Underlying the Rules Part II: Adjusting The Spotlight

And to continue this series from Part One

Commandment The Second: Playing Time Is A Very Limited Resource: Thou Shalt Neither Waste It Nor Demand An Unfair Share Of It.

Now if one player is a particularly entertaining fellow, or if someone is confronting their nemesis in a dramatic battle or something extra time may be quite justified – but such situations tend to be strictly temporary; the spotlight will move to someone else soon enough.

Similarly, most groups have no problem with the occasional digression – although tolerance varies.

There are a lot of ways of not doing this though.

One superhero player (in the same game as the killer werewolf actually) specialized in making weak to useless characters who then needed to be babysat, or rescued, or have the game master tailor situations to give them something to do, or have other players invest a lot of time and effort in finding ways for them to be useful. When the other players found routine strategies to make one of his characters useful… he would either make a more useless one or refuse to advance the character so that they became progressively more useless as everyone else gradually improved. Either way, he still expected the party to haul his characters around because “he was a player character!”. It was a negative way of being the focus of attention.

Oddly enough, his characters kept suffering weird accidents that gave them useful powers that they couldn’t turn off or refuse to use until the player gave up on the tactic.

The opposite approach – designing hyper-optimized characters that outshine every other player character or who don’t need the party at all because they can do everything better anyway – is a lot more popular. A lot of players who think of the games as something like chess or monopoly (instead of as being social events for the antisocial) even convince themselves that this sort of thing is a way of showing off their system mastery and is thus “winning”. It’s actually losing of course; you’re busy alienating yourself from the social group rather than enjoying the gathering – but that can be hard to get across to someone who’s embraced this style pf play. After all, the idea of “winning” a social role-playing game makes about as much sense as “winning” watching a movie with some friends – and they’ve already swallowed that notion. In fact, such players often become extremely defensive when others simply, and correctly, consider such behavior as “being an a***ole who’s missing the point”.

That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t build underpowered or hyperoptimized characters. The trick is not being an attention hog.

Thus Kevin, the (literal) god of pet-spamming, is quite capable of deploying a hundred million high-powered minions and basically limitless resources in pursuit of his goals. What he actually DOES is deploy minions to gather information for the party to act on (allowing game master exposition), have them guard the camp and paths of retreat (benefiting everyone else equally – and offstage), assist his allies (giving his friends their own minions), handle enemy minion-swarms so that the struggle can be between the heroes and the major villains, and so on – keeping them and the vast power they represent entirely out of the way of the players getting to do the important bits. Soon the vast majority of his minions were off on social-service assignments designed to both vaguely do good in the background and to feed his addiction to recruiting minions.

When the game focused on the minions it was change-of-pace time (most often when the main characters couldn’t proceed because players couldn’t make it that week) and everyone took a minion of two to play.

Orin Markala was designed to provide all the support services that a company of mercenaries or an adventuring party could ever need, and was optimized to the point of absurdity. At level five he had AC 30, 78 HP, +6 Initiative, two spell-storing spirit fetch companions, extra actions for throwing up defenses, could spontaneously invent and cast spells of up to fifth level in fifteen different (if relatively narrow) spheres, could absorb and negate incoming spells, create relics, cast spells as a fifth level cleric, had Witchcraft, was a ritualist, had an extra fund of spells to cast as Hearthcrafting magic (providing supplies, clean clothing, and comfortable campsites), and could cross dimensions. His companions could store a total of 196 levels of spells for him and release them on their own, effectively letting him cast four spells per round. He could maintain communication, transportation, and spell-sharing links with a dozen other characters at a time at transdimensional range (so even death could not stop him from providing support) and each person so linked got a choice of four boosts (including +2 enhancement to a chosen attribute, save bonuses, extra hit points, mage armor, shield, +2 to all skills, movement bonuses, or +1 to BAB) – as well as everyone linked receiving the benefits of a personal set of charms and talismans and any protective, healing, or boosting spells that he actually cast.

And yes indeed, that’s pretty ridiculous.

Yet Orin was played in several games and never provoked any complaints from any other players save for a Priestess of Asmodeus (who got upset because he kept telling the kids she was trying to recruit about the drawbacks of worshiping archdevils), a seductive changeling character (who said that he was no fun since all she could get from him was morality lectures and cautionary tales), and a Mystic who insisted that saying that she either had to go with the group when it teleported a few hundred miles or find some other way to get there before she could join up with them again was an infringement on her right to play her character as she wished. (No one ever did make any sense out of that unless she just felt that – since it was fantasy – her “location” was wherever she wanted to be. No, her character had no such power).

The reason for that was straightforward; Orin provided protection from the stuff that the fighters and rangers who made up most of the party could not handle in the background and boosted and healed the entire party – but it was still up to the more conventional martial and stealthy types to decide on the party goals, make the plans, and do the actual fighting. He stepped forward to act as a missionary and spread his faith when a chance for that came up – but that was a role that no one else had any interest in save for the ones who felt like being converted.

The afore-mentioned Priestess of Asmodeus, however, proved to have a rather problematic player. She decided to use her own private version of Asmodeus (loosely based on a description from another third-party setting in another edition of the game), insisted that she represented him as a god of inviolable law and contracts while freely disregarding her own promises and contracts, argued with every plan that did not center on her, took restrictions and limitations on her characters abilities to get more power and then tried to ignore them, and insisted that any attempt to get her to pay attention to the game rules, the setting, or what any of the other players wanted to do was an infringement on her right to play her character. In essence, she attempted to force the game to focus entirely on herself and how enormously special she was while refusing to let anyone else do anything.

As it turned out, she did indeed have the right to play her character however she pleased – but no one else was under any obligation to play with her, and very soon they didn’t.

On the other end of things several players have had a lot of fun playing “familiars” (minor animal characters who attached themselves to particular “masters”) throughout several campaigns. Fred the Pseudo-Dragon, the Healing Turtle who only communicated through interprative dance, the Sarcastic Steed, and even Amilko the Squirrel were all played as characters with minor magical powers and rather ineffectual combat abilities who made their marks though cleverness, aiding other characters at critical moments, and not being major targets – at least until they were much higher level (both Fred and Amilko made it to epic levels – and tremendous power – eventually).

Basically they were weak characters who exploited the social impact of their unexpected intelligence and looked for critical moments to contribute effectively. They didn’t run into the “babysitting” problem because they weren’t big targets in the first place. They weren’t as useful as having another normal character around would be, but they didn’t want much treasure or bring in extra opposition either.

For that matter the blue whale werehuman was incredibly tough and an awesomely powerful mage in some specialized fields – but readily yielded the spotlight to the others when it came to almost any other topic since adventuring rarely involved swimming around and filter-feeding.

One player was simply obstructionist. She never provided any plans, but was always full of objections to whatever someone else proposed – and insisted that every one of her objections be answered to her satisfaction before her character would budge an inch. After a little bit, the rest of the players simply started saying “OK! we’re starting! Come if you want too!

That led to the player simply sitting and sulking for several weeks while being ignored – but she eventually gave up on that tactic too.

One previously-mentioned player made (or demanded that the game make for him) a second level elven necromancer for a Forgotten Realms game. He wanted to be outcast due to knowing necromancy, to have his first instinctive act of necromancy to be reanimating pets, leading very shortly to raising an army of fairly powerful undead to defend his village as a child, to have his undead be friendly helpful things that he did not need to control, to be accompanied by various undead pets, and to have enough personal special powers to call for an epic-level character.

After much persuasion, several experimental builds, and far more time than it was worth, he at last agreed to settle for a character that could actually be built. In actual play… he demanded that the game master tell him how to make his character relevant and effective, kept going on solo side trips and demanding that everyone else wait while the game focused on him until he got back, demanded simultaneous affection (for being a wonderful person) and fear (for being a necromancer) from both PC’s and NPC’s, demanded that his character be able to use powers and abilities that he did not have because they “fit his conception”, constantly interrupted any attempt to do something without him, refused to pay any attention to what anyone else was doing (often leading to him “discovering new information” that the rest of the party had found, evaluated, and gone past two or more sessions ago), and tended to try to simply narrate his actions without actually rolling or checking the actual situation – thus assuming that he always automatically succeeded. In essence, he felt that everyone else was there simply to support his one-man-show.

He didn’t really last all that long. It eventually got through to him that he was accomplishing nothing and was getting all the respect that accomplishing nothing earned him, and so he left to seek out another game to try and suck the life out of with his necromancer. He was a near-perfect / spectacularly bad example of the narcissistic type – but pretty much everyone is familiar with “it must all revolve around ME!” players. Don’t be one.

In general, not paying attention, telling long irrelevant stories, engaging in futile arguments, saying “my character wouldn’t do that!” without saying what you ARE doing, sulking, editorializing, or pointless planning and theorizing, (Chat is a great way around this one; you can write out your diatribe, plan, or theory while everyone else continues with the action), is best regarded with caution. A little is fine, and you might be good enough at it so that everyone else enjoys it, or you might have a group full of people who love to theorize and speculate or tell stories or whatever – but the tolerance is never infinite. And if you don’t pay attention to when you’re reaching – or exceeding – that tolerance… then you’re back to being a greedy, selfish, !@#$%^&*.


5 Responses

  1. I hope this isn’t too much to ask, but I would REALLY like to know what exactly the Elven Necromancer wanted. I can’t shake the feeling that some Rune Magic and Necrocarnum could’ve done the trick (plus maybe some Ancestor-Favors and Action Hero: Stunt for the occasional weirdness).

    Also…Orin really doesn’t strike me as likeable. That’s probably because I’m dealing with a player who constantly gives me trouble for playing a Devil-Worshipper too, but I can feel that priestess’ pain.
    It’s for situations like this when you may want to invest a bit into Create Relic and Enthusiast… Specifically making a Legendary Immunity against Orin to show the children the drawbacks of being a !@#$%^&*, namely getting beaten up by the person you are being a !@#$%^&* to.
    Of course while having a wand of CLW at hand. You just want him to get the message that he should shut up when no-one asks him, you don’t want to kill him.
    Alternatively, show the benefits of worshipping an Archdevil by getting Channeling (Infernal Powers) and Conversion (Devil-Summoning effects). If I read the Practical Enchanter right, you should be able to summon a CR 11 Devil if you corrupt it and possibly higher Devils if you are entirely serious about it.

    Then again, maybe it’s my dislike for a character in my group who’s basically Orin and I’m overreacting here.

    • Well, to start with the necromancer… his full-scale requests included…

    • He wanted his first, instinctive, act of magic as a child to be raising his pets as Wraiths with the provisions that they 1) be able to function in daylight, 2) be automatically loyal to him, 3) be immune to anyone Else’s attempts to control them, 4) have all their negative energy powers without actually being powered by negative energy or being evil, 5) be immune to turning and undead-damaging spells without becoming vulnerable to anything else, 6) would only be able to create spawn that would be modified in the same ways, and 7) would be friendly, cuddly, and good with other children without being dangerous if he didn’t want them to be. Then, before first level, he wanted to have this ability have improved with practice until he could summon a modest army of such creatures for several hours without even needing to have bodies handy to work with.

      He wanted to be able to question “the dead” in general to find out what he wanted to know, allowing him to know anything that anyone who had died had ever known and whatever new items any dead person had learned since their deaths

      He wanted to be able to become undead immediately upon being killed, to be pretty much unstoppable as an undead (recovering all his hit points from round to round even if destroyed), and then to be able to casually return to life without cost or effort once the battle was over.

      He wanted to be able to invent and cast high-order necromancy effects on the fly and without apparent limit.

    • And lots of smaller stuff. Basically it was “I wish to have an unstoppable army, to be nigh-omniscient, to be immortal and invulnerable, and to be an endlessly powerful necromancer as a level one child character. I also want to be a persecuted victim and – at the same time – be widely looked up to as a hero”.

      I was not running that game, but helped the game master make necromancer characters until the player agreed to play an actual build (even if he didn’t pay any attention to what he could and could not do). He rage-quit shortly thereafter when he returned from a solo expedition to announce that he had “solved the mystery” only for the rest of the party to inform him that – once again – they got that information days ago, had found it to be a smoke screen, and were well beyond that point in their investigation.

      When it comes to Orin, I suspect a degree of projection, since Orin was extremely pragmatic rather than dogmatic. His basic objections were:

      1) The “priestess”, in her attempts to be “subtle”, was a poor religious instructor – to the point where most of the children thought she was teaching them to cook. She was offering animal sacrifices in which Asmodeus had no interest, to a version of Asmodeus that did not exist, and without revealing what they were supposed to be doing or to whom they were making offerings – ensuring that there was no actual benefit in doing so. Orin believed that if the kids wished to worship an Archdevil, that was their choice – but they should get their facts straight and understand the benefits and costs before making that decision.

      He recommended against it for the moment because the probable costs were grossly disproportionate: Amongst other problems…

      2) The children’s current caretaker was a neutral good priest (not him); and taking up the worship of an archdevil was likely to endanger their support structure – which they were young enough to require.

      3) The worship of Asmodeus was illegal in their homeland, and would at the least make them less adoptable.

      4) They were currently under the supervision of a military garrison that was being besieged by creatures of the lower planes and the commander was likely to regard taking up the worship of such entities as extremely questionable at best.

      5) That – while the philosophy of “Lawful Evil” – “A lawful evil character methodically takes what he/she wants within the limits of his/her code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He/She cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He/She plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He/She is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He/She condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He/She is loath to break laws or promises. This reluctance comes partly from his/her nature and partly because he/she depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him/her on moral grounds” could be quite rewarding under the right circumstances, it offered few rewards for essentially powerless children who were dependent on a generally “good” society. If they wished to try being devil-worshipers (which he thought was shortsighted, but not “wrong”), they would be likely to achieve better positions by reaching adulthood and accumulating some personal power first.

      5b) If they wanted to get started on power he was perfectly willing to administer the Oath Of The Postulant and give them some – noting that his version could provide training in the Sacredos Pastor package – which did not actually require being “good” and offered a variety of useful abilities sufficient to make them very adoptable indeed, to provide a later career, and to make them welcome in any community.

      5) The “priestess” claimed – apparently sincerely – to be worshiping Asmodeus “in his aspect as a god of oaths and contracts”. She, however, as a junior lieutenant who had voluntarily joined the military, kept refusing to obey orders in the face of the enemy because “no one had any right to tell her what to do”, would then promise to behave according to her military oaths and enlistment contract, and would then rebel again. She got away with it for a bit due to the personnel shortage (and being a player character) and due to their being no time for a court martial, but eventually the commanders patience wore out.

      6) Orin did give the kids a good look at the various outer planes. He (and they) felt that the higher planes were more congenial – but one advantage of the Sacredos Pastor package is being able to more around the planes after you die anyway.

      Orin’s faith didn’t require the worship of any particular god or adherence to any particular alignment, although it did tend to encourage those tendencies that promoted the welfare of groups following it – not because they were “good” but because they were profitable. It was designed entirely around offering the maximum possible benefits to its followers and their societies so that they would spread as quickly as possible. What god or gods you decided to worship was up to you. It was, in fact, a social and religious optimizer, functioning as a self-adapting program designed for unlimited growth (see “Safe AI”). Sadly, he never really got to explore the consequences of introducing it into the setting…

  • Ah, okay. No, the one I was thinking about was your bog-standard good-aligned party-member who’d talk down anything my character said and making every possible follower scared… Often with threats that were rather immediate, physical and performed by himself.

    On note of the Necromancer, I’ll be working on that. A lot of his wishes remind me of the 3.5 creature called “Curst”, a cursed Undead that’s cursed with… well, immortality.

  • So after a bit of thinking, I came up with this:

    6 CP Create Relic (Necroware) (Increased Effect + Specialized: Only 1 CP Relics and it always blocks a magic item slot)
    6 CP Double Enthusiast (Necroware) (Increased Effect + Specialized: Only for relics)
    4 CP Presence (Essence of the Dragon) (Specialized for increased effect: Self only) (Corrupted: Instead of Immunity to Paralysis and Sleep, it takes 1 round for a creature to become immune to such an effect. In addition, it becomes vulnerable to a Dragon’s Frightful Presence, Magic Sleep and Paralysis when at 0 Hit Points or below)
    6 CP Immunity: Relics cannot be damaged or removed. (Common/Minor/Great) (Specialized for reduced cost: Only applies to 1 CP relics)
    6 CP Companion (Specialized and Corrupted: The familiar doesn’t gain any benefits that being a familiar normally grants. Further, it can see through your senses and cast “Demand” as a spell-like ability (CL equal to it’s “masters” level) once per day on it’s master. The familiar is always an evil-aligned pseudodragon. In return, the familiar has no limit in power: It can acquire templates via the appropriate ability, empowered by whatever deity it may serve or otherwise increase in strenght regardless of it’s “masters” level)
    6 CP Companion Template “Failed Dracolich”

    Outcast-Flaw -3 CP

    31 CP Race (+0 ECL)

    Failed Dracolich Template (+2 ECL)
    Shaping 6 CP
    Pulse of the Dragon 6 CP (Specialized: Can only be used for Necromancy effects and requires an external Body (such as the body of a foolish young elf that believes these powers to be his own) to channel the power)
    Heart of the Dragon 18 CP (Specialized: Can only be used for Necromancy effects and requires an external Body (such as the body of a foolish young elf that believes these powers to be his own) to channel the power)
    Enormous Favors (“The Dead” (a group of evil spirits that seek to bring misery)) 12 CP
    Minor Privilege 3 CP (Can expect up to 3 Favors per month to go without having to be paid back) (The Privilege exists due to a Dracolich being a strong, undead force of evil)
    4+Cha Mod times per day Negative Energy Channeling 12 CP
    Dark Awakening 6 CP (Specialized: This is instantaneous, but can only return his master back to life as Curst)
    Incorporeal 12 CP (Specialized: The Failed Dracolich is always “inside” his master, as if possessing him, and cannot move out. Only if the Master’s body is damaged with enough energy to slay the Pseudodragon after his dead is the Companion truly slain)
    No Con score 0 CP

    75 CP Template (+2 ECL)

    1 CP Relic (Location: Back): Cloak of the Winter Court (The Necroware Components fuse into the Spine, making it look like his spine is on the outside of his body. Making this relic requires the Familiar to expend a favor to obtain it)
    Major Privilege 6 CP (The followers are very loyal)
    Minor Privilege 3 CP (Followers count as Fey for the purpose of Mind-Affecting effects)
    Major Privilege 3 CP (Followers count as Fey for the purpose of Turning and effects specifically targeting a creature type)
    Leadership (with Undead-Upgrade) 9 CP
    Strenght in Numbers 3 CP (This just gives him little spirits he can send around)
    Horde 3 CP (Specialized: This doesn’t automatically grant followers, but instead let’s the spawn created by actual followers count as Followers for the purpose of benefitting from Emperor’s Star or creating Spawn)
    Emperor’s Star (Necroware) 6 CP (Specialized for increased effect: The followers aren’t animated by negative or positive energy, even if they can use it, and as such, neither energy heals them, but both disrupt their fragile forms. Any damage they take is essentially permanent)

    Emperor’s Star grants: Shapeshift with +4 Bonus Uses (Corrupted for reduced cost: Only to turn use as Undead) 9 CP with Shape of Death, Incorporeal and Enchanted (Specialized for increased effect: Only to change into Wraiths, but they are not affected by their Daylight Powerlessness and their touch requires intent to work) 18 CP. They also gain 4 d0 Hit Die (Specialized: Only for Shapechange) 8 CP

    1 CP Relic (Location: Face): Illusion of Life and Death
    Presence (-2 Morale Penality)/Improved (With Undead positive, with normal people fearful)/Superior (Fear) 12 CP (Corrupted: Only one of the two presences of this relic can be active at a time, to be switched as a Standard action)
    Presence (Immunity to Fear)/Improved (With Living positive, with Undead negative)/Superior (Awe) 12 CP (Corrupted: Only one of the two presences of this relic can be active at a time, to be switched as a Standard action)
    Shapeshift with +4 Bonus Uses, Dragon Upgrade and Enchanted (Specialized: Only to turn shape back into a Deathtongue) 12 CP

    1 CP Relic (Location: Arms): Deathheart Bracers
    Transference (Upgrade Heart of the Dragon to level 9 via the same specializations and corruptions) 36 CP

    1 CP Relic (Location: Body): Lichpulse Heart (This opens up a gaping hole in his chest, exposing a rotten heart. The familiar needs to expand a favor to make this too)
    Transference (Upgrade Pulse of the Dragon to level 9 via the same specializations and corruptions) 18 CP
    Journeyman/Master/Grandmaster (Necroware) (Companion) 24 CP (Specialized for double effect: Only for Transference)

    1 CP Relic (Location: Throat): Deathspeaker Spiritual Manipulation Package
    https://ruscumag.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/eclipse-d20-white-necromancy/ (I believe the Witchcraft-Package is only 36 CP if I haven’t missed anything)

    1 CP Relic (Location: Feet): Graveyard’s Stance
    6d6 Mana (Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect: Only for Rune Magic, only for Necromancy effects)

    1 CP Relic (Location: Hands): Runetracers (These Skeletal hands replace the normal hands. The familiar needs to expand a favor to make these too)
    Journeyman/Master/Grandmaster (Necroware) (Skills) 24 CP (Specialized for double effect: Only for Necromantic Rune Magic)
    Skill Emphasis (Necroware) for Rune Mastery/Casting Necromancy 6 CP
    Skill Focus (Necroware) for Rune Mastery Necromancy 6 CP

    1 CP Relic (Location: Head): Runestitched Hat
    +18 to Rune Mastery/Casting Necromancy 36 CP

    1 CP Relic (Location: Ring): Dragonmind Ring
    Transference (+72 to Spellcraft for Companion) 36 CP (Specialized: Only for inventing spells/this is simply an untyped bonus) (Corrupted for increased effect: Only to invent Necromancy spells)

    1 CP Relic (Location: Waist): Girdle of Inner Peace
    Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses (Specialized for Increased Effect: Can only refill Mana) 18 CP
    Deep Sleep/Cosmic Awareness/True Prophet 18 CP (Corrupted: His visions and other effects come from “The Dead”, which may warp what he recieves)

    2 more 1 CP Relics… He has 12 Points of Enthusiast, after all.

    Level 0 (24 CP)
    Warcraft 3 CP
    +2 to Will Saves 6 CP
    9 Skill Points 9 CP
    Reputation 6 CP

    As a child, he isn’t level 1 yet.

    Total Necroware-Penalities:
    He must reduce the effects of healing powers on him or her by 50%. Worse, effects designed to Neutralize or Remove various afflictions will allow new resistance checks, but are not automatically successful.
    Every (Wisdom) character points invested in Necroware will cause one insanity – or cause an old one to become more virulent. He has 6 Insanities, his victim and martyrer complex on the forefront.
    Every (Intelligence) character points invested in Necroware reduces the user’s Base Caster Level by one and any magic- or psionically- related rolls by two, including those for the effects of various powers. His penalities are a -6 to Caster Level and a -12 to related rolls.
    Every (Charisma) points invested in Necroware produces a -1 penalty on friendly charisma-related checks – although it may provide a small bonus on Intimidation checks. He’s stuck at a -6.

    Necroware is basically flesh warped with negative Energy… And has the same penalities as Cyberware, only that it is disrupted by positive energy.

    I hope I haven’t missed too much… It’s late for me and I gotta go to bed^^°

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