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Downtime Heresy

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#1 Luthor Harkon

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Posted 27 March 2013 - 12:12 AM

Dear colleagues,

I wonder about a certain „problem“ in GMing that I want to illustrate with an example. Overall, it is about “downtime” or better about the time between adventures/scenarios as such.

Coming to the example: My PCs are stranded on a certain Feral World after an epic campaign. Let us call the planet Dusk. So, the PCs are stranded in the middle of a continent-spanning mangrove swamp. Most of them heavily wounded, exhausted, with most equipment damaged and first of all disoriented.

The idea for me as a GM is to somehow get them back to the Tricorn on Scintilla (where they want to get to after all anyway) to report to their Inquisitor.

My question is how do I get them to Scintilla game-wise?

I could either simply state in a few sentences (and minutes of real time) how they cut through the swamp for days/weeks, find a human habitation, find a space-port, travel to Scintilla and reach their Inquisitors office within the Tricorn.

I could also describe every detail more in a dialogue way (like normal “in-scenario game-play”) for a whole session or two, let them make a lot of decisions and dice rolls for survival, tracking, let them fight some of the more aggressive fauna, let them negotiate and probably haggle with the local population for food, overnight stay and transport, find a way to a city and a space port, have problems getting local transport, with customs, the local enforcers, the Administratum at the space port (alone for carrying plasma weapons and strange artefacts with them…) and so on and on.

So, how much detail do you invest in these parts of PC life, where nothing sort of unusual will happen and all is just about transport and surviving the “normal environment” of the Imperium without any cultists or xenos trying to do something bad. Like simply going on or coming from the real locations of a mission?

I am really interested how you guys handle these in-between times of PC life (often travel) in game.

Thanks in advance for your input.

#2 BrotherKane



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Posted 27 March 2013 - 04:09 AM

In general I have tended to cover it using your first suggestion.  Howver were my players to be stranded in the middle of a hypothetical feral world, let's call it Dusk, then I think I might actually play through it as you describe.  There is a world of difference between making your way off a world like Dusk compared to say an Imperial world, even a particularly decrpit and out of the way one, let's call it Sinophia…

#3 Adeptus-B


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Posted 27 March 2013 - 05:46 AM

If the PCs are spending 'down time' in a fairly generic location, I don't sweat the details too much, unless the players make it clear that they have specific activities they want to engage in (research, shopping spree, money-making, etc.).

In a very colorful locale, however, I'd have a hard time not turning the setting into an adventure in its' own right. If I have no idea when they might be returning to Dusk, I'd go all-out: getting lost in the swamps, having run-ins with feral cannibals, random encounters with native beasts, maybe even an unexpected meeting with the Dusk Hag, who offers to give them a glimpse of their future, if they are willing to pay the price…

#4 Cymbel



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Posted 27 March 2013 - 11:46 AM

I would let up to weeks be covered with a few sentences, but ask them how they are getting out and do several mini-sessions instead of 1 big one, covering what is happening during their journey.

#5 Garner



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Posted 27 March 2013 - 06:24 PM

I guess I'd try to do a little of both. I'd start a session informing the players that they're gonna have to make due on Dusk until they find a way off world emphasizing that it could take days or weeks before their transmissions are picked up. After describing the situation I'd run it per normal with a slight change in how things are phrased. Instead of "What do you do?" I'd say "It's day 1. What do you try to accomplish before nightfall?" This way indicating to the players that time will be passing rather quickly. A day might be simply "I scout the immediate area" followed by a check. In this way turning the whole scenario in to a drawn out encounter of hypothetical survival scenarios.

Being that most my encounters don't take up an entire session I would try to have the whole thing resolved half way through the session at the minimum. I think there's a lot of potential here and it'll make for some good back story later in your campaign.

#6 Luthor Harkon

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Posted 28 March 2013 - 02:08 AM

Great input so far, thanks for that.

Actually I also did some middle way approach, though it is often hard to find that way.

I simply fear that one often bogs the players down with these (kind of random) nuisance encounters that serve no grander plan and just happen to be sort of “realistic” in a certain environment. For the Dusk example, “in reality” one could expect an encounter with aggressive fauna about every second day of travel and probably searching for a way to any kind of human habitation for months (especially without survival and tracking skills), let alone problems of food and drink. We now from history books and newspapers what happens to people getting lost in the Amazonas region or somewhere in an unknown snow capped mountain range. Our own planet is hostile enough in parts…

Realism often bogs down play in fact, but on the other hand I do not want to give my players a carte blanche to walk in full carapace, armed with plasma and even xenos weaponry around without any creature, local or Imperial they could potentially meet giving a damn about it. And the latter is what I am doing, if I am too abstract and only say in a few minutes how they get away from the planet without any real problem (i.e. in a very “unrealistic way) even though they carry xenos/heretical artefacts with them more or less openly and are on a planet spanning swamp/jungle with a sparse human population (that one could never find by chance).

Even in the mentioned “fairly generic locations“ / an Imperial world it would be difficult enough to walk around fully armed and armoured without raising suspicion. This raised suspicion again would “in reality” bog down the whole game by leading to encounters with all kind of opposition.

I simply have the impression it is hard to strike a balance between fluid game-play and quasi-realism, even more so, when the players know about this fact and use it too much to their advantage…

#7 Alekzanter



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Posted 29 March 2013 - 05:52 PM

In my most recent campaign, I've put forth positive effort in bringing home the important differences between overt and covert. For the most part, the Auditors (Acolytes) are simple investigators. Many environments in which they find themselves are public, meaning they are more likely to draw suspicious inquiry upon themselves if they go about wearing heavy armour and carrying weapons larger than a sidearm and/or hand weapon. To "fit in", several of the Auditors wear Mesh-Weave, a protective personal armour that can be disguised as "every day" clothing. It has a relatively low AP (3, 4 vs Impact), but this is enough when tramping about the hive following up on leads, infiltrating public arenas, or questioning the average street thug. The autogun and the hunting rifle are usually in the trunk of their car, frequently when they would like to have them more readily available, but those items aren't critically necessary for their success and survival. When it comes to tramping about "off the grid", such as during a tedious audit of a mining interest in the middle of the Tarsine Desert, having those items on their persons becomes a non-issue.

This has kept the tedium of reality from intruding upon a session's relevent material. The Auditors have yet to be stopped by the Magistratum Enforcers of Hive Sibellus because one of their number has been waiting on the tunnel tram platform with a hunting rifle slung over their shoulder. Additionally, each of the Auditors have been issued identification credentials that are easily recognizable by lowly Enforcers as having rank and authority over their own, though without direct influence of their organization. A recent ruckus in an efficiency flat startled the neighbors, who cried out for Enforcer intervention. When the Enforcers arrived one of the Auditors was waiting for them on the front stoop, his credentials in-hand, and delivered a perfectly plausible explanation.

When it comes to "realism" in the aftermath of a significant event, I prefer the method of descritpive narration. Often times, my players are concerned about the minutiae (defined as the small, precise, or trifling details). "What about the Halo transport and its cargo of psycurium that were abandoned in Tasis Port; do we need to fly that back?" I do not make communication with their superiors easy, by any means, but they have means or access enough to "make a few calls" and these little details are easily rounded up by underlings and support staff whose duties are nothing more than these "meaningless" tasks. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, and this is enough in the eyes of the Inquisition.

Probably the best thing to remember is you know more than the Players do about "your" setting. The universe of 40K is a work of 25+ years worth of collaboration, and has been contributed to by many visionary writers, games developers, and authors, and there is little chance the Players will know and/or interpret everything the exact way you will. I might explain to the Players it will take several weeks, perhaps a few months to get back home, and in that time there will be major and minor endeavors they will have to undertake in order to achieve that objective.

  • As the GM, you determine how long it will take them under ideal circumstances to get home. 
  • The first order of business might be the location of food, water, and shelter. PCs with relevant Skills/Talents (Survival, Tracking, Navigation Surface, etc.) may need to make a number of Tests, though success or failure simply sets the tone and pace, rather than trifling them with "Well, you're starving, dehydrated, and suffering from hypothermia. Now what?" Perhaps the Test results simply indicate it takes longer each day to find these necessities, so the PC lose a few kilos and they feel altogether miserable, a few items of sensitive gear are ruined (or have their Quality reduced) due to exposure, and you add a week or two to their journey. Suggested time involved: 2 weeks for average Test results, 1 for remarkable Test results, 3 for poor Test results.
  • Next, they might need to find some semblence of civilization. Even if it's bloodthirsty cannibals, it's better than nothing. Perhaps they have to fight off a hunting group, or they are captured due to their weakend state. PCs with relevant Skills/Talents might act as spokespersons for the group, using Barter, Intimidate, Charm, or other abilities (such as challenging a clan hetman to honorable combat) to arrange an agreement with the savages that sees them guided to the outskirts of a rinky-dink, rattle trap space port. Poor Test result may indicate the PCs are kept in cages until the hetman has deliberated their fates (deciding to eat only one of them), or favorable results mean each of them only loses a pinky finger to the cannibal clan's dietary curiosity (just a nibble of exotic, off-world cuisine). Perhaps the PCs must hunt with their captors and eat captives from a rival clan (or portions of them at the very least). Suggested time involved: if it took 3 weeks to navigate the terrain, locate fairly consistent shelter, and find sufficient food and potable water, then it only takes an additional week before the cannibal encounter ocurrs; if it took 1 or 2 weeks, the cannibal encounter can happen immediately following, but their interaction with the cannibals takes 2 weeks or 1 week, respectively.
  • The PCs are (thankfully) guided to the nearest hub of Imperial transportation. Before entering this backward pit of civilization, you (the GM) warn the PCs regarding the "suspicious nature" of some of their gear and weapons. Xenos items may be confiscated, though the PCs may try to conceal smaller items about their persons and stash larger items in the wilderness for later recovery, and PCs with Deceive, Command, Concealment, and/or Security may need to make some Tests to get through this endeavor with as little hassle as possible. Poor Test results mean their stories and identities are suspect, leading to someone backtracking their tale and finding their stash in the wilderness; some pointed questions are asked, they are detained (though eventually released), but the confiscated goods are permanently lost. Favorable Test results lead to the PCs finding a sympathetic Administratum Adept who will put them up in his cramped apartment (for a modest stipend) until the next tramp freighter arrives in-system. Suggested time involved: 1 week, regardless of Test results.
  • A tramp freighter announces its imminent arrival. The PCs likely cannot afford the going fare, so PCs with appropriate Skills/Talents may need to negotiate with the haughty captain (Interaction Skills, Barter, Peer Talents, Lore Skills, or negotiable Trade Skills are some examples). Just saying they are members of the Inquisition should not be enough; even a fool would say anything to hop any ride away from Dusk. Suggested time involved: 1d5 days of negotiation, with talks possibly breaking down or stalling for a day or two, then resuming toward resolution. Add 1d5+5 weeks for void/warp travel. Poor Test results mean the PCs sleep with the chattle, and have to eat what the animals eat (oats and barley) and must learn to milk the dopey creatures for drink (Wrangling). Favorable Test results mean the PCs sleep in cramped common quarters with the lowly ratings (some of which may try to purloin one or two choice items from the PCs), eat what the crew eats (oats and barley) and have to milk the dopey beasts for their drink…rarely substituted with grog.
  • Total time involved: 9-14 weeks in-game time, most of a gaming session.
  • The PCs have opportunity to be exposed to Skills/Talents not normally available, and might choose to spend XP on these Elite Advances with the GM's approval. Alternatively, you could put together an Elite Advance Package (much like that presented at the end of the Haarlock Legacy Trilogy) and offer it to the Players as a substitute for XP…The PCs have spent long weeks trekking through the wilds of Dusk, pitting themselves against the unforgiving climate and terrain and brushing close to an ignominous death within the bellies of cannibals. The PCs receive their choice of either 400 XP, or the package of 2 Insanity Points (survival in an unfamiliar and deadly environment takes a heavy toll on the will to live, and instinct overrides experience), Survival, Scholastic Lore (Beasts), Heightened Senses (any one), and Light Sleeper.


#8 Luthor Harkon

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 01:02 AM

Thanks a lot for your great input.

I sort of did a lot of things you described in their “half a session long mostly narrative struggle to leave Dusk”. Though the idea with the challenge of a clan hetman to ritual combat is really cool and something I will most probably include if they ever get lost on a Feral World again. Besides that, I made the tramp freighter voyage a little easier for them in comparison to your great ideas.

Coming back to the covert vs. overt; I never had too big a problem with what the PCs carried with them. In part due to the restrictive way I hand out weapons and gear to them. Though nowadays, the PCs are all more or less about rank 7 (after 5 years of playing) and they just came from a high-profile overt mission and are rather well (over-)equipped.

Even in an overt mission that is clearly not defined as a combat mission per mission briefing it should be odd if the PCs run around with grenade launchers and melta guns. In my view it is a little like the phenomenon in fantasy RPGs, when players think their characters sleep in full plate armour and the Rogue “always sneaks”…

It’s hard to get the players to not take the power fist and the melta gun most of the time now they have acquired them. Especially in situations the characters should not expect trouble (though the players do…).

Sometimes I am not even sure how abundant or seldom a certain type of weapon should be in the wider Imperium and what should raise an eyebrow (where). Maybe I should start another thread for a discussion in regard to the distribution of certain weapons types…

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