Friday, 4 May 2012

Taking the Fight out of Fighting Fantasy

My gaming group has been playing Advanced Fighting Fantasy for four sessions now and due to some scheduling problems, I found myself as the GM on short notice. It's like a convention, but with 24 hours prep time instead of 24 minutes.

I thought about the characters and the players in the group to figure out what kind of game they wanted and what kind of story to tell. Up to this point we had a group of mercenaries, playing out a tabletop version of WOW. Since a couple of players were new to tabletop gaming I took the opportunity to show them yet another style of gaming, but still within the boundaries of a familiar gaming system.

In the party that night was a war mage who was a loyal agent of the king, a mercenary elf archer, a dwarf mercenary and a paladin of the state religion. Nearly all the skills in the group were fighting skills, with a couple of sneaking or conning skills. The game is Advanced Fighting Fantasy after all. I decided to push a few character buttons in the form of questions.
  • Where is the war mage's real loyalty; to his comrades or to the king or...?
  • What will the paladin do if he was faced with a hard moral choice between conscience and duty?
  • How will the elf react when the relationship between elves and humans is strained?
In the game these manifested around the idea that the city-state was more than a little human-supremacist. Non-humans are tolerated because they do the degrading jobs and can be skilled cannon-fodder in a fight. The short versions of the plot elements to match the questions I posed were these:
  • Another paladin asked the war mage (king's agent) to spy on the PC paladin for being overly familiar with non-humans.
  • The PC paladin heard about a race hate crime that left three elves dead in the street. No one was sent to investigate and the city guard dumped the bodies in the garbage outside the city.
  • The elf was charged with a sacred oath to take vengeance on the killers, or on the city guard who allowed it to happen.
As you can imagine, this created loads of fantastic plot tension in the group. Our game became an investigation game, with plenty of opportunities to face down hostile elves without actually fighting. Only when some hired goons were sent to scare off the human sympathisers were swords drawn.

Now, none of this is to boast that I'm a real roleplayer or that AFF is TEH SUX0R!!!!!1! I used the system to support our game, and our game was about making stories that were relevant to the player characters and which were enjoyable to the players. In fact, I found that the system was flexible enough to let that happen in a meaningful way. It didn't get in the way and didn't feel like I'd shoehorned it into something strange. All we did was turn the fighting down from ten to three and fill the other space with character story. And this is what we found out about the characters.
  • The war mage is loyal to the kingdom, or possibly his own career advancement. He's definitely not loyal to the paladin.
  • The paladin has some significant moral disagreement with others in the order and in the city about how to treat non-humans, and is willing to kill for that cause. He's chosen conscience over duty.
  • The elf will side with other elves and is willing to kill for them, although he's also willing to deceive them to solve a problem.
I enjoyed running this game, no question. We gave the characters some context and we created plot opportunities for later episodes. All in all, we put some story in our game. Win. Win. Win.
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