Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Deathwatch: The Price of Hubris, part 04

Contains spoilers for, funnily enough, The Price of Hubris from The Emperor Protects.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, and features a fair amount of background noise, if that sort of thing bothers you.

The Episode

This episode's talking point, I think, is the preparations to head into the valley. This was a pretty long discussion, and I think it brings up an interesting(?) balancing act between different ways to respond. There's a balance between metagame feelings, in-character feelings, player style and group style to strike here. What this resulted in is a long and sometimes paranoid-sounding discussion between players and GM about what we could take with us.

By metagaming, I don't mean anything perjorative here. You automatically know some things about a situation because you are playing a game, and a game of a particular system and genre. In this case, we knew a bit more because it was also a scene in a pre-written scenario. While it's theoretically possible that a designer would write a scenario in which a bunch of space marines go to a planet, solve what turns out to be a very straightforward political problem, and leave without battling gribby alien horrors, I can't honestly imagine ever seeing such a scenario in print from Games Workshop. On a blog, sure! In a scenario book, no way. And we were being asked to leave behind all our stuff. Now, space marines are pretty damn badass in all situations, but it has to be said that a lot of their badassery comes from having massive airtight fireproof armour plating and carrying around small cannons. One of these situations, in itself, would be cause for caution; both together immediately suggests that you're going to have to fight something without all your stuff.

What you can't tell, however, is what the designer thinks is going on. I don't mean what they want to happen, exactly, but what kind of situation are they imagining? Is this a noble opportunity to glorify the Chapter by demonstrating heroic manliness without any of that technology stuff; or is it an opportunity to walk into a shamefully obvious trap that will cause enormous problems because you shouldn't have been that stupid in the first place? Because what you don't want to do is misinterpret one as the other on a metagame level, and therefore make the wrong in-character decisions based on a false sense of the scene. It may sound daft, but actually a lot of the time in games you're drawing heavily on player knowledge of the tropes and player interpretations of DM shorthand to create an in-character sense of the scene. Very often, you are actually trying to establish the intended nature of a situation in order to play along the grain, just as we do on a larger scale with entire plot-points. And so we end up wondering, how suspicious are we expected to be in this situation? Is this supposed to be obviously a trap, or does it just read like one because we know it's a chapter of a scenario and something's going to happen?

Character perspective is another big issue here. We were very explicitly playing veteran soldiers on a semi-hostile world where we had reason to be suspicious that something dubious was going on, and were being asked to walk into a valley everyone said was full of terrifying monsters. Space marines are well aware of some of the terrifying stuff lurking around the universe, and if anything dodgy is going on, there's a very good chance that either nasty aliens or Chaos followers are involved - both being extremely bad news. We'd just been fighting Tyranids and had a vision of Tyranid presence on the world. There was, in short, every reason for us to be cautious about going into a valley wearing tiny loincloths and carrying sticks. As you will hear later (spoilers!), even ceramite armour plating and chainswords are largely ineffective against some of the mid-tier Tyranid nasties if they get the drop on you. A large proportion of Tyranids could kill an unarmoured space marine in a single hit. Even a mob of the locals laying in ambush would be a problem (as long, of course, as they attacked us individually). This meant it was sensible to be pretty paranoid even if we assumed perfect good faith on the part of the locals - which in the murderous circumstances was not really advisable.

A third issue is one of trust. I've already mentioned the idea of intention, but it's easy to have a certain amount of distrust in the people behind the scenario - an occasional instance of designer-griefing or GM-manipulation can leave you suspicious in the long run. In this case, I was confident that Arthur wouldn't aim to grief us, but I think we were all somewhat wary of the scenario designer. The premise of the scene was so very suitable to ambushes that it was hard to believe we weren't being set up for a fall, one way or another, and so quite a lot of the debate was about ways we could go ahead with the test while also retaining an option to grab our stuff if things went downhill and the situation changed.

In point of fact, as Arthur mentions briefly (spoilers!), the designers did in fact plan some heavy griefing; just not yet.

And finally, there's the matter of personality. Some players, and their characters, are inclined to be cautious and tactical. It's just plain sensible to think about this stuff, and then if your character is even remotely appropriate, to take some steps to minimise your risk. In this scene I think Dan is the main cautious one, but I have at least my fair share of those moments. If you're inclined to plan and think tactically, then making your sensible tactically-experienced character not take obvious precautions is difficult.

Link to Episode 04.

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