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The Deeper Well

Beep! Beep!

by James Bierly
Mar 16,2005

 

The Deeper Well

Beep! Beep!

From the wacky cartoon exploits of Wile E. Coyote to the nail biting moment in The Fugitive when Dr. Kimball hurls himself down a waterfall to avoid the misguided forces of law, the plot Archetype of Pursuit never fails to instantly grab our attention. It's a plot that children can easily understand and enjoy (hide and seek, anyone?) but with the ability to fuel complex adult storylines such as that of The Silence Of The Lambs. However, in my experience, it is one of the hardest archetypes to integrate into a RPG campaign.

Physical Pursuit

PCs As The Pursuers

A plot of physical pursuit in which the Player Characters are the pursuers is one of the easiest to pull off as an rpg scenario. The GM can easily exercise a lot of control over the pacing, which is critical to a pursuit plot.

First of all, if the reason for the chase and the rewards/penalties for catching/losing the quarry are not firmly established in the player's minds early in the plot, the momentum of the story may die as the players stop to ask themselves "why the heck are we doing this again?" This problem doesn't exist if the motivation for the pursuit comes from the players. The Vengeance archetype we talked about a couple of columns ago dovetails nicely with pursuit in order to provide character motivation.

The tension and suspense of a pursuit plot comes when the pursuers get the closest to their target. It is within these pivotal moments that the chase can finally be ended, but only if the person/persons being chased do not escape. A good pursuit plot has several minor moments such as these, building up to the final confrontation between hunter and prey. Herein is the central problem with using a pursuit plot in an RPG. In fiction writing, the author knows when she wants the story to climax, and therefore it is then that the pursuer finally obtains his goal or the pursued makes a final, ultimate escape. Yet in an RPG players may grow frustrated if they feel that despite their best laid plans and dice rolls, the person they are chasing escapes again and again. One way to deal with this is to simply allow the dice to fall where they will, and be willing to end a pursuit plot early.

If a GM wishes to preserve the structure of an extended pursuit plot, try this: When the players have rolled well enough to bring the quarry down early in the story, give them a partial victory. Perhaps their gun shot cripples the pursued just as he leaps onto the roof of a boat and escapes. The plot continues, but the players will have the satisfaction of watching their foe limp in future encounters, and perhaps those encounters will be a bit easier because of this handicap.

PCs As The Pursued

When the PCs tick off any powerful faction in your game world, they can often expect to be dogged by bounty hunters, enforcers, and perhaps even lawmen. The main difference between a plot in which the players are the chased instead of the chasers is that the plot is almost entirely driven by the GM. Unless you are playing a survival horror game (see my previous article on Catastrophe for advice relevant to those) I would recommend that the GM allow the players additional goals besides simply escaping or overcoming their foes. Simply being chased around by dogged NPCs can become quite boring quite quickly. Allow the pursuing NPCs to catch up with the PCs whenever the action lags or whenever it is the most inopportune moment for the PCs.

Psychological Pursuit

In a psychological pursuit, the pursuer attempts to glean some information from someone else, or to find their mental weaknesses, or to convince them of something. Within a party, psychological pursuit can be used by players to deepen character interaction and roleplaying. In a DnD campaign, a rogue could continually work to corrupt a paladin. In a GURPS game, one PC could attempt to discern the underlying cause of one of his companion's mental flaws.

The next time the players interrogate an NPC for information, rather than simply have them make a few rolls one could role-play the situation out. What motivates the NPC? What dark secrets does he have? As the PCs grow closer to finding these things out, they grow closer to having the leverage they need to discover the information they wanted in the first place, and a plot of psychological pursuit takes shape.

Hoping you all have a great game this week,

James Bierly

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