Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Fondue Plot, Part I

One of the most fun and simultaneously most terrifying parts of being a GM is when players throw you a curveball. This might be following a lead that you didn't really anticipate as part of the mission you had planned or taking a crazy action that has far-reaching consequences. As the person running the story, often your only option is to improvise like crazy and hope that what you come up with makes for a fun session.

Yesterday, I got together on Skype with a group of six close friends and ran a modern crime/cyberpunk game of Savage Worlds. The characters included:

- Mouse, a nebbishy disguise and security specialist
- Murray, an old-school corporate spy with a penchant for scotch and blackmail
- Ramirez, Green Beret and former private military contractor
- Ray, an internet libertarian techie who lives in a telecom van
- Slick, a spray-tanned con man and quick draw artist
- Theresa, ex-Fish and Wildlife agent turned ecoterrorist hired gun

In true cyberpunk style, the group was hired by a wealthy divorcee, Angela Horwitz, whose developer husband, Travis Blackwell, claimed she was unfaithful and that he wasn't responsible to support their son. She wanted the PCs to acquire a DNA sample from Blackwell, by whatever means they deemed fit. However, the tycoon's new residence was the Arcadia condominium development, a Burj-like monolith with in-house kitchens, self-sustaining power and its own private SWAT team. If the team can deliver the package to Angela and her lawyers, there are $10,000 in bearer bonds waiting for each of them.

After the meeting, Ray took to his van and hacked into Blackwell's personal email account (the business one was too heavily guarded), including his schedule for the rest of the week. At this point, the team divided into two groups. One assessed the security of the Arcadia complex, the other kept their efforts focused on Blackwell. Murray, using his Connections edge, was able to get Ramirez an interview with the Arcadia's security force; given his ex-military background, he was an easy choice. Theresa spent the afternoon sizing up the building's security personnel and Mouse, disguised in prosthetic nose and hunchback as a cleaning lady, took stock of the building's surveillance set-up.

Meanwhile, Murray, Ray and Slick made their way to a Brutalist gentlemen's fitness club, where Blackwell's calendar had scheduled a jai alai match that afternoon. With a little defensive driving on Ray's part, the team got a look at Blackwell's personal security: one ex-Marine bodyguard , Mr. Hart, with him at all times in an armored SUV and another pair of them either trailing or leading in a black sedan. Once they reached the club, the bodyguards entered with him.

It was then that the Blackwell group began to formulate a plan. Ethan, who was playing the role of Slick, had chosen a small high-tech holographic projector as one of his pieces of essential equipment during character creation. His idea was to use the hologram to simulate a jai-alai ball in sight and sound, with Ray's electronic assistence, to pass himself off as an athletics instructor and worm his way into Blackwell's confidence.

Now, this plan has two distinct ways that it could blow up in the group's faces. The first was that Slick barely knew what jai alai was, let alone how a champion jai alai player performed. Second, and much more crucial, was that the minute Blackwell attempted to scoop the jai alai ball, it would instantly be revealed as a ruse. I was completely prepared for this plan to be a complete disaster and to potentially blow their cover completely.

But somehow, it worked. Slick's mannerisms and confidence as Hans, the European jai alai champion (with a fantastically awful Austrian accent by Ethan) didn't convince Blackwell fully, but it was more than enough for his dimmer athletic partner Jackson and his poor Smarts rolls. Jackson may have been gullible enough to challenge 'Hans' to a match, but surely he would have noticed that the ball wasn't real, right?

Except Slick killed it on his Agility rolls. In Savage Worlds, direct athletic competition like this is governed by opposed rolls. While Jackson's roll of 4 against his Agility was nothing to sneeze at, Slick's d8 in Agility exploded, giving him an eventual roll of 10, enough for a Raise (a special situational reaction in Savage Worlds terms).

Jackson never even got his hands on the ball. Slick, through the holographic gadget and Ray's assistance, faked his way through the whole process, like something out of an episode of Leverage. True, I didn't really have a great grasp of the rules of jai alai and played it more like the schoolyard game of fireball/wall ball, but the truth was that I felt that this crazy plan, coupled with some solid rolls on Slick and Ray's part, deserved to succeed.

However, all of my gaming prep had to do with the Arcadia. Literally all of it. Security systems, level layouts, the elevator spindle down the middle of the building. In the heat of the moment, I had Jackson invite Slick to an early dinner at a fancy tapas restaurant in downtown Los Angeles with him and Blackwell to dine on little plates and maybe get lucky with some ladies.

Slick accepted. Why wouldn't he?

Next time: The Fondue Plot, Part II! In which the name actually makes sense!

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