Technical play skill + setting/situation + narrative + player dissatisfaction

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
On social media D&D groups, with some frequency I see "my player has this one trick that works really well, how do I shut it down so we can have this cinematic end fight?". And while I am definitely for pushing characters out of their comfort zone with some regularity, the idea that a DM is plotting to shut down a player's character because it's too effective during a big set-piece cinematic moment also rubs me the wrong way. It feels almost vindictive, like the other characters will get to contribute to the story climax, but you won't because you were too effective earlier.

Since I've just espoused both sides of the coin, let me talk about walking the line. Taking away someone's abilities should be done in a way that increases their fun. Note that fun is not effectiveness. But turning something into a puzzle, giving people chances to spotlight little used abilities, chances to overcome in non-standard ways can all be a great experience. A long-by-the-clock set-piece battle with narrative weight behind it where one or more (but not all) of the characters will be intentionally handicapped is very likely not the place for it.

With the original description - having some droid foes along the way that were immune to mind control, and others that summoned reinforcements so going in shooting was the hardest option, and other ways to make the player think would have been a load of fun. Doing it on the BBEG where you need to grind through without all of the rewards (and yes, skill-ups in video games are rewards) the player has rightfully earned is a whole different story.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Longspeak

Adventurer
There’s a fight in town with some ruffians. They attack twice with a dagger.
I don't mind subverting expectations, or having abilities the PCs don't. What I mind is when it's out of left field. It's there to surprise the players. And I mean players.

You know how in a Video Game your character walks into a large open space strewn with corpses and resources and you go. "Oh, looks like we're having a boss battle." Then your character is shocked at the sudden appearance of a boss. Vs. Some where they come from nowhere.

Same thing in some RPG builds. tricks meant to take the players off guard. as well as the characters.

Making sure consequences are foregrounded (and success results are protected) lets the player reason about and make an informed decision about whether and how to proceed. After the roll, they can even resist consequences as well if they really don’t want them (though only to a limited extent).
I always like to have a "this is what's gonna happen" ready for if players don't tip the scales (whether by not bothering or poor rolls/choices). Sometimes, though, just having that seems to... tempt me. Gotta guard against it.

Example In a recent session, there was a wild card in a major battle. By herself, she was a potential boss fight for the PCs, but this was in the middle or a larger battle I gave the players a countdown, and while I only hinted at specific, I made it clear they did not want that countdown to reach 0. Long Story Short, lots of people would die. Well... they ignored it. Countdown reached zero. I SHOULD have let the character do her thing. At least two of the PCs and probably four would have died. Two couldn't even survive half damage. Two probably would have missed saves and taken full damage. And 1 had plenty of HP, a great save, and Resistance to the damage type. He's have watched dozens die, but would have survived and been in a fight with the wild card all by himself. So... I deus exed and killed the character they were supposed to talk off the ledge.

I think we made good drama (and they REVIVED the character. I was like "No, that doesn't work on the type of creature, and they were all "it just says creature." So, "Damn. It worked. She comes back mad. We're still in intiative." She's only got one HP. I bonk her on the head and KO her."

So it worked.... but I still interfered.

Had something like that in another game, the final boss battle turned out to be me aiming a ballista mounted on a tower at an approaching dragon, hitting it a few times in like 30 seconds to kill it.
This would be brilliant in a tabletop. Character's improving solutions, a GM willing to work with zany ideas. But yeah... In a game, kinda lame with no groundwork and no way to tip the scales with your accomplishments. Just make a cutscene.

I'm somewhat relieved by the fact that I'm not alone in my opinion of the final boss battle in Jedi Survivor.

And the main culprit seems to be exactly what I described. Multiple instances where the boss gets to perform attack chains with dodge mechanics that the player has no recourse against. That, along with the problem that I noted earlier; you can't dodge out of an in-progress attack animation.

Long time Elden Ring players basically agreeing with my premises about why the fight sucks.
Is Survivor the first or the second in the Poncho Jedi Series? Because I think I know the encounter you're talking about. It's right before
the game's Kobayashi Maru?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I don't mind subverting expectations, or having abilities the PCs don't. What I mind is when it's out of left field. It's there to surprise the players. And I mean players.
My group was a 3e then Pathfinder group for a long time. There was a certain expectation that NPCs would work more or less like PCs, so having an NPC be different was surprising in not a good way. They got over it, but there would be occasional snark about it.

I always like to have a "this is what's gonna happen" ready for if players don't tip the scales (whether by not bothering or poor rolls/choices). Sometimes, though, just having that seems to... tempt me. Gotta guard against it.

Example In a recent session, there was a wild card in a major battle. By herself, she was a potential boss fight for the PCs, but this was in the middle or a larger battle I gave the players a countdown, and while I only hinted at specific, I made it clear they did not want that countdown to reach 0. Long Story Short, lots of people would die. Well... they ignored it. Countdown reached zero. I SHOULD have let the character do her thing. At least two of the PCs and probably four would have died. Two couldn't even survive half damage. Two probably would have missed saves and taken full damage. And 1 had plenty of HP, a great save, and Resistance to the damage type. He's have watched dozens die, but would have survived and been in a fight with the wild card all by himself. So... I deus exed and killed the character they were supposed to talk off the ledge.

I think we made good drama (and they REVIVED the character. I was like "No, that doesn't work on the type of creature, and they were all "it just says creature." So, "Damn. It worked. She comes back mad. We're still in intiative." She's only got one HP. I bonk her on the head and KO her."

So it worked.... but I still interfered.
Potential consequences in my homebrew system have to be obvious or communicated up front to players. The system prescribes when the referee gets to bring those into play. It would be poor play to do something anyway even when the PC got a success (rolls are for outcomes not tasks). I also (currently) have clocks. Their state is public knowledge as is what happens when they go off. In general, information should be public and known to the players (but not necessarily to the characters).

Regarding bad outcomes like ignoring a clock, if the players choose to ignore it knowing the consequences, then those should happen when it goes off. The referee is meant to be a neutral referee, so trying to make sure certain things do or do not happen would be inappropriate play on their part. In a sense, the campaign is like an experiment to find out whether the players can accomplish the campaign goal they set in the first session. The referee should be just taking care of it (not influencing it). If there’s something the referee thinks ought to happen, there are (or will be) ways to systematize that and disclaim decision-making.

For example, there is a fire dragon that lives in or near the ruined capital ~40km north of the area where the PCs are building a settlement. It is known to range as far south as where they are (because it was sighted earlier in the campaign flying away from the area), so I thought: it’s eventually going to come back. I put it to a clock. Every time the clock ticks, the progress has to be surfaced in a way the PCs would know (e.g., they spotted a fire dragon flying in the sky while searching the area north of their settlement for stirge nests). If they don’t want to keep the dragon away, they’ll take steps to pull the clock back in the other direction and clear it. Killing the dragon is an obvious possibility, but it’s not necessarily the only one. (I don’t have any particular solution planned.)
 

aramis erak

Legend
One other thing that came to mind about expectations of specialization --- In video games like Guild Wars or WoW, it's fully expected that you can just swap characters in a split second if the party needs something specific for a certain type of mission.

I can't imagine a TTRPG game group approaching characters the same way. "Well, for this mission, we'd really do much better if we had an elf druid rather than a tiefling fighter. Can you just pull out your elf druid character sheet and drop them in?"

Unless you're running your table in pure pawn stance, "gamist challenge mode," I don't think that would fly.
It's been noted that Gygax's players did pretty much that. From a much more narrow selection, indeed, but still...

And the rationale was more about "do we have the bases covered?" than picking for a known risk. With a heavy dash of "Which of my characters is sufficiently healed to go on an adventure today and is of suitable level for the current party?"
 
Last edited:

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top