GM School: Shutting A Player Down

You know, I wasn’t really keen on the idea of editing Only In Death. I’d already done plenty of editing for Paid to Play in my day and was happy to outsource the new project whenever the opportunity presented. Listening through it also seemed sort of pointless – I’d already played the game, after all; what was the point of experiencing ti again?

But listening through the episodes of Season One (and doing a proper editing pass on a couple of episodes) not only (as I will hope you agree) makes for a better listening experience, but also helped me pay attention to what was going on, both as an audience member and as a game master.  I found myself making notes on things that I could have done a bit better, things I can work on improving. I also read over the Deathwatch Core Rulebook again, looking for rules-based fixes for some of the issues encountered.

And as a result, here is the first instalment of GM School, a blog series where I attempt to learn from my own mistakes and become a better game master!

I’m not particularly proud of a couple of instances where I ran roughshod over my friend Sim Lauren’s character, Brother Avalon.

Saying No at The Chimera

As I mentioned in Episode 8, I noticed that Brother Avalon had a great chance to do something cool relating to her speciality as a Techmarine. The Final Sanction adventure includes in its description of the initial combat encounter – the Battle for the Chapel fought in Episodes 3 and 4 – the hasty barricade that the Planetary Defence Force troopers have thrown up to give themselves cover from the rebel force that outnumbers them by about three to one. Part of this description is a wrecked Chimera, an armed APC often used by the Imperial Guard.

A Chimera armoured personnel carrier. Assembly and painting by DeviantArt user Iron Clover.

Early in Epsiode 3, Sim leapt on this item of description, asking whether she could do anything to re-activate the Chimera. Not wanting to add a vehicle to the combat mix, I explained that the machine was basically only good for scrap and moved on with the action.

While Sim soon got to explore Avalon’s love for explosives, saying no to her desire to engage with the chimera was a very un-cool thing to do. Even if Avalon couldn’t restore the Chimera to operation as a vehicle, letting Sim attempt to re-activate a sub-system – like the smoke grenade launcher or a couple of the flank-mounted lasguns – would have made her feel effective within her character’s speciality.

Next time, I’ll take a deep breath and, as the lads from Happy Jack’s RPG Podcast suggest, consider the “yes” option before leaping to “no”.

Forgetting Avalon’s Held Action

Many roleplaying games use the idea of a turn or round governed by an order of initiative to ensure that the action of a combat plays out such that everyone gets the chance to act. The order of initiative is decided at the start of armed conflict by rolling dice, with each participant taking a small set of actions per the total of their die roll plus any influencing factors (most usually the statistic that expresses their character’s nimbleness).

One option that many RPG combat rules give to players is to hold off on acting during their normal place in the initiative order, delaying until an act or event they are waiting for would give them a better chance to be effective. In Deathwatch, this is a Half Action called a Delay. If you take it, you can then take any other Half Action (most often a Standard Attack) at any point between your Delay and the start of your next turn.

During Episode 7, you will hear Sim declare that Brother Avalon is holding their action until that one can secure a good shot on the Genestealer that just un-successfully attacked Brother Gladius or any other Genestealers that come into range. However, rather than letting her act, I instead have another Genestealer surprise Brother Gladius, doing significant damage, and then allow Brother Gedeon to act during his regular place in the initiative order and eliminate both Genestealers with his heavy bolter. You can even hear when I half-arse an apology to Sim for robbing Brother Avalon of a chance to do something meaningful.

To fix this next time, having gone over the rules for the Delay Action, I’ll emphasise that it’s on the player to remember that they are Delaying, but also that it’s always their choice as to when they act and which Half Action they choose at the time.