February 7, 2014
Allies: A Resource, Not An Answer
One of the earlier Gamemaster’s Grimoire articles I wrote discussed contacts, friends and allies of the player characters who can be called on for advice or assistance when needed. In it, I talked about how having good contacts can really flesh out a game and make the world the player characters inhabit feel all the more real, and that is still very much the case. The non-player characters the players regularly interact with are important building blocks for a great campaign and should never be overlooked.
Recently though, I came across a little side-bar regarding contacts in Iron Kingdoms as I was working on Tora. Specifically, it was discussing the various groups your characters could have as contacts and how they can be easily abused. It spoke to the players more so than the Gamemaster, but the advice it gave was good for either party. In summary, it mentioned how it can be all too easy for a character to undermine a Gamemaster’s plans through their connections. For example, if the players learn that an evil wizard is preparing to call a legion of zombies up from their graves, what reason would there be for them not to request the aid of any military forces or elite factions they are affiliated with? If you can call in the fantasy equivalent of a special ops unit to prevent the apocalypse, why would you ever go in by yourselves? Calling in backup is the smart thing to do and players might feel as though it is wholly warranted within the scope of the story. After all, it is hard to say that the foul mechanizations of the evil wizard are not the business of the Knightly Order of Holy Paladins when that wizard’s goals are to destroy the entire world.
However, even if it is the smart thing to do, that does not make it the fun thing to do. These games are mostly centered on the adventures of the player characters, not the player character’s friends. Sure, if you want to call them in for support or backup, that can be fine. Just do not expect them to do all the heavy lifting for you. Your allies are there to help you and give you guidance and advise, not take all the action away from you or all of your fellow players. Sure, it might seem like fun to sit back with a smug grin on your face and watch as your arch-nemesis’s fortress falls to the military might of the kingdom you and your fellow adventurers saved two or three sessions ago, but if this is all that ever happens, it makes for a rather lame climax for a story.
Also, this strategy is far from full proof. Gamemasters are the vile manipulators of the game world, in case you have forgotten. We can easily make it so you cannot get in touch with your contacts or have some other force preventing them from helping you. If you bring forth your armies, be prepared for the villains to bring in their own. Sure, if we always prevented your contacts from being of any use, we would be depriving you of a hard earned or deserved asset, but this does not mean that they should be your “Easy Button” for every time something comes up. Knowing when to use your contacts and what to use them for goes a long way in making them memorable and fun without having them steal all the thunder out of a game.
As always, I thank you all for reading and wish you all good gaming.
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