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I've often attempted to run Hunter: the Vigil (part of the New World of Darkness gameline) for my players. Unfortunately I frequently run into the same problem; namely, when I set up villains with the tiniest shred of moral ambiguity ("It doesn't mean to hurt people, it has to feed..") they break down and start looking for 'soft' solutions. Despite this repeated trend, my players balk and complain when I encourage them to create character concepts that exhibit these merciful and tolerant trends from the start. The trouble is...I suppose the trouble is that my players, in real life, are forgiving and/or pragmatic people, but given their repeated insistence on character concepts geared or skewed towards violence, I can only assume that they want to explore the more violent and morally gray themes of Hunter.

So, given all of this, how can I help my players become murder-enabled? Specifically, how can I guide them into getting into the vengeful, unforgiving mindset that many Hunters take with the supernatural or with subsets of the supernatural? I've tried targeting things they love and encouraging them to create tragic backstories, neither of which has worked. I'm kinda at a loss here.

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"I can only assume that..." Have you asked them if that's true, first? Character concepts skewed toward violence doesn't flag what a player wants in the game, it's what they think they'll need in the game. It can be a flag they want to murder, but it's just as likely to be insurance against being murdered. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 28 '13 at 5:22
    
Cross posted my answer w/SevenSidedDie. Yes. That. –  Bankuei Dec 28 '13 at 5:26
    
The thing is, I'm getting conflicting signals. They act excited about playing ordinary people fighting back against the supernatural, and then when it's time to fight they balk. When I suggest that they instead try a different kind of Hunter concept they insist that what they want is the chance to oppose supernatural evil and protect the innocent, which...leaves me at wondering what it is they really want. –  Lord_Gareth Dec 28 '13 at 5:39
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Maybe they're concerned that "the innocent" might be a thing they have to confirm before they can go after the evil? Since you said the slightest greyness means they stop and talk to it, they may be worried about being on the wrong side of vengeance there... This would especially be true if they've experienced "gotcha!" style play where a GM might deliberately set up trap situations to screw them. –  Bankuei Dec 28 '13 at 6:53

6 Answers 6

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Like IgneusJotunn, I have played oWoD extensively but have never played any of the nWoD.

But this seems almost system agnostic. They are running into moral ambiguities and then balking. That may not be a bad thing. There are several approaches I think would be good, and I would recommend possibly using all of them on different missions.

Let the soft solutions work at least some of the time.

It sounds like if they see even a hint of good in the monster, they want to save them instead of killing them. Perhaps at least some of the time that is possible. Perhaps the target can be cured if a vampire (if you allow that as storyteller), or taught to live peacefully (with monitoring) in human society. Perhaps they can even be turned to a force for good and become an ally for the players.

This gives them what they seem to really want and lets them occasionally have a true, clean, and absolute victory. Not something that should happen often in WoD, but occasionally it can be very good.

Give them enemies that are pitch black.

Sometimes the enemy could truly be pitch black with no redeeming or sympathetic characteristics at all. Of course narratively this risks creating more of a stereotypical villain who is flat and two dimensional. But every so often that isn't a bad thing. In real life, there are some truly awful people out there, and in fiction you can take that to an extreme and strip off every sympathetic quality from them.

You may have a vampire that sees humans as cattle to be eaten, used, and nothing more and has no redeeming characteristics in dealing with them at all. This one actually does want to hurt them and may even torture his victims before eating them because he thinks it improves the taste.

In short, occasionally give them one they can feel absolutely good about killing.

Give them moral dilemmas and let them face it head on.

Sometimes, you need to choose the lesser of two evils. Imagine a recently turned vampire is still protecting and even caring for their own child. But in their desperation and driven by their urges, they have taken to killing victims for both their blood and their money. In life, the vampire was a single mother working a low paid job trying to make ends meet, but now she has taken the power she received and is getting vengeance on everything that she thinks wronged her before while leaving a trail of corpses, mangled and disfigured partially to hide the fact she devoured their blood.

This character is in many ways sympathetic, and has redeeming qualities. Killing her means turning the child into an orphan and the vampire probably feels fully justified in her heinous actions in a sympathetic way. But perhaps this one can't be redeemed. She enjoys being a vampire. She doesn't want to turn back even if it's possible, and she doesn't want to change her ways.

Killing her harms the child and she is sympathetic rather than having a truly black heart, but she can't be saved. Killing her is the lesser of two evils. The PC's must face that dilemma and make a decision, knowing that they are causing harm no matter what.

It's not hard to take it even further. Perhaps a child is being used as a puppet, but capture would be nearly impossible and it will fight to the death to continue on its mission. They must either kill the child, who is truly innocent, or allow the child to do the bidding of its evil master, at least until they can track down the evil master itself. Do they prevent the great evil but get their hands dirty killing a child, or spare the child but passively allow an evil action? Either way, they go can go after the puppet master later, but only after they fact that choice which will help define their characters...

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I suppose the trouble is that my players, in real life, are forgiving and/or pragmatic people, but given their repeated insistence on character concepts geared or skewed towards violence, I can only assume that they want to explore the more violent and morally gray themes of Hunter.

Why assume? Why not ask them what kind of stories they're hoping to make with these characters? Based on your description of how they actually play, I'd say that's NOT what they want at all.

You never have to "force" players to do what they're already wanting to do.

Players have all kinds of reasons for mechanical character builds or backstories which make for violence-capable characters, which have little to do with necessarily wanting a violent/dark hero kind of story:

  • "I have to build a combat badass or my character might die, and it's a requirement to simply stay alive so I can EVEN have a story form around my character."
  • "I want to play the character with the violent past who has forsworn violence. I will never draw a sword again."
  • "I want to play the merciful character who can, when it gets really bad, show you why violence is a terrible thing."

etc.

Ask them what kind of stories they really want. Build your games around that. Understand that skills, powers, etc. don't necessarily equate to how the players are planning to use it in play (or, maybe it's something they've chosen for the value in NOT having to use it in play).

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I think your article "Making Good Flags" is worth linking here, especially for the section "The Trap of Non-Flags". –  SevenSidedDie Dec 28 '13 at 18:37

Disclaimer- I've played Hunter: The Reckoning, but never Hunter: The Vigil. I've read Vigil's rulebook, but I'll admit my brain tends to answer questions first with Reckoning details.

While I do not want to encourage a systematic undermining of the players efforts... Have the soft solutions not work well or be absurdly difficult. The World of Darkness takes as its central theme* that the world as it is sucks, and that changing things to not suck at all is impossible. We can only make it suck a little less for a while. Hunter especially- This is particularly difficult in Hunter, because you are outclassed by the things you're hunting.

Take a Vampire. Let's say the players know vampires do need to feed, the same way they need to eat, and they also know that vegetarianism is just not on the menu. Lets also say they've 100% identified one of the Kindred, who for our purposes we'll call Jim. Every few days, Jim is draining some poor soul of their life's blood. What do the players do? Talk to him? Ask him nicely to stop? Maybe Jim hears their words, and pours out his life's story, a tale of woe. He never asked to be a vampire, he doesn't want this. But every few days, he feels that need, and he does it again. And again. And again. If they players want to tolerate this on their watch, so be it.**

Maybe a Garou storms into town from the woods. She's in full Crinos form, a nine foot tall mass of claw and fang and rage, caught in a berserk fury. The players know that Garou are not themselves in this state, that she can't control herself. But they also know that it will take time for her to exhaust herself and fall out of the rampage, and in the mean time, the local pound just got called for what they think is a large feral dog, and don't understand why the person on the other end was that panicked. If your players want to take a soft option- going for nonlethal options, trying to cage or subdue the beast without killing it, they will earn the immense gratitude of the local Caern. (Or not. This is Hunter- Maybe the werewolves are all mindless beasts. Or maybe the Garou nearby are Black Spiral Dancers...) It's clear however, that they can't talk to the thing.

Maybe they found an unrepentant vamp, and they want to hold it to try to cure it of its addiction, cold turkey. How do you hold something that can break through stone barehanded, bewitch and ensnare your senses, and has who knows how many dark kin in the shadows of the city? How long do you have to hold one of these things anyway? Does this even work?

The point here is not to make your players feel a lack of agency. What they succeed in doing should usually stay done. Leave the options on the table. But killing something is easier than subduing it nonlethally, and some things from the World you just can't talk to. A frenzying Vampire, a raging Werewolf, a Wraith fully in the grip of the Spectre, a Rokea that blundered onto land- these are all things where a good soft option just may not exist. I strongly encourage you to allow sufficient bashing damage to knock something out for restraint, and I heartily applaud any party that chooses and succeeds in doing so. That's the best feeling in any WoD game- Triumphing over the darkness, succeeding without feeling like you had to become part of the it. Just maim and kill them as the dice fall if they aren't up to it.*


*in a lot of games, anyway. You can do lighthearted and cheerful in WoD I guess, though I'm not sure I understand why. And obviously the bleak and depressing should be seasoned to taste.

**Per both Masquerade and Requiem, Vampires can feed from someone without killing them. This fact may not be true in your game of Hunter. Maybe the bitten are becoming ghouls? Something bad happens to those who get fed on? Or maybe nothing. Up to you as ST.

* Assuming you're going for low death, high involvement in the characters, go for maiming instead of death, and always leave a path out for retreat. Just make sure something's at stake if they choose to leave.

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(In addition to other answers) Something that almost more trope than actual plot is the turf war. Somehow or another there is a power vacuum or revolution. Regardless of what happens or even on what scale, the players end up in a juicy middle ground. Oftentimes in these scenarios, they are in a pivotal role that can cinch part or all of the conflict which means that the game becomes just as social as mental and physical if they don't just line up both sides and shout "ready-set-go". Emissaries from each side approach the party, and the kicker is that even if they support a given side, you can always add radicals/extremists that they may or may not be obvious and thus the players have to choose sides within their favorite factions. This sort of idea can recurse as much as necessary but try not to muddy the waters too much.

Here's the fact: in almost every permutation of this type of conflict, the players will make unexpected enemies and allies, which lets them use thinking solutions and not just the means to an end. It also means that you can find out what their flash points are (which you can often do in player conversations between games to see who they like and hate) and needle away once you know what they get steamed about.

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Granted, this may take a little while to do effectively, but let the players go soft on one of the bad guys who only kills when they lose control while feeding (Vampires?). Meanwhile have a grizzled mentor advocating that they kill the bad guy before it can kill someone.

Now you have the perfect storm, you only need to pull the pin on that particular grenade! The bad guy somehow gets loose/free. And in a frenzy, kills the mentor.

By killing someone that they care about, it makes the murder very personal. If the bad guy is also somehow able to get free, you now have a great plot-line where the PCs have to hunt down this guy and punish him.

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Give them lots of awesome things.

Give them a sweet pad where they can store all their badass hunter's gear.

Give them some amazing NPCs. Not necessarily NPCs who can do things for the PCs. In fact, it might be better if the NPC is reliant on the PCs. Say, a cheerful hippie who was rescued by the PCs, and now keeps the sweet pad nice and clean and makes sure the coffee's always on and there are enough bandages to go around. If one of your PCs has a close relationship with a spouse or a child or a friend, bring that NPC into the game and get them involved in the story. Make sure your PCs really have an emotional connection to the character.

Give them access to a really great resource, like a library or a mentor, that makes researching supernatural critters and how to kill them incredibly easy.

Then....

Take it away.

Take it all away. That cute, lovable NPC? Torn to pieces in front of their eyes. The sweet pad? Goes up in flames. Their resource for finding out stuff? Take that away too. And make sure that the PCs know it was vampires or werewolves or zombies or whomever who took all of their things away and killed all of their friends.

And then your PCs will definitely want to go on the warpath. Make them care about things, and then have the bad guys take those things away.

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