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As Player characters get stronger

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  • As Player characters get stronger

    Here is something that I've had to constantly deal with throughout the various games I've played and acted as the ST. As the game progresses, the characters will become more powerful. Mostly that's not a problem as generally most of our players have been focused on building balanced characters that adequately reflect their experiences in the game.
    Then you have "that guy", who designs his characters around combat and quickly maxes out his stats, making it a holy pain in the ass for me to keep the game running smoothly. I've heard this type called various things, but I think you all get the picture.

    My question is this: How do you, as ST's, generally adjust the game and the Npc characters to reflect the stronger characters? It becomes tedious when the NPC that I've set up as a critical link in the story is ripped apart by the resident combat-twink. What do y'all do in this situation?



  • #2
    I had a Cappadocian NPC turn himself into a smoking pile of Ash.
    It was sort of a Proto-Disciplincombo (Rego Elementum and Creo Ignem at 5 each).

    If this isn't befitting for the NPC in question, then have some other NPC fill in the gap (“It is my duty to fulfill the last wishes of my Sire!“)


    So, this Zen Master walks up to a hot dog stand and says: "Make me one with everything!"

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    • #3
      Generally, I avoid making any NPC a lynch pin in the story. If a combat happy character kills some NPC that I didn't want dead, no biggie. Now the PCs have more shit to deal with. That NPC had crucial information that they don't have now, and they need to go elsewhere for it, or try to overcome without it. There's social consequences for violence to deal with. Etc. Though it is a key point that if you have a player that enjoys combat, you need to throw them a bone. Just because not every problem is best solved with combat, doesn't mean you leave them out in the cold.

      Plus it never hurts to talk to your players to check in about desires and norms for your group.

      I've found that this generally results in three outcomes:

      1) They get the message and realize combat has a time and place. Sometimes they just sort of chill and do nothing until combat breaks out, but most of the time they come up with something else to be doing in the mean time.

      2) They keep killing everything that seems like a threat, and the other PCs just stop backing them to go do useful things instead. Refrain from making these side fights lethal, and instead focus on having them be tough enough that ~50% of the time the combat monster loses and ends up getting bailed out (simply) by the other PCs. This tends to tamp down a bit even if it doesn't change the overall behavior as being constantly in-debt to the other players (with them being able to threaten to not save him next time if they're sick of it) reduces the combat fun.

      3) They quite because they're not a good fit.

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      • #4
        Well, it's not exactly an effective solution but...

        Back when I started playing Vampire, the ST said there wasn't many players available and that he didn't have the patience to deal with our crap, so we had to make an effort and try to get the role-playing right.
        He had an ST character (to play the experienced vampire) and warned us, anyone that messed up the scenes in a stupid manner would get his fists (like in real fists...and he had decent fists).

        It was tense, the fun was numbed, but after a few cessions, we eventually got the hang of it.

        Combat players knew the weight of their actions on the story, non-combat players knew how to react to reckless players.
        It was still tense, with the paranoid players checking each-other out, ready to stab each-other in the back (figuratively of course), but it gave a realistic feel to the game, as if we were truly experiencing the paranoia and horror.

        Now, I repeat, that wouldn't work for most people. The only reason it worked for us was because it was hard to find players and the ST was cool. We were willing to compromise the fun to keep both, as we still do.

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        • #5
          When it comes up, I take a two pronged approach. One is out of character and one in character.

          In game: Okay, so they've killed the important NPC. Maybe he has an assistant. Or maybe there's a clue in his pocket. Or you killed his stunt double/doppelganger/clone/construct. Or maybe the PCs need to get creative on how to solve the puzzle because they broke the key to the lock. The more creative, the more I reward them. In the meantime, remember few people are truly an island. That killed NPC has friends and allies that don't like the PCs now and aren't likely to help. The PCs have killed a friend of theirs and they are going to want to get even.

          Now you have more plot hooks and complications the PCs might not otherwise had and point those consequences out using the other NPCs. "Ya know, if you hadn't killed Bob, my client might be willing to work with you. But you did and now he won't. Threatening to kill me won't help your cause, 'cause I can't help you much more than I already have. But because I'm a nice guy, go see Larry down by the docks. He walks in those circles, but the price will be more expensive and he's totally untrustworthy. A bit of advice: Next time, try not to kill people. It's bad for everyone's business. Especially yours."

          Out of character: I have a discussion with the players. I outline my expectations. I ask them about their expectations. I try to find a point in the middle and tailor the game to that. I also point out the in game consequences to the "I'm bored I need to kill something" actions. I also point out if the combat PC/player keeps fucking with the game to detriment of the fun of the other players, they can tone it down, play something else, or play somewhere else.

          If none of that works and the player continues to be a twit or uncooperative or some other edge case, I'll use the nuclear option: Rocks fall, character dies. Or, by the way, that NPC is built better with more XP than Mr. Combat. <sputch> What's the backup concept?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
            Generally, I avoid making any NPC a lynch pin in the story. If a combat happy character kills some NPC that I didn't want dead, no biggie. Now the PCs have more shit to deal with. That NPC had crucial information that they don't have now, and they need to go elsewhere for it, or try to overcome without it. There's social consequences for violence to deal with. Etc. Though it is a key point that if you have a player that enjoys combat, you need to throw them a bone. Just because not every problem is best solved with combat, doesn't mean you leave them out in the cold.

            Plus it never hurts to talk to your players to check in about desires and norms for your group.

            I've found that this generally results in three outcomes:

            1) They get the message and realize combat has a time and place. Sometimes they just sort of chill and do nothing until combat breaks out, but most of the time they come up with something else to be doing in the mean time.

            2) They keep killing everything that seems like a threat, and the other PCs just stop backing them to go do useful things instead. Refrain from making these side fights lethal, and instead focus on having them be tough enough that ~50% of the time the combat monster loses and ends up getting bailed out (simply) by the other PCs. This tends to tamp down a bit even if it doesn't change the overall behavior as being constantly in-debt to the other players (with them being able to threaten to not save him next time if they're sick of it) reduces the combat fun.

            3) They quite because they're not a good fit.
            The only issue I see with this might be time allocation. Combat is above-the-table game time intensive. Moreso than an equivalent conversation based scene (another time consumer, but, hey, there are ROLEPLAYING games, so, there's that... and still takes up less overall time) And definitely more than technical Ability-based problem-solving situations. As Erick Wujiick, the late designer of the diceless Amber game, once said to me, "When combat starts, pretty much every RPG becomes a war game" (meaning the same thing as, say, Warhammer, All finicky technical rules, etc.)

            If the combat character solves every problem with his fists/sniper rifle/thermonuclear grenades/etc. there is a strong likelihood they are going to monopolize the game. If the other characters are around they aren't doing as much in fight. And it's really hard to cut scenes between the fight scene and other scenes showing what the social and skill players are doing simultaneously as the time ratio gets skewed really fast. A few seconds of fighting will take a LOT longer to play through than a few seconds of conversation and might take as long to play through than several minutes (or even hours) of Ability-based action.

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            • #7
              It's a problem sure. But that assumes fights that last very long. I'm the ST. I have access to whatever NPCs I want. If I'm worried about time allocation and a disruptively combat happy character, I can build encounters that will go quickly (either because the NPC's easily win, or they crumple like paper).

              Sure, some of it is my own skill with the games. But the idea that combat has to be some long drawn out time consuming dice-fest isn't really accurate. If my goal is to convince the combat-happy player to moderate their behavior, combat when I don't think it's appropriate isn't going to last more than a round. And if that's unfun for them, then they're going to learn that in-depth combat doesn't happen when you just kill everything in the way, and if they wait for when combat is appropriate, then they get the fun in-depth stuff.

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