So, now I’m looking through the DX book more deeply at the adventures set up. Over the years, there’s been a few different scales of illusionist adventures, usually along one of these lines:
Checkpoint Illusionism (All Roads Lead to Rome)
Where the adventure consists of a few checkpoints which are flexible in how you get to them or get out of them. This is the most flexible of the bunch but still problematic because often the checkpoints expect a very rpg-trope level of outcomes. Feng Shui and HeroQuest pushed this sort of play.
Branching Path Illusionism
A set of events leads to a potential number outcomes from any scene, leading to a limited number of other scenes. This is the most common type seen in a lot of games, with White Wolf games being the most well known.
Step by Step Illusionism
A specific linear set of events to happen in a set fashion, scene to scene. These are pretty rare, but Double Cross has this pretty much in spades. There’s a minor point of branching in the adventures, but it is pretty locked in.
Where it doesn’t fit
Anyone who’s played a lot of D&D or White Wolf games can recognize the issue of trying to run an investigation game, a social game, or a “how do I get past this obstacle” game when you give people certain power options. Once a few powers or spells fit together, a lot of problems just evaporate and you find what maybe a good portion of the adventure was built on, disappears in 10 minutes of play.
This is very true of Double Cross. There’s a lot of “Simple Powers” that cost nothing or next to nothing and create plot-changing actions easily. For example, just the electricity power set you can get a power to simply “read” anyone’s data being wirelessly transmitted. Another power lets you record any data to a USB, disk drive, etc, just by touching it. Given that the setting involves a secret war between a government organization and superpowered terrorists, you’re basically snatching cell and email data and potentially solving a lot of mysteries much easier.
So you end up with two options: a) ditch the adventure you’ve prepped, b) stop the players’ powers from actually working or mattering. You either spent a lot of time putting together adventure material that is now useless, or you crap on the players’ choices and stomp on whatever they thought was cool about those powers.
This is a big reason of why Illusionism is shitty.
Making it work for Double Cross
Well, it’s actually not that hard. There’s two easy levers by which you can improvise action. (Go read GM Improvisation 101 and it’s links for basic applications – these two are the DX ways of applying that.)
Mission and Politics
With this giant secret war going on, you have your side, a bunch of other sides, and everyone wants something. Action is basically “someone wants to get/do something” (your side to theirs, their side to yours), “Someone wants to convince someone of something”, “Someone wants to find something out/hide something”.
Set up some general motivations, set up a few Macguffins, and this is easy enough. You can simply give players missions from their higher ups and that works well enough.
What you’ll have to adjust for is the fact that the general powers in Double Cross can make some things trivially easy to do – many of the powers give the players unparalleled ability to sneak in, get things, get info, or get out without even having to fight at all.
This means that instead of thinking of play in a single “Do X thing” as the whole adventure, you look at the consequences that comes out of the actions they take. Did the players get ahold of a bunch of communications? Maybe they find out someone they trust seems potentially a spy or a mole. Did they sneak in and get the MacGuffin easily? What if different parts of their organization are trying to get them to give it to them, but not the others?
Doing the missions isn’t the hard part, it’s what happens because of it that the real conflict comes forward.
LOISes and TITANs, make the game go around. Early in a session should be about players making LOIS connections and all you have to do is look at the positive/negative emotions and press one or other and have it show up in play. These are effectively the Flags the players are giving you to work with.
The one problem for Double Cross is the ever growing Encroachment rate means you can only take so many scenes to deal with personal issues vs. deal with other problems. As a group, you’ll need to figure out if this choice is simply a matter of where we focus the spotlight of action (“We spend 5 scenes dealing with emotional fallout, but it’s not like our characters missed any missions”) or if it’s an actual logistics choice (“You can go save your sister, or you can make sure the whole city is safe. Make your choice.”).
A specific issue for Double Cross is that each scene adds 1D10 to a players’ Encroachment rate.
The average number of scenes a single character goes through in the 3 adventures is about 7-8 scenes. When you look at most players having a starting Base Encroachment of near 30%, plus an average of 7D10 to 8D10 (35%-40%) over the number of scenes – you’ve got about 65-70% before you even start talking about using powers or an Impulse check.
So, keeping that in mind, you probably want to keep in mind the overall Scene count before closing up a situation or giving players a chance to Backtrack.
Looking at the core adventures, a lot of the scenes with combat don’t have any good advice about what happens if you decide to just run, or lose a fight. Given how much of the combat powers pump up the Encroachment rate, it seems like it’s a critical skill to adapt or deal with the players potentially winning combats through non-direct tactics, convincing the opposition to give up, or avoiding a fight altogether.
If you have simple motivations applied to the NPCs, you should have no problem coming up with their responses on the fly.