Episode 346 – save or suck
by Dan Repperger

When a Game Master repeatedly uses a character’s weaknesses to reduce them to uselessness.  We discuss whether it’s a fair tactic or just a quick way to wreck that player’s fun.

* (1:10) Congratulating Julia on getting married.

* (2:48) A reminder about Fear the Boot’s Twitch channel.

* (4:20) Save or suck: when failing a roll takes away your control of the character (e.g. sleep spells).  Other situations when a character can be reduced to irrelevance.

* (16:23) The critical differences between being ineffective and being incapacitated.

* (21:39) Ironically, John gets robbed of his contribution to the episode by a crashed internet connection.

* (22:32) The double-standard when players lock down the GM’s NPCs.

* (30:44) How much of this comes from being unable to read the players.

Hosts: Chad, Dan, John, Wayne

Comments (6)

The DanielJuly 17th, 2014 at 9:24 am

Within the realm of roleplaying games, “save-or-suck” mechanics always left me on the fence. On the one hand, you have adults who have put aside their precious little fun time aside and now can’t do anything. This is rarely fun for players. On the other side of the spectrum, you have the story elements that such things bring into a story. The Medusa could petrify a would be hero with just a glance; that threat brings tension to scenes with her.

I have looked at ways to have the best of both worlds but have yet to come up with anything satisfactory. I keep looking at different mechanics over the years. As a DM, the effects that can immediately pull a player out of the game tend to just tend to sit in my toolbox and gather dust.

Jon ManessJuly 17th, 2014 at 9:25 am

Good show. I’ve felt this frustration from the GM side many times by players doing what I call the “Mortal Combat Sweep Attack” type of move to lock down a combat in a way that tears down that set piece you mentioned.

Just last night, playing Pathfinder, I felt he PC side of this as my enchanter character specializing in mind-affecting effects had nothing but encounter after encounter against undead or oozes. The first chance to encounter something I could use my abilities on, their will saves just happened o be through the roof.

The DanielJuly 20th, 2014 at 9:05 am

I’ve have noticed the saving throw climb in some editions can raise faster for monsters than the dc’s of the heroes. Video game monsters tended to do that too. (“Wait, you mean I can’t use the debuff on the monsters that I really want to use them on? What was the point of me getting those abilities again then?”)

ThunderbellyJuly 20th, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Chad, You did an OK imitation of John… my question is can you do John when he’s doing his imitation of The Cos?

Good show… I am amazed sometimes as I listen to the cast at how you guys never get boring. I mean after so many years you do an episode a week and STILL can come up with NEW and RELEVANT stuff to discuss. Keep them coming!

UemeiJuly 21st, 2014 at 10:39 pm

One could argue that John actively chose to make a character that will stand and suck it back when he was piling on the deeps and ignoring his will save, but I won’t because that’s a low blow.

Rather I’d like to hit him even lower down, take him off at the knees, and sneer at him by pointing out that this is a possibility that he consented to when he and his group chose to play 3-er-path-F-it. It’s a 14 year old gaming relic in an age where there are so many new, and dare I say better, games coming out no one can hope to play them all. You could play Burning Wheel or Fate Core or, my personal favorite right now, Cortex+ or any other system from Green Ronin’s old school interpretation of Dragon Age to the plethora of Apocalypse hacks out there, and John CHOSE to play in a system with color spray in it THEN made a character that saves like a granny sitting in front of a bank of slot machines.

Seriously though, I don’t look at this as being a moral or ethical dilemma for the GM. It’s true Li’lsexy could have pulled John aside out of character and said, ‘could yah lay off the stabby stabby, you’re wrecking my finely crafted artisan encounter tables,’ or possibly handled John by throwing a bunch of constructs that are immune to critical hit at him, but I’m pretty sure this was a legitimate solution as well. More over if the game is ‘story rich,’ and this is only happening in combat, and John retains his agency outside of combat it’s not actually undermining the ‘character,’ so much as it is the character’s combat feats.

I really do consider this an opinion or taste problem more than anything else. If you don’t like being put in a situation where you can’t do anything, then don’t play a game where that’s a thing that can happen. I used to love 3.5, and then I used to love 4e, and I’d probably have wound up loving D&D Next except that my tastes have so diverged from that style of game that I can’t see any reason to bother with it. If this sort of thing is a problem though, then maybe it’s time to say good bye to the old d20, or look for other ways to use it that don’t rely on the old SRDs. That’s my best advice; If you don’t like being Shaken then don’t play Savage Worlds.

Tangentially related to that, and I only mention this because Dan brought up Battletech, I’d like to suggest Dan poke Dana Fried and Elle Addison over at I Podcast Magic Missile about the AW hack they are currently working on called Souls of Steel. Dana says it emulates anime, and while I don’t see any of that in the game, I do think it would be useful for running all the character drama bits of a Battletech RPG. Worst case scenario you help pimp their game and you get an episode of free content out of it.

DanJuly 23rd, 2014 at 9:49 am

I’ve had pretty good luck with Mechwarrior Second Edition for my Battletech RPG stuff. Didn’t like Third Edition, and the one Catalyst released was a bullet-stopping book. However, I realize it’s hard to hang onto 20-year-old, unsupported products forever. It wouldn’t kill me to either find a hack or make my own.

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