Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How to Defeat Your Party (Without Killing Them) - Part 2: Conversion

Roleplaying games are meant to be fun. Party wipes that involve killing the characters are not fun and end the adventure. This series is about presenting ideas for party defeat that include setbacks and consequences that progress the story.

For those that missed part 1:

Conversion

Sometimes the enemies that defeat the party are not motivated to destroy them, but rather to convert them to their side. They don't see the PCs as intractable enemies and believe that if only the party heard their side of the story perhaps they'd recognize they were fighting for the wrong side. In this instance the PCs were simply mislead by the originator of their quest and just need new perspective to help them make a more informed decision about whom to help.

As a storytelling element this can be quite compelling. After all, the PCs may recognize that their opponents had the opportunity to kill them but instead chose a more merciful route. If this goes against something they had previously learned about their enemy they may begin to question the authenticity of what they know. And if their captors have compelling reasons or evidence for why they were taking part in actions that were previously deemed as vile they might be swayed to switch sides (or at least be given a chance to "fake it" until they can escape their captors).

A less subtle way of setting up this idea would be to cast the story as the heroes as unwittingly working for the villain. Now captive, they are educated on how they were duped and redirected toward a new quest. The forces of good have suffered a setback, however, as they are dealing with the aftermath of the PCs' actions.

Of course, the enemies are not going to take it on faith that the PCs see their side of the conflict. They will expect them to perform a task or undergo a trial that tests their newfound worldview. The party might even be split upon how they see the current circumstance - perhaps some truly do have a change of heart and wish to aid their former enemies, while some maybe pay lip service to this new idea to escape captivity. These types of conflicts create great inner-party dynamics that can promote character development and make for great sessions.

In our previous Dungeon Crawl Classics game, the heroes were summoned against their will to serve the Court of Chaos, a group of vile overlords bent and spreading discord through the multiverse, to stealing a previous artifact from the Plane of Law. Though there was little choice they had on embarking on the quest, they were also offered great reward for accomplishing it...something that helped disquiet any protest that otherwise would have been verbalized. Their attempt failed, and they were defeated by agents of Law and brought into custody.

The deities governing the Plane see mortals as flawed creatures of their creation; easily corrupted by their benign counterparts. Brought before avatars of the Lawful Deities, they ask for the PCs to confess and repent for their crimes. Needing mortal agents of their own, they decide to give the heroes their chance to atone for their sins and prove their usefulness as agents for the gods' own design.

This idea doesn't take away a character's ability to be duplicitous and deceive their captors. They can still choose to remain with the original side in the conflict they were on, or simply strike a path that they are on no one's side but their own. But it does give them an option to escape their predicament via an alternative to death, and presents an opportunity for the GM to add something new to the story. In my situation, I get to play out a scenario for the players to either choose to beg for mercy, simply repent and accept their punishment, or vehemently lash out at the gods for being so heavy-handed in their approach. I'm certainly looking forward to how this version of player defeat will shape the characters in this particular game.

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