Welcome back to the Captain's Table. We agreed on that name last post, remember? Just go with me here. I've compiled a few more fixes for the game with deal with two very specific subject matters; The death of important NPC's, Taking back magic items you never meant to give. Comments, suggestions and questions are welcomed. I accept constructive critisism and editors are welcomed, too, though may hellish abuse of the English language may drive you insane.
OMG! THEY KILLEDâ€¦!
In a game centering on combat monkeys the most likely thing that is going to happen is something is going to die. The problem is when something you didnâ€™t plan on dying, or at least not right then takes a swan dive. This can be frustrating when youâ€™ve put so much work into the character and had such a cinematic scene planned to just have it sputter when every character in group crits before your villain even gets to make a move. This particular situation is rare but I can serve you up several easy fixes that shouldnâ€™t take too much effort on your part or much explanation to your players.
Â Contingency- This is a much underrated spell. You can have a contingency spell set up to go off whenever you need it and teleport away to safety. You can have it go off whenever your character drops to X hp, or for those who donâ€™t like meta-game mechanics you can have it go off when the character falls to one knee. There are two problems with this spell, though. One is that the spell goes off even if you donâ€™t want it. If everyone else has fallen and someone gets off one last desperate attack on your guy that drops him to X, but he had enough power to finish them off heâ€™ll be teleported away within reach of victory. The flip side of this scenario is that if you wait too long then some joker is going to pop your would be master mind. The best solution would be to give your guy enough buffer hp so he wonâ€™t be killed in one hit and go the distance. Oh, donâ€™t forget to have a good place to teleport to. If your chosen spot is the keep the PCâ€™s are currently raiding then heâ€™s only going to live as long as it takes your players to hunt him down.
Â Clone Spell/ Resurrection- I like the Clone spell because no matter how hard your guy is hit this spell is focused on bringing your character back from death. You can do everything else that you want to keep your character alive as normal and just think of Clone as your insurance plan. Another benefit is that your players will think the character is dead and act accordingly. With some creative planning this can actually enhance your game. Resurrection is also viable. Itâ€™s reasonable that even bad guys have friends that would want to see them live again, or a business partner feels that an untimely death ruins an otherwise good business deal.
Â Behind the Veil- The less your players know about whatâ€™s going on the better. Make sure your players donâ€™t have a good visual on your notes or other paperwork. Make sure they arenâ€™t sure about how much life your characters have and they wonâ€™t be the wiser about when said character should have died. Now this is a slippery slope but what Iâ€™m suggesting is an alternative battle hp system. LOR role-playing game has a battle system for fighting the underlings. You have to hit a character or monster with a certain amount of success so many times before they are down. It takes a couple of weak hits or one good hit to drop a minor minion. I suggest that you count the number of hits that are successful, good hits (5 points over AC), superior hits (10 points over the AC) or critical (crit hits). Figure out how many hits you think would be fair for your guy to take before going down. This system isnâ€™t designed for your guy to live, but to make sure that it is an entertaining fight.
Â The Organization- Evil has a wide cast net of contacts. If there was only 1 bad guy in the world then defeating evil would be easy. As it is, as with any organization, there are guys on the bottom doing grunt work for the guys on top. Their life spans are short and the quality of life is not good either. They are always looking for the chance for advancement. Donâ€™t look at your bad guyâ€™s death as a failure, but an opportunity. Itâ€™s an opportunity for the underlings to rise up and take control. Guys fighting for power and respect tend to be brutal and aggressive. They live by fewer rules and they have less to lose. Also, think of it as a pyramid scheme. There are more guys on the next step below than above so you could be dealing now with several powerful individuals instead of just one. They may lead several powerful factions that not only continue the last guyâ€™s plot line, but create several other threats that pull the players in other directions. They are going to have to focus and prioritize, or spread out and try to put out as many â€˜firesâ€™ as they can until the bad guys once again consolidate. Bad guys tend to consolidate because a united front is more powerful than individual factions. They will make deals and alliances with those that are strong enough, and bump off the rest of their competition. This gives your players a sense of accomplishment, your world a sense of realism and creates a lot of gaming opportunities.
Â The Mastermind- If you continue to think about the pyramid scheme then there is a head honcho near the top pulling all the strings. Anyone you run into is always going to be an underling. The guy your players think is the big boss is likely to be some protÃ©gÃ© the big boss is grooming, a sell-sword or even something summoned or created by the big boss. The big boss doesnâ€™t do anything that exposes them to danger or may lead to being brought to justice. If a guy that he was counting on dies it will set him back and create a great amount of chaos, but a mastermind knows that the master plan is all that is important. He may even use the chaos of the underlings looking to move up as a chance to pick a new protÃ©gÃ© to carry out his plans.
Â The Long View- Continuing up the pyramid, underling to boss to mastermind, it often continues to something even more sinister. There could be an extra-planer being or evil god that has some design that must be carried out. Time and mortals are irrelevant. The only thing that matters to this creature is that XYZ is accomplished in a matter that furthers their goals. When the players drop the big bad they thought was the head of everything it actually barely phases the being. It will be just a matter of time before another mortal reaches across the void for power and this being pulls them in. If your big bad dies then go ahead and end the quest with a vague sense of uneasy, unfinished business with half completed things set in motion. After a time the players may notice someone else trying to break that great evil out upon the world. The players will be able to rely on some of what they learned from before, but will have new things to learn as well. The unexpected can make us stumble or even upset, but if you keep your head you can always make into something exciting!
Eww, New Shoes!
Â You thought that your players killing the great, big bad was the biggest problem in the game. Now youâ€™ve just realized that they just realized your dead dude has a lot of neat toys. In our games the guy hasnâ€™t even hit the floor and weâ€™re calling what we want and probably drawing down on each other if itâ€™s a really cool toy. There are other times, too, when your players get their hands on something you didnâ€™t expect them to get. They may have been given a cool item to deliver to someone else, but they decided to keep it. You didnâ€™t expect for them to break in the wizardâ€™s vault, but you kept a list of all the goodies inside and now they are going on a shopping spree. These times can give a DM a bad feeling, but there are ways to fix this.
Â The Slicer-Dicer 9000!- People of great power have great things. The have-nots tend to believe the greatness lies in the item itself and if they could just get their hands on it then they, too, would be great. If your player has something so spiffy and game changing then everyone is going to want it. Thieves will come out of the wood work to steal it. Toughs will never let them enjoy a beer in peace. Even rulers may issue edicts that such a thing can not be allowed loose in their kingdom. You can turn on the lights so bright your players will not find a shadow to hide in until they lose, give up or destroy said magic item. Just let the consequences fall as they will and let the player decide when theyâ€™ve had enough.
Â Nothing lasts forever- If you donâ€™t currently, then you should have a ruling that using items damages them. For instance, in my game every time you crit or fumble your weapon takes damage. Armor and items take damage whenever they are hit. Using items the wrong way also causes damage. It can be a pain for your players to keep up with every little thing like this so I say that anything that wasnâ€™t broken by the time they get back to town is repaired to full strength. This option also gives your players something to spend their money on because large amounts of idle money can cause problems, too. Plus, if you decree that items must be repaired you can say that this cool item is so rare that no one knows how to fix it so it would carry damage over from quest to quest. That way your players arenâ€™t bothered with snapping daggers or flayed leather, but that vorpal sword of speed will break eventually because they canâ€™t find a craftsman skilled enough to fix it. You can also instantly destroy items by planting a bag of devouring in the game or by using a well placed Disjunction spell. I did this once to about a billion dollars worth of magical equipment and my players were pissed.
Â Iâ€™ve seen that move before- When something, anything becomes a staple in your characterâ€™s arsenal then someone is going to take notice. Like in The Deathly Hallows when the good guys try to make duplicate Harry Potters to chase the real one blows it by using his old stand-by disarming spell. If your players constantly use an elemental burst weapon then they can expect their enemies to start picking up resistance and immunities to that element. If you come at everybody with a vorpal sword then expect them to start wearing metal neck braces. Eventually your players will be sick of their cool toy not doing anything and will move on to something else. If your players have any kind of skill they will look for the same patterns in your NPCs, too.
Â Damn, they donâ€™t have it in my size- In D&D there are a number of items that only work for specific people. There are items that only work for dwarves and orcs as well as things that only work for, or weaken anyone who is not evil. You can add this limiter descriptor to your NPCâ€™s equipment so that even if your PCâ€™s get their hot little hands on it they still wonâ€™t be able to use it. Now you do have to watch out for those craftier PCâ€™s. My DM had a game where all the cool items were for Dwarves only, but I was playing a bard with Use Magical Device so when I finally got my hands on a flaming, throwing hammer of returning +6 he gulped when I read the ability description. This isnâ€™t a perfect fix, but it will slow down most of your PCâ€™s. Later on in the game our DM used â€˜attunedâ€™ glyphs so that if any other than the original barer picked up the item then it exploded or melted into useless junk.
Â True Power Lies Within- This is an easy fix to keep your players from getting something that you donâ€™t want them to have, but your NPC needs just to level the playing field or last through the fight. If youâ€™ve got some spiffy power you want your NPC to have then find a way to turn it into a skill, feat, extraordinary ability or some kind of super natural ability. This way your guy can do whatever and when he croaks thereâ€™s nothing that your players can take from him. Now there may be those that feel cheated, but when they learn that instead of giving up a ring slot they can learn a skill to get the same power you can expect them to go to the ends of Middle Earth to get it. It can be a neat side quest for them to go on to find some zen master who can teach them powerful techniques. You could also give them a range, or choice of powers that maybe less powerful, but more interesting to them.
Â Batteries not included- Instead of creating a special power that duplicates a magic item, create a similar magic item that has limited uses. My DM had special incense that his guys would burn and breathe in to give their spells free meta-magic feat upgrades. You can create gauntlets of Bullâ€™s Strength with stones on them that darken each time they are used. You can vary the uses available for how long you expect your guy to live and even if your players get the gauntlets itâ€™s not like they picked up a belt of giants strength which never goes away. You could create something that is only activated when it is broken so that whatever power it is, itâ€™s used up by the end of the fight. This is one of the options that your players are going to like the least because there is absolutely no way they are ever going to get the power themselves.
Â Guys, just work with meâ€¦- In a game where everything is written in pencil, everything has a permanent temporariness to it. Things written on your character sheet this week may not be there the next week, while tomorrow you may write down something you never thought would happen. I once had a character thatÂ gained or lost a template every game session. So you can talk reason to your perspective player who has said undesirable item and fix the situation by having them simply erasing said item. You can actually use this with any situation, but there can be dire consequence. The players may see it unfair to give up something they earned or taken fair and square and even reasonable players may demand some sort of payment or compensation for what they are giving up and who knows what they feel will be of equal value. The danger comes from the fact that your player may not agree to give up what they have for any price. If this happens youâ€™llÂ be stuck with the thing you hate forever in your game because doing anything in game to get rid of it will wreak of DM heavy handedness. Youâ€™ll not only not be able to get rid of it, but youâ€™ll have to make sure nothing at all ever happens to it or youâ€™ll have a fight on your hands.
Another sort of meta-game fix is to ask help from a sympathetic player. Actually, if the item off balances the game enough your players may already be making a move to â€˜fixâ€™ the situation. In our group one player got an immense amount of power, enough that individually we could do nothing to stop him. So in a boss fight the rest of the group turned on the one guy who actually succeeded in killing everyone else, but after sustaining so much damage the one with all the power was killed by the boss character. Ok, it may not have to be that extreme, but you could ask one of the players to steal or destroy said item. They may ask for something in return and they may very well be suspicious of the others in the future, but as long as they keep their mouth shut about you asking for their help youâ€™ll have the fix you wanted with very little fuss.