Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Bodyguard Result

Several days ago, BaronOpal was able to impress into my thick head some of his reasons for resisting a character of his having a background generated with an addiction.  I wanted to pause, before writing this post, and assert that while I like generated results and I support things not always going the player's way, I'm not a tyrant.  Given a reasonable, convincing real-life argument, I would probably offer the Baron, or any other player, the option of an alternate character generation (though I would insist on everything being regenerated, not just that one result).

Still, on some level it is the DM's role to pester the players - so I am still looking for odd things that can be added to the background generator that will make players take notice.  After all, if I'm not provoking a response, I'm only doing half a job.

With this in mind, I've been working on the Father's table.  I don't mean that to be sexist; I'm working on a result that gives an equal chance for it being the "Mothers table" just now.  The point is that a character's secondary skills (or benefits) come as a result of whomever may have had an influence on the character at a young age.  In many cases, since characters occasionally lose both their parents at a young age, are foundlings or grow up on the streets, "Father" here is a mutable term.  Progenitor may be a better term, but it distinctly does not sound 'fantasy,' eh?  Sounds lawyerish.

One possible result is that one's progenitor is a grandmaster/grandmistress of assassins or thieves.  I've puzzled about the 'benefit' of that - apart from money.  With this result the character gets a nice bonus there.  Here's what I've landed on:

Ciela and her Protector by Benlo

We may propose that the 1st level character (all my player characters start at 1st, regardless of the level of the party) has a father or mother who is naturally concerned about their child, and has the power to compel others to be concerned.  In this case, the 1st level character starts with a 'bodyguard,' a 2nd to 5th level thief or assassin (depending on the guild) whose role it is to protect the player character - with or without the player's permission.

The bodyguard would be completely loyal to the character, except where the character was clearly attempting to put themselves in unreasonable danger.  For example, the character decides to climb a wall and infiltrate a castle.  The bodyguard might approve of this - IF there is room for the bodyguard to come along.  If not, the bodyguard might physically restrain the player's character from taking such action.  Whether the party comes to the aid of the character, that's up to them.

The bodyguard would fight with the character and the party, but would not move farther away than the distance that could be covered in one round, if the character got into trouble.  This could be very useful for the character - IF the character were prepared to play within the bodyguard's rules.  It gives the character considerable clout at the start of the campaign, particularly if everyone starts at 1st level.

For my world, which doesn't allow player-vs-player, I would not let the player direct the bodyguard to intimidate others in the party.  The bodyguard's attitude would be more like, "Listen, you need to be friends with these people - that will keep you safer.  You should apologize and make nice."  The bodyguard is not a toy.  He or she sees the long range benefit of the character having friends in the party and would work towards that.

After a time, the character would level (and the bodyguard too, as a henchman, getting half the player's experience), and might not want the bodyguard any more.  This might involve ditching the bodyguard (who could then appear later at the DMs discretion, out there and always searching for the character), killing the bodyguard or perhaps finding a way to communicate with Mom or Dad about ending this annoying presence.  On the other hand, once the character hit a certain level and got control over the bodyguard, the bodyguard could be adopted as a loyal henchman (according to my rules).  Or the character could just enjoy the extra presence of a loyal guard ready to get up and fight, so long as the character doesn't do something really stupid.  Most of my players do not run stupid characters and would not find this a problem.

Still, I like the idea of a character trying to run from his or her own bodyguard and getting tackled, getting a lecture and getting hauled by forcibly to a safe place.

Railroading?  No.  NPC foil to character's usual 2-dimensional expectation of success.


Scarbrow said...

I have some problems trying to picture you, Alexis, applying this concept. However, this may mean this is one of those rules you propose, but have no intention to run yourself.

The question is, an NPC (and a powerful one at that, for the first few levels of the character, even of the group if they all start at first level) tying the hands of the character, no matter how benignly, runs contrary to everything you've always said about the dispassionate DM, the neutral arbiter that stands back and lets players talk among themselves. I don't see how could you consider "neutral" an NPC whose only motive of existence is to interfere with a PC's decisions. It could prove to be beneficial, after all, even appreciated by the players. But it involves the DM personally to an untenable level, even if you outsource the bookkeeping to the "protected" player (at least until it became a henchman).

How do you reconcile these problems with your need to keep neutral? Wouldn't this erode, even if slightly, the esteem of your players, who have come to appreciate your previous lack of interference?

Alexis Smolensk said...

I don't see the bodyguard overly interfering; he wouldn't be a nanny. 95% of the time the dangerous thing the character tried to do would be something the bodyguard could just follow along, so there wouldn't be any need for tying the player's hands. The bodyguard wouldn't be in a command position, so the players would still be talking among themselves - with the bodyguard standing nearby. There would only be a problem if the character wanted to do something really, really stupid.

I can't think of anything any of my PCs have done in the last year that would apply. That is probably why I don't see it being untenable. It really is just a matter of how a particular DM defines "stupid." Some would define it as "entering combat" - I wouldn't.

Scarbrow said...

Yes, of course. I expect you, or any competent DM for that matter, would exercise discretion on this matter.

But my question stands. How do you keep yourself adequately dispassionate and removed while you're also having to judge such matters? It may be that your players aren't going to bother you with suicide intentions, or even stupid ones. Everything always goes right, if we're only considering best case scenarios. But once a player (new, naive, or simply misguided) decides on a certain course of action that you, personally and without ambiguity, find stupid, how do you manage to restrict her without looking like the old-fashioned rail? The question is really wider than this example. I suppose you also overcome this problem every time you make a powerful NPC interfere with the party's plans.

Alexis Smolensk said...

In that context, you're right. There is always an issue where a character's actions put me, or any DM, into a position where restricting the character becomes a thing.

I don't see it, however, as a rail. Why do oceans restrict players who do something stupid by drowning them? Why are excessively dangerous monsters so restrictive against players who ignore the obvious warning signs about the danger? Because it is necessary for a DM to run these things as consequences against the players' behaviour, regardless of the player's desire.

The DM must be a police officer. You didn't get the scenario you wanted? Tough shit. You aren't as strong as you want to be? Tough shit. You're stuck with a bodyguard or a 5 dexterity or in a city where you can't start a bar fight whenever you want to? Tough shit. Suck it up, princess. This ain't the prom.

There will always be players who find "something" stands in the way of the freedom or what they will decide is their agency. Player Agency is not, however, a guarantee that the course of action the player decides to embark upon will be consequence free. I make decisions all the time that restrict player actions: when a monster thumps hard on them because they player chose to cast a spell rather than move farther away; when a magistrate imprisons the characters because they won't forsake their weapons; when a storm causes everyone to make a dexterity check or slip off the mountain to their deaths, for no better reason that they've decided to traverse that mountain.

Part of being a DM is to judge fairly what a consequence should be. Any decently minded player who hates the bodyguard ought to be able to find a way to a) ditch said bodyguard or b) get the bodyguard 'accidently' killed by a monster. I'm not sympathetic to a player who sits in the mud and whines about the unfairness of it all, just because they can't think their way around the obstacle.


Alexis Smolensk said...

What is generally misunderstood about the 'rail' is how it defines not only the consequences but the player's necessary actions, as well. Your question, Scarbrow, contains your answer in the permissiveness it applies to the player being restricted. ". . . once the player decides on a course of action . . ." That's agency. Players are free to make up their minds.

The rail begins where the DM proposes, "Once the player behaves according to the storyline, then . . ." - so that the stupid action, as well as the consequence, is inherent in the design of the campaign. I don't do that.

It is a difficult issue and one worth talking about again and again and again. DMs tie themselves into knots trying to offer a sort of agency to players that is consequence free or nearly so, because they fear restricting and binding the player's 'agency' with, as you say, a powerful NPC interfering with the party's plans.

However, interfering with the party's plans is the PURPOSE of having NPCs, period. They are the opposing team - they run interference plays, interference tactics - they even CHEAT to interfere with the players, since that is part of the game. [I don't mean I cheat, I mean the NPCs use underhanded tactics]. A game without interference would be like playing football with only one team. Would suck . . . except for that dumbass moron who got great pleasure taking up the ball, running down the empty field, spiking the ball in the endzone and declaring themselves the greatest player EVER.

I don't run games for that sort of player. Players of a more competitive sort would see the bodyguard idea as a unique challenge, a benefit and a detriment (like many situations) that they would have to both work around and work with to expand their opportunities and increase their various accumulated benefits.

Scarbrow said...

I see. Thank you for your extra explanations. Of course it's worth talking about it again and again. It IS hard.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Absolutely. On a greater level, I feel prepared to discuss the question on every occasion it is asked. People who play the game have trouble, I feel, because it never has been clarified by the powers that be, product-making corporations, since sidestepping the issue and promoting things like WOTC-dictated game nights in hobby shops supports their bottom line. Such events codify the belief that player actions should follow a script in order that persons in different places may feel a single, shared experience (like a movie audience) - and this in turn produces an anti-code of total non-conformism where every DM who challenges a party's freedom is viewed as an autocrat or a killjoy.

We play in terrible times, Scarbrow. We must do our best.