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Playing dead, viable? (Split from Armour Evocations)

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  • Playing dead, viable? (Split from Armour Evocations)

    To Stop LadyLens' thread from getting detailed by a tangent.

    We were discussing the merits of powers powers which let people play dead.
    Originally posted by TheCountAlucard View Post
    My point is, these "play dead" powers never seem to account for what happens once genre-savvy player characters decide to do something other than just leaving the character feigning their death (henceforth referred to as "the possum") and going about their business.

    ​If they give the possum a proper burial or cremation, he dies.

    ​If they use the Zenith Caste anima power to cremate the possum, he's revealed as not actually being dead, and then they kill him.

    ​If they don't have a Zenith and decide to "make sure" the possum is dead, he dies.
    I've always wondered if this was a WoD holdover that nobody really questioned. Since in a modern urban fantasy setting forensic techniques and electronic surveillance means that the it's usually the best idea to leave people's bodies where they fall. Even double tapping is the sort of behaviour that would have the police looking for an assassin.




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  • #2
    I mean is this more of a group problem or a GM problem? I mean if your GM is pulling the "Ah ha! I was alive all along!" card then yea it's going to condition the players.

    It's like how I read one story where had every single NPC who ever had a mustache turn out to be evil and/or backstab the players. So when another NPC came along the players were like, "Ya sure buddy! Let's talk about it over in this alleyway!" then they basically killed the guy and took his stuff. Is this an over reaction, or a safe assumption based on past events that happened to the players?


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    • #3
      *nod.* It really does depend on your players. If you're gonna use it as a GM, then you have to be sparing with it, or they'll start trying to pre-empt the problem. If you punish them for it, well that's a delicate balance and depends on what they're doing to pre-empt it. If it's the kind of trick you think you can only get away with once, my opinion is don't bother.

      Socially speaking, 'doubletapping' is *not* actually particularly approved of, *especially* when killing people is as personal as shoving a spike of metal into their bodies. (Guns make murder less personal, so it's easier to do things like that without it feeling personal.) If your players are going around doing that *every time,* then it should be valid to treat them like, well, body mutilating psychopaths. Exalted as a setting almost demands you take the time to respect the dead, at least to a particular bare minimum.

      From an NPC's perspective, it might be worth it *if* they're trying to make a temporary advantage, not try to get away. *Or* if said NPC thinks the pc's are the kinda people who don't care about leaving a body on the ground and potentially causing undead problems. (Though, since most people aren't gonna just set a body on fire where it's laying, you could perhaps hide/escape in the time between "Death" and "Actually getting around to dealing with the body.")

      Actually, (and I feel like I shoulda thought of this earlier but hey, just woke up, blahblahblah,) We shouldn't look at the play dead powers in a vacuum. Combine 'pretend to be dead' with 'stealth boost and hide in plain sight' charms. 'You finish the battle, covered in blood, breathing raggedly from the wound in your side, and look over the battlefield. You pause, (awareness roll?) and curse. Where did that asshole's body go?!'

      After all, most people don't look at the dead bodies while they're still fighting.

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      • #4
        My part of the issue isn't genre savvy players so much as player characters observing the religious traditions of the game world and dealing with bodies in a way that's pretty responsible in light of the fact that ghosts are real.


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        • #5
          Oh, yeah! Which is why I think mainly such powers are useful for short term, once scene deceptions, or in the players hands where they have a lot of agency in what happens next. Your average guy isn't gonna think "Yeah if I pretend to be a dead person I'll get the drop on them!" Cuz your average dude is *probably* aware that an untended body = Bad Things. (Honestly I encourage my players to consider the effects of not handling bodies in this world, because that's such a cool setting feature.)

          And if a player does in fact do the responsible thing, burning the bodies of their slain enemies, well. The guy faking death is probably gonna try and kill them or run then because the other option is 'let myself be set on fire.' (Which is another reason I think this should be used very sparingly, since it could feel like being punished for taking the time to be thematically responsible.

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          • #6
            It's situational from my experience. While my players are paranoid at time(read almost always) their guard drops at times. If there are time constraints or they think someone else will handle the problem I can get away with it. So on a battlefield? Not likely. In a major city? Sure it has happened though I use it sparingly.

            For my players it's a little more viable. What they chose to do and what I consider reasonable for an NPC to do are many times different. A player might think that every body has to be cremated to prevent problems but an NPC might be too lazy or think it too inconsequential to bother with. I mean do you really think accidents at work just fall out of the sky? Or is it because people who should know better take shortcuts because they don't think it will impact them or that nothing could go wrong?

            So yeah I think it's viable, or at least as much as anything can be without taking a aprticular gaming table into account. If you've got a careless murder hobo table that has no Xenith and no problem with having to murder ghosts down the line after they had murdered the originals, then go for it. If they've got a Xenith mortician from Sijan in their party...nope.

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            • #7
              As previously discussed, I've never* had an NPC not really be dead... but my PCs still double tap from bad experiences with other DMs.

              And, in Exalted, if you don't burn the bodies you risk hungry ghosts. And "hmm Soul Fire Cremation Technique isn't working" is a bit of a give away.

              Combining the play dead charms with other stealth charms is an idea... but kinda requires a decent distraction for your possom. It's not completely unusable, but I kinda feel like that level of investment could have gone into actually winning the combat instead.

              I really don't think it's viable.

              For PCs playing dead... who is killing PCs? I mean, maybe if you've got Celestials trying to hide the fact that they're Exalted. But generally, if something is big and nasty enough to kill a PC, playing dead isn't going to help.

              I get the "cutting corners" thing. A band of thugs is going to cut corners. The royal guard might cut corners. I don't see a Wyld Hunt cutting corners. I don't see a Deathknight cutting corners. I don't see Octavian shrugging his shoulders and going "meh, she probably didn't survive that". The kinds of things that can kill a PC, aren't going to get involved in the most brutal fight of their lives and leave things half-done. I mean, some might (say, if Acts of Villainy are still a thing), but are your PCs really going to take these Charms for the once in a blue moon they'll be useful?

              *****

              *For the record, Dynasty of Dovak does have two characters who aren't really dead. This is not my choice, but an artifact of having two STs for the same game.
              Last edited by JohnDoe244; 07-07-2020, 02:14 AM.


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              • #8
                Generally speaking, if I was going to try playing dead, I'd want to be exerting some kind of social influence on anyone to persuade them that they have far more important uses of their time than checking for signs of life or worried about my funeral rites.


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                • #9
                  Part of it I feel would depend on how the ability lets one fake death. Like if all it is a mystical buff to pretending, or makes it harder to detect a pulse/breathing/life signs its kind of meh because ,baring external circumstances, why wouldn't the party do something to ensure the possum was dead if the possum does anything while the party is likely rifling through the stuff of their percieved dead foe.

                  Might work a bit better if the ability does something like illusory fatal wounds, so they figure the target is probably dead because the body they're staring at is headless or was cut in bloody half or is now happily burning away. I mean you get maybe one use of that with a possum and if they have a zenith then you're probably gonna have to kiss fake deaths good bye baring circumstances where the party doesn't have time to make sure of the target's death.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Lioness View Post
                    My part of the issue isn't genre savvy players so much as player characters observing the religious traditions of the game world and dealing with bodies in a way that's pretty responsible in light of the fact that ghosts are real.
                    This is probably the biggest deal in story. My players haven't been diligent about this. Usually, though, the body is someone else's problem since the heroes are Just Passing Through.

                    Otoh, once a DM pulls the "SoAndSo wasn't really dead!" card you've just expressly told every player they have to double tap each body from now until the end of time. Its the pandora's box or rpgs. You can't unring that bell.


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                    • #11
                      I have personally used the play possum charm out of Ebon shadow style to decent effect in a few fights, mostly as a way of triggering surprise attack so basically just using it to re-establish stealth without actually being out of sight. I don't think it is really viable as a long-term thing without some major custom charms. As far as NPCs doing it: don't fall in love with your NPCs so much you refuse to let them die. If the PCs kill an NPC they are dead, baring a few specific effects "Oh no, he was chocolate cake the whole time!"

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Sorcerous Overlord View Post
                        This is probably the biggest deal in story. My players haven't been diligent about this. Usually, though, the body is someone else's problem since the heroes are Just Passing Through.
                        In my case, I once had an Abyssal fake their death after he was incapacitated with Cadaverous Torpor Technique. When they resurfaced one player got annoyed with me because the Abyssal's survival was contingent on the PCs doing something really dumb lore-wise because none of the players specified what they were doing with his body.


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                        • #13
                          If you have a PC who can insta-cremate a body, then you probably shouldn't bother assigning NPCs a "playing possum" Charm except for comedic value.

                          Beyond that, it takes three days for the hungry ghost to go off and do its thing, so there's no immediate rush to cremate a body and actually doing it without magic is a bit of a production (and raises the concern that the target can combine fire-resistance magic with playing dead). Other means of ensuring that someone is definitely dead (repeated stabbing, decapitation, etc.) will thwart the typical "playing possum" Charm, but defiling a body in this way is much more likely to raise a hungry ghost that wouldn't otherwise have arisen than it is to reveal that someone's been playing dead. Characters capable of magically feigning death should be much, much rarer than people who'll come back as a hungry ghost because you carved them up further after death.

                          Ultimately, as with many issues, this should be resolved out-of-game. If players become concerned that they need to burn or dismember every corpse immediately, and the ST doesn't like the effect this has on the fiction, the ST needs to discuss this with them on a player level rather than trying to resolve this in gameplay.


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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Eric Minton View Post
                            If you have a PC who can insta-cremate a body, then you probably shouldn't bother assigning NPCs a "playing possum" Charm except for comedic value.
                            I respect you, I agree with you, and I'm grateful for your input.

                            I get that the average denizen of Creation can't magically burn a body. I agree. But the average group of PCs can. I kinda feel like this sentence is the most useful part of your post, and everything's else you've written just isn't applicable to 95% of games.

                            None of it's bad advice. It's just that I don't think I've ever played Exalted without a magical way of dealing with bodies. Maybe my personal experience is a weird outlier here, but I suspect it's not.

                            Originally posted by Eric Minton View Post
                            Ultimately, as with many issues, this should be resolved out-of-game. If players become concerned that they need to burn or dismember every corpse immediately, and the ST doesn't like the effect this has on the fiction, the ST needs to discuss this with them on a player level rather than trying to resolve this in gameplay.
                            I don't disagree with you. But what are we trying to achieve here?

                            I, the ST, don't want the PCs burning bodies because it's squicky or slowing down gameplay? That's easy. Out-of-character conversation, all bodies are burned offscreen automatically, PCs don't have to declare it.

                            I, the ST, don't want PCs burning bodies so I can jump them with NPCs that weren't really dead? That's hard. The reason the PCs are burning bodies is because they explicitly don't want that. And there's good lore reasons for the PCs to burn the bodies. How do you even begin to have that conversation? "Hey everyone, I know you've been playing intelligently but I really want to screw you over, so give me an opening."? "Hey everyone, I have a really cool idea for a story. I just need you to let me take control of all your characters so I can tell it without your decisions messing my plot up."?

                            Again, I want to stress that in the board strokes, I agree with you. If there's a problematic game element then you should talk it through. I just don't see how the conversation ends with anything other than the ST deciding that playing dead isn't a viable tactic.

                            Originally posted by satoshi View Post
                            I have personally used the play possum charm out of Ebon shadow style to decent effect in a few fights, mostly as a way of triggering surprise attack so basically just using it to re-establish stealth without actually being out of sight. I don't think it is really viable as a long-term thing without some major custom charms.
                            I can see how that would work, provided you don't successfully go to ground (just "dip" for free concealment in plain sight then surprise attack next round). Do you go Prone on faking your death like this?

                            I'll admit, it's not a use of that Charm I've properly considered. I'll have to give this some thought and maybe change my opinion.

                            Thanks for sharing your experience.
                            Last edited by JohnDoe244; 07-07-2020, 07:43 PM.


                            Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

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                            • #15
                              Yup, going prone is almost always part of the act, I suppose you could pretend to be impaled and stuck to a wall or something, but that is a corner case and probably has it's own issues. So times the action after that is a flurry of stand up (with the dex+dodge roll) and an attack. It does have costs and probably isn't optimal, but if used once per combat against foes who haven't studied you it can allow you to get a surprise attack off without using a turn to reset since the charm is reflexive and you activate it when hit. It wasn't the most amazing thing, but I found it useful in a significant number of fights, and hey, since I had the mastery effect of Nothing but Shadows it got me 5 initiative nearly every time I used it. Not bad return for what I had considered a speed-bump intro charm.

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