Roleplaying Teachable Moments from Last Night’s Game

Last night, I sat down with my family gaming group to wrap up the Vultures of Shem adventure from the Conan Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book from Modiphius. All told, it was a great time had by all. We had all sat down with the intention of finishing that adventure last night and being able to say it was done was more rewarding than any XP, although there was still loads of that as well. Throughout the game though, there were some teachable moments, some will stick with us for quite some time.

Conan Vultures of Shem

Being Cool May Require More Effort from the Player, Not Necessarily the Character

You would think by now that my kids have quite the repertoire of entertainment under their belt. From movies to cartoons to comic books to novels to video games, there are all sorts of places to draw inspiration from. My eldest used to love martial arts flicks. Now, it’s mostly horror. My son loves action flicks and comedies–one of his favorites i Sharknado (come on, you can rarely buy such hilarity and over the top action). My girls are both voracious readers of books and comic books. Everyone has been roleplaying somewhat for the past three or four years.

Still, for some reason, when it comes to combat–which they all love–they are pretty boring, “I hit it with my sword” type players. This totally flies in the face of the Rule of Cool. My wife was going to help and try and lead by example, coming up with cool things for her character to do in combat.

While she tried, she came up with some interesting ideas I don’t think I have ever seen before. One included kneeling down to grab cloth from a dead body, wrap it around an arrow shaft, and basically try and pull a full-on Mortal Kombat Scorpion “Get Over Here!” type of move. Okay, maybe some would disagree, but I think making that contraption up is simple enough to be done in combat, but just complex enough to require a standard action. She didn’t want to drop any Momentum on it, so she basically lost a turn. She did something like this two or three times.

Cool ideas can even be complex in terms of explanation, but they needn’t be more difficult or time consuming for your character to pull off. I pulled her to the side and explained that and gave some ideas and also thanked her, because the kids were getting it and trying different things. That brings us to our next lesson.

Being a Team Player Isn’t Just About Cool Combos

My wife is like a lot of us. She likes rolling the dice and slaying some dragons just as much as the next gamer. But, she gave up a couple of opportunities to do that to try and help the other players along. Yes, she was helping out the other players. It wasn’t about one character helping another because the players had figured out how to get the bigger bonus. Instead, it was about helping the people around the table make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Goals, Railroading, and More

We’ve all been learning the game together over the past few weeks. It’s been great, because my energy and interest has been renewed, which I talk about a bit in my Conan RPG review. This comes after several failed attempts at getting an ongoing game together. Being able to see an entire adventure through, playing every week consecutively would be a win for everyone at the table. I let them all know this was the goal and was still the goal even after about an hour delay due to work schedules. I even said something along the lines of “I’ll just trim some fat and have to move you all through this quicker.”

Knowing that and then quickly following clues and tracks to what was certainly the next part of the adventure, the sun going down, a cavern that leads underground where the one they were to rescue obviously was, someone wanted to go back. Hey, that could be dangerous. Um, yeah, your playing Conan. First step, as GM who wanted them to go one way, I instituted a bit of a railroad. It’s dark. These things are at home in the dark and on their home turf. Navigating the rubble has gotten more difficult. Nope. They keep going. Rolls are going badly and luck is running out. Each battle they face, subsequently harder. Still, they press on.

As a GM, there is a bit of guilt on my part. I was indeed trying to railroad. But, I had made my goals pretty clear for tonight’s game. That’s the only defense I have, if it can be considered a defense at all.

Next, I have to wonder. When the GM is obviously trying to encourage you to turn back, what reason do you have to keep pressing forward other than to throw a monkey wrench into their plans? It’s not like there was something else even hinted at that might be of interest in the direction you’re going. I used to do it as a kid when I played to be a jerk, really, to exert my power of player agency. There was no other reason for it.

Communication and Creativity and Damned D&D

So, finally brow beaten by the player who wanted to head back to the mules and horses, I let them know they had arrived at their chosen destination. “Okay, great, get the torches and let’s go.”

WHAT?!? You came all this way for torches?

Well, yeah, I didn’t say I was taking them with me when I left.

This is a vestige of playing in games where, if it’s not the sheet, it doesn’t exist. Oh, boy. Gotta love that damned Dungeons & Dragons.

There is a lot of laughter–I mean, full-on crying laughter–as I explain it would’ve been okay to just say they had them, I’m not that kind of GM, and I was a GM trying to push through to adventure completion. Why would I make them go back? Granted, to speed things along, I could’ve let them go back and return without incident. But, also I explained how there were bones, and arrows, and cloth, and wood strewn all about. They were using it in their combats earlier. They could’ve made a torch. I even pointed to the part in the book with the instructions to make a torch, if the characters didn’t have them at the ready.

There was some explanation of “well, I didn’t have fire.” Then we discussed flint and steel, the size of it, and the theory that their characters are all accomplished adventures in this barbaric world.

Point is, I should have asked what she was trying to do. I thought I did and she said make it back to the horses. In that case, I should have asked why. I could’ve provided better guidance and that was my failing there. At the same time, as players, you’re not keeping state secrets or doing yourselves any favors by trying to keep secrets from the GM. Tell the GM what you’re doing, but also what you hope to achieve from it. That way, the Game Master can provide the guidance to help you along, not thwart you.

Too Much Combat Can Help

I mentioned before how to make your combat in the Conan RPG run faster and smoother. The bonus here was that, because of the extra combats we had as I tried to poke and prod the players was that everyone was getting into the swing of things. The questions dissipated and things just went smoother. Momentum was spent, Doom was burned, and combat got easier with each passing turn. One thing I noticed was the ebb and flow of points at the table.

Give more Fortune Points and players are more likely to spend them. If something cool happens with the first spend, they will more likely spend the second one sooner rather than later. If I was dropping Doom points, players had no problem spending Momentum left, right, and center. However, if two or three rounds went by without me dropping Doom, the slowed or even stopped spending Momentum or doing things that would grant me Doom. This is how the dynamics of the game with in-game currency are meant to work. However, seeing the psychology of it play out at the table was interesting.

Failure Can Be Funny

As a result of those additional combats because someone needed to go get torches–everyone got a Fortune Point, except that player. I didn’t do this to be a jerk. I did it, because they had already earned one or two extra and we were all laughing, but also because I wanted it to be something we could remember. Frankly, the funnier a joke is, the more likely I am to remember it.

There were several Oopsies that occurred throughout combat and exploration. The Complications that occurred made things more difficult, provided color, and made people laugh. Not all of them happened for each Complication, but each one added rather than detracted from the fun for all involved.

Fun Was Had by All

By the end of the night, a cult of undead ghouls was in total disarray, their brutal leader slain, an avatar of an old god was nearly defeated, ruins were more ruined, and our heroes had saved the day. We all had a lot of fun and that was the most important thing. We accomplished goals we set out to do. Next, we get to explore the glory of the Carousing rules from the 2d20 Conan RPG.

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