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[GAMING] Cinematic or Emotionally Intense Tabletops - The Cover Story
October 2013
Tue, Dec. 29th, 2009 10:31 am
[GAMING] Cinematic or Emotionally Intense Tabletops

One of the goals I strive toward in running table top games is to produce either a very emotionally intense (although not actually unpleasant to the players, of course) or at least very cinematic experience for the players. Its more difficult than you would think for somebody who is traditionally a puzzle GM. I was thinking back on the games that I've run over the last decade or so, and I think I've only achieved this perhaps three times. The three that spring to mind are:
  1. 2006-6: Squadron Two of the players who had become separated from the rest of group had gotten into a personal combat, in which one of them was severely injured and in real danger of bleeding out, with no medical facilities available. Rescue arrived, but as the rescuers searched for the missing personnel, the injured character ran out of Edge (an attribute that allow you to reroll poor rolls), and was repeatedly rolling against dying outright as the searchers combed the island.
  2. (Unnumbered): Lyran Coast Guard This was a one-shot in which the characters were a coast guard unit responding to a downed spaceship. The ship was represented by a simple computer program on a projector over the gamespace. Three hours into the four-hour game, the tactical situation changed (torpedoes struck the disabled spaceship), and I discretely pushed a button on the computer that caused the ship to start sinking into the ocean depths. While at least one observed noticed the change immediately, none of the players noticed until a digital depth gauge appeared around 5m down. The ensuing shock and then panic as the sinking continued in realtime made the game one of the most memorable I've ever run.
  3. 2008-1: The Storm The final encounter of this game was a load-bearing boss, which precipitated a frantic dash through the dungeon the characters had just cleared (or failed to clear, in the case of one or two traps they instead bypassed), as 1d10 floor tiles fell away each turn. I can't take credit for this one -- the dice were exceptionally helpful in how movie-like an experience this turned out to be. The characters barely made it to their escape, while the NPC's they tried to rescue (at the expense of their own precious time) died to a man, although one almost made it. So far this was perhaps the single most action-moviesque scene I've ever run in a game.

So what are the most cinematic or emotionally charged adventures that you've had?

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Current Location: Waltham, MA
Current Mood: contemplative contemplative


Home of the Mongoose
Tue, Dec. 29th, 2009 09:08 pm (UTC)

In a game designed for mass use in Dean's Storytelling class, "On Muffin's Honor", our team found ourselves in a pretty crazy movie-like scenario.

Our party consisted of me (a sorcerer), an archer (with HYSTERICALLY bad aim), a thief, a warrior, a cleric, and a kobold assassin. We arrive at a circus, where another (kobold) party member and the Demon Box (the MacGuffin of the whole quest) had been held captive. When trying to find a way to get him out, the warrior suggests to the kobold that if things go south, he's probably going to need to kill everybody. "Kill... EVERYBODY!!!" the kobold cried as he ran toward the carnival. We all frantically chased after him, hoping to catch him before he did something terrible...

We did not. He ran up and stabbed Quigley, the ringleader, in the heart. Barely alive, he called upon some of the town guard he had stationed there, and attacks.

Most of us were pretty poor fighters. It took the warrior, myself, and the cleric just to take down one of the three guards, while the archer and thief ran to help the kobold prisoner escape. Suddenly, the kobold assassin comes in from fighting Quigley outside. We assume he's going to help us fight the guards...

We are wrong. The kobold IMMEDIATELY turns and stabs me in the stomach, doing incredible damage (such that I am now on the floor at -1, bleeding out). The cleric calls to the archer and thief for help. The archer responds by firing the following four consecutive shots: Miss. Miss. Shoots the thief immediately next to her. Shoots my unconscious bleeding body. Needless to say, the cleric yelled "STOP IT, JUST GET OUT OF HERE".

Then Quigley came in. Not in the best shape, but still. He orders one of the guards to go to town and get more help. He does. Our warrior jumps onto our party's donkey, and rides after him. We'll come back to him in a minute.

Now we have a cleric, completely alone, trying to fight a berserk kobold assassin, a bard with mind control, and a town guard. Quigley stares at the cleric, and fails FOUR TIMES to control him (the entire time we're praying something happens to help us out). Somehow, the cleric kills the town guard in battle, just in time to be hypnotized by Quigley, with the command "Walk." The cleric immediately turns east, and walks out of the tent.

Now, while this is going on, the warrior has now caught up to the town guard, just outside of town. He leaps off the horse, slices into the guard (killing him), and cleaves into an unsuspecting wandering townsperson (in the middle of "Hey, what are you--", killing the innocent bystander...

In view of the FULL FORCE of the town guard. "SHIT" says our warrior as he runs back toward the circus. Note the use of the word "run". He makes it back to the circus just as the kobold assassin is readying a coup de grace on my dying ass, and crits hard enough to slice the kobold in half and severely wounding Quigley, who runs away. Moments later, he heals me just enough so I stop bleeding out, as I hit -9 HP.

Our thrice-split party all head east and meet up at sunset, and realize the following:
1. Holy SHIT, that was awesome.
2. Our sorcerer (me) is unconscious, and will be for 36 more hours. The world is going to end in 48 hours.
3. We killed a VERY plot-necessary kobold assassin who should have been unkillable.
4. We left the donkey at the town gates.
5. We forgot the Demon Box in the circus. The entire reason we went there.

Needless to say, the final game-day got more screwy from there, but I think I'd say that is easily a top-three tabletop battle for me.

Tue, Dec. 29th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)

In a game that Craig Perko ran (I don't think it had a name), we were survivors stuck in a mostly destroyed space colony. The colony had been invaded by a large number of hostile forces all at once, and one of these forces were giant bug-like aliens out of some bad sci-fi movie. The game involved scrounging for resources while fighting off alien hordes and trying to figure out what was going on.

There was one scene where we had found one of the major hives of the bug-like aliens. One of the resources we had scrounged up were a whole lot of high-powered explosives. For one reason or another, we decided we had to combine these two. The only entrance to the hive that we knew was safe was too small for our Roboticist's overpowered combat robot to fit through, so we went in on foot. We pooled the resources we had found, which involved weapons with highly limited ammo, a few grenades, bits of medical equipment, some armor, and so on.

We snuck in, made it to the center of the hive, were jumped by the bugs just before we could set off the explosives, barely managed to prime the bombs and dump them in the structural weak points of the cavern, and ran for our exit. The running gun verse bug fight on the way out involved us expending every single round of ammunition and every grenade we had, all of our armor being shredded or abandoned, all of our medical equipment being used or abandoned, and my heavy laser canon (one of our few ammo-less weapons, I think) being abandoned so I could carry a downed party member and no one else could lift it. We made it to the entrance with the horde of bugs streaming behind us, dove through, and had the robot lay covering fire. The cave explodes, the ceiling comes crashing down, we all frantically rush for the ladder out of the adjoining cave network while the robot gets trashed by the bugs and falling pieces of ceiling.

In other words, we succeed at the cost of every single resource we had, and just barely. And the GM wasn't fudging things, for once, as that game had a clear and specific dice system for combat. It was intense, and highly cinematic.

Home of the Mongoose
Thu, Dec. 31st, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)

Oh god, you're talking about Inhabitants. What an AMAZING GAME.

My favorite moment in that game (other than growing sentient beef, inventing psychic abilities (and creating a Psi Corps wing of the military), and discovering IMMEDIATELY AS THE GAME ENDED that I was the only one capable of preventing a time-manipulating overlord) was one particular battle where myself and Steph's character (my pupil) were fighting off these bizarre bug things. We were forced to escape a tower by leaping out to a platform a few stories below. We jump. I roll (a 10) and land flawlessly. Steph rolls (a 1) and starts to fall. I roll (a 10) and catch her. Later, we are forced to do it again. We jump as a tower EXPLODES. She rolls (a 10) and lands flawlessly. I roll (a 1) and start to fall. She rolls (a 1) and misses. I land skull-first on the platform. Not smooth.

ReplyThread Parent
Thu, Dec. 31st, 2009 04:22 am (UTC)

Uhh, no I'm not. Inhabitants was my favorite RPG, but did not contain my favorite action scene, which I described above.

I'm talking about the game Craig ran three games before Inhabitants, which may have been called Homunculus, with Kevin Munn as the tactician, me as the cyborg cop, Syl as the medic, Steph Colbey as the roboticist, and Andrew as the sniper.

The one where the twist was that the planet was alive, able to alter reality with a thought, and being fed the entire catalog of human movies to teach it about humanity. It liked the bad sci-fi movies the best, so we were fighting through a horde of bad sci-fi movie cliches.

It turned out though that we were all holograms manifested by a quantum computer that could also alter reality with our thoughts, but only in a small but movable area. The endgame was really lame after we figured out the twist and then conflicts of interest resulted in the worst PVP scenes ever and no one had a clear goal about how they wanted the game to end. The rest of the game rocked though :D

ReplyThread Parent
Home of the Mongoose
Thu, Dec. 31st, 2009 06:49 am (UTC)

My bad. Your description was, at least, very reminiscent of Inhabitants :P

ReplyThread Parent
A fool who should know better
Tue, Dec. 29th, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)

The most cinematic moment I've ever had was probably in TMA. (Spoiler-safe!)

I came by a piece of important information that I had no business having. Rory was pretty sure I had it. He spent 20 minutes explaining how badly he needed it and how much good he could do with it, how he could save someone's reputation or maybe life, and wondering if I had any clue. I lied badly but consistently and he finally got the hint that I wasn't going to tell him for any price. He left, seeking other avenues. After about a minute, I and/or my PC had a change of heart, and I ran up the campus center stairs after him. I burst out the doors just as he was turning a corner onto the quad, and shouted his name. He turned and looked at me, and we're two men who know what we're not saying, staring at each other down an alleyway that suddenly feels awful like the main drag in a Western. He looks, and waits, and we stare at each other in the rain. I shout to him and tell him what he needs to know. He nods and says thank you, and there's a pause, and then I tell him, "...and if anyone ever asks, you didn't hear it from me." He bows and leaves.

Seriously, that was fuckin' epic.

Also amusing is that 20 minutes later, someone figures out that he has this and asks him how he knows, and I happen to be the only other person there at the time, and I found this so funny OOC that I nearly lost my shit. Rory, to his credit, maintained a stunningly effective deadpan.

I have never had cinematic combat that wasn't narrated.