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Author Topic: Stealth Magic and Challeges Eclipsing a Single Encounter  (Read 982 times)
Brimshack
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Posts: 88


« on: September 04, 2011, 07:21:00 PM »

Okay, so I have a pretty conventional high fantasy RPG, Worlds of Hurt, I've posted about it off and on here over the years). It's largely encounter-based, but I have constructed some challenges that eclipse a single encounter, and these often involve forms of attack that do not raise the players attention when they first occur. Although the game uses opposed die rolls (3d8 modified by a stat) for attack and defense, there is an exception for stealth magic, which is target-based, and which almost by definition will not kill you outright. You get a chance to realize what's happening and (hopefully) counter-act it. To go along with this, I also have a system for random disasters (you fall down the stairs, see a black cat, or get the flu). So..

General Problem: Random Disasters can slow the game down. They are necessary to render some stealth magic plausible, but run too many of them and you have a game of setting broken ankles for clumsy characters and making chicken soup for the sick guy. It isn't always a buzz-kill, and the GM has the option to raise or lower the number of checks he makes for these, but I am finding the threshold of annoyance is just a little below the threshold necessary to keep Stealth Magic plausible. I need a sweet spot, where the two overlap.

Specific Examples:

Example 1: The Succubus. This Stealth requires that the creature meet her victim first, then roll a Magic Attack against a Target equal to the Mana of the character. She can do this at any time. So, the party meets a spell casting lady in a swamp and she is living near lizard men. She gives them helpful advise and they move on. Two game sessions later, and after several other encounters and a long trip back to town, one of the more prominent NPCs (a Samurai)  has a dream about having sex with a woman. He is told that his character found it more icky than enjoyable and he awoke feeling a little bit ill. (He took an experience point penalty, which was the mechanic at the time. I have since then changed that to acquiring a point of Malaise, which is a penalty to healing done to the victim and a bonus to damage done by undead against him. This can be bought off with x.p.)

The characters have a pressing plot point at hand and the player writes off the x.p. and gets to work on the larger plot. Next morning, the same thing happens. Now, the player realizes he MUST do something about the dreams. The party has no Diviner, so they seek one out, he demands a favor which takes some time and the player loses more x.p. as he has another dream in the interim. The Diviner correctly identifies the attack as a succubus and identifies the succubus as the woman in the swamp. Party sets aside the main plot and heads back up to the swamp where they have at least one more encounter and the samurai has at least one more dream (so he is getting very weak by this point). They find the Succubus, this time surrounded by Lizard men, mayhem ensues and she is slain. The Samurai gets all his x.p. back and some bonus x.p. as well. (which is still the way it works). The players like the concept, and we decide to work more variations into the game.

Example 2: The Witch. This is a different group of players and one of them is playing the classic sword wielding party boy. They are getting supplies for a ship and he is sent on an errand, Once the player finishes the errand, he goes to a bar and starts looking for a girl to pick up (think dead alewives). I tell him he succeeds, but wakes up on the docks with the captain pouring water on his face. He is hungover and missing a boot (Witchcraft requires a personal possession, this making the range of the attack irrelevant. If successful, the character will increase his chances of random disasters a little every game session for a number of game sessions set by the caster (at a cost to her Magic Attack Roll). Each game session the lethality of the disasters is increased. The party finishes their business in town and sets sail. I wait a couple game sessions, because the witch wants them well out to sea before she triggers the ill-effects. I make the roll (same principal, Magic Attack versus a Target. the player is not consulted.) The party boy starts having a number of accidents and getting sick. They get worse each game session. This group does nothing about it. Unfortunately, they don't have a Diviner, nor do they have a competent healer, and they are on a ship, but more to the point, they never even begin to discuss the possibilities or what to do about them for several sessions. Chances to pull into a new port and seek help are bypassed.

When one accident takes the player to 0 Durability, finally they begin discussing it. They decide an ever-full jug of wine in the character's possession is cursed, but he won't throw it away and the others decline to do it for him. Finally, they encounter a Diva on the ocean and bring the subject up. he tells them the character has been cursed by a witch and the player finally makes the connection to the boot. Laughter ensues, but the Diva cannot will not help them further. Finally, an incoming player joins and makes up a Witch-Doctor and casts a powerful healing spell to nix the curse. Problem solved. results in this case are mixed. the players do not have a strong sense of accomplishment in solving this one. It';s deus ex machina.

Example 3: Another Succubus. (Another new group of players) I make up an NPC who will be disguised as a Waitress. She falls in love with the leader of the party and asks for a token of his affection. He says no, and the party leaves without her getting the means to attack them. Problem dodged, and I'm the only one that knows about it. The party gets 1 x.p. over and above the rest of the game session for which there is no explanation.

Conclusions: This is a tricky option to use. Success is by no means gauranteed, but it can be fun when it happens. The Random Encounters are a drag as presently conceived. I need a solution that enables the players to bypass dodge the little stuff while keeping the real disasterous possibilities alive. Maybe an ability, or a spell which suppresses disasters unless they reach a certain threshold of danger.
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Brimshack
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Posts: 88


« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2011, 07:35:19 PM »

Oops, the 3rd encounter is a Witch, not a succubus.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2011, 09:12:02 PM »

I get the sense that unless meta gaming is the foremost expectation, the players really don't have any choice in the matter of these curses? It's not really play - you may as well have said "Okay, your character did X and Y at some point, and got cursed" when you never played that out, because there is no play occuring anyway?

In your first example, the players seem to see a heightening issue that can't be killed directly (ie, they are taking 'damage' but can't kill the thing right now which is doing it) but they can troop back and kill the thing that caused it. Tension, then resolution.

In the second, there only seems the capacity to suck it up, with no method of hauling ass to something to kill to make it all better again? Tension - then just frustration? Or was there a way, but someone made a witch doctor before it can happen? And really, that seems off. In the midst of a battle, do you just bring in a new, fresh faced fighter the instant your guy dies? Here it's the same problem - the stealth magic is a battle, but someones just popping in a whole new character mid combat. Seems a bogus design to be able to get out of it that way. I'd think a rule "New characters can't solve prior stealth magic" would be the ideal.

Finally, there are a butt load of games and gamers out there who like to foster the impression of lethality, yet really the GM texts advise going soft gloves and only ever having it be the illusion of lethal threat. Is this one of those games?
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Brimshack
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Posts: 88


« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2011, 09:39:59 PM »

I'm not in the habit of drinking from a poisoned well Callan. Take care.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2011, 03:59:47 AM »

Hold up please. If you don't think someone's posting in good faith, then report it to me and let me judge, please. Or at most, state that a reply isn't helping you. One-line return fire is not the way to do this.

Also, Callan, when the goals of a post are explicit, stick with them if you're going to post. Higher order questions about goals and standards for fun should be reserved for threads where someone is clearly conflicted about those issues. Not every thread has to be about that stuff.

Best, Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2011, 06:29:08 AM »

Can you tell us about the random disasters system works and where it is problematic.  You shown us what you want the outcome to be like but it's not clear exactly what is you that makes the random system unworkable.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2011, 03:00:10 PM »

Also, Callan, when the goals of a post are explicit, stick with them if you're going to post. Higher order questions about goals and standards for fun should be reserved for threads where someone is clearly conflicted about those issues. Not every thread has to be about that stuff.
It ties in directly as far as I can tell. The game slows down until either the problem is solved by the curse being removed or the problem is solved by the character just dying. If the players aren't doing the former and this game is one where the latter is not supposed to happen - there's the source of your slow down. It simply can't resolve. In the second example it's only solved by a deus ex machina, as Brimshack says himself.

Granted, I didn't describe that connection when I asked.
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Rubbermancer
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Posts: 51


« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2011, 04:01:25 AM »

Quote
Can you tell us about the random disasters system works and where it is problematic.  You shown us what you want the outcome to be like but it's not clear exactly what is you that makes the random system unworkable.

Or, better yet, give us a link?  If we can see this problem within the larger context of the rules and setting, it will be a lot easier to spot solutions that are congruous.

From what I can see as it stands, this whole thing might be a more entertaining experience if you really embellish the ill effects, and not just in a mechanic sense.  Your player might not be able to pee without passing inexplicable kidney stones first, and these kidney stones might be detailed with miniature bas-relief signatures of the caster, or even rough area maps or keywords.  Or a player might get random stomach cramps whenever they look at food or the colour green (nasty if you're in a forest), but if they have the endurance to look at green things long enough without pause, the pain takes them into a temporarily elevated state where they can reach beyond the walls of the curse and divine secrets about the witch.  How much they learn would be dependent on their fortitude, and whether or not they pass out or have to look away.  A nasty battle of wills, and it provides a realistic (lightly used term here :P) drawback to the curse.  No curse should be perfect; the players should have a way of making it backfire. 

Design your "Malaises" liberally strewn with clues about their provenance.  Drop a lot of fluff about the witch when the party first meets them, giving them a) the clue that this person is important and b) a lot of elements that they can later connect to the malaise.  3-clue rule kind of stuff, only perhaps even more than 3 clues.

Another thing.  If the party is on a quest, don't make the witch encounter a diversion.  Simple as that.  Make the witch in possession of something vital to the party's quest, whether it be information, a key, or a rare spell needed to pass safely through a chamber.
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1Plus2D6
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Posts: 2


« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2011, 01:03:40 AM »

Hay everyone.
Well had to register to answer this.
First off, sorry for my bad spelling, little problem of mine.

2nd. the problem you describe is one I my self have had with curses in another system.
my solution was that as the curse gets worse and worse, the player starts to glimpse things that hints to what the origin of the problem is, since curses are sympathy magic (in most systems i know, as they are based of feelings (often hate or love, or just lust)

An example:
The succubus. First nightmare just as you explain, maybe 2nd two. but 3rd nightmare the character begins to glimpse the girl even when awake, and in the nightmare she takes on a slightly less appealing look. 4th she begins to take on demonic traits, and 5th it i a full fleshed succubus riding him. the one he sees when awake shall be blurred, and just out of sight, but resemble the original look she had in the forest.

2nd example:
The Witch. after some time (2nd o 3rd day of he curse) the player stars to hear things, maybe the sound of an inn (the one he was drunk in) or smells the smell of essence mixed with (yes) the smell of his boot, maybe burned. this signs will get more and more extreme till just before he reaches 0 health. where he will picture he witch's face staring at him.

This worked fine for me, and actually gave the players a sense of urgency. if healers and witch doctors try to help, let them get a back lash but a powerful feeling. just like the character himself (but temporary, not a full blown curse)

in the 3rd example, well. id love if he players dodged it right away like that. Thatís simply cleaver playing.

Hope this help.

Yours 1P2D6
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