Tashiro (tashiro) wrote,

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RPG Thoughts

Been thinking about this the last little while, and after a long, long discussion on the subject, I'm wondering.  In some RPGs, there are sacrifices and losses a character can suffer.  What do you consider 'acceptable'?

There's an obvious one of course -- loss of HP / character death.  A character can get injured, or even killed in an RPG.  Of couse, there's also adding to the mix the idea of crippling or permanent injuries.  Sure, in some games there's just the 'Hit Point' stat, or the 'Health Boxes', but what if the GM wants those injuries to mean something?  What if NPCs decide to go for called shots (and of course, characters can do that too).  Is it acceptable to lose a hand, or an eye?  Barring the use of healing magic (or even allowing for healing magic), what if some injuries are permanent?  What if the GM rules that healing magic excellerates healing, but doesn't regenerate wounds?

Then there's those that are less obvious.  There's loss of equipment.  A character might lose their favourite item (or just a really useful item), or piece of equipment.  It could be stolen, broken, or sacrificed.  To what extent is this acceptable?  If you're fighting a bad guy, and the bad guy isn't aiming for you, but your stuff, does this change the game?  (You're prone to doing more damage initially, but if the bad guy succeeds, you're suffering long-term).  If a bad guy wipes out your magic weapon, then what?  Or what if the only way to gain something / get somewhere requires the sacrifice of a prised object?  (Thinking of my wife in the recent nWoD session, who gave up one of her prised possessions in exchange for knowledge on how to defeat an enemy).

Then there's other losses.  There's backgrounds, such as NPCs or friends of the character, but it can go beyond that.  Depending on the game, you could lose things like memories, or 'advantages', background points, skills, attributes, experience points.  Someone mentioned that the character sheet is sacrosanct, but I have to disagree.  Anything which exists on the character is subject to manipulation by the environment.  You could have contacts and allies, but if someone tries very hard, they could weaken your connection to them (or just kill them off).  A crippling injury could limit how well you use a skill.  Magic can alter these traits.

And the thing is -- if the game master is willing to give such things, they should also be able to take such things away.  If the PC is capable of being given things (whether or not it costs), then such things should also be able to be taken away.  I gave Cat's character the weapon mentioned earlier -- she paid points to keep it.  She just gave it away (though yes, I'm giving the XP back for it, since what she gained doesn't have an XP value).

Now, personally, I dislike loss.  I like overcoming obstacles, coming out ahead, and shining.  But I also accept that such isn't usually how things work.  This means, when facing adversity, I'll be willing to try moving heaven and earth to overcome or avoid the obstacles in my way.  This may require a cunning plan, or having the right tools for the job, or backing off and trying another avenue.  These don't always work.  I accept that as part of the RPG experience -- you have a goal in mind, the game master provides the challenges appropriate to the goal, and you try to overcome the challenges.  Everything else is variants on that theme -- (the GM is working with you to try to tell a story, or the GM is playing arbiter and playing the environment, or the GM is the adversary which needs to be overcome, whatever).

In some cases, as a game master, I screw with the characters.  This isn't malicious ... err.  Hmm, let me explain this better.  I lay out circumstances for the players.  I then allow the players to either engage the circumstances, or avoid them.  I always give the characters 'outs', so that they can recover from the circumstances I present, and carry on.  How much is done to the characters depends on how much the characters walk into the circumstances, and how much they work together to get themselves out of it.  In some cases, I'm more malicious than in others, but that depends on 1) the game, and 2) the opposition to the characters at the time.

For example, in my Legend of the Five Rings game, the PCs were near the Shadowlands in Crab territory (IE, beside the big evil place of doom).  Kyoso no Oni had infiltrated the area (a demoness), and was keeping tabs on the PCs.  The PCs at this point were Rank 5-6 (elite), and thus, this was a suitable challenge for them.  There was a shugenja in the group (mage/priest) who I knew was the most vulnerable person in the group.  So, she approached him, and offered to teach him mahou (dark magic).  She was very careful about what she offered, and how she offered it, explaining things very carefully, and in a manner which she thought he would be receptive to.

It worked like a charm.  She also trained him to channel taint into the environment, rather than be infected with it himself (thus hiding the fact he's performing dark magic) -- again, she was very careful in describing what to do and how to do it.  He went for it, hook, line, and sinker.  So, the PCs now had a mahou-tsukai in the party.  In the end, he got a spell called Dances with Demons (though she called it something else), which allowed you to give yourself advantages, or to give flaws to your enemies.

Now, of course, this pretty much damns the character.  Once the PCs find out he's using mahou, they'll kill him.  If anyone else finds out he's using mahou... they'll kill him.  The player found out what happened, and went 'oh crap', but... got this big grin on his face.  Then he decided to cast his new spell.  To give his teacher a flaw.  The flaw in question was True Love -- connected to him.

I was, admittedly, shocked.  That was really clever.  And eventually, it meant that Kyoso no Oni was willing to help the PCs out some.  Specifically, so she could tempt the shugenja more, and draw him to her.  And eventually, she dragged him off into the Shadowlands to become her demon lover.  This effectively ended play for the character, but he didn't mind in the slightest (and even made a cameo later, to help the PCs in a huge battle...)

I like placing temptations in front of the characters -- and in most cases, my players can tell when I'm being evil.  I have a certain tone of voice that I apparently use ( a 'tell') when I'm setting something up.  Even so though, my players more often than not are willing to take the hit (or spring the trap, or take the bait, or make the bargain) because they know that -- while I'm going to put the character through the wringer -- it makes the game interesting, and it becomes a test to see how much the characters can get before they go to far and screw themselves over too much.  Pacts with demons?  Sure.  Willing to sell your soul to a dark god for power?  Okay.  Making bargains with the vampires?  Sure.  Negotiation with a True Fae?  Okay.  Reading dark books of forbidden lore to gain the means to summon horrors beyond space and time?  Of course.

There's a negative side to this of course.  I had one player in an Exalted game with an over-developed sense of entitlement.  The character was a Solar, with a Lunar ally.  The two were lovers, and during a visit into one of the tombs, the Solar encountered an Abyssal.  The two played the seduction game with each other and made out... and the Lunar was not pleased.  It ended with the Lunar walking away, to rejoin his group and 'think about things', and abandoning the character.  The player didn't try to get the Lunar back, and was upset about things.  A second incident involved the PCs finding a balor trapped in a circle.  The balor took the appearance of an attractive male, and so the character (same player as the Solar) decided to break the circle because she found him attractive, and presumed he'd want her.  Well... yes and no.  He claimed her, and effectively pulled her to the infernal realms.

A discussion I had not too long ago involved what makes a hero and what a hero does.  I dug up the definition from Wikipedia to use as an example, as well as my own personal view of what a hero is (someone who does the right thing because it is the right thing, and doesn't expect reward.  Someone who, knowing that the cost may be steep, moves ahead anyway).  Cat mentioned last night that a good example for what defines a hero would be from Kingdom Come.  The person I was discussing with thought that heoes who continued, even after suffering crippling losses or adversity, with little or no reward, were essentially idiots, and didn't agree with the popular conception of what a Hero is.

I very much like the idea of heroic roleplay.  As I mentioned, I don't like suffering losses, but being a hero means having to deal with loss and adversity.  I'm one for 'doing the right thing' and I'm usually willing to suffer serious setbacks to do so.  That's the price for being a hero, and I often expect that there will usually be some reward for it down the line.  Often, this will be intangibles, like the respect of those you have helped.  A little bit of fame, maybe.  But in general, depending on the game, these don't even have to be present.  You're not doing it for the respect and fame (or wealth, or what-have-you), you're doing it because that's what you do.

In nWoD games, I tend to try for characters who have a higher than normal 'Morality' score.  I'll save up the XP to bump things up to 8 (or perhaps, sometimes, 9), and try my best to keep at that level.  It's hard, but it's also rewarding.  I've made the exception (my main Vampire character has a Humanity of ... 5?) but that's because that's how I picture him.  He's a fairly feral Gangrel, and it makes sense, considering what and who he is, to keep his Humanity floating around that level.  The thing is, building a character with that high 'moral' standard is setting yourself up for a fall.  Either you're going to slip (and risk losing a point), or you're going to need to sacrifice (to keep that point).  It's a lose-lose situation, but I think that's what makes things good.  Or at least interesting.

Sure, some characters can be mercenary -- I'm fine with that -- but there's a line there.  Sometimes, the character has to do what they do for a good cause, not because they're getting paid.  One of my friends played mercenary characters a lot.  These were professionals (and as a player, I'd often have to hire the character to work with the PCs).  The thing is, sure, I'm spending resources to get another PC to go with us... but the amount of effort the character put into helping far exceeded what we were paying.  It tended to be a good relationship -- the character fit a specific archetype, and sure, it meant in general he had more money than us (Shadowrun), but the character would come bail us out from time to time, and ask a token sum for his assistance, and in turn we'd help him with something-or-other, and he'd accept that he owed us, so he'd do us favours from time to time.  It was all very organic and reasonably realistic and quite interesting.

A character who always expects reward and compensation, without at least showing off some of the heroic aspects is a tougher character.  I notice that my play group tends to not like characters like that, and will deliberately sabotage the character if the character gives them a reason.  Essentially, the attitude is 'we help one another, without thought of cost.  You don't want to be a part of our 'family', you don't get treated like family'.  In some cases, they'll treat the character as what the character is -- mercenary, or selfish -- but if the character shows sign of being disdainful of the group, things can go sour.  This is usually self-correcting, or barring that the player will usually make a new character that can work with the group better.

Now, here's where things get difficult.  How much communication should exist between the game master and the players, when it comes to aspects of play.  There's the obvious ones, of course:  'this is what we're playing', 'this is what I'm hoping for', and 'this is the game environment'.  These are more or less no-brainers, though I notice with my group the communication has dipped a bit simply because beyond the layout of the game itself, the players know who I am and how I run, and to some extent know what to expect.  For new players (and I mean new players -- those who aren't used to RPGs), I also take a bit of a guiding hand.  I keep an eye on the player, offer advice, talk with them after sessions, and generally look for certain cues to see how they're reacting and if they're having fun.

That doesn't mean I hold back, though.  I'm willing to give advice and help them, but they're playing on the same level as everyone else is.  This has generally worked out well, I've had two 'fresh' players who seemed to really enjoy themselves (and one seemed to delight in deliberately screwing his own character ... I think he went through three characters in one campaign... grinning the whole time... as referenced by the L5R session I mentioned above).  I don't feel right treating any one player 'different' than the others.  I lay out the circumstances, they walk in, and the chips fall where they may.

But the question becomes... what about during play?  How much information should the GM give?  Should the GM give information that the characters don't know?  Should the GM warn the players when they're about to do something stupid?  What if there's merits or advantages which allow such?  I'm usually one to give the characters enough rope to hang themselves.  I'm also one to warn the players if the character is about to do something critically stupid -- something which can't be undone.  General mishaps are fine, and things the characters do which could be damaging, but not game-ending, I'm willing to let slide.  Basically, my view is that the players are adults, and thus can handle the slings and arrows of misfortune.  It's only when things are going to go seriously, seriously south that I'm willing to step in and give a warning.  Mind you, sometimes the temptation is just too great for some people, and they do it anyway, but such is life.

As a player, I'm willing to accept a lot.  If I'm having trouble, I'm willing to sit down and talk with the GM about it.  I'm even willing to do this on behalf of other players.  I consider it better than walking from a game.  Is there a problem?  Well, let's hash things out and see where things stand.  With a new GM (his second campaign, ever), I mentioned that he wasn't allowing the players to use their backgrounds (or in some cases, abilities).  My character was a duellist.  He never got a chance to fight a single duel, even though this was his job in the city.  Cat's character was a cleric / rogue.  In a dungeon crawl, there were no traps, and each level we went down nerfed cleric abilities.  So... what was her purpose again?  She was also an inventor, and had no opportunities to sit down and actually invent, which essentually made her 'a dwarf with a gun'.  I sat down with the GM and we talked about this -- I offered some advice, and we went on.  So far, it's been good.

I also accept, as a player, that different GMs have different styles of game mastering.  This GM is new at it, and he wants to do 'stories' of a sort.  He's got this big campaign in mind, and a huge, epic story arc, and we're taking part.  It isn't my preferred style of game, but so be it.  Another GM is running Scion, and he's not taking the game too seriously.  There's perhaps some story elements in it, but essentially the players get to do what they want.  This shows in the game -- we've been all over the place, but it's fun as all hell.  We're getting the chance to explore the setting, and see the underside of 'how things are'.  (And I accidentally got the titans to attack Mexico City. Oops, next session we have to fix this...)  He likes his epic games with big heroes, and that's fine.  I don't tend to make 'big heroes', but I do make heroes, and while he has a little trouble handling the characters I make, he does admit it has helped him become a better GM and give him ideas, and I aim not to break his game.  So it works out.  If either of us have a problem, we're willing to sit down and talk it out.

But yeah, it is generally understood that the game itself?  You have what your character knows, and you deal with it like that.  Sometimes, the crap hits the fan, but that's part of the game.  Hey, if someone challenges my character to a game of 'press your luck' where we each take draws from the Deck of Many Things until one of us blows up, and I agree, then that's that.  Let the chips fall where they may.  If a dragon offers to 'assist' me in something, and the dragon is evil, and I agree, then I have to accept the consequences of that decision regardless of how bad it gets.  Does this require the GM to tell me I might suffer for my decision?  Of course not.  Do I need to know there's strings attached?  Not really.  This is a roleplaying game.  This kind of thing happens.

Tags: philosophy, roleplay
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