The Alexandrian

Technoir and PvP

January 16th, 2012

Technoir - Jeremy KellerA missing aspect from Technoir’s scenario structure is the scenario hook: The plot map will tell you what’s happening, but it won’t tell you how to get the PCs involved in it.

(To be clear: I’m not holding this against Technoir. The game actually provides quite a bit of guidance on how to motivate noir characters and includes a nascent structure by which the players will actually prompt you to give them the scenario hook. This is more than most RPGs do.)

But as you stare at your mission seed – madly brainstorming possible hooks – here’s my playtest tip: Set the PCs into immediate opposition with each other.

Here are some genericized examples of how I’ve done that:

  • One PC has been framed for murder. Another PC has an appointment to show up at the murder scene. A third PC has received an anonymous tip that they should show up at the murder scene about 5 minutes after the second PC.
  • Two members of the group are hired to deliver a package. Two members of the group are hired to prevent the delivery of the package. (Leaving me madly curious to see which half of the group is the first to call the fifth PC for help.)
  • A PC has been deliberately framed for a crime. The other PCs are sent to track her down and find out what she knows.

As the PCs start fighting with each other, they’ll start generating strongly-motivated drama without you ever needing to lift a finger. Simultaneously, they’ll start spending push dice on each other, allowing you to build up a stockpile to hurt them with when the bad guys make their move.

A couple of things to watch out for with this technique:

First, the push dice economy of the game requires that the GM spend his push dice to get them back into the hands of the players. If the PCs are just fighting each other, this can be difficult to accomplish and the game will flounder as the push dice all become concentrated in the GM’s hands. You have to look for your opportunities (the bar patron who gets angry that his drink was spilled; the cops who don’t like having their time wasted; etc.) and try to find the moment when you can get them turned back to the main plot and introduce some threats to antagonize them.

Second, when the PCs go to their contacts asking for leads on each other, it can be tempting to think of this as being a “special case” that somehow doesn’t apply to your plot map. Don’t do that. Stick with the rules for generating your plot map: A lead can point them in the direction of the PC and be connected to the conspiracy.

The flip-side of that is that the PCs — occupied with each other — may not hit up their contacts for leads or information. If that happens your plot map can stagnate. In this scenario, a friend of mine with experience GMing Technoir recommends randomly generating a threat, figuring out what their agenda is, and then essentially running them in the background as an independent PC: This allows you to develop your plot map and figure out what’s going on. Once you’ve got enough pieces in play, you should be able to start using those to hook the PCs back into the conspiracy. (I’ll be giving this a try in the near future.)

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5 Responses to “Technoir and PvP”

  1. JamesG says:

    I believe when a PC uses push dice to inflict a sticky or locked adjective on another PC the push dice go to that player, not the GM who only gets dice used on NPCs.

  2. Justin Alexander says:

    Nope. Push dice spent by players always go to the GM.

    Page 106 can be a little confusing on this point: “The player can increase the adjective’s severity by spending (giving to you) Push dice that were not eliminated from the roll. When you spend Push dice, you give them to the player of the character you are giving an adjective to.” But if you remember that whenever the rulebook says “you” it means the GM (see pg. 6), its clear that the second sentence only applies to the GM.

    Page 134 confirms it: “When players spend Push dice, they go to you (even if they’re affecting another protagonist).”

    (This confused me, too. I was about 3 seconds away from sending Jeremy Keller an e-mail saying, “Hey, you’ve got an inconsistency between pg. 106 and 134 before I figured it out.” Page 106 could still benefit from being a little clearer on this point.)

  3. JamesG says:

    Yeah, not as clear as it could have been! Thanks for explaining that before I start running my Technoir game this weekend :)

  4. Bill T. says:

    Any thoughts on how one might apply the player-vs-player trick as a starting point in other RPGs? Might be an interesting way to start a fantasy game….

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    I often think of the beginning of a campaign as being the place where a GM usually needs to provide a certain amount of “momentum” to “get the ball rolling”. Once I’ve got the PCs moving, it’s usually pretty simple to keep them in motion.

    So if you want to start the PCs in contention with each other, you just need to seed your initial “push” into the campaign in such a way that the momentum given to the PCs will send them careening towards each other.

    The simplest example is: Group A hires PCs 1 and 2 to accomplish Goal X. Group B hires PCs 3 and 4 to accomplish Goal Y… which can’t succeed if Goal X is achieved (and vice versa).

    If you want to give the PCs an easy out, make it so that either Group A or Group B has an ulterior motive or identity that — once revealed — will make it likely that all the PCs will fall in with the other side. (If PCs 3 and 4 discover that they’re secretly working for Mordor, they’ll probably join up with the guys working for Gandalf.)

    It can be more interesting, however, not to give the PCs any clear criteria for making a decision: They’ll either have to make an alliance on their own terms… or they won’t, in which case the strife will simply build.

    Another game that uses this sort of thing to good affect is a Throne War campaign for Amber Diceless Roleplay: Everybody plays a royal scion. The king just died. Who gets to inherit the throne? (The GM can basically just sit back and let the players run the campaign for him with this scenario.)

    The tricky part with any of these, of course, is the ability to run a split group. This can be more of an art than a science, but it basically boils down to two pieces of practical advice:

    (1) You need to keep track of where each group is in terms of time. (This doesn’t mean that you need to keep both groups in temporal synch; but you want to keep your causality in order.)

    (2) Switch between groups of characters as frequently as possible. (Failing that, see if you can figure out some way to get the inactive players involved in the scenes they aren’t participating in.)

    (3) Choose moments to “cut-away” when the PCs in the current scene are faced with a decision of some sort. It can be a minor decision (who am I going to attack next round?) or a major one (do I stay to guard Princess Katarina or pursue the thief who took the Ruby of Kalaat?), but if you leave them with a decision then they have something to think about that engages them with the game while you’re dealing with the other scene.

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