Saturday, May 9, 2015

Alignment Workshop: Adapting Drives from Nights Black Agents

As I have been threatening to do, I am starting a series of blog posts on alternatives to the traditional DnD alignment system.  As I reviewed earlier, there have been several criticisms of the traditional alignment system.  That being said, I see an important role played by alignment systems.  When playing DnD, the party's range of alignment give you some sense of how the party will deal with prisoners, respond to offers of dark bargains, etc.  Alignment can also help provide a reason for characters to act.  In the absence of such a system can leave players wondering what their character will do.  The background system can help but I have found that Cypher System characters sometimes need a little more of a push and some signposts for the behavior for their characters.

In this post, I want to discuss you the use character "drives" from Nights Black Agents for characters in The Strange.

"Drive" by Kyle May (flikr)

Like The Strange, Night's Black Agents from Pelgrane Press has action-oriented characters facing a supernatural threat.  In Night's Black Agents, the characters are well-trained former (or not-so-former) spies with remarkable skills tasked with fighting supernatural creatures like vampires.  These characters may have similar motivations as characters from The Strange working for The Estate or the OSR.

Night's Black Agents asks players to define their characters "drives" as a means to explain why the character will do silly things like chase down foreign spies or fight vampires. Any sane individual would run and hide.  The defined drive helps explain the characters motivation -- part of what I want from an alignment-system substitute.

In my game, I asked players to choose drives from the list defined in the Night's Black Agent core book.  As a result, I have players with the following drives (just to provide some examples):  vengeance, atonement, and "no where else to go".  The discussion of each character's motivation created a series of plot hooks and energized my efforts to plan the campaign.  It created long term hooks, potential NPCs, and provided mechanisms to get characters to actually work with The Estate (as is the basis for my current campaign) and explore supernatural phenomenon.

Let me just provide one example of how this worked.  I encouraged my players to consider fictional characters as inspiration for their new characters.  One player chose Snake Plissken from Escape from New York  and Escape from LA (I have not seen the latter -- but it is not essential to the example).  The player wanted to pick up right about the end of Escape from LA and have Snake picked up by The Estate.  The result was a desire for vengeance against the movie character played by Lee Van Cleef (a great NPC as a potential reoccurring villain) and the hope to prevent the slide of contemporary Earth towards the version he saw in his home recursion.

In addition to the NPC it added to my campaign (Lee Van Cleef will definitely show up again -- likely in multiple recursions), I now have a better idea of how to motivate the character.  I know how to arrange plots so that the character's pursuit of vengeance and desire to prevent the degradation of the Earth will incentivize action.  From here on out, the player knows why the character will act, why he will work with The Estate (even if only temporarily), and how and why he will interact with the other members of the party.

All of the players loved the discussion of their characters' drives.  It is worth considering to help round out the characters in your game -- and it is easy to pull into most game systems.  With it, you can have ready answers for why the characters will do what our insane plots often require them to do -- whether that is explore an abandoned ruin, save the prince, or smuggle some arts across the galaxy.

PS I will likely write a number of posts about adapting parts of Night's Black Agents for games in The Strange.  In addition to the thematic similarities of action-oriented spies fighting supernatural forces, there are several mechanical similarities between the systems (in Night's Black Agents case - derived from the Gumshoe System).  There is so much to borrow for my game of The Strange.

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