Capture and Player Agency

Chris633

Explorer
Hoping to get some advice regarding the start to my new campaign and the issue of player agency. So I am going to be running an AP where the game starts with the players as prisoners following a raid on their home village. So I was originally planning to run it as written with them starting off having to orchestrate their escape. I recently listened to a podcast of a group running the same AP where the GM elected to role-play the prologue. So the players got to play through their inevitable capture. The players seemed ok with it (I suspect they knew this was going to happen).

So my inclination is to start as planned with them already captured. However, I can see some upsides to role-playing the prologue. It could be dramatic. They could gain intel on their enemy that they may not have otherwise. They can potentially do things that may help them later. They can also decide how they lost/got caught. However, players don’t like loosing agency and being in a situation where their choices don’t effect the overall outcome. Having them start already captured bypasses that feeling and starts them off with more agency.

So my question is this: Would you want to role-play the prologue or just start at the actual beginning of the adventure? If I made it clear that we are role playing the prologue and that this isn’t the actual start of the adventure and that the final outcome of being captured is a fixed and unchangeable event, is there still value for the player in this? I feel like some players would like to decide how they failed/got captured or may want the chance to do other things. Or should I just start them in jail and narrate how they ended up there?
 

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Bagpuss

Hero
I would be tempted to start with them captured in a cell, and then roleplay as a flashback how they ended up in the situation. That way since they know it's a flashback, they know they will end up captured. Then during the flashback have opportunities to hide things that they later can use to help them escape, or learn information. So say at the end of the flashback the character pulls a lockpick out of their hair for example, or knows the name of the guard, or how many there are in the next room, the layout of the building, etc.
 
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Chris633

Explorer
I love that idea of flashbacks! That really is the best of both worlds. All the advantages and none of the drawbacks of forcing them to be captured to start.
 

S'mon

Legend
Flashback seems reasonable. The main thing is: Never run a railroaded capture scene. Always be honest with the players. If they are going to be captured, then fade to black & say something like "Two days later, you awake in a prison cell, your village in ruins..."
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'd think it would be exciting as all hell to start with the raid, see what they do with it, and have 'em all* get knocked out and captured** by the end of it. It'll give 'em a bang-up combat right out of the gate, while serving as a warning that you're not going to pull your punches when things get real later.

* - or hey, maybe one escapes capture and either frees the others later or meets them once they're out.
** - other than those who get killed, of course; the replacement PCs those players roll up join the party by waking up in the cells with the rest of 'em.
 

5atbu

Explorer
Players *hate* the loss of agency this creates.

Skip the prologue.

Let them backfill what happened in narration.

As in 'you could have run, why did you stay and get captured?'

'Who did u save by your actions?'

This allows them to build a heroic back story from a defeat.

OR.. tell them they are going to lose and be carried captured in advance, but not killed so they can go nova!!
 

Sadras

Legend
I say don't warn the players.
Run the entire capture scene.
Make sure you they can't escape, fudge if you have to and say no often.
Ensure the players know they've been beaten.
Don't fade to black, let them experience the entire humiliating experience.
Watch the frustration build on their faces as they feel immersed in the story.
Break open a case of beers and drink up for a job well-done.
Welcome to method roleplaying.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
Running the prologue could be dramatic. It could also be frustrating, boring, or confusing.

Are you and the players experienced? Are the players familiar with your DMing style?

If either of the above are false, start as you mean to continue. This is the players' first impression of your DMing. If you mean to run a heavily fudged, narrative campaign then start with the prologue since in all likelihood, you'll need those tools to make it exciting and dramatic anyway. If you mean to run a "dice fall where they may" campaign then skip the prologue as it is more probable the capture will NOT go nicely and it is easier to frame the starting situation than cause it to happen.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
How do you think your particular players will react if you play through them getting captured no matter what?

If you think they'd be cool with it, do it.
If not, then just start the adventure as written.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Stealing from 13th Age, I'd do a player montage.

Tell the players that they are going to get captured, and spend 10 minutes going around the table where each player gives a short narrative about how they were kicking ass but were ultimately overwhelmed/bad luck/bad choice, or whatever gets them captured.

Gives them a chance to showcase how they envision their character, give an introduction to each of the other players, sets up possible flaws or ways of acting, and gets them right into the escape attempt with little table time spent and a lot of momentum already generated.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Players *hate* the loss of agency this creates.

This is my experience, unfortunately. It's great that the podcast players were down with getting captured, but Chris, you'd better get an idea of how your players feel about it. Because if you have any My-Character-Is-A-Demigod players, they will probably cause problems if they're forced into a capture.

So my question is this: Would you want to role-play the prologue or just start at the actual beginning of the adventure? If I made it clear that we are role playing the prologue and that this isn’t the actual start of the adventure and that the final outcome of being captured is a fixed and unchangeable event, is there still value for the player in this? I feel like some players would like to decide how they failed/got captured or may want the chance to do other things. Or should I just start them in jail and narrate how they ended up there?

I'd want to role-play it as long as there would be something to gain from it. Like - allow the other players to witness my dramatic watching-my-grandpa-die scene, or catching a glimpse of the perpetrator for later revenge (wasn't that in Conan?). Because going into a conflict just so I can be a pin cushion doesn't sound like fun.

Also, does "AP" imply Pathfinder or D&D? If so, you're going to have some players counting hit points and expecting their full allotment of avoiding-death rules, and possibly being unhappy when the rulebook gets superseded by rule zero. So warn them well!
 

Celebrim

Legend
Never ever plan for a party to be captured. If you are going to run a capture scenario, run it as a fait acompli at the beginning of the game. If you really want the players to experience the capture, run it as flashbacks or dream sequences where you don't have to control how it ends.

I suppose I should explain that statement.

The purpose of running a scene is to find out how it ends. Thus, if you already know how the scene ends running the scene is contradictory. It's almost certain that if you do run the scene it won't end how you want it to end. Not only is the problem that most RPGs do not make it very likely for a player to get captured, but even supposing the that you could arrange it so that there was an 80% chance of a PC being captured, if you have a party of PC's you are guaranteeing that something won't go to plan.

So what you'll find is that you're running a scene but you have your finger on the thumb of the scale the whole time, and fundamentally that's not interesting. What makes a game interesting is when the players can make meaningful choices and they aren't certain about the outcome.

So skip to the point you want the game to actually start.
 
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I say don't warn the players.
Run the entire capture scene.
Make sure you they can't escape, fudge if you have to and say no often.
Ensure the players know they've been beaten.
Don't fade to black, let them experience the entire humiliating experience.
Watch the frustration build on their faces as they feel immersed in the story.
Break open a case of beers and drink up for a job well-done.
Welcome to method roleplaying.

/golfclap

But you forgot “kick them in the business when the attempt to declare actions, roll dice, or rebel and leave the premises!”

And yes, Flashbacks (a la Blades in the Dark) is the best way to handle something like this. It’s unclear what system is being used, but Blades’ Flashbacks cost Stress, so tax the PC some sort of meaningful resource and give them a fictional advantage they can upon that will help them either by opening up an action declaration that wouldn’t otherwise be available or give them a bonus to an available action declaration.
 

Chris633

Explorer
So this is a fairly mature group of players and I’ve been GMing most of them for over 7yrs. So they know me to be story/narrative focused. I have also prefaced this campaign (with houserules) to make it deadlier and more dangerous than the 5E RAW. Now I am admittedly a little more conscious of this issue because back when I first started GMing (2 current players were with the group then) I captured established PCs more heavy handedly. It visibly made one player (no longer with the group) unhappy and another player gave me a copy of Robin’s Laws a few days later.

So with my past experience, the flashback or fade-to-black or backfill or montage suggestions are very appealing. They balance agency with drama. But this same group really handled a pvp situation gracefully and it enhanced the game greatly overall. This was about a year ago. And I am a lot more experienced now. So part of me is flirting with taking a bigger risk. Though I think I am leaning towards having them start in jail but then role play how they got there. Kind of like one of those TV shows that shows you the ending at the start of the episode and then “2 days ago…” flashes across the screen and the rest of the show is about how they got there. They have spend some time building a village (their home) that is going to be destroyed right at the very start of the game. So I like the idea of them having a chance to glimpse the villain, take some actions that could help them later and maybe overhear some things. Hmm.. Now I am even thinking of simply asking. I will open with them in jail. I will then ask if they would like me to simply narrate what happened or would they like to role play how they got there knowing the result.

Thank you everyone for your feedback. This has been extremely helpful in guiding my thought process.
 

Retreater

Legend
I'd only play out the scene if they give you buy-in at the beginning and agree to the scripted event that they will be captured and have to organize an escape. Otherwise, some may fight to the death, some may escape, or who knows what else?

Starting as prisoners is like starting in a tavern. If you wouldn't have each character decide to go in to the tavern on their own and hope for the best, I wouldn't leave the capture up to fate.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Start the game with the PCs already imprisoned. Roleplaying games, regardless of whether the emphasis is on challenge or story, are about players making meaningful decisions. If only one outcome is possible then there's no game.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I concur with others, first discuss with the players that this is how you are going to start so they are ok with it, and don't make equipment lists or whatever. Then start after they are imprisoned, and primed for action; my general philosophy is to start in the middle.
 

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