The latest season of A New Dawn closed out in June with the uncovering of a mole in the organization the PCs are allied with. There are a few lessons I took away from this season.
The Value of a Side Quest
This is a supers game so a lot of the stories are resolved in combat rounds, if not actual combat*, but the mole hunt was intended to allow the softer powers to come to the fore: telepathy, mind reading, etc. There are a couple of characters in particular who were built around those softer abilities.
And those characters are always available, since we play with all characters at all times (if only to keep the experience levels consistent), but the players for those characters were not.
This is where side quests come in handy: an urgent call to action for the group on an investigation not directly related to the main action. In this particular case it was to the site of a flame-drawn instance of the taloned fist symbol which they have seen a few times around Portland when the bad guys come calling, but this one was out past The Dalles, burning in the centre of the replica Stonehenge** at Maryhill. The source of this burning fist turned out to be a copycat group rather than the actual bad guys, but it allowed a few things:
- it postponed the need to make central use of characters whose players were unable to attend
- it provided more evidence of the presence of the mole
- it gave me more hooks to hang later story from***
If you can manage it, it’s a good idea to have this kind of short form story in your back pocket at all times. That’s my intent now, anyway.
One of the criticisms that has been leveled at this campaign is that it is too linear, and I think that is fair. I am portraying a narrative progression which the PCs are a part of, and that narrative produces a linear storytelling style.
But the mole hunt was something framed rather than planned: I knew who the mole was and I had mapped out triggers for what the mole would do at which point, but I did not write much about the hunt itself. The intent was to setup a sandbox which the players could play in.
As always, my players surprised me.
Plans Don’t Always Work
As I said, I had triggers in the setting for what the mole would do and when. Unfortunately, I failed to take account of both the players’ paranoia and tactical acumen****.
So, I triggered the mole’s escape plan after the final action to be taken. He got to the lift, but I omitted to block the stairs which meant that the super-fast characters got to the lobby long before the mole. I had an ace up my sleeve with an invisible character waiting to assault the PCs that were attacking the mole, but fundamentally the mole was utterly useless in a fight.
The upshot was that the mole was captured rather than getting away. This was not the outcome I was looking for.
Instead I have more opportunities for story, so although the session did not go as intended I think it will end up being more satisfying.
[*] the combat system in most games is really about imposing temporal structure on a situation, so you drop into combat rounds in any time-critical situation. It may involve combat, or it may just be that you need to know exactly when the landslide happens and who happens to be in the way at the time.
[**] yes, really. The existence of this replica surprised me when I first heard of it, but it’s actually rather good fun. At least you can walk around inside it, unlike the actual Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
[***] specifics, perhaps, at a later date when those stories have been played through.
[****] I don’t especially enjoy combat in roleplaying games, partly because it tends to be a very time-consuming endeavor and partly because I am not very good at it. I’m also not very good at chess.