294 Applying Pressure/Tension

Tonight we’ll be talking about putting the pressure on your player characters.

It’s easy for things to slow down in an RPG. You’re going through the jungle, you hear a noise, what do you do? Combat ensues, you kill the baddie, you move on. How do you ramp it up? How do you make the players “dam, now this is happening? Great.”



This will be a good one for sure.

Love the topic!

Heh. Pull out a sandglass. Flip it. They’ll go faster. :smiley:


Truth! After a while, I just start rolling dic and making “hmm” sounds… Then say “the noises sound like they’re getting closer.” “Did that bush just move?”

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Great! I recently ran a Traveller game which had for one of it’s major encounters a lockdown on a ship for various reasons. The scenario indicated that there should be lots of red tape, but players, (after suitable runaround) were growing frustrated. Any ideas on how to accomplish this and still keep the characters engaged?

If they’re getting frustrated, fastrack it. Give them a quick run of vignettes to show what they’re going through, but get it over with. For a great example in a movie, watch the sequence in ‘Jupiter Ascending’ where she’s getting her official papers.


One of 200 word games from a couple years ago involved a small egg timer/hourglass for a slasher horror game. At the end of each turn, you’d flip over the hourglass and the next player would only have that much time available and if the sand ran out before the end of the turn… ya gots a dead character.

Never had a chance to test it out but it’s been tempting to try and face-to-face gaming becomes a thing again.

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Splitting hairs. :wink:

Three pictures are worth 3,000 words, which is the size of a well-reasoned and persuasive argument.

From the players side, I prefer to have the action be continuous. Not just battle after battle but I like the puzzle or the scenario that makes us have to think. It makes the game more “in the moment” playing and adds a lot of fun. I am with Sean I do not think I am in to the real big mega dungeon 7 year campaign, 4-8 sessions and make it a non stop thriller!
From the GM side, I like to do the same thing.
As always enjoyed the episode.

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I’m assuming not the same artist or Company?

Played Dragonlance for year when it came out. That was a long campaign. Played each module as it came out.

This was my answer to Sean saying that Against the Darkmaster is more accurately a retroclone of Rolemaster rather than MERP. It truly is splitting hairs (since, as Brett said in the same episode, MERP itself is a derivative of RM), but I decided to use images as my “well, actually” :nerd_face:, rather than pointing to the tables, stats, character generation… well, I’ll stop here.

Yes, Against the Darkmaster is in production with Open-Ended Games, a company newly formed and funded following their successful Kickstarter. The final image will be the wraparound cover of the complete book. Yes, it clearly is a direct homage to…

MERP, Sean!



And now about the episode itself:

I’m beginning to think that the 2d20 system might synthesize the majority of rpg innovations and styles currently out there in the rpg jungle.

In Conan, the GM has a meta-resource called Doom. The GM uses this Doom to raise the tension and generally make things difficult for the PCs.

I know what Brett is thinking, and he is not wrong. You can raise the tension in any game, without a meta-currency. Some, even, may call this overall best GM practice.

But Doom in Conan is in a dynamic relationship with the players. Instead of using the PC resources of Momentum and Fortune—or when they no longer are available to them—players can “pay” the GM Doom for an immediate, though temporary, benefit, knowing full well that this assistance now is going to raise itself as a complication or obstacle later.

It’s gorgeous. Another reason why Doom is awesome is because it’s part of the game! Its use in D&D might appear arbitrary, petty, or adversarial in a bad way. Here it’s used to emulate the crises, twists and setbacks of pulp fiction.

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Listening to Part 2!

Here’s some more love for Conan 2d20.

Conan recommends dealing with analysis paralysis by paying yourself, the GM, 1 point of Doom, incrementally, as the players deliberate.

One time, I had to say, “Okay, guys, I’m about to give myself a Doom.”

They resolved their conversation immediately.

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I think you mentioned such things, at least in the next episode, but Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition (of all things) has a tension tracker that I’m thinking about using in my 1e game. Even if nothing is said about mounting tension, watching the tracker tick up and not necessarily knowing why can cause a little anxiety.

A good link on how to use trackers: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/news/2009/9/18/tale-telling-tools/

Keep in mind you could use anything as simple as a d10. As long as the players see it, see you rolling it up or down in accordance with their actions or the amount of time they take to do something, and see something big happen when you reach either end of the count.

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Ah yes, the old temperature gauge is going up and up and you don’t know what it’s going to amount to.

Last night I ramped up the pressure in my Mothership campaign. Threw the kitchen sink at them as they battled transgenic reptilian humanoids, and crazed androids devoted to their A.I. computer god which had locked them into the derelict colony ship they’re exploring for salvage. And that’s not even the half of it.

Everyone is stressed right out, they’re hitting stim packs trying to bring themselves down. One of the players experienced a panic check and failed. Lead to a psychotic episode where they attacked another PC with the vibechete. Things are spiraling out of control for the group.

The best part is the tension created by the game mechanics is causing them to make hasty choices in game that will lead to further consequences down the road.

It is glorious. I haven’t had this much fun running an rpg in a long time and the best part is the players are loving every minute of it. The level of excitement they express after every session is awesome.

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Oh man, that is some good stuff there. Glad to hear that it’s going well(?) LOL.

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I think I need to get on this Mothership train. I at least have to read these rules!


And at least it won’t cost you an arm and a pseudopod!