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Conan
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2006 10:49 am    Post subject: Conan Reply with quote

I hope we're all agreed that the next game we'll play is Conan the RPG.

I thought it would be a good idea to start a discussion on what sorts of characters we might play and how they might work together, to make sure our characters are complementary and to help the GM come up with scenarios.

I don't have any really interesting ideas, but I'll start with a few very basic concepts:
    Pirates, with an ex-soldier captain with a heart of gold, a brutush weapon fanatic, a strangely competant priest, a married couple, a classy temptress and a young noble and his creepy magic-using sister.

    A troupe of Hun-like Hyrkanian reavers.

    An exiled noble and his/her retinue of mercenaries.

    A disparate bunch with no common cause, all finding themselves in slavery together.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2006 11:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

All those sound good. The one thought I had was the disparate bunch who come out of a drugged stupor and find themselves being marched in chains across a desert.

One advantage of this idea is that it means the players can come from wherever they want and be whatever they want. If we go with this then I would ask each player to come up with a backstory to explain their enslavement. Each backstory should involve a beautiful, dancing girl (she might have tricked you into slavery, she might have tried to save you, she might just have been a bystander you saw and whose dark eyes haunt you).

One thing Conan encourages the GM to do is to ignore down periods in a campaign. Characters might finish one adventure in the desert, and the next session they might find that it is several months later and they are hundreds of miles away in a pirate port. If we want to play that style then having a thematically consistent party (a pirate crew or bunch of reavers) might actually create more problems than it would solve because it would make it tricky for the GM to come up with a good reason why the pirates might be in the desert or the reavers battling through the jungles of the Black Kingdoms.

How would people like to play the game? Do you want roots-laying consistency (with familiar people and places that you return to again and again) or world-spanning and disparate adventures? My ideal would probably be somewhere in-between, but I am not sure where exactly.
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2006 2:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Finding ourselves thrown together as slaves would be a good way to start if we all make up our characters independently with no logical reason for why they might be banding together. And that is probably what will happen to be honest. It would be my least favoured option however as I can imagine it leading to a typical D&D party that merely follows the GM's adventure hooks and only interacts with NPCs, never significantly within the party.

If we were to have a theme, for example, being the retinue of an exiled noble, then we already have relationships between the characters that can develop. (In my experience, interesting relationships never develop between D&D characters because if there is nothing to build on then nothing gets built.) In this party there might be the decadent and naive exiled prince of Ophir; the former captain of the palace guard, fanatically loyal to the prince; the prince's scholar sister; the mercenary hired after the exile that no one can fully trust; the ex-prisoner thief that bargained for his freedom by helping the prince escape when the Koth-backed usurper attacked the palace, and is hoping for a big reward when the prince is reinstated. (Apologies for the cliches, it is just an example.) With this sort of complexity there can be some dynamics within the party. I think it is also easier for the party to have some motivation (reinstating the prince in this case) and in my opinion motivation is gold.

I do like the idea of dropping down-periods (and would be quite happy if we simply jumped to the part of the adventure after we take the map from the old guy in the tavern). I don't really see why that wouldn't work with a thematic party however. Obviously the GM wouldn't go dropping a bunch of pirates in the middle of the desert and would just have to choose more appropriate adventures. In my opinion, the advantage of having a party with nothing consistent about it, such as freed slaves, that can go anywhere, is a disadvantage as the party will lack focus and motivation. Some thematic parties could be dropped anywhere though, such as the roving exiled retinue.

As for consistency, I too would prefer something in between. Perhaps Firefly could be a model, where there are recurring characters, but the overall story shoots all over the place.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2006 10:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Benedict wrote:
If we were to have a theme, for example, being the retinue of an exiled noble, then we already have relationships between the characters that can develop. (In my experience, interesting relationships never develop between D&D characters because if there is nothing to build on then nothing gets built.) In this party there might be the decadent and naive exiled prince of Ophir; the former captain of the palace guard, fanatically loyal to the prince; the prince's scholar sister; the mercenary hired after the exile that no one can fully trust; the ex-prisoner thief that bargained for his freedom by helping the prince escape when the Koth-backed usurper attacked the palace, and is hoping for a big reward when the prince is reinstated. (Apologies for the cliches, it is just an example.) With this sort of complexity there can be some dynamics within the party. I think it is also easier for the party to have some motivation (reinstating the prince in this case) and in my opinion motivation is gold.

...

As for consistency, I too would prefer something in between. Perhaps Firefly could be a model, where there are recurring characters, but the overall story shoots all over the place.


I really like these ideas Ben. The only slight issue I might have is if there is a character who has authority over the rest of the party - I have found in the past that this does not seem to work well.
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2006 1:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mikeythorn wrote:
I really like these ideas Ben. The only slight issue I might have is if there is a character who has authority over the rest of the party - I have found in the past that this does not seem to work well.


Yeah, that occured to me as well. I think it is something we could work around though. In my example I made the prince decadent and naive with the idea that no one takes him seriously enough for him to boss people around. Adversity would make equals of the group anyway. The other option would be to have the least demonstrative player run the boss – Tim say.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2006 2:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think you could create all sorts of nice little tensions with your exiled group if some (if not all) members refuse to accept the authority of the renegade noble. Afterall, he is renegade and some of them are mercenaries and theives.

How can we encourage the other players to get involved and contribute? It would be nice to actually have a genuine joint effort in constructing the campaign and the adventuring group.
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2006 6:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mikeythorn wrote:
How can we encourage the other players to get involved and contribute?


Angus was keen to put some effort into coming up with a consistent party. We should point him here.
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Angus



Joined: 23 Jul 2006
Posts: 28

PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2006 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[Enter Angus stage left]

I really like the idea of having a non-egalitarian party structure, and I've never tried it. I should be the leader of course, except that my proto-character only has a charisma of 8.

I have been thinking that my character would be the son of a great barbarian chief, who possessed a mysterious and powerful magical item. His back story would be that his father was slain in a lost battle, and he captured and sold into slavery. He knows, but the rest of his tribe, does not know that his father was slain, the battle lost, and he captured, becuase of treachery by his despicable uncle who now commands the tribe and possesses the artifact. There'd be room in that story for more characters - a brother or companion at least, but I don't know how far it could be spun.

Anyway I guess I like the idea of huge dark conspiracies, or huge evil regimes to be overcome.


One thing to consider when creating a party concept is that all the characters will presumably be 1st level, so inexperienced.

Perhaps we could start with a slave caravan which is attacked and looted by dessert nomads. Our characters are survivors and have been left with virtually no resources, and a long way from shelter, but not all of our characters are slaves. We could have one of the slavers left alive, too weak to survive alone, but the only survivor with knowledge of the dessert, while another character has only been travelling with the caravan "for safety" (and of course has a mysterious past and dangerous enemies - the last member of a secret society who knows or has something or other).
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2006 9:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Being survivors of a slave caravan is functionally equivalent to starting as slaves for the purpose of the issue at hand. Angus, are you in favour of a party of disparate people thrown together, rather than a party with a theme?

Whatever sort of party we have (and I repeat my preference for a theme), we should probably compare characters. This will help us come up with a theme that encompasses all the characters, if we choose to have a theme, and to work out how compatible the characters are in any case.

At the moment I am considering two character options: a knight from a civilised kingdom (on the assumption that we'll be spending time in barbarian lands helping out Angus' proto-character, turning the fish-out-of-water/barbarian-among-the-civilised shtick on its head) or a smart, cool thief.
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Angus



Joined: 23 Jul 2006
Posts: 28

PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2006 11:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My thoughts with the slave caravan idea was that it would create more complex relationships between the characters.

You do make a good point however. It relies on the players acting the relationships.

What about if the party is based upon a gang of streetkids - brawlers and thieves?
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2006 9:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Benedict wrote:
At the moment I am considering two character options: a knight from a civilised kingdom (on the assumption that we'll be spending time in barbarian lands helping out Angus' proto-character, turning the fish-out-of-water/barbarian-among-the-civilised shtick on its head) or a smart, cool thief.


I would encourage the presence of a noble character - just because I think they will add another dimension to the game with their social abilities and skills. Actually, this is one area which has particularly impressed me with Conan. A fair amount of thought seems to have gone into making social skills and abilities extremely useful, interesting, distinctive and fun. I am thinking of things like the "Don't you know who I am?" ability that nobles can have and which can be used to fluster guardsmen into letting you pass.
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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2006 10:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mikeythorn wrote:
I would encourage the presence of a noble character...


In terms of classes, is a knight a noble or a soldier?
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2006 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"A noble". Soldiers seem to be more grunts than officers. Essentially nobles are a fighter class, with their particular combat advantages coming from use of armour and flash weaponary. Here is a description from an RPGNet playtest review which seems entirely focused on answering the question "is this character a killing machine or not":

Quote:
The Noble Class is a real keeper. His BAB is on par with the Thief and Pirate, not at the higher rate of the Soldier, Barbarian, Nomad and Borderer. Likewise he has d8 hit die instead of the better d10 of the brute squad. But, he is proficient in a wide variety of weaponry, and his wealth and family connections make it more likely for him to be wearing Plate Armor than most other classes. Plate Armor is very, very good (much better than in D&D) and only the Noble and Soldier can get away with wearing it without spending a feat on proficiency and without having to give up any of their neat class abilities—which for most classes require you to be wearing medium, light or no armor. So, our Noble, in plate armor, was able to wade into a horde of 4th level Pict barbarians and to emerge virtually unscathed (they might have grappled him down eventually, but it didn’t happen this night). But even better than the armor, are the various Social Abilities nobles get. We didn’t get to use “Smear Others” or “Savior Faire” that night, but the “Do You Know Who I Am?” came in mighty handy to browbeat a city gate guard when the party emerged filthy and ragged from a long trek overland.


I am not sure what BAB is, but figure it is probably something like "base attack bonus" - and is essentially a character's chance to hit in combat.
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Mikeythorn



Joined: 20 Jan 2006
Posts: 364
Location: Wellington

PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2006 11:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually - I might as well post all the character class descriptions from that combat obsessed RPGNet review. It doesn't give you a taste of anything except for how classes perform in combat, but I think it does demonstrate how balanced Conan is. It seems almost impossible to have a dud character.

Quote:
I cannot comment on the Barbarian class, but the Soldier class plays just like the D&D fighter, with the classic Power-Attack and Cleave combination making life difficult for the hordes of 4 HD enemies I threw at them. The NPC soldier in the party was really the heavy combat stalwart, and none could match him for dishing out hurting on a consistent basis. When he was paralyzed by a demon near the end of the adventure, the rest of the party was starting to sweat.

The Thief plays just like a D&D Rogue, except that with certain weapons, which he chooses at certain levels, his Sneak Attack bonus increases to d8’s instead of d6’s. The party thief was a bit hesitant about jumping into the fray, and so we didn’t see his combat potential to the degree we might have. When he did get into position for a Sneak Attack, the d8’s really started to pile up the damage. Out of combat, the trap sensing and deactivation works just like standard D&D.

The Borderer also plays a lot like a D&D ranger, our Borderer went for the archery combat style and was really a first rate combatant. Our Borderer was in his element. He was specialized for the forest and we were in the Pictish wilderness, doing battle with the savage woodland Picts. The Border was able to hunt down the Picts and do ferocious damage with his longbow. He was also able to elude the lower-level Picts and spy upon them undetected.

...

The Pirate is Rogue-like in combat, relying on Sneak Attack to make his presence felt. But he has some additional abilities, like the gloriously named “Sail the Road of Blood and Slaughter” which allows him to make a coup de grace as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. He also has a ferocity attack that can be useful in making a quick kill and scaring the Jeepers out of your enemies. The pirate also gains the ability at high levels to move about, ignoring all attacks of opportunity. Coupling this maneuvering with his Sneak Attack, the pirate becomes a first rate combatant despite having a lesser BAB and smaller HD than a Soldier or Barbarian. Our Pirate player played his advantages to the hilt, jumping all around the battlefield, stabbing filthy landlubbers in the back.

The Nomad is like a ranger variant adapted to horsemanship on the deserts and plains. He gains an advantage in charging and generally can hold his own. In his element he should have some key edges, but even in the forest setting where we were, our Nomad player did just fine, cutting the head off a demon at one point to the roar of the crowds and the amusement of the children.

...

The Scholar is a class that covers all magic-using types in the Conan world. He uses a Spell Point system (called Power Points) rather than a memorization system. The spells he knows come in groups, and acquiring them is more like acquiring chains of Feats than D&D spells. You need to learn the Basic Spell of a Sorcery Style before you learn the advanced spells, all of which have certain extra requirements. The thing about the Power Points is that you have a basic amount, but can temporarily gain 2 or 3 times that many, but to do so almost always involves sacrificing people. During our game the Nomad picked up an NPC girlfriend, and every few minutes, the Scholar would mention that he might need to sacrifice her if things got hairy. Of course we would remind the scholar about what happens whenever anyone tried to sacrifice the girlfriend in a Conan story…something about one foot of steel protruding from said sorcerer’s back…and he would calm down again. In short, the Scholar plays absolutely nothing like a D&D spell caster in any way whatsoever.

Our scholar really only cast 3 successful spells during the session. The first two were Mass Hypnosis, which caused 25 Picts to flee (for about an hour) and drained most of his power, and Raise Corpse, which he used to create 3 zombies to fight the Picts on their return. The third, the Incantation of Amalric’s Witchman, was the key to the whole adventure. At the climax of the session, the players were fighting the Monkey-God Hublux and were surely going to lose. They gave him their best shot and only did 5 points of damage (out of 200 HP for the creature). The spell, which he failed on his first attempt, turns a demon or god into a mortal creature, getting rid of its DR and making it subject to critical hits and sneak attacks. One the spell took hold; the Pirate burned a Fate Point on a Sneak Attack (allowing Maximum Damage) and killed the beast through Massive Damage save. But, imagine a D&D wizard going through several battles and casting only 3 spells and you begin to see the difference.

In Sum, I think everyone was well pleased by the classes. Nobody was saying, “man, my class just stinks, I wish I was one of those dudes.” The Borderer especially is looking forward to playing a borderer in our upcoming long-term campaign, where we start from first level. Judging by how many people say “rangers suck” in D&D, I’d say the Borderer must be an improvement.

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Benedict



Joined: 22 Jan 2006
Posts: 256

PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2006 11:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Angus wrote:
Anyway I guess I like the idea of huge dark conspiracies...


Having immersed myself in a Cthulhu campaign for a few months, the idea of dark conspiracies leaves me rather cold. Smile

I think I know what you mean though.

I do like the idea of characters coming to the game with a back story that spawns adventures, such as your proto-character (perhaps he could be a Pict). If all of the characters are extremely well detailed, we wouldn't need an over arching theme to the party as the individual characters could provide adventure hooks:

"Come and help me kill my uncle and when I am chief of my tribe I will make you all honorary warriors."

"Okay. But if I aid you, you must help me kill the man arranged to marry my sweetheart so that her father will have no option but to let me marry her. I will reward you handsomely from my dowry."

"No! First you must help me break into the treasure room of King Nakgalad. I cannot do it on my own. Shares from the booty will make us all rich."

etc. (Again, apologies for the cliches.)

The GM can also throw in unexpected twists from the characters' backgrounds to send us off on further adventures. This was something I was trying to do with Hackmaster.

I also had an idea for a series of adventures for Fox Force 5 (using Hong Kong Action Theatre), basing it around a TV series, running 5 adventures, each centred around one of the 5 characters, making that character temporarily the star. This sort of approach might work and could encourage us to make up more interesting backgrounds to make the most of the adventure when our character is the star.

Related to this idea, one of the roleplaying tips I get by e-mail had a discussion on getting player feedback for campaigns that I think could be helpful. I'll copy it below. (I am planning of using these tips if I ever run my own campaign.) Having the players give the GM feedback will help build the campaign, should get our characters more intimately connected with what's going on and give the GM more enthusiasm.

Quote:
GETTING PLAYER FEEDBACK

Players should impact the direction and content of the campaign. However, good feedback can be hard to find. Some players are uncomfortable criticizing the GM, who puts more work into the campaign than anyone else. Others prefer to wait and see where the GM is going. Some have trouble articulating exactly what is right and wrong, what they like or dislike.

In addition, some referees don't take criticism well—the amount of effort they invest in a campaign tends to make them defensive.

What's needed is a mechanism for generating positive feedback to the referee:

* Feedback that helps him direct his efforts and steer the campaign in the direction the players want.

* Feedback that's not focused on what's already happened, but on what's going to happen next.

This article is intended to provide such a mechanism.

1. Ask For An NPC List
============================================================
Ask each player to list 3-5 NPCs they want to see more of in the campaign. These NPCs can be existing ones identified by name, or can be new ones identified by role.

With each, there should be a line or two of commentary about what part the NPC would play in the campaign. This could be the villain that everyone loves to hate, a girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, or a mysterious vizier who keeps popping up and leaving significant-sounding riddles for the PCs to solve.

For example, one player once suggested to me it was about time another player's PC married his girlfriend. Everyone had lots of fun when the girlfriend trapped the PC into proposing.

2. Ask For Sub-Plots
============================================================

For Their PC
------------
Ask each player to list 3–5 short-term subplots they would like their character to be involved with. One of my players once wanted to lose his favorite fishing lure and spend the whole session searching for it. I used the idea as a plot hook, leading into a little story of obsession and how far someone would go in pursuit of something most people would consider trivial, in this case, a fishing contest.

For Another Character
---------------------
Also ask each player to list 1 or 2 short-term subplots they would like to see another character be involved with. The other character could be a PC or an NPC. One of my characters once suggested that a billion year old artificial intelligence NPC had had a lot of time to muse, and that a book of philosophy by him might be worth reading.

Through a number of subplots, that book (the first of 25 volumes of about 10,000 pages each) was eventually published and became the foundation of a new cult, which then became the superhero team's primary source of income for a time, raising a whole slew of thorny issues for the players to resolve when certain passages were misinterpreted.

How did the characters feel about taking money derived from a cult who practiced kidnapping and brainwashing? And if they put a stop to it, where would the team's financing come from?

3. Ask For Plot Arcs
============================================================
Ask each player to list 1 or 2 long-term plots they would like the whole group to be involved with. This could be anything from stepping up the war against drugs to overthrowing the evil king. It should be something that will have long-term repercussions for the PCs and the game world.

4. Ask For Boundaries
============================================================
Ask each player for 1 or 2 things they don't want to have happen to their characters. These should ignore the obvious—most players don't want their characters killed, for example. Is there a direction that the players definitely don't want to go in, a merry-go-round that they definitely want to get off?

5. Resolving Contradictory Plot Ideas
============================================================
Once the GM receives this input, he can start integrating player requests with existing plans. The result is a more equitable balance between GMs and players in the future of the campaign—and no hurt feelings to contend with.

Of course, there is always the risk of contradictory requests. Resolving these is not as difficult as it may appear. There are, in general, three types of contradictions to be considered:

1) NPC development
2) Campaign style
3) Plot focus

1) NPC Development
------------------
Two types of possible contradiction spring to mind. The first relates to NPC involvement, where one player wants to see more of a given NPC and another wants less.

This often indicates the NPC's personality is not sufficiently developed, or the NPC's plot involvement is monotonous. The NPC's full range is not being shown, or it doesn't have enough range to reveal.

Resolution: have the NPC focus on the character of the player who requested to see more of him, and in a different way to what has been seen thus far.

For example, there might be an overbearing, overzealous general who is perpetually jumping to conclusions and acting hastily. One player might find these antics amusing, another might be tired of the same thing happening time after time. Having the overzealous general begin a romantic pursuit of the character whose player was amused changes the NPC's role in the campaign, and focuses the NPC on the player who wants to see more of him, while at the same time giving the player who wanted to see less of the NPC reduced interaction.

The other type of contradiction occurs when one player suggests such an NPC role change while another player wants things to remain the same.

This is not a contradiction—the NPC should be able to do both at the same time. If he can't, the NPC will have to come to terms with two mutually exclusive desires, just as a PC (or a real person) would. The result will be character development that keeps the NPC fresh and interesting.

It's worth noting that, when two plot suggestions are unrelated, the referee can generate lots of entertainment for all concerned by arranging matters so there is a contradiction. It's even more fun if that contradiction is in what a PC wants, rather than an NPC.

For example, you have player who wants to highlight his PC's obsession with protecting of woman and small children? Introduce an 8-year old evil genius. Will the PC let him escape, or rescue him if required? How will the other PCs and NPCs react? How will the evil genius react?

2) Campaign Style
-----------------
These contradictions are more significant, at least on the surface. For example, one player wants more puzzles, one wants more combat. Perhaps one player wants longer plotlines while another wants shorter ones and more, final resolutions.

Like the NPC contradictions we looked at, resolve campaign style contradictions through creative combinations and mixes.

For example, you could resolve the first contradiction mentioned by introducing monsters where one character has to puzzle out how to defeat the enemy while others keep it busy. Simply adding a conflict to puzzle situations—with some time critical element to the puzzle so that it can't be ignored while the enemy is dealt with—would keep both players happy.

The potential solution to the other example is using episodic scenarios, each of which leads to a new problem, and, hence, a next scenario. This format has been around since the adventure serials of the 1930s. Go watch the Indiana Jones movies, or the Babylon-5 TV series, for ways of implementing the combination.

3) Plot Focus
-------------
These are the most difficult contradictions to resolve. For example, one character wants to get more involved with thwarting the drug trade, while another wants more deep-space adventures.

They are also the most provocative of creativity on the part of the referee. Once again, the requests are not incompatible; the actual problem lies in the assumptions at the root of the implementation of the two requests. Identify the assumptions that are in conflict and the rest takes care of itself, with effort and ingenuity.

Resolving the example problem requires identifying the key assumptions in conflict--that the drug trade is a terrestrial problem, and deep space adventures aren't. To implement both, link the drug trade to a deep-space situation, which could be an X-Files-like conspiracy with the drug trade being used to soften humanity up, or to funnel wealth off-planet, or whatever.

Perhaps the reason law enforcement efforts against the drug trade have been unsuccessful is because department funds are needed to finance a secret war against would be alien invaders.

Resolve the assumptions and you suddenly have substantial plotlines jumping out at you.
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