Friday, May 20, 2011

Bad Results

Here and there I've been working on an excel file that would automatically generate all the background material I give to my players, to save time.  And with this on my mind, the question today is: how much tolerance would the gentle reader have for a character who was so reduced in capacity that running as an ordinary adventurer would be impossible?

I ask because I’ve been going through the various extremely harsh penalties my background system – like the one posted here - bestows against persons with attributes of 5 or less, wondering how people would play them if so saddled. For myself, I think it would be interesting to play any of these ... for awhile, at least. Thankfully, at 5th level one would usually get a henchman – except, of course, when the penalty is that one can’t.

I will give the example, as it is worded now (I'm rewriting some of these for the excel file).  There’s a 1 in 20 chance of getting the following if your character has a 3 intelligence:

“Character is an 'idiot,' and cannot act to care for self without supervision.  Cannot grasp social constructions (such as money). Has no weapon proficiences or father's skills; cannot have henchman."

That is a hard character to run.  My interpretation would be that you're already dependent on at least one other player in the party to tell you what to do.  With an intelligence of 3 you can only be a fighter, so you are attacking at -3 to hit until you reach 4th level, when you get a weapon proficiency at last.  You can't get experience from treasure, but only from vicarious experiences that you CAN understand - causing damage, receiving damage.  And worst of all, you can never inspire another person to follow you - since you yourself cannot really make decisions about most things.  I suppose if you had a family member you could ally yourself to him, and that family member could ultimately become a henchman ... but it would depend upon whether you even had a family (strength table) or whether anyone in your family liked you (wisdom table).

No doubt, some would not think this was a reasonable result to appear on a character's background table.  But I disagree.  It would be a bitch, but it would still be playable by someone creative.

For instance, there are a whole mess of results from the Constitution table that result in chronic conditions: blindness, deafness, a tendency to severe hemorrahging when wounded, or even having both legs crippled beyond use.  To what degree do you allow these to be cured as a diseases?  Should blindness which has resulted from birth be affected by cure blindness?  Does restoration automatically settle the matter?  Or does the possibility exist that certain persons cannot be cured by any method, and are doomed to remain permanently disabled?

Would you run a blind character?  Particularly if no 'special powers' were bestowed upon you as a compensation?  I might accept some arguments for hear noise, but in an all-out melee, would that really be practical?  And still, if played carefully, wouldn't it be sweet when your completely blind character actually succeeded at reaching seventh level, steadily obtaining items and other things that would balance the scales ... an ego-sword that was able to 'see' for you, a hit table that compensated for your penalties, the increased level that allowed you to detect the location of invisible beings, the old standby of killing the lights and forcing everyone to be blind, etc.

And why not a parapalegic?  Consider the following condition, with a 1 in 20 chance of getting if your constitution is 3:

"Character suffers from ongoing chronic pain, and will not be able to travel or walk under their own power.  They must be transported by other means."

Nasty, that.  Once again, there is dependency upon the remainder of the party.  The character would have to be an illusionist (according to the AD&D handbook), so spells would be the forte, and an occasional tossed weapon.  I see no reason why an illusionist couldn't make this work - and choosing specifically spells which would conceal the true nature of the illusionist's limitations.

Seriously - this is the sort of thing which builds up the best stories.

Part of my background takes into account that your character may have done something stupid when you were young.  The following has a 1 in 10 chance of occurring if your intelligence is 6 or less:

"Character is missing the left or right hand; cannot use a two-handed weapon.  Character can opt for a hook-hand as a proficiency."

Except when they can't.  This result came up one time in my world, with a cleric who had a 6 intelligence, the lowest possible for a cleric.  Obviously, she could not take a hook as a proficiency, being a cleric.  And there were other issues.  There were relatively few weapons she could take, since bludgeoning weapons tend to be two-handed.  Still, overall, a perfectly playable character.

In general, intelligence and constitution offer the worst results.  The worst dexterity effect is this:

"On the first attempt, the character must make a saving throw vs. paralyzation in order to draw a weapon or seize any item.  Failure indicates the character has failed to do so, and has dropped the item.  Subsequent attempts do not require a saving throw."

Again, there's only a 1 in 20 chance of that coming up if your dexterity is 3.  Mostly, it is just an immense pain ... and the character would know not to draw weapons or pull items when dropping them would be bad, very bad.  I would accept the argument that the character says, "I very carefully take two rounds to draw the weapon so I do not drop it" as not needing a saving throw.  On the other hand, when time really, really mattered ...

On the other hand, the worst result from wisdom is something only a thief character could get ... as it would require having a 3 wisdom, with a 1 in 20 chance:

"In a foolish twist of fate, the character inadvertently gave information to the enemy of the realm that enabled that enemy to seize wealth and territory from the realm; a death sentence has been levelled upon the character's head."

There's a start to a campaign.  With the added bonus of having people turn up once in awhile - even when the thief is far from his or her land of birth - and talking about the event, even if they don't recognize the thief.  Fun fun fun.

There are other results, but I only had time for a quick overview.  Reading through these, and working them into the program, I felt a post was justified.  Have a good weekend, all.


bob said...

This was an interesting one. I happen to be playing a blind character at the moment. It isn't easy, and won't get much better for several levels. It may well be for that reason that playing the character is so rewarding - a nice break from playing more optimized characters.
I am curious as to why this post seems to run against the grain of your "fetishizing the suboptimal" post (though it may simply be misunderstanding on my part). Do you feel that something is missing when the player makes a suboptimal choice in character creation vs. when the character is made suboptimal by random chance?

Alexis said...

I take it you did not read the link. The character does not 'choose' to have these things; there are two rolls for each character stat, and those rolls may be good, or they may be bad, and the range is dependent upon the stat to begin with.

So my players do not 'fetishize' the sub-optimal. Sometimes they are stuck with it, against their will. But generally, things tend to even out, so there are both good things and bad things together. Sometimes, however, a character will be lucky, and get mostly good things, and sometimes a character will be unlucky.

bob said...

I may not have phrased that well. I did read the link, and very much enjoyed the idea of random chance advantages and disadvantages being keyed to the basic character stats. I think it is additionally a useful tool in creating character background with less debate between gm and player simply wanting to dictate things like contacts and family history.
What I should have asked was for you to clarify your position on character disadvantages (or more specifically how different methods of assigning disadvantages contribute to gameplay more or less). Obviously a more 'powerful' character will be more successful (assuming it is played intelligently and barring awful luck) than one with more disadvantages. And I agree with you that there is a certain sense of accomplishment in playing through disadvantages when they befall the character (as opposed to walking every one-armed cleric off a cliff and rolling another). How do you feel about players that do choose disadvantages as opposed to determining them randomly?

SupernalClarity said...

I must agree with you, Alexis: as a DM, I love it when my players are willing to take a disadvantage and run with it.

I had one player who's fighter suffered some permanent intelligent loss that reduced him to idiocy. Yet rather than carry that burden, the character committed suicide.

I had another player who's sorceress was sexually abused, and shortly thereafter fell upon pretty hard times, the results of which left her badly scarred. However, she carried on and accepted the penalties: around members of the opposite sex she was generally uncomfortable, and certain triggers would cause dangerous "incidents" where she couldn't control her fear. The party was forced to gamble in some social situations when the sorceress, their party face with insanely high charisma, had to deal with men that might cause her to go off her rocker any minute.

I think you can imagine which player had more fun and, consequently, which game was the more interesting.

Alexis said...

I don't want to get too far into the argument that "bad things make the game better." If I had something like this, I would certainly play it, and I would certainly find pleasure in it.

But that does not make it "better." The game is good no matter what. I'd be just as happy to start a character with lots of money or credit or unusual talents, too.

Zzarchov said...

I would question if an idiot could have a follower in the medieval setting. One "Touched in the head by god" might in fact be more likely to have followers (depending on what you differentiate as a henchmen compared to someone who follows you around)

Oddbit said...

I think that given the intent was to give penalties when rolling low, I would not allow such an interpretation. However if they rolled high and had low stat maybe that would be an option for interpretation.

Oddbit said...

Excuse my belated math, but assuming 3d6 the odds are 1 in 4320, I think if you get that worst case scenario you pretty much are screwed. Just hope for karma on the next stat.

Alexis said...

Not quite right, Oddbit. Since I use 4d6 and toss the lowest die, the chances of having a 3 stat are 1 in 1296. That makes the odds for most of the above 1 in 25,920.

Oddbit said...

Hrm I must have remembered wrongly then, for some reason I thought you were the one that did 3d6.