Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The PC Effect and Chekhov's Gun

As I've mentioned several times (and am likely to mention several times again), I'm getting a Cthulhutech game together.  I have a handful of interested and involved PCs who are almost done with character generation.

So I wanted to talk a bit about that generation - the most difficult one first.

You see, I have a player who - when given a choice - will nearly always play a magic-user.  She uses the term "witchy chick," and not inaccurately.  Were this a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game, she would use the Willow archetype.

And there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, as a GM, it's nice having a rough idea where my players are going to go.

In Cthulhutech, magic users are called sorcerers. And they don't necessarily start with spells.  In fact, nearly any PC can become a sorcerer merely by taking the Occult skill and learning a spell.  PCs can theoretically start with up to six spells - in practice, they'll only have one or two.

And did I mention that these spells have casting times measured in hours and days?

At first, she was badly rattled by the significant difference in the spells from those in other popular fantasy games. But I eventually managed to get through - you see, in D&D, the casting time is ... hours.  Seriously.  Wizards spend many many hours studying and memorizing and locking in the spell, except for the last few triggering words and gestures.

It's the same way in Cthulhutech.  PC's spent hours and hours casting and effect that can be triggered later.

The next hurdle is that a lot of the spells seem less-than-useful from a gaming perspective.  And that is where Chekhov's Gun comes into play. That's where we start to see the PC effect.

You see, gaming is a cooperative thing. While the GM controls a lot of things, he can't make the PCs go anywhere or do anything. The characters that they players have made should tell the GM what kind of game they want to play, and the GM needs to make sure that the game is sufficiently tailored to that taste.

See, the GM provides (or should provide) guidelines - for the Cthulhutech game, the biggest guideline was "Police or Police-Affiliated in some way." I even made it clear that there were other options - bloggers, members of other city departments, and so on.  So far, all of my characters are actual police officers.

But, by looking at their skills, it reminds me a bit of the (sadly short-lived) TV series The Unusuals. I have a bunch of eccentric misfits. I have a group of characters who are ill-suited to facing the Mythos. Which, in a way, is absolutely perfect. But it tells me that they want to be out of their depth.

When a character spends a lot of their points on a certain thing, they want that thing to appear in the game. If one character spends all of their points on guns and gun skills, then I need to give them something to shoot at, or they will be bored.

This is the PC effect - the game world warps itself to fit the desires of the players.

And then I have to decide: Are the point expenditures Chekhov's Gun, or are they going to be features from the beginning? So, for example, the spell-casting character: Do I want her spells to be useful now, or should they be the key to the last part of the puzzle?

The best example I have of Chekhov's Gun is from the film Looper.  There is, early on, a line of dialog about why the loopers have blunderbusses instead of pistols.  Near the end, this is demonstrated.  Then, at the very end of the film, this line of dialogue becomes critical.

So, with every single decision the PC's make in character generation, I have to decide: When do I want this decision to be relevant?

It's tricky, and I hope I can get it right ...


  1. I hadn't considered the possibility that we want to be out of our depth. Depending on how it plays out, we may end up fighting our own demons as much as, or more than, Mythos threats.

    1. I read, "I'd like to play as cops, or as some other type of civil servant whose work now, in Tacoma during the Aeon War, makes them unlikely front-line soldiers against the Old Ones." as "I want to be in over my head." So I may have misinterpreted your message.

      Either way: You are in over your head. It's another part of the PC Effect: Adventure Happens Where The Characters Are.