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Author Topic: The "prisoner" game  (Read 562 times)

RPGPundit

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The "prisoner" game
« on: February 11, 2009, 02:37:41 pm »
I realized today that there are certain kinds of campaigns that I've never been able to really run successfully.

The thought came up with the realization that even though ironically virtually ALL my campaigns have a humoristic element, I had never been able to run a very successful long-term humorous campaign until I did my current Two-Fisted Tales/Venture Bros-inspired game.

Another that I've never been able to do well as a long term game is the "escape" or "Prisoner" campaign.  Where the PCs are trapped in the contexts of the setting and the "goal" of the game is for them to get away.  Besides the actual setting of The Prisoner, other examples of this have been Ravenloft, an Over the Edge game with this as its emphasis, and likewise with a Midnight campaign.  Of the four, the most successful one was the Midnight game, which lasted for a few months of weekly play.

Is it that this theme of escape somehow doesn't fit well with most players? Or that it is too limiting a concept to endure long-term play? Or is it just me, and several of you have run long-term game (more than a few months of play) that you felt did this successfully?

Note that in none of the games I mentioned above did the campaign come to an end because the players had managed to "escape"; though in all of them I operated from the pov that this would be the point of the game, that escape, while very very difficult WAS possible, and that the game would end when they got out.
Also, in none of these campaigns did the players decide that their PCs didn't want to leave, they certainly did want to get out. So its not that the problem was that they didn't "buy into" the concept.

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2009, 04:19:50 pm »
I find the Prisoner motif works best for short arc campaigns.   Also, I find that the players need greater motivation than just to escape - there has to be solid reasons that The Other Side is better and stuff is happening over there that is Mucho Importante.

My most successful Ravenloft game was when the Heroes were swept off a major climactic battlefield where they were turning the tide.   In Ravenloft, each day was one round of that battle.   So they had to get back quick because without them, their Home / Nation was going to fall and we actually played out one round of battle back home for each day (AKA, they got dream visions of what was happening back home).

So it became a race to get back home before home fell.  In the meantime, they had to go through adventures in Ravenloft and NPCs would dangle clues of escape in exchange for their help.

dndgeek

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2009, 07:38:17 pm »
I ran A1-4 once, in which the characters got shanghaied and kept prisoner for several weeks. Loads o' fun that was but it wouldn't have worked for much longer than that.

Imperator

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2009, 02:03:10 am »
I agree with the need fo short story arcs here. If you want to extend it (a la Prison Break, for example) you will probably need to change your game into another thing. So, first season is about escape, second is about finding out who was behind the situation, third is about dealing with it, or whatever.
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Lawbag

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2009, 02:58:23 am »
Lockdown for M&M2e has a campaign set in a high security prison.

Im sure there is a campaign for CoC set in a mental asylum which accomplishes the same "prison" goals.
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S'mon

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2009, 04:04:36 am »
Good idea for an adventure.  Bad idea for a long-term campaign IMO.  At the very most, a three month weekly campaign could work if you run it like The Prisoner with different plots every adventure.  The Prisoner was 13 episodes.

However I have no interest in watching a multi-season show about escaping, like Prison Break, so maybe ask someone who likes that, or Lost.
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One Horse Town

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2009, 05:15:39 am »
If nothing else, this thread has given me an awesome idea. Thanks! :)

madunkieg

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2009, 05:35:16 am »
Inherent within the prison escape is a defined ending, the escape. If you want to make it last longer, you've got to put in a lot of things not directly related to the escape to keep people interested, otherwise it just feels like you're defeating the players session after session as each escape attempt is foiled. Without compelling distractions it's not only frustrating, it's boring.

A better approach to a long-term prison story would be to leave it as an open concept (players make up their own goals for their characters). Escape is a possible goal, but so is just waiting until release, achieving social power, or whatever. Try watching OZ (a television series about an experimental prison design) and you'll see that it is the complexity that arose from the myriad of character goals that allowed the show to run for many years.
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Lawbag

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2009, 06:51:32 am »
You could always make a role-playing scenario out of the Escape from Colditz boardgame...
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Malleus Arianorum

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The "prisoner" game
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2009, 03:37:39 am »
I think it's possible to run a long term escape themed game. My longest running game was a WEG D6 Star Wars game which was basicaly escaping from the Empire. But there's no way the entire game can take place in the same 10' x 10' cell. The players have to be able to unlock new areas or opportunities to get more energy into the game.
 
The Harry Potter series is basicaly a prison story. Harry has to stay locked in his room. Then he has to stay locked in hogwarts. Then he escapes the student area and finds his way into (hazy memories) the town, and the forest and the haunted girls lavatory and various secret areas.
 
The prison-RPG version of this is that the PCs escape solitary confinement, then they escape the prisoner area but remain within the prison compound. They find away up onto the roof, or into the heating ducts, or become trusted inmates that get access to the laundry room or the guard's boot shining factory or whatever. Eventualy they have the run of the place and use their access and influence to escape, thus ending the game. But since Rowling dragged it out for one hundred and eleventy billion pages, I'm sure a GM could do the same, especialy if you were willing to have a multi-prison game.
 
Just off the top of my head, a multi-prison game would have plans foiled by suddenly transfering inmates or allies to the wrong prison. The PCs would have to manage that by solving a mystery (to clear their good names), covering up evidence or earning a transfer with good behavior. It could also be useful to transfer troublesome prisoners and reassign problematic guards.
 
Or, you could also go with a Pinky and the Brain motif. Basicaly it's D&D except instead of starting each adventure in a bar, each adventure starts with an escape. "In media res" as the WEG Star Wars book used to say. :D
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