People — throw in the towel already!

In playtesting so far, I’m finding that players stubbornly cling to their scenes. Newer players don’t give up, even if it’s easier to start fresh with a different scene.

In a recent session in a modern setting, my investigative journalist planned to do some sleuthing inside a casino built on property with a shady deed. When she got to the entrance, a bouncer intercepted the journalist and told her to scram. Game mechanics-wise, I’d both asked for trouble and failed a skill check right at the start of the scene. The options for my investigative reporter, and the raised stakes of consequences for further failures, weren’t all that appealing. So I pulled the plug: My journalist left the scene and I started fresh with a different angle.

Switching tracks happens all the time in multi-player RPGs: A player tries out an idea (e.g., “I’ll break into the museum”); the GM puts a roadblock in the way (e.g., “the place has security guards, motion sensor alarms and video cameras”); the player then chooses an alternative path, maybe testing the waters before trying a different route.

Provided the scene can be closed cleanly (without forcing a follow-up scene), there’s no reason to brute-force through an obstacle scene that’s off to a bad start. It’s different when the player is close to achieving meaningful success, but consequences are piling up and skill check options are running out. That’s when the player ends up doing something crazy, like the player’s character braining the chief librarian to make a run for it.