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Author Topic: Controls, DeBuffs and PC avatars  (Read 11939 times)
John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« on: February 04, 2008, 11:09:15 AM »

As you can read in this thread, my group is drifting into Vanilla Narr or a more functional, non-illusionist Sim. I'm wrestling with a thorny problem created (or at least highlighted) by that transition.

In our game a player can only influence the SIS through his character. I like this strong avatarism and want to keep and reinforce that moving forward. Problem: the task resolution-oriented magic system allows many spells which are OK when applied to NPCs but which absolutely crush avatarism when applied to PCs. The spells I'm thinking of are all controls or deBuffs. There are similar effects in the combat system which might pose similar problems, but the spells are a more pressing concern.

In a recent example, a player suggested a Situation which led directly to his PC fighting the rest of the PCs. (See the thread linked above.) I temporarily buffed his PC to a level that could cope with fighting the whole group and it promised to be a fun, interesting fight. The outcome: in short order a mage used some fairly low-level control spells to root him to the ground and steal his weapon. Everyone got out of his way and left the player completely unable to do anything but curse. The player had a very poor chance of avoiding this outcome.

This example is mild compared to what could happen if higher level control spells hit a PC and let's say paralyzed him or turned him to stone or otherwise completely neutralized him. The player set aside valuable free time and traveled a long distance to play with us, now 10 minutes into the session he is effectively out of the game, unable to play, and this was directly caused by the actions of one of his friends. That's the worst case scenario. I hope it's clear why this is NO FUN and could lead to resentment and other social contract issues. Basically, we broke the social contract by inviting a friend to play, then barred him from playing.

So what are the possible solutions?

1) Give players direct input into the game, apart from their avatars
2) Totally re-work the magic system etc. to disallow controls and debuffs
3) Ask players not to use those spells on other players, for the stated reasons
4) Add a blanket rule which protects PCs from those effects, let the spells work normally on NPCs

Only #4 seems practical, but it's such an ugly solution. I'm hoping one of you can suggest something better.

I don't think this would be a problem if the PC was neutralized after significant effort if he had a fair chance to "fight back" and simply lost. It doesn't bother people in the same way if they are defeated in combat for instance. The crux is that they only get 1 roll to save vs' these spells and typically a poor chance to succeed. If we change that globally to give them a better chance, that amounts to either a partial (#4) or complete (#2) nerf on existing PC spells. That's going to go over like a lead balloon.

Help!
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sirogit
Member

Posts: 506


« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2008, 08:47:30 PM »

Hello!

Why is #4 an ugly situation? You've already stipulated that the character in this case gets some special "bonus to make this interesting"(The buff you mentioned), what's wrong with giving him increased protection from paralysis?

Are you sure that when characters enter combat, you want them to risk having their character taken out of the game by how the dice fall?

What is a "fair fight"? What's "Significant effort"?

- Sean Musgrave

(Also, I offer two kludges. The Grognard one: Keep a back up sheet, and the Final Fantasy one: Make control abilities granulated, so that petrify abilities take a few turns to really petrify someone.)
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Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2008, 10:02:16 PM »


I think your problem starts before the debuffing and incapacitating of this character.  What would have happened if they had gone ahead with the fight?  Could this character have killed some or all of the others, could they have killed him?  In either case people are being eliminated from the action, heck even if the battle just incapacitates characters it could remove them from the game for a long time.

If this is a serious concern I think you really have to look at option 1 as your best solution, even if it's only in a limited manner like a temporary second character.   
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Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2008, 11:13:55 PM »

Suggestion: Players have a point pool - they can spend points to totally negate a control spell, or they can accept it but still have the option of buying out - and as a bonus, the longer they accept it for, the less it costs to buy out. You can only buy out on the start of a turn, not just as the controller is actually going to complete what the control was about.
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masqueradeball
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Posts: 346


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« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2008, 12:41:52 AM »

Is this always an issue or just in PvP style play?

In D&D, for instance, it seems like debuffs/controls that affect PCs are away to encourage party cohesion. Like, if the fighter is turned to stone everyone else so, "Holy Smokes, we lost THE FIGHTER" and they start thinking of ways to free him so they can get back to their tactically cohesive combat unit. D&D PvP is just nasty, and normally comes down to lucky rolls as the system isn't really balanced for that sort of thing.

Also, could the way the GM/group treat the passage of time cure this ill... like,
"OK Bob's out of play for like a day because someone froze him in ice. Lets skip to the next day as soon as possible. What are people doing?"

You could give PC's a common origin (like they're all, um, exalted by the sun god or something) that makes them immune/resistant to such effects, or otherwise make such immunities readily available in-game, like purchasable powers or magic items that wouldn't (for whatever reason) be as readily available to the badies.
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Rich F
Member

Posts: 20


« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2008, 01:47:58 AM »

One way around this could be to look  at purpose, rather than colour, and treat accordingly.  In your example, if the Spell is intended to take a player out of the conflict, then you make it very hard to do - either through a very high target to do, and / or a low Save.  It doesn't matter what the 'colour' of the spell is - A Finger of Death is equal to a Heat Metal here.  In the same way, a low level spell is much easier to do, Finger of Death could weaken slightly, Heat Metal adds a difficulty to use a weapon, Earthbind adds a penalty to movement / evasion.

How easy this would be to do I can't tell you.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2008, 02:23:38 AM »

It seems to me that neither the magic effects nor the debuff aspects are significant to the problem.  Would it be significantly different if the target were simply turned into a smoking cinder by a lightning bolt?  Or quietly stabbed in the night by a perfectly mundane blade?

I don't think this problem is solvable; if people are already attempting to take each other out of play than that either has to be allowed to happen or the PC's have to be disempowered in some way to prevent it happening.  And that comes down to the decision to either permit PvP activity with all its consequences, or to outlaw it, with all of those consequences

It's possible some of this can be mixed-and-matched though.  Given your specific goals, you could introduce a rule that says "you are only allowed to fight in the last hour of a session; up until that time you are only allowed to bicker".  So you have a clear on/off switch which flags up when PvP action is permitted, for the express reason of not knocking a player out too early.  Obviously though this is an artificial imposition on the logic of the IS and thus may cause other problems with timing.  But it also might work quite well in allowing people to bait each other and work up a head of steam in the preceding period of play.
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2008, 06:11:49 AM »

Thanks for the great input. I realize now this post wasn't as clear as I intended if you didn't read all of the previous thread.

In fact I did give him a significant bonus and he choked on the roll. I wouldn't mind if it didn't come down to just one roll, and of course handing out a special one-time bonus doesn't cover all cases. I think "fair fight" and "significant effort" would be measured by melee where it's already possible to take someone down after a few rounds of combat.

I agree that "defeated" and "killed" are nearly the same for the purposes we're discussing. We recently added a rule that a player must either decide to let his PC die or propose a plausible way out of the fatal situation, so death is the player's preference. Even so you could be out for the rest of the night, combat takes a long time in this game.

I also agree that the problem has a very broad scope including NPC's using these spells against PCs or something totally mundane like a blade in the night or a poisoned cup. The real question is "what needs to happen before a PC is even temporarily removed from play?" I would love to not pull my punches regarding these things and hit the PCs with poison, midnight assassins, and nasty, nasty spells. So far my hands have been tied.

Callan, the point pool with diminishing costs is a fantastic idea. My only concern is that once you run out, you're a goner; but that's true of hit points also and we use HP. You even give the player more control over managing the resource ... I love it!

This was actually the first instance of PvP in over 2 years. I don't expect it to be a frequent issue, this group just isn't that into PvP, but it's going to happen and the player in question spoke to me about it so I'd like to come up with a fair proposal. The other angles of PC vs NPC and the mundane will be much more frequent and I'd like to be able to take off the kid gloves if we come up with a workable solution.


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twilight
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2008, 06:42:01 AM »

In fact I did give him a significant bonus and he choked on the roll. I wouldn't mind if it didn't come down to just one roll, and of course handing out a special one-time bonus doesn't cover all cases. I think "fair fight" and "significant effort" would be measured by melee where it's already possible to take someone down after a few rounds of combat...

I also agree that the problem has a very broad scope including NPC's using these spells against PCs or something totally mundane like a blade in the night or a poisoned cup. The real question is "what needs to happen before a PC is even temporarily removed from play?" I would love to not pull my punches regarding these things and hit the PCs with poison, midnight assassins, and nasty, nasty spells. So far my hands have been tied.

I think here is where the problem lies - if a fair fight is measured by melee, then controls and debuffs have no place in the game. So option 4 would be the best choice. Simply: PCs can not be affected by controls or debuffs that involve save or fail / save or die.

The primary issue being that you are playing in a fantasy setting where controls and debuffs occur. You can't blame the mage for doing what some mages do best, i.e. control and debuff. No more than blaming the fighter for being a fighter. If PvP is going to be a subject in your game, and game balance suggests removing controls and debuffs, then the mage/controller will likely have to respec if it breaks the character concept.

For example, in a campaign I played in the half orc barbarian would go on a rampage and use the intimidate skill on NPCs and threaten PCs with violence if he didn't get his way. The party went along with it for a little while; about until my character, a controller, reached high enough level to learn the spells touch of idiocy and suggestion. He learned pretty quick that an Intelligence 5 half-orc vs. touch of idiocy was bad juju. And having a low Will save made him ... suggestible. In a setting where a fair fight is measured by melee, yeah, my poor Beguiler would respec or die.

The question being: Are you looking for decreased challenge when using controls, debuffs and poisons? Or are you looking for a solution where the PCs can't fail against them? If I'm reading correctly, you'd rather the latter - in which case, controls, debuff and poison should be restricted to color, i.e. this NPC has X under her control, that NPC died due to poison, etc. But they never, ever reach a stage where the PCs have to save or fail. Once it hits the point of resolution, the PCs are capable of failing; in 3.5, a 1 always fails, even a 5% failure can create "unfun" for some players.
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2008, 09:29:39 AM »

I'm pretty sure you can have controls, debuffs and rockin' melee fighters too. You just can't have the kind of absolute controls I have. See Callan's example above, which leaves the control's duration up to the targeted player. You could also have a saving throw every round or somesuch. The important points are that it doesn't boil down to just 1 roll (or any fortune for that matter) and the target must be reasonably competent at resisting the effect.

But I don't want to force a respec by handing out sweeping nerfs. While #4 is a sweeping nerf, it could be all-inclusive rather than mage specific and it doesn't apply to NPCs just PCs. I don't think this would force a respec because PvP isn't frequent enough in our game.
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FredGarber
Member

Posts: 95


« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2008, 10:34:47 AM »

What you're looking at is: If players get to the point where they're at combat, then PvP combat is unbalanced.  How did they get to the point where the one player felt he had to take on the entire group to get what he wanted?  Did he realize that the group of PCs would be able to take him out so quickly?

Whatever the conflict was about, you had a player was so invested in it, that he was willing to go to PvP!  That's what interests me. What was the Situation that the player posed? Is he still interested in his avatar pursuing a goal that leads him in direct conflict with the rest of the PCs?  Could that Situation have been modified or adjusted where the party bickering, but it doesn't result in PvP conflict?
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2008, 01:16:17 PM »

Fred: See the thread linked in the OP for details. The player cam to me with a cool idea, we decided to go for it. Nothing for him to gain, no animosity, just pure story.
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FredGarber
Member

Posts: 95


« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2008, 05:25:30 PM »

Ok. Read original thread, and it seems like the Situation was "A Fire Demon posesses Tusk and makes him go nuts."  It sounds like your group has the personal drama under control.  I've played in other groups where players would propose ideas to the GM for their character that, indeed, were very interesting, but they also totally hijacked the evening's story from the other players.  Doesn't read like that here, so good job you!.

You could tinker with your system to give a player more outs, but if you introduce a mechanic for a PC to control/debuff another into nothingness, then you have to be prepared for it's use.  Personally, I'd nerf all the high level controls/debuffs, because you have a stronger dynamic of "I interact with the SiS through my avatar" than you have a dynamic of "This is a world with these sorts of control/debuff spells."  Since interacting through the avatar is so important, then you need to forcibly bend your mechanics away from disallowing your player from interacting through her avatar.
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