Monday, March 12, 2012

An Elongated Reply Part:2

Continuing on from part one, let's jump right into it!

I Can Do Anything I Want!: Besides being a popular rant by young children, this is also a common gripe made by many RPGamers and as I said before, I agree with it. Allow me to take it a bit more in depth here...

A more accurate answer would be: NO! You can not do anything you want, but you are welcome to TRY anything you like! Do you want to swing from the balcony on a curtain? Deceive the Baroness with your charm and wit? How about throw the dead guard dog through the burning doorway and surprise the guards on the other side? Roll the dice and give it a try! RPG worlds are full of possibility but one of those possibilities is failure. 

There is one other dirty secret that sometimes leads GMs to a "no" response and I think many players fail to see it on occasion; the GM wants everyone to have fun and succeed! As a long time Game Master, I absolutely hate seeing players fail or die, but it is my duty to kill them (in fun and exciting ways no doubt!). Without the risk there would be no reward and gamers should be allowed to make foolhardy decisions. However, if that foolhardy decision would hurt the party, hurt the game or lead to unnecessary detriment I would at the very least say "Hey, maybe you'd want to reconsider what your doing before you do it." I've seen too many players make willingly stupid actions simply because they've lost interest in a character or been angry at the game and I will never sacrifice the fun of the group because one PC wants to do something unreasonable.

Thief: I search for traps!
DM: While scanning the hallway you spot a dubious area of floor.
Thief: I carefully attempt to disarm it. (rolls dice)
DM: Well, you did not disarm it, but at least it didn't go off. Do you want to try again?
Fighter: Pfft! This is boring. I try to disarm the trap.
Thief: But you've never disarmed a trap in your life!
DM: You don't even have the skill trained, your character would have no idea what he's doing!
Fighter: I'm an adventurer, I can do what I want and I disarm the trap! (rolls dice)
DM: Your inexperience leads to failure. You set off the trap and the hall fills with geysers of flame. Everyone suffers 6d6 damage. (rolls dice)
Wizard: Dude, I'm dead!
Thief: Why didn't you let me do it?
Fighter: Whatever, I still have more than half health, lets go.
Not too heroic huh?

I hope I clarified that without seeming too draconian. Let's move on to...

Nerfing: Nerfing is when the person (or people) in charge take an existing game rule or mechanic and make it weaker in an attempt to balance the game. It can effect either the players, the environment or both depending on the circumstances. While many are diehard believers in RAW (Rules as Written), we should understand that even after countless revisions, mistakes will be made. For clarity, lets look at two instances of nerfing in my own games.

The first is the altering of a spell. I've discussed this occasion before but we can go into more detail here. Back when we played D&D3.5e I approached the group wizard concerning the spell knock and how I believed it to be excessively powerful. The player was not pleased, insisting that I was just trying to nerf his guy and that I "had it out for him." Which was entirely untrue. In reality the spell is absolute in power and completely unreasonable in the game world. First, lets look at the spell, then we will follow it up with some "what if's?" for example.

Level: Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Target: One door, box, or chest with an area of up to 10 sq. ft./level
Duration: Instantaneous; see text
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
The knock spell opens stuck, barred, locked, held, or arcane locked doors. It opens secret doors, as well as locked or trick-opening boxes or chests. It also loosens welds, shackles, or chains (provided they serve to hold closures shut). If used to open a arcane locked door, the spell does not remove the arcane lock but simply suspends its functioning for 10 minutes. In all other cases, the door does not relock itself or become stuck again on its own. Knock does not raise barred gates or similar impediments (such as a portcullis), nor does it affect ropes, vines, and the like. The effect is limited by the area. Each spell can undo as many as two means of preventing egress.

While the spell seems fairly straightforward at first glance, lets look closer. According to the RAW, there is very little an enterprising dungeoncrafter or locksmith could do to prevent entry from even the lowliest of casters! Each cast opens up to two locks and even if they are magical, it is a guaranteed success! Lets move on to the "what if?" portion of this issue.

What if you were a common man who inherited a moderate amount of treasure from a wealthy uncle. You used some of the income to buy land, build a home and hire some guards. Your vault, hidden in the basement must be secured, right? In a world where knock exists as described above, what would you do? You could have the vault sealed off and buy an amulet that allows only you to travel there, but that is far too expensive for this meager fortune. You could hire the worlds finest locksmith to create an elaborate and perfect masterwork lock, but even that would be no match for the mighty knock. Sadly, the most common sense thing to do would be to create a hallway leading to your vault and line the hallway not with expensive traps - but with doors! Creating dozens of doors with a plethora of mundane locks would be the most cost efficient and wizard proof way to protect your treasure. Unfortunately, it is also the stupidest sounding means to solve the problem.

The real solution? Nerf the spell! It's made so much sense that the spell has indeed been changed for later editions as well as in other rules systems!    

Work with me here, we're almost done. My next example involves nerfing on the fly.

In this case it was a Christmas game. I ran an extra special game for my normal group but our cleric was unfortunately unable to make it. Not wanting him to miss out on the seasonal fun, I wrote him an independent quest based loosely on "A Christmas Carol." Karl (the cleric) valiantly fought his way through the various scenarios and made his way to the attic of a haunted estate where he confronted the evil spirit that was tormenting the residents...

The enemy was too hard and it was my fault.

I failed to take into account that his character wouldn't get the opportunity to rest and that he would use up nearly all of his resources getting to the final battle. He went in against a fully charged creature already badly injured and bloody, but not wanting to go out of character, Karl fought on! It wouldn't be fair to Kevin (Karl's player) if he was killed off because of my poor judgment so I did something I almost never do - I made the monster weaker. Another regular player was there at the time and realized it, giving me a disapproving glance. I have never regretted my decision to nerf that monster and would take a hundred disapproving glances just to see the look on Kevin's face as he sent it back to the afterlife on his own. 

I think I've wasted enough time for one evening. Look out tomorrow (today?) for the conclusion, Part:3!   

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly identify with what you're talking about in this article.

    But I never saw myself acting as 'Death', hovering over the players characters with my scythe, but saw myself more as fate.
    There are those players who, for some inexplicable reason, see it as their duty to challenge the GM at every turn, on every ruling and try to disrupt the game at any given opportunity.
    One example I can give is a former player, who was a lecturer of Chemical Engineering at a local university, he really did see himself as an intellectual superior--though he would not openly admit it. Quite often he would attempt to take control of the group dynamic, or rail road the decision making so he would be involved 100% of the time. Typically, he played a Magic User, therefore feeling he could bestow his own intellectual prowess upon his character. In the end, politeness and good manners went out the window, and bluntness prevailed. Thankfully.

    As for nerfing. Yes, I'm guilty of that. Reason? The Dragon Warriors system had a ruling where a natural 1 (which in this system was crit, 20 always a miss) meant instant death. No ifs or buts. Dead. So, before starting I asked all the players how they felt about this, making sure to point out that if they liked the idea of 'insta-kill' with a rolled 1, fine. But I had to remind them that the same ruling would be applied against them should I roll a 1 on behalf of NPCs, mobs and monsters. We settled on a natural 1 resulting in health down to zero and that character, NPC, mob, monster would fall unconscious.

    So, in some respects, nerfing has its uses, plus it can show the players that you, as a GM, are not just a heartless-dice-rolling-evil-DM ;)