Wednesday, October 1, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Surrender?

Let's talk about that one thing that players always refuse to do: Surrender.




Believe me, I get it. I cut my teeth on Basic and AD&D with a sadistic older brother as GM. As he got older he only got more devious. His favorite was designing traps that gave the player no chance at a saving throw.

Back in the day the focus of an RPG wasn't story since there was little to none. The focus of D&D was dungeon crawls and a GM earned his chops by making them as dangerous as possible. The greater the difficulty in the Death Maze, the more infamous the Dungeon Master. And then along came the Tomb of Horrors by Lord Gygax himself and he put as all to shame.

What resulted was a mistrust of the GM. If the player gave the GM an opening, it was expected that the GM would kill you with it. There are still some GMs that play this way today, and I think it has left an indelible stamp on the player psyche.

Disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist. I am a gamer-blogger. I can spout my opinions on the net but that doesn't make them fact.

So as a result, when the villain has a hostage and the heroes are outnumbered, and when he gives them the chance to surrender, the players would rather die fighting than drop their weapons.

BUT...

...surrender and capture is a staple of story.It should be in the Player/GM toolbox. Here's some examples:

  • James Bond: He gets captured in every single movie! Bond uses the opportunity to get a look at the BBEG and maybe get the villain to expose his plan.
  • Frodo: Got captured in every single movie! In order: by Strider, the elves, by the men of Gondor, by Shelob, and by the Orcs of Mordor.
  • Indiana Jones: He get's captured in every single movie!
I can't think of any action film where the hero doesn't drop his weapon and raise his hands at some point.

The fact is that getting captured can forward the story, give the heroes some much needed information, and gives them that awesome experience of escaping when put in "an easily escape-able situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death."~ Dr. Evil

There is also the view that such a scene is very rail-roady. Yes, it is a pre-planned scene but it doesn't have to be rail-roady. If the players choose to fight, let them. However, the bad guy and his minions should technically be on Hold, and expecting that the heroes will do something stupid. The heroes might be able to take on all of the bad guys but the hostage is going to die, and that will tarnish the reputation of the heroes (provided they have a good reputation). This isn't railroad, this is a player choice that had obvious consequences.

Thrilling Tales for Savage Worlds (Adamant Entertainment) discussed the subject of Surrender and advised that such a scene be obvious (that the heroes are out-matched) and that each hero be awarded a benny for playing along. It's an idea I use with all of my games.


Convincing Your Players

No doubts about it, this is a trust issue and needs to be discussed out of game. It may even belong in the social contract, with the deal being:

  • The Players will consider surrender a viable option in game play, especially when it is dramatically appropriate with the understanding that not every fight can be won.
  • In return you as the GM promise that if the heroes surrender to the villains, said villains will not pull a gun and immediately eliminate the heroes, that the villain will want to question or toy with the heroes, that the scene will be used to forward the plot, that the heroes will have the opportunity to attempt an escape, and the players will receive a benny in payment for their cooperation.
Surrender is such a big part of so many adventure stories, it's a shame that it is consider a vile taboo by so many in our hobby.

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