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Started a Dark Heresy Campagin as GM last week and could do with some advice


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#1 Bearer of Words

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 02:02 AM

Hi,

I've kicked off my Dark Heresy campaign with Edge of Darkness and, while the first session was a lot of fun, my players had quite a few issues that they'd like me to address. I wondered whether some of the more experienced GMs could give me some tips with the following questions/problems:

  • They hated the pre-written dialogue and want me to ad-lib and re-write scripted sections. As a first-time GM, can you give me pointers on how to write my own dialogue to fit with the gritty cyberpunk setting while bringing in the imperial faith?
  • One player, who is used to World of Darkness, really dislikes the percentile system as his first roll was coming off Charm as a Basic Skill he didn't possess when attempting to pass himself off as a vagrant looking for free accommodation in the Corscala Hostel. I played Draylok as a strung out addict whose curiosity was piqued when four strangers turned up alone on the same afternoon and behaved suspiciously. The players didn't like it that he 'gave them lip', but I kept offering them the opportunity to take a closer look as something seemed to be wrong with him, which they all refused to take. They didn't like to that he made reference to the others as though they knew one another, fishing for information that he could sell on to Luntz. When the fourth player failed his charm roll, Draylok told him that if he wanted charity he could head to the Alms House or ask his friends upstairs. The player went up and told them, leading to the ganger member of the group coming down to beat him and demand he show more respect in future. I was perfectly happy with this outcome as it sets up the 'Room Service at the Corscala Hostel' by giving Draylok a personal as well as financial motive. However, the player who failed the charm roll felt that their entrance had become farcical. Speaking to him afterwards, it appears to be partially due to the relatively low chance of the Acolytes pulling anything off at this level. How would you manage this sort of expectation with such a harsh setting? Should I modify success and failure so as to give something positive and negative each time?
  • They managed to find Lili Arbest and find Evard Zed by nightfall. They plan to head to the Workers' Union in the next session, which will mean crossing the sector in the dark. As I'm aiming for a slow-build of the horror elements, I was planning on setting up a bodysnatcher attack some distance away (on Lili Arbest) and have the night air disturbed by a scream that is abruptly cut off. If they managed to locate the area, I would allow them to find signs of multiple footprints from a scuffle and some blood, which they could take a sample from. By the time they get to the Workers' Union I want them to find Draylok with Luntz, who will warn them off beating up his customers and, if they agree, send Draylok packing and invite them to join him for a drink. I'd like to use this as an opportunity for the player who has a high fellowship and was a Commissar before he became a Sanctioned Imperial Psyker, to build a rapport with the gangers. Do you think that this is a good way of balancing opportunities and risks? The Arbitrator character has taken lead thus far, so I'd like to allow them to make use of non-investigative skills in order to bring in the other three players to the fore.

If the above sounds as though the game went badly, that's not my overall impression. They said they loved the setting, the world and the story. Having helped guide them towards a more investigative party, I've also made sure that the players are well-suited to this sort of game; they got on well in person and the group was highly efficient. I used dark ambient music and illuminated the table with candles while there was still some light outside. I'd just like to make sure that the player who wasn't as happy has a chance to get into his character (which currently only has Tech Use as a Basic Skill and has Inspiring Aura as his only psychic power).

Thanks in advance to anyone who can offer me some advice.

 

Bearer of Words



#2 IdOfEntity

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 08:44 AM

I'll address the first query.  Dialogue and accents are difficult, and it is very obvious when someone is doling out a line of prepared dialogue.  You'll rarely stutter, never search for a word, and if you're reading you won't be making eye contact.  It comes across as a speech, and doesn't really allow for responses to questions.  Here is what I do, and it might help you.  (Index cards help)

Improv with keywords. 

1) I write down all of the names of the NPC's that are planned, and then I make up 10 names as reserves.  The reserves are for whenever you need to grab a random NPC because your group has stepped out of the bounds of the story.  It happens a lot.

2) Each gets 3 adjectives to describe them.  Bookish, Surly, Paranoid, Petite, Jaundiced, Panicked, Wordy, Brusque, Impoverished…you get the idea.  Try and use a combination to make each character a little different from the other.  Canned adventures will give you a good descriptive idea, so in your case you'd only need it for reserve characters.

3) Assign an accent to each.  This is the hardest part for me.  I have quite a few accents practiced, and variations on them.  When I drive to work I practice them and work on step 4.  Build a bit of a repertoire.  I name them in a way that I'll remember.  For instance, The Winston, Professor Broom, Burly McHurt (Ogryn), Cool Hand Luke, and Ripley are common accents I use. 

4) Favorite phrases.  You only need 1-3 for each.  For instance, "…Right boys?", "Back in the guard…", "Fools abounds"  You toss these out a couple of times in a session, but not constantly.

I'll use an example a lot of people know.  Vizzini from the Princess Bride.

Vizzini - Male
Arrogant, Brainy, Shrewd
Accent: Nasal Know-it-all
"Inconceivable!"

Everyone who has seen The Princess Bride remembers this character.  The whole point is to look at these keywords, have an accent ready, and start spouting words.  Don't worry if you have to pause to think of a word, or if you stammer.  Real people do those things.

Abner Velinos - Male
Bookish, Thrill-Seeking, Naive
Accent: Professor Broom
"Most Bracing!"  "I'm certain that's not how you _____"

Murphy - Male (Ogryn)
Space Phobic, Devoted, Whiny
Accent: Burly McHurt
"But Saaarge…." (whining),  "Want me ta smash him?"
 

As long as you know the terminology for the setting (Potentia Coils, etc) you'll be fine. Hope it helps.



#3 Bearer of Words

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 11:04 AM

Thanks IdOfEntity, that's really useful. I had been thinking about just writing down key bullet points of information connected to a character to make conversation more fluid and your tips for characteristic notes will help my improvisation.



#4 Darth Smeg

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 07:41 PM

I don't like the long written texts in prewritten adventures either, but even though it says you may paraphrase, I never do :(

But I think the better way to do it is just to note down the important information from these paragraphs, in bullet points if you like, and then just tell your players what they need to know. Embelish and ad-lib to taste, but then at least it will be in your own voice.

The advice for NPCs is also good. I like to base important NPCs on actors, too. It's easy to know how to speak and act "in character" if you remember that Inquisitor Zerbes is basically Hugh Grant burla


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You're not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on

 

My House Rules for using Only War (and more) for Dark Heresy games


#5 BrotherKane

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 02:48 AM

I tend to try and learn the important bits from prewritten sections - such as the key phrases and then try to ad-lib it, allbeit often with a lot of glancing down.  Sometimes too many of the adventures have 'speeches' in that in general aren't very natural so I try to avoid them when I can.



#6 BrotherKane

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 02:51 AM

As for your player that was frustrated by his character's lack of charm remember that you can always add modifiers to his roll.  In this case he was trying to fake something he was not - if he was a hive ganger I would give him +20 for example whereas if he is noble born you should point out that this is not the best tactic for him!

Starting characters have to play to their strengths.  This can certainly be frustrating, but I usually feel that just makes it feel better when you succeed.  So they didn't manage that part but it seems like they got a lot done regardless.



#7 Inquisitor Quidam

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 06:54 AM

On your first point - I personally find it hard to improvise dialogue and accents off the top of my head, but if you can do it with the advise listed it will make your sessions much more memorable. I usually resort to paraphrasing lengthy conversations and important points. E.g. "The tech priest explains in great detail how to control the door from his dataslate, it doesn't make much sense but you get the jist of it.". It's not quite as good but if your players are not happy with pre-written dialogue then it is a quick and easy alternative.

On your second point , they key is to give the players access to plenty of modifiers that they can stack in their favour. E.g. +10 to charm because you offer him a lho stick, +20 because he is drunk, +30 because you roleplayed a really good reason for him to trust you etc. Another thing to consider is to make the tests opposed by an opponent's scrutiny (which will usually be a basic skill for most characters - so probably a test on about 15).

 

Hope that helps



#8 breez

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 07:13 PM

On the second point, I usually allow other players to assist, if they also have charm trained. Then remember to give modifers (is it an easy task to charm the guy) and also remember that the players can use fate points to reroll a failed test.

As your players are just starting, they should have gotten the idea that it is important to develop their fellowship skills.



#9 Bearer of Words

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 10:38 PM

Thanks for all the tips, they've been very helpful. In hindsight, I think that I should perhaps have waived the charcter's roll on Charm and given him a room with a broken lock, which would have allowed him to succeed, but with an additional threat in the next session. We played for around 6 hours, so I'd like to give everyone 200 XP for progressing the plot and then award 20-50 points each for those who have done a good job at roleplaying their character. I'm tempted to give 20 XP to everyone, as there was a lot of good roleplaying around the table and 50 to the Arbiter, who was exceptional. Does this sound about right? I want them to get a sense of achievement without excessive power creep, as this is an investigative horror campaign.



#10 IdOfEntity

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 05:03 AM

The xp awarded sounds fair so long as you're awarding the extra to the Arbitrator because of exceptional roleplay, and not just successful rolls.  It sounds as if you've got a good grasp of what to do going forward, and by your testimony you did a good job so far.  Practice makes passable, right?



#11 Darth Smeg

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 07:33 PM

The distribution of XP is a discussion on it's own, and you'll find many different opinions on how to do it.

Personally I have gone away from individual XP assignment with bonuses and everything, and now just hand the same amount to all the players (absent ot present) based on the "success" of the group as a whole. 

I found that singling out people because of "good roleplay" tended to award the same people consistently (which was demotivational for the others), made people try to hog the spotlight, and didn't really contribute to anyones fun.

Oh, and 200XP for an evenings play is about right :)


Tarald - The Dark Lord of Smeg

You're not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on

 

My House Rules for using Only War (and more) for Dark Heresy games


#12 Bearer of Words

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 08:52 PM

Thanks again for your feedback; it's good to know that I'm on the right track with regards to XP. The Arbitrator drove the plot forward while playing the character brilliantly. Without asking, two of the other players told me outright that he put in the best performance around the table in the first session. I don't think that there will be too much of a problem with a small XP bonus for exceptional roleplaying, especially as the average session will be 6-7 hours long. They're all very good character players, so different situations should allow them each the opportunity to shine.



#13 BrotherKane

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Posted 31 January 2013 - 04:48 AM

I agree with Darth Smeg here.  I always give the same to everyone regardless of effort/attendance.  If someone puts in no effort then I don't want them in my game, rather than rewarding everyone else.  But everyone has off days.  Likewise if someone just doesn't turn up I don't want them in my game, but missing a few session because of RL shouldn't be penalised IMO.

It sounds harsh typed out like that but I think it is fairer to everyone. 

Having said that as long as you keep the extras small I think it will be probably be ok.  When it comes down to it that is only one advance every few times someone gets rewarded.



#14 Bearer of Words

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Posted 05 May 2013 - 10:16 PM

When we finally got round to playing it, the second session was much more successful that the first. Being able to award bonuses for careful preparation and sound tactics empowered the players, allowing them to succeed more often (but not so much that there was no sense of jeopardy). I decided to make Lilly Arbest the body snatcher's victim that night, and the Acolytes were able to find her discarded rucksack. They explored numerous avenues of investigation (including eating some delicious 'meat' soup in the Alms House), before making an appointment to meet the gang boss Chord Luntz. Their ruse was that they worked for another of the big trading houses and were looking to recover stolen biotech that they believed had been brought into the area. With the offer of financial assistance in return for his cooperation, they hired five of Luntz's men to help them set up a trap for the body snatchers. Using a press-ganged patron of the Workers' Union as bait, they watched all avenues of approach to a secluded alleyway and asked him to walk up and down it. Eventually, they spotted the body snatchers and moved in to observe. However, on approaching, their enemies spun round and charged directly at them. This was their first combat and was relatively easy, as they were able to fire upon the body snatchers from distance. The psyker casted Inflict Pain and rolled a nine, resulting in the psychic phenomenon The Earth Protests, which knocked their foes down, but also the rest of the party. Emboldened, he tried again later and rolled another 9, this time making the Arbiter and Scum characters frenzy and each gain a corruption point due to Warp Madness. One of the body snatchers made a dash for freedom and was pursued by the Cleric. To ramp up the menace, I had an armoured transport sent down from the Enforcer Station to pick up the body snatcher and return it to the Alms House. Although they avoided detection when the vehicle came back towards them, this gave a sense of urgency to proceedings and they pressed on to their target. Paying one of Luntz's gangers to unlock the back entrance, they made their way inside and ambushed the lone body snatcher patrolling the ground floor. Using the BioSample Kit given to them by Medicae-Interrogator Sand, they discovered that the failed experimental subjects were being fed to Coscarla's poor. Without a pass key, they struggled to open the door to the first floor until they heard footsteps leading up to it. Hiding downstairs, they saw two teams of two body snatchers make their way down the stairs. Ambushing each in turn, they kill all the body snatchers and approach the now-open door at the top of the stairs, bringing the session to an end.

The Scum player had to drop out of the campaign, so I ran the character as an NPC for the session. Thankfully, I've found a replacement player who is willing to take over the character from the third session (which I'll run this Saturday) on.

For those who have run Edge of Darkness before, how did you play out the end game, when the Churgeon flees? Any suggestions as to how to make the upper floors of the Alms House suitably disturbing and threatening?

As it is unlikely to take seven hours to finish 'Edge of Darkness', I'll prep the first section of the next mission ‘Rejoice for You are True!’ As it follows 'Illumination', but I've been advised not to run it, I'll put together a report from a fictional team who battled The Dancer at the Threshold. I am keeping their Inquisitor at a distance in order to build a sense of mystery. I plan for him to be rather unsettling!






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