I used to really like games that had long, in-depth character creation systems. My theory was that if you were going to spend an hour or more making your PC, you were really going to treasure that character.
Then I went and killed one of those PCs in less than half an hour.
Taking the Wrong Advice
I was running a Cyberpunk 2020 game and had just read Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!!!!, which is the game’s book of GMing advice. The book is better than the title makes it sound, but it still leaves a lot to be desired by modern standards. Nonetheless, I had read the whole thing cover to cover and had paid special attention to the advice on keeping players on their toes handed down by the game’s creator, Mike Pondsmith.
Pondsmith had a whole section about challenging PCs through trickery such as contact poison on a toilet seat and plastic explosives in their furniture. In retrospect, this was advice reserved for challenging PCs that weren’t fazed by straight-on combat. Unfortunately for my players, I took the advice to heart and threw all that stuff in during the first session.
After spending about two hours customizing characters and developing backstories, the game began. In the first combat, one of the PCs got shot in the head. For those who aren’t familiar with the Cyberpunk 2020 system, the game doesn’t use a hit point structure but instead has health boxes that you check off when you got wounded. Guns typically do multiple d6s worth of damage, and you lose a limb if you take more than eight points in one specific area. In the head, which is the hardest part of the body to armor, all damage is doubled. So…first combat, first roll, one dead PC.
“Fixing” the Problem
This left me feeling guilty, so I made a ruling that the bullet had hit the PC in the spinal cord rather than the brain. As a result, he was a paraplegic. That seems bad, except that this setting had all the crazy future technology that is surely going to emerge in our society by the year 2020, so cybernetics would be able to fix him up – if he paid the surgery costs up-front. (The Night City setting: easy-access cybernetics yes, Obamacare no.)
It just so happened that the PC had a big stash of Eurodollars (yeah…R. Talsorian games essentially predicted the rise of the Euro) hidden in his mattress, so the other PCs went back to his apartment to retrieve it. This is where the out-of-context advice I had taken from Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!!!! got out of hand. Somehow, for some reason, the gang members that had attacked the group had beaten the PCs to the apartment and strapped a bunch of plastic explosives to the bottom of the mattress.
The PCs picked up the mattress, saw that it was strapped with explosives, and promptly tried to throw it out the window. Unfortunately, the window was too small, so the mattress just bounced back at the PCs. I can’t remember if this resulted in a total party kill or if we just decided to stop gaming after this (roughly 20 minutes or so into the first session). I do remember the player of the now-crippled PC giving the weak yell of, “My money!”
I still feel kinda bad about how this session went down.
Images: R. Talsorian Games