The Ol’ Switcheroo

I’ve been giving some serious thought to running a game or two at a local convention. I’d like to solicit some opinions from the readership. Imagine if you were attending a con and signed up for the following game:

You and your team of hand-picked Special Forces operatives are sent into the jungle to rescue hostages taken by a group of narco-terrorists. Can you get the hostages back to the pick-up point in time?

Or maybe this one:

J. Edgar Hoover has tasked you with taking out the bootleggers in northern Massachusetts. Three other agents have disappeared while trying to infiltrate the smugglers’ network. Can you succeed where they failed? Tommy-guns are NOT optional.

Both would be done using Savage Worlds, I’m thinking.

Now, my question is, if you signed up for either of those games (and they are both just examples, not the actual game I’m planning on doing), would you feel somehow cheated or otherwise ticked off if in the course of the game it turned out that you were facing off a “Predator” in the first game? Or a Lovecraftian cult in the second? If you were expecting a “straight” military or law-enforcement game, would you be disappointed if it took a sci-fi twist that was otherwise unexpected?

My theory is that having such a plot-twist would be really cool, and an essential part of the “zing” of such a scenario (Arnold Swartzenegger didn’t set out to fight an alien hunter), but I am afraid that I’m missing the fact that folks might find such a bait-and-switch not to their taste.


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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

12 thoughts on “The Ol’ Switcheroo

  1. Really depends on the switch and just how far off into left field you go. People tend to get annoyed when they think you’re switching genres on them too much, especially if you switch to one they hate, and with no warning.

    Perhaps you could bill it as a spy game with occult elements – that gives people some warning so if they hate non-realism, they can avoid the game.

  2. The plot twists you mentioned wouldn’t bother me, but then I’m a fan of both the sci-fi and horror genres. I agree with Viriatha, a vague warning in the game description might be a good idea.

  3. That’s a hard one. In Predator, even going into the movie, you had some sense (plus the previews) to let you know that all was not what it seemed.

    I think that I were wanting to do this, I would do this with a group of gamers that I was already comfortable with. I know it would be cool to totally surprise someone, but at a convention, that might be a formula for problems.

    Perhaps, you can let people know that although you are billing the game as “spy” or “military”, that there is a high likelihood of crossing into other genres (without being specific) which would be enough of a warning?

    I know that I would love to do something like that… I’m wondering how “Predator” would work into a Conan setting…

  4. I’d be happy to hang around your table at the convention and bitch-slap anyone who complained about either of them.

    I personally like homages. So if you did either of those, I would think it was 110% awesome. Other people might whine, but hey – you’re gamers. Adapt to the situation and have fun with it, or go and cry in the corner somewhere.

    If you have real reservations, then maybe something like “will require some creative thinking and gameplay flexiblity” or somesuch. I’d stay away from “cross genres” though – that’s giving a little too much away.

    Other than that though, go for it.

  5. Tricky.

    It seems ok cause I like the switches, better than the fronts. But if I signed up for Space Marine hunting Aliens and it turned out to actually be angsty, narrative goth vampire crap. I’d be unhappy enough to get up and leave mid-game.

    But then again going to conventions is about new experiences. New people, new rules, new ideas. If you’re not taking risks (both as DM and player) then you’re missing out.

    Still I think you should give a hint, but not right out and say. Enough that imaginative player might wonder if something else might behind the scenes.

    For the Tommygun instead of simply missing maybe mention “badly mutilated”.

    For the Spec Ops if you mention record hottest summer in jungle that’s probably giving it away. Really though, what’s the big diff between chain-gunning narco-terrorists and chain-gunning Predator.

    Ah, I think that’s the key. If you keep the style/level of action of game same but have plot twist I think people will be happy. But if it sounds like action combat gun-fest and turns out to be roleplay storytime or vice versa that will just suck for everyone.

  6. I would be extremely put off if the scenario changed to an entirely different plot. Even if it’s a well-planned showdown with the predator alien, I would be so irritated that all of my character planning and strategies were shot to hell. In fact, I might even leave the table since its just a one-shot at a convention.

    But on the other hand I might appreciate it if I were warned that the scenario would take a completely unexpected direction. You wouldn’t have to tell me what it is. Just that a simple statement that the scenario will change in an unexpected way.

    I don’t like completely unexpected genre-changing surprises like that in RPGs. It gives me flashbacks of nightmare sessions with DMs who tried to railroad their fetishes upon the rest of us players.

    Any vague warning beforehand would be appreciated. ANYTHING.

  7. Badelaire, there’s a huge difference between crying in a corner somewhere and wanting to get what you pay for.

    And that’s the real kicker here – he’s talking about a tourney game, not just something run in my living room.

  8. My experience is that many con-goers want to play the game they signed up for. Most want the genre advertised and precious little deviation from it.

  9. Interesting idea!

    Two options:

    1. In the game description, drop a hint of SF or Lovecraftian horrors. If just as simple as “Perhaps something big and terrible is behind this?”

    2. Tone down the final antagonists for the purpose of the adventure. Include plenty of the appropriate antagonists for the initial genre, with the big baddie less directly science fictional or fantastic.

    I agree that it’s impolite to “cheat” people out of the game they’re essentially paying for. Your players may not see it that way, but they very well may.

    I say, go with your gut. If you really want to play this sort of story, do so, but play to the spirit of the main genre.

  10. I would love it. I suspect it wouldn’t necessarily be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t please everyone 100% of the time.

    One of these days I’m going to actually get to run the Delta Green campaign that starts out using the Spycraft rules for a straight-up spy game.

    Or my other pet project that’s never happened: Role up cops and then World War III happens half-way through the first session.

  11. I’d really enjoy such a game, particularly the first one. I’d say the Predator movie would be sort of a preview for it. If that makes sense. You’d be surprised at the switch, but knowledge of the movie would mute any negative feelings folks may have over the switch. Playing in a PbP that has all sorts of out of the ordinary stuff going on (on a dirigible, nazi assassination attempts, magical idol You’ll definitely have to do a campaign journal.

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