Social Complication, I'd probably roll for that as well, but that hasn't been an issue yet.)  I don't roll or typically modify things to cover Vulnerabilities or Susceptibilities or limitations on players' powers.  If a player is vulnerable or susceptible to Sonics (uncommon) and is also hunted by the Sonic Six, well, sonics may be slightly more frequent than normal for him to deal with.  Them's the breaks.  Of course, if he made his hunted 11-, then Sonics may actually be Common for him rather than uncommon.

 

Everything I've said on rolling complications is with the caveat that if the players seek out a hunted or directly involve a DNPC in things, well, that's their doing and things will then show up even if they weren't successfully rolled for.  If Shadow Boxer is hunted 8- by DEMON, and says he's trying to locate the Demonhame in Salem, MA, well, then DEMON is going to put in an appearance regardless of the roll. 

 

 

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11 hours ago, BoloOfEarth said:

I do the same as to rolling for complications at the start of designing the scenario.  A few times, the complications that came up were such that I changed the planned scenario.  This is especially true if a "critical success" (3) is rolled for a given complication.

 

I wanted to expand on this, because it has drastically affected planned adventures, in ways that I think made for better games.

 

One example of this was a heroine's DNPC mother having a critical success roll to show up, along with the heroine's hunted (a villain who gained his powers in the same event that gave the heroine her powers).  The plot involved that villain (Wraith, with radiation-like powers) crossing paths with another villain (Pigeon, with a minor illness-causing field around her) and unintentionally altering Pigeon's power to create a major virus.  So you can guess who became Patient Zero -- that's right, dear ol' Mom, who was being threatened by Wraith to draw out the heroine when Pigeon showed up.  Mom being Patient Zero made things very poignant and personal for the heroine.

 

Another example was the heroes facing off against a villain team whose membership included a robot who was hunted by Mechanon (to recruit, not kill).  And when I rolled that robot's Hunted, he had either a crit (3) or a near-crit (4) - I can't remember which.  It seemed reasonable that, if the heroes could figure out where the villains were going to strike next, so could Mechanon.  So midway through the fight between the heroes and villains, Mechanon dropped in.  He first trashed the UNTIL agents the heroes had gotten as backup before heading inside.  What followed was a mad scramble for everybody (heroes and villains alike) to vacate the premises - with heroes grabbing all the innocents - before Mechanon could start attacking them.  Completely changed the direction of the plot. 

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Honestly?  Generally our group hasn't paid too much attention to them.

 

Hunteds have the problem that nobody else cares about your hero's chosen villain.  The other players don't care and the GM doesn't care.  Nobody wants to have the game interrupted while we deal with your Hunted.  Chances are you didn't create a villain as cool as the Joker or Brainiac.  We don't want to sit through the bi-weekly stomping of Taserface again.  And players quickly figure out that they're gonna fight somebody every session anyway, so they might as well get points for it.

 

Psych Lims just end up describing the character that you wanted to play anyway.  Psych Lim: Doesn't take crap from anybody.  Psych Lim: Smartass.  Psych Lim:  Thinks he's the smartest/toughest/coolest guy in the room.  But you were gonna act like that anyway.

 

Players don't tend to take things like Vulnerabilities, or other things that can affect them in combat.  They end up taking things that kinda help define the character, as long as it doesn't cause them too many problems.  It's not just one or two players who do this either, it's everybody.  So we just end up kinda ignoring them.

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Typically, my players don't create a Hunted themselves.  If they decide to be Hunted by a character or group that doesn't already exist in the campaign world, they usually give me a name and/or reason for the hunted.  ("I'm hunted by Diamond Kitty - she's a cat burglar I caught shortly after becoming a hero."  "I'm hunted by some guy who also got powers in the same accident where I got my powers.")  If it's an individual, I usually do a writeup that would work as a good foil for the huntee, and then fold that person into a villain team so there's something for everybody when that hunted shows up.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

 

 

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10 hours ago, Doc Democracy said:

 

I was so busy being smart I forgot a point I meant to make.

 

The book explicitly mentions rolling for hunteds and DNPCs.  It does not make mention of vulnerabilities or that crazy rider you allowed on Captain Swiss Army that limits his flexibility.  You do all that on the fly too??  I assign them dice numbers and throw it all into the mix....

 

Doc

   
   Well first of all let me state for the record that my GM’ing days are far behind me back when my brain still worked. (a small stroke blew my concentration all to hell.)  But in the good old days I just plotted episodes more like I thought a comics writer did. 
   “Sooooo, we haven’t seen the Joker in a while, what’s he gonna do to Batman this month?”  If Joker knows that Bats won’t even pick up a gun and to take away his utility belt, then that can become part of the scheme. Or not. Some other villains never seem to figure that stuff out.   That way vulnerabilities and weaknesses just become part of the natural flow of the story. 
   This is just the way I figured things out.  If go to the left and you go to the right we both still end up at the same place.  Happy players who enjoyed their night. 

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This was a question of how I manage complications (as a GM):
 

I run complications naturally, not forcing them. Having long, long since left DnD, I'll say I have disliked killer DMs or DMs who are out to mess with the players for anything they might do. I do not hold to the idea or concept that complications or limitations on powers means (paraphrased) 'I want the GM to get me for this'.
 

Complications are often used by the players themselves in the campaign I'm in, of which I am one of four GMs. As such, I don't need to concern myself with them. Hunteds are rare nowadays but vulnerabilities that make sense are still part of new characters. If someone picks a hunted, it is almost always one that already exists.  If a hunted does show up, often it's behind the scene and might be the reason behind a particular episode. Psych Limitations flow easily and are part of the character, not feeling forced or necessary to use them. For fun or to make things interesting, I may pick a Complication or limitation on a power and make a point of it during an episode but I don't jam it down a character's throat. I use Unluck or Hunteds more a tool, not a roll. Of course, with Unluck, sometimes I don't ever have to use it - the players can have some pretty bad streaks of missing a villain and there's no need to add to it.

Nowadays, I always write up my episodes in advance and it's worked well.

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On 6/18/2020 at 12:45 PM, massey said:

Honestly?  Generally our group hasn't paid too much attention to them.

 

Hunteds have the problem that nobody else cares about your hero's chosen villain.  The other players don't care and the GM doesn't care.  Nobody wants to have the game interrupted while we deal with your Hunted.  Chances are you didn't create a villain as cool as the Joker or Brainiac.  We don't want to sit through the bi-weekly stomping of Taserface again.  And players quickly figure out that they're gonna fight somebody every session anyway, so they might as well get points for it.

 

Psych Lims just end up describing the character that you wanted to play anyway.  Psych Lim: Doesn't take crap from anybody.  Psych Lim: Smartass.  Psych Lim:  Thinks he's the smartest/toughest/coolest guy in the room.  But you were gonna act like that anyway.

 

Players don't tend to take things like Vulnerabilities, or other things that can affect them in combat.  They end up taking things that kinda help define the character, as long as it doesn't cause them too many problems.  It's not just one or two players who do this either, it's everybody.  So we just end up kinda ignoring them.

 

I find Psych Lims are free points if the player is a decent role player already, not so much if he is one of those "best tactics and personality be damned" players.  When the Overconfident PC takes Firewing out of the equation with the Incantation:

 

"Come on, FlameFace - you and me, one on one!  Or are you CHICKEN?"

 

Then, when Firewing targets him on Phase 12 (yes, he made it to Phase 12), asks if he can roll an Ego Roll to Abort to Dodge in the hopes of getting a PS12 recovery?  Wow - that is a gaming moment remembered 25 years later.

 

Would the player have played it out that way anyway?  Probably - that was the character.  Would I have made him roll an Ego Roll to dodge?  Unlikely at best.

 

Same character:

 

GM:  What's your DCV?

 

Player:  4

 

Other Player:  4??  How can you have a DCV of 4?  What's your DEX?

 

Player:  23.  My DCV could be 8.  But this nobody can't be a real threat or I would have heard of him, so why put any effort into dodging?  DCV 4.

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