[Social Contract] How I killed My Partner

Started by Troy_Costisick, January 18, 2008, 06:42:10 PM

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I don't post here in this forum much, but in preparing to run a very gamist campaign for one my newer designs, I began to reflect on what happened the last time I got together with this group.  So this is the story of how I killed the character of one of my fellow players - on purpose - without breaking the social contract.

As for the basics, we were playing DnD 3e.  We didn't very much like the changes that were made in 3.5, so we limit the books "legal" for our games to those printed during the 3.0 run.  Besides the GM, there were six players, myself included.  It was your usual smattering of wizards, thieves, fighters, and priests, but for the purposes of this post the most relevant players were myself and my elven bladesigner and Paris who played a Centaur Druid.  Most of the other characters were straight out of the player's handbook, but Paris and I chose to go a little outside the box.  He really loved Centaurs, and I really loved broken kits.  For those who don't know, the bladesinger is about as borked a prestige class as there is in DnD3e.  It comes from the Tome and Blood manual, and if you include the errata for it from Wizard's official website, the thing is a real monster.  So much so, that they really nerfed it in 3.5 to the point I wouldn't even consider playing it.

Anyway.  As I recall, the set up for this campaign was that we were all the sons of kings, summoned by a blind seer to stop an ancient evil cult from resurrecting itself.  The characters were not compelled in any way to trust each other.  The idea was that such relationships between the characters would develop over time and lead to alliances or rivalries between our respective nations.  This, of course, led to several different and very interesting things.

First, players were liberated from the social pressure to observe restrictive class niches.  The druid and the cleric in the group pretty much eschewed most of their healing responsibilities for nuking power.  Our party was low on hit points practically all the time.  The guy playing the half-orc barbarian ended up choosing the tribal avenger kit and really played more of a paladin type role.  Oh, and everyone wanted a pet of some kind.  The wizard had a sprite, the cleric had a bear (don't forget that), the druid had a skeleton wand (don't forget that either), and I can't recall what the bard had... a bird I think.  So anyhow, the bottom line is everyone got to play the kind of character that they always wanted to play without the other players pressuring them to pick something that was tactically optimal for killing monsters and taking their stuff.

So we get started and go through the first dozen encounters or so, and it ends up being like playing a game of Elfs.  The cleric and druid use tons of AoE spells and hit other party members.  We have an inordinate number of fumbles.  People just can't make a saving throw.  Yet, somehow, we make it through each one.  We get into the early teens (level 13-15 I think) and bonds between the characters just haven't started clicking yet.  If anything, there is a rivalry growing between the cleric and the druid for champion nuker (the wizard mainly cast buffs on his farie and sent the little sprite into battle for him).  It was comical to the rest of us, except that we were getting stressed, having our butts handed to us each encounter because these guys are racing for damage output.

It all comes to a head in a swamp.  But let me backtrack for just a minute.  There came a point in the campaign where we had to make a choice.  We could choose to enter the "enchanted forest" to fight a bad guy there and pick up some ancient elven item or head into a tunnel system full of undead.  The party was evenly split.  2 for forest, 2 against, 1 abstaining.  Paris was the deciding vote.  I made an argument for going into the forest, the cleric guy argued for the undead tunnels.  Perfectly reasonable considering what characters we were playing.  So the deciding vote is a Centaur Druid.  I've got this, right?  I mean seriously, what's a Centaur Druid gonna pick?  Yep.  He picked the undead tunnels.  I was like, "There is no way you'd pick that!  You're half horse and you like nature!"  And he simply said, "Yeah, but I got this skeleton wand I really like."  Didn't make sense to me either, but to the tunnels we went.  I was pissed, but I got over it, and everything turned out just fine.  We hit the tunnels, then went to the forest.  The tunnels was actually a lot more fun of an encounter.  So, it was all good.  However, I tucked this little dispute between characters and players away in my mind, just in case it came up again.

So now back the swamp.  Tensions were rising between characters and at this point, players too.  Just barely making it through these encounters because the cleric and druid couldn't get along was beginning to grate on the rest of us.  The DM was doing a great job of just staying out of it and letting everyone play how they wanted.  One night, in the swamp, the DM through a simple ambush at us.  You know, the scene you've done a million times where everyone is sleeping and the guy on watch notices the ambush "two rounds" before the blades are bearing down on you?  It was a simple, throw-away encounter like that.

Well a nuke fest ensues, with the cleric, druid, and now for some reason the wizard all blasting their spells away.  The cleric gets hit and has to make a Concentration roll.  He fails (of course).  So his Holy Fire or Pillar of Flame (someone who plays clerics in DnD help me, I'm not real up on the clerical spells) goes off course and catches me and the Druid's pet in the blast radius.  The skeleton doesn't have very many hit points, but it survives the spell.  I don't care cause my AC is through the roof and the bad guys can't hardly hit me.  The next round, the druid drops a bomb on the cleric's bear and kills it and hits me again.  "Don't mess with my pet," was his only response to a surprised look from the cleric's player.  The guy playing the half-orc says, "We'll deal with it after the encounter."  Which is something we were all cool with.  We finish off the bad guys, and we all know something is bound to happen.

The rivalry between these two nuker wannabes (both the characters and players) was threatening to cause real problems between us- especially if those two got to settle it on their own somehow.  So before the cleric player could even go, "What the hell, dude?" I stepped in and challenged the Druid to a duel on the spot.  My character said he was tired of the Druid's undead loving, anti-social antics and wanted to put an end to it.  The half-orc immediately volunteered to referee it to keep everything on an honorable level.

Remember when I told you that the bladesinger's abilities are busted as hell?  This is one of those instances that are normally outside the bounds of a regular campaign where that comes in handy.  The cleric was satisfied because the chances of me winning were good, and thus his precious bear would be avenged.  I was a level higher than the druid, and had shown much great prowess as a player in handling all the bladesinger's powerful abilities.  The half-orc was happy because he got to be in a role where his sense of honor mattered.  The bard and wizard just wanted a good laugh.  Paris agreed to the duel.  He was the only one of us who hadn't yet got the shit kicked out of him at some point in the campaign (he normally just cast spells from afar and could run faster than anything out there), so he figured he had as good a shot at winning it as I did.  And his dislike for elves (that would be the player's dislike) was stoked because here was a chance to show that they aren't what they're cracked up to be.

The duel was short.  I won the initiative and cast Improved Invisibility and Jump on myself (which I happen to think is an incredible 1-2 spell punch).  He then tried to turn all the mud to stone using one of his spells.  A good idea, but I was already standing right behind him after the jump.  The next round, I expended a few really nasty feats I found in a Mongoose supplement and dropped him.  I did close to 120 damage to him that round.  My character walked off, and the cleric cast resurrection or raise dead on him.  The half-orc patted him on the shoulder and said, "Don't feel too bad about it.  No one was expecting you to win that one anyway."

After that incident, the Druid and cleric started working together and strategizing synergistic spells during combat.  My character and the half-orc developed a strong friendship, and the general atmosphere of the game improved greatly.  It wasn't so much that there was underlying disgust with each other, it was more like occasional annoyance- which is something you feel in almost any interaction with a group of humans.

Discussion of the duel rarely came up again, other than someone saying, "You remember that time you guys dueled?  That was awesome!"  There weren't any hard feelings between Paris and I, and the campaign went on to last another three months before we reached its conclusion.

So, what did I learn from this?  First, in-character conflicts can spill into out-of-character conflicts.  Second, there are ways to deal with that both in and out of character.  Third, I have a great group that has a social contract strong enough to handle some touchy situations.  Fourth, it is possible to have I Will Not Abandon You type gamist play.  The duel, while socially and strategically risky, was never opposed and we were never chastised for it- despite there being plenty of horror stories where things like this split a play group in two.  We all went along with the idea without having to worry about hurt feelings.  I'm looking forward to the playtest of my new game.  I know I can trust these guys with some pretty challenging situations.



Christoph Boeckle

Very interesting! How did you manage the duel? Did you use minis? How did you play your character's invisibility?
Have there been any discussions about your character being "unbalanced" or is that not a concern in your group?
Would you have suggested a duel if there was no resurrection spell at the ready?

Has any of this informed your design of the new game you mention?


First off have to congratulate you on the strong social contract.  In many groups this kind of thing wouldnt have gone over so well and not just with the players involved in the duel but often many of the other players feel someone has stepped over the line and holds it against them.

I think one thing that helped here is the D&D liberal use of the "Get out of death card".  The consequence of this duel wasnt something game altering like the permanent loss of a character that he'd been developing the whole game, it was just a slight social smack down for some bragging rights.  Did you guys realize ahead of time that it was a safe conflict?  Was it talked about or just understood?

Irrelevant side note, I never saw a Bladesinger in 3rd edition but I remember they were over the top in 2nd so no surprises there.

Callan S.

From my own measurement, it's uncomfortable to say the least. Using certain mechanics in order to tell another player to never again use certain mechanics himself, is contradictory. It either didn't work (he was playing possum) because he's still certain of his right to use the mechanics just as much as you exerted your right to use them. Or the duel was a  distraction while social pecking order was asserted.

Another point is that the mechanics he used were part of the game - but rather than deciding the game has mechanics which people in the group don't enjoy, it's decided player usage of the game should be modified. It's like buying a badly fitting shoe, but expecting the foot to change to fit the shoe, rather than buy a shoe that fits the foot.


Quote from: Christoph Boeckle on January 19, 2008, 09:36:43 AM
Very interesting! How did you manage the duel? Did you use minis? How did you play your character's invisibility?

We were using minis.  When my character went invis, the DM picked him up off the mat.  We each took a couple minutes to plan out a strategy, then wrote it down and passed it to the DM.  He cued us when to make rolls for initiative and attacks and whatever else.  He kept track of where the PCs were on a map behind his DM screen.

QuoteHas any of this informed your design of the new game you mention?

It made me realize that it's a good thing for players and characters to have their goals and intentions for play spelled out so the group knows about it.  The whole "undead-loving druid" thing bugged me and the cleric player because it's a very un-DnD thing.  Had we known what Paris's aspirations for his character were, we probably would have been more accepting.  So, my new game has a space for players to write out goals, destinies, and passions for their characters.  This way, everyone can share and celebrate those things.

Quote from: Caldis on January 19, 2008, 10:18:04 AM
I think one thing that helped here is the D&D liberal use of the "Get out of death card".  The consequence of this duel wasnt something game altering like the permanent loss of a character that he'd been developing the whole game, it was just a slight social smack down for some bragging rights.  Did you guys realize ahead of time that it was a safe conflict?  Was it talked about or just understood?

Yes.  Whenever you have Raise Dead type effects, it does take the sting out of dying quite a bit.  There's still some penalty, but not enough to discourage you from from playing ballz-out.  We both figured, "eh, if I lose this, I'll just get resurected and move on."  I think the loss of social esteem would have been worse than the loss of a few stat points or levels.  But the main thing is, the duel was cool for both of us.  I got to show off how uber the bladesinger class was, and Paris innovated a new use for Mud to Stone that came in very handy later in the campaign.  On the plus side, it resolved a conflict at the in-character level before it became a real problem at the player level.  That was my intent and goal the whole time.  The cool thing is, it worked! :)