Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Bit Of Diabolical Player Guidance

So there I was, running my world in the middle of a year long campaign when I received from Fate & Destiny a new Player with very lofty plans. He wanted to play what we might fairly call 'the ultimate villain'. Oh my goodness! His concept for Character was so grand, so vast, and so diabolical that I had to sit down, and really think this over. Do I want such a diabolical Character in the otherwise humorous campaign? Will this upset the delicate and entertaining balance we've achieved? The new Player's Character's goal was to eviscerate the humanity he so desperately despises, and then go on to destroy the entire Universe itself by igniting a Cosmic War among Elkron (Celestial Deities) themselves! And his Character had the balls to do it as he wanted to play a version of Satan himself. Gosh. Why are Fate and Destiny so outrageous sometimes?!

Well, well, well. Very interesting. So far as Characters go, I was impressed with the scale of his ambition. He had worked up a rather elaborate, though vaguely defined, master-plan that started quite small, and grew and grew and grew until it ripped the Universe to shreds. Fascinating idea. Though somehow I feel it is something of a risk to my otherwise light-hearted fairytale adventure story campaign, for some reason I like the idea of letting him go for it, with the pre-game caveat that his Character may not have the properties he's assigned to him (immortality, and a vast super-intellect), but might instead simply be insane. Either way, he was game to try it, and I'm game to let him. So there we go.

However, I found that my new Player may possibly have bitten off a bit more than he could chew, though I can't really quite tell yet. My feeling after the first two games was that he may may need a little friendly GM Guidance, so to say, as his plans were not completely solid, and seemed to have certain possible flaws that might derail him through simple logical errors and/or conflicting requirements. First off, though his Character was a diabolical Ultra-Genius who thought in Thousand Year sweeps of catastrophic domino-destruction, he himself seems to be a rather nice guy who would never hurt a fly. No problem with that, of course, but it seems that his lack of inner-villainy may hamper his Character's potential since his Character might think in ways that are far more devious than the Player. Possible. Of course what is impossible is for me to know that for sure. Going on impressions here. As it happens, part of his plan, naturally, is to deceive everyone around himself into believing that he's a very decent Lawful Good-Guy, Altruistic, Friendly and Pure. So short term his Character is on 'Best Behavior', all the while looking for opportunities to implement his diabolical Omega-Plot, one slow, ultra-cautious step at a time. Since I start all Player Characters off at 1st Level he understood and accepted that his Character would not have the benefit of anything remotely resembling super-powers, or super-genius, but would have to grow into that over time if he could. As such, he intends to play him with extraordinary discretion. A slow and meticulous Machiavellian is he. I described the Character this way in a previous post:

"He was an unusual man whose very deep and profound mind thought in spans of hundreds of years at a leap. He was a careful planner, a devious plotter, a slow and methodical plodder, the rare type of man who would serenely sacrifice the present for the future of his incredible designs."

So, when in a recent email my new Player explained a his first "plot" that he wanted to hatch as one of his first steps towards universal cataclysm, I read it over and thought to myself... "hmmmm...?" He planned to free the slaves from the salt mine, and help the rest of the members of the party accomplish their good-guy goals, in a situation where the elites of the local region were plotting and conniving themselves over a valuable new resource (salt) and the discovery of an ancient (and rather darkly powerful) artifact, information to which his Character had become recently privy. Nowhere in his plot did I see so much as a hint of diabolical self-interest. No conniving at all. Why there was nothing diabolical about it in the least. Nothing of the sort. In fact, he planned to give up the artifact to the local Adventure Guild, help the miners escape by exposing the secret mine to the entire community, and in so doing relinquish that one thing above all that Machiavellian Super-Dastards strive for the most - 'knowledge of secrets'. With such knowledge he could ingratiate, he could manipulate, he could blackmail, he could bargain, ...he could do any number of cunning things. And who knows what horrendous powers were locked up in the artifact itself, which faintly glows a dingy light-devouring yellow-gray and causes horrendous nightmares. Hmmm... and so, I realized that my Player (not his Character) may need some Special Gamesmasterly Guidance. Maybe.

However, what I don't want to do is railroad my players, giving them the idea that I have any sort of plan that they're supposed to be following, nor do I want to tell them "No, you can't do that - it's against your character," or anything heavy handed like that. So I needed a way to present to the Player some ideas that may or may not pertain to his character's thought process, without being insulting, or suggesting that he *should* do something other than what he thinks is best for his Character... I really don't mind what his character does, so long as he is actually acting "In Character". In this case I was not so sure. Seemed to me that it might be better for him to consider brown-nosing up to the Magistrates and letting the miners go to hell, so to say. Keep the artifact and hold on the the power. Something like that. How to convey that. Hmmm... hmmm...

Not to worry. And so from my bag of sneaky GM techniques I pulled out ...

A dream.

And this is how the GMing went ... by email:

Ibis fields this concept to his hitherto unmentioned friend.

It is often the case that when Ibis goes to sleep he is visited in his dreams by a little red faced man with a pointy black beard.  He stands about two feet tall, and is usually found in a cave in which there is a fire burning above the lip of a hole in the cave floor. Ibis has made a habit of telling his little friend his ideas, and receiving thoughtful commentary. The only thing the little man has asked for is that whenever Ibis likes an idea that he take a feathered doll from a brass bowl that is standing next to the fire, and toss it in to the fire. They watch it burn together, and the little man usually laughs hysterically, finding great pleasure in this event.

This time the little dream-man has this to say:

"Given the extraordinary opportunity you have to use this information to your sole and discrete advantage (which is to say, to curry favor with the elites in the region *wink wink*), I wonder why you would decide to forgo that in exchange for freeing slaves? After all, they have volunteered their services at, as you say, good pay! While your short term goals are Lawful Good, we both agree (hehe) those actions, I would think,would most likely be in order to impress necessary (important) people that you are not the crafty long-thinking villain you really are. This, it seems to me, may be going a little too far, given how much you would be sacrificing in terms of future advantages. I would imagine you would rather derive a completely different plan based on the principal of "secret and exclusive knowledge that can be exploited for personal gain is a good thing for you". In particular, I would think that you would very much prefer to keep his knowledge regarding the nature of the artifacts to yourself in the hopes that such information may prove useful to you at some time in the future. In fact, my guess is that you would prefer to obtain the artifact yourself, and find others of its kind, thereby advancing your personal secret knowledge and power. Such power could come in quite handy given your long term, and I might say, rather fantastic goals."

With this the little man leaps into the hole and Ibis awakens with a start.

And so, fellow Gamesmasters, just a tidbit of technique to encourage you all along your way toward more Literary Quality RPG Story Telling. I do hope you find this useful sometime!

Best wishes, and Game On.

Post-Script: As it turns out, my Player wrote back and said his Character was going to "think about his plans some more", and then came back in a few days with a detailed description as to why his Character would do what he had in mind first of all... and it made a heck of a lot of sense. Yet he said that my sending him the dream caused him to sit down and seriously think over what he was planning and why, and how he wanted to execute that plan, and question it's viability in more detail - all of which he said was tremendously useful. So there you have it. Game well played. :)
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