Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Struggle of Good versus... Good?

My current player group is a (mostly) good-aligned (professed alignment anyway) group of PCs fighting off hordes of cackling, evil Outsiders. This makes the conflict pretty cut and dried; you know who the bad guys are, you know there is almost no chance of a diplomatic solution, you know they just want to kill you, take your stuff, and swallow your soul. Simple!

A much more interesting level of conflict can be found when two good-aligned parties (or the party and an NPC group or faction) are at loggerheads.

Who says the Good Guys always get along? 

We've come to an arc in my current campaign I wasn't really expecting, way back in the beginning. The party will be travelling to a dragon's lair; a good dragon's lair. Why is this a problem? Well, it partly has to do with the party's nature; while they do profess to be good guys, they really love to mix it up and beat faces in to the exclusion of most other RPG activities. So yet another talking game is not going to be that interesting for the majority of players who want to roll dice, kick ass and take names (or at least loot corpses).

This campaign is reaching the higher end of its lifespan, with most of the characters hitting 14th level. That makes combats complex and I am lazy. In some cases I prefer to have my NPCs/monsters negotiate rather than deal with a tooled-up band of hooligans bent on wrecking their house/lair and ransacking the cupboards. It makes sense, it lets the party flex their superiority muscles, and keeps game sessions from ending mid-combat.

My face-crunchers don't like it, though. They didn't get to pull off their awesome attack or launch a maximized fireball! They didn't get the satisfaction of wiping the floor with the other guy! Instead the eggheads and accountants take over and negotiate a hostile takeover of the whatever-whatever blahblahblah. Boring! These players leave the table disappointed, and I want to keep these players engaged.

The problem with this scenario is that the dragon lair they are planning to visit is full of good-aligned dragons. In fact, the party wants to curry favor with the dragons so that later on they will help out with their cause. So we're looking at another talking game. Well, the last game was a talking game. The next game is likely to be a talking game, too. Uhoh.

Paladins are Dickheads

Wanting to put something in the game for everyone, I wracked my brain and the internetz for solutions. Here's what I've come up with so far:

1.  Paladins are Dickheads. Just because the PCs and NPCs share the same alignment doesn't mean they have to play nice. History is replete with examples of leaders or nations sharing common values and still kicking the crap out of each other given the slightest excuse. It's a bit different in an RPG world because Alignment (the moral and ethical compass) has fairly concrete values. There are even spells that allow you to look at someone and determine their position on the Good-Evil and Law-Chaos axis. If you and I don't align properly (and paladins in particular are notorious for this), you are in big trouble!

2. The Quest! In this case, I've decided to go with a preponderance of classes we haven't seen much of in our campaign so far: paladins, monks, and bards. Partially because they are obnoxious, archetypical medieval characters and partially because their abilities are more defensive and supportive than aggressive. They support one another well and there is some overall redundancy to some of their abilities. Taking on an army of these folks could be a very expensive proposition. It might be simpler to satisfy some token quest or test that is offered up, rather than risk not only failing in their diplomatic mission but also dying in the process! Some good old Trial By Combat is a good start.

3. None Shall Pass! The dragons have a staff, and the staff's job is to keep solicitors from tramping on the yard (dragons take long naps and don't like to be disturbed). Any initial attempt at contact - without the proper moral imperatives - will be politely rebuffed. Following knightly logic, if the group really, really needs to talk to someone important, they will have to prove it.

4. Donations are Accepted. Even if you make it past the safeguards into the lair proper, proper protocol must be observed. The lair in question has religious significance; how about a nice donation? Have you ever been to one of our services before? No? Well, let me invite you to attend while we wait for your appointment!

I don't want to go into particulars since we haven't had the game yet (and I'm not yet sure whether my players read my blog), but I've created space for at least two major combats within the upcoming game session, as well as a host of diplomacy rolls. I'm pretty happy with it so far. I'll let you know how it goes!

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