Table Reflection: My Bad!

As a GM, what you do can heavily impact your player’s enjoyment of the game, and often ruin their experience altogether from a single rookie mistake.

Today’s Table Reflection isn’t going to be so much advice about what to do as much as a list of things not to do-that I’ve done. And I’d like to say that these were all from my novice days, but the truth is that they aren’t always just novice mistakes.

  • The Magical Happy One-Shot

This wasn’t really a mistake, but it really, really, really ticked off my player who was involved. He brings it up whenever I discuss how my campaigns tend to be low lethality. The game was Shadowrun, Third Edition. He’d made a dwarf Street-Samurai (whom I just called Neo), and basically ran around with dual sub-machine-guns and just hosed down any of the bad guys. This character was responsible for such gems as “I raise one gun in the air, and put the other on the ground as a peace gesture” (he got shot), and was generally not a horrible character, given the relatively lax handling of the campaign and its oft-humorous (and, intentionally or not, off the rails) nature. In an attempt to make things dark and cyberpunk again, they got captured by Renraku, who had “injected them with nanobots” (bluff) and told them that if they completed a mission to bring back an Ares scientist, they could have the antidote.

The troll in the party takes one swing, rolls astronomically well, then realizes that his dikoted club is most assuredly not a non-lethal weapon. Fortunately for them, they get an option for an alternate source on the antidotes.

Now, I should talk about the player builds; the nanite-infected included a shapeshifter (aka “kill me if you can” lycanthrope style stuff), a troll, who couldn’t even be killed by the nanites had they existed, the street-sam, who was moderately but not entirely likely to die, and the sniper, who would die without the nanites.

As I expected, the street-sam swaggered up to his contact (a Renraku agent), and drank the whole antidote (after several prompts). And by antidote, I mean cyanide. As far as I remember, that was the only player death in that campaign; though a couple characters were retired when it came up that their hospital recovery times were something like three months (“What do you mean bioware healing penalty?”), these were never long-running characters.

  • The “Sephiroth” Character

This one involves Smith, who I mentioned previously on last week’s Table Reflection. It’s a hazard of playing with a new group with different traditions; it turns out that my Roll20 group expected all the important rolls of the game to be done in public, while in the local group I typically run games for we consider NPC stats and potential surprises to be hidden well away from the players.

Smith is introduced. For the most part, I introduce him in narrative, not bothering to roll for him, since he’s not opposing the players. He gives the players a job, and it ends in an ambush (meant for Smith). One of the players decides to test Smith by offering one of the others’ character a good cut of his earnings in exchange for opening up on Smith with a machine-gun. Needless to say, since Smith is still in the campaign, the shots missed.

And this is apparently where I made my mistake. Smith stunballed everyone (he’s still more powerful than the players), and only the technomancer remained conscious after the spell-the same technomancer who would be the face of the group in any campaign without a social adept. Needless to say, Smith was happy to continue their employment, thanks to something like 10 successes on a (cinematic) diplomacy roll.

The player rage-quit. Left the game right then and there. Now, I’d like to point out that this isn’t necessarily my fault-I had certain expectations, and they differed from those of my players, and while my next post here will probably be about that, it was something that I could have been aware of, and had I been looking at them the group would still have a dedicated mage.

Side Note: I think part of the reason for this was that my player had taken the Demolish (Electronics) spell and was dissatisfied when it had no effect on the group of people who ambushed them, either on their weapons or on their cyberware. This was really a balance issue, and even through RAW it was a permissible skill selection I should have forbade it on grounds of fairness. In addition, the ambushers were (unbeknownst to them) mostly awakened adepts, so they had augmentation through magic rather than machine.

  • Playing a system against its strengths.

I probably shouldn’t have tried to run Vampire: The Masquerade with my Shadowrun group. It’s just a typically bad idea, especially if weaning them off of a campaign where they took down tanks in single shots. It lasted a couple weeks, to be fair, but the deep plot really came down to “can I kill it?”, and the combat-monster heavy party typically could, especially since they weren’t fighting things nastier than themselves. The socially-minded characters of the party totally hated it; one of them wound up accidentally shooting himself in the foot with a shotgun (whoops), and the other performed well but not as much as the battle fiends.

Of course, when it came to the conclusion of the game, the players had already peaked in terms of their combat ability, so they were basically bored-they weren’t interested in political intrigue, drama, or conspiracy, they wanted a modern day swords-and-sorcery adventure.

  • Feeding them the combat monster.

I ran a Dark Heresy campaign that was relatively well-received (the players still bother me to continue it, but they survived the “everyone dies today” conclusion), but I noticed several issues. My players had already been introduced to the world of Warhammer 40k and the fine art of running away by a prior game run by another of my players, so they were relatively smart about things from the offset. Until I introduced Avitus. Avitus wasn’t terribly overpowered-he was a veteran guardsman who packed about as much punch as the three of them combined, but he also had a variety of other skills. Unbeknownst to them, he was also the secret illegitimate child of the inquisitor who hired them, but both met their unfortunate ends before this came to their knowledge. They had the idea that so long as they were with Avitus, they could fight even the horrible abominations that inhabited the Death World they were trapped on.

Fortunately, I broke them of this when Avitus died on the second turn of combat, while trying to flee for his life, but all through the game the only way I could get my players to do anything was based off of the one genre-savvy player realizing what was going on before their characters would have.

Unfortunately, I proceeded to rescue them with another combat monster, whose motives they were supposed to question. Even the genre-savvy player didn’t notice the ripped-from-the-text description of Eldar technology until they were brought to a Webway portal.


There’s a lesson to be learned from all of these. As a Game Master, you will likely have a different perception than your players; you know all the secrets of the setting, and they don’t. You can use that to your advantage as a storyteller, abuse it, or be entirely ignorant of it, and if you’re not doing it correctly, it’ll detriment the game experience.

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