Author Topic: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws  (Read 17783 times)

Offline Becq

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Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« on: March 02, 2011, 04:03:43 AM »
I've seen a number of topics that ask for advice on how to keep the potentially limitless power of Wizards in check.  And (at least where combat is concerned) it seems that one of the key enablers for Wizards is the ability to narrate the fate of a victim that is taken out.  That is, if I'm playing a optimized Wizard, I can probably get away with throwing a weapon 6+ fireball at a group of human foes and, when they fail to roll high enough on their defense, proceed to narrate how they are scattered by the blast and knocked unconscious, but suffer nothing more than severe (but not life-threatening) burns.

You would *never* see Dresden doing this, because he'd realize that a spell of that magnitude would kill the people, which would be a violation of the Laws.  But the game mechanics allow it, which makes it difficult to make the Laws limit the capability of Wizards the way they probably should.

So what stops the GM from playing the scenario more like this:

Player:  "Ok, I'm going to lob my 'Corpsemaker Mk II' fireball at the group of mafia thugs.  It'll be an 8 shift spell, with weapon 6 and one zone area effect."
GM: "Are you sure you want to do that?  After all, you are talking about using LETHAL magic against a MORTAL foe.  A spell that powerful is almost guaranteed to kill them, which is a violation of the Laws of Magic."
Player: "Yes, but I'm going to cast my fireball in a non-lethal way, which will just knock them unconscious."
GM: "A ball of super-heated plasma that powerful can't really be used as a non-lethal weapon..."
Player: "Look, if I take them out, the rules say I can narrate the results, right?  So I'm gonna make it non-lethal."
GM: "It's your choice.  Last chance: Are you absolutely sure that you wish to deliberately use your magic in a way that could well result in mortal deaths?"
Player: "Whatever.  I rolled 7 control, so I'll take 1 mental stress for the spell and 1 physical stress for the backlash.  That's 13 shifts of damage to the zone, minus their defense roll."
GM: "There's no need for a defense roll, they'd never survive that blast.  I conceed that the entire group is reduced to charred, lifeless corpses."
Player: "Wha-?"
GM: "Let's talk about your Lawbreaker stunts..."

In other words, while the concession rules are generally there to allow a player facing certain doom to narrate their way out of it (assuming they can come up with a reasonable justification), I don't see any reason that they couldn't be used to enforce a modicum of sanity into situations such as the one above.  The rules for concession set the limitations on it's use:
Quote from: YS206
A concession has to pass muster with the group before it is accepted—the conditions of the loss still have to represent a clear and decisive disadvantage for your character. If the group (note that your opponent is part of the group for this!) feels like your character is getting off easy, you’ll need to rework the concession until it’s acceptable.
Given that weapon 6 is several steps more powerful than a hand grenade, I don't think that anyone could argue that the concession result is unreasonable, and I think it would be hard to argue that the victims are "getting off easy".  It meets with all of the specific considerations the rules suggest on the same page, which generally suggest minimum long-term consequences rather than maximum.  And as far as inflicting Lawbreakers on the attacker, the GM clearly stated to the player that he was at risk of breaking the Laws, and gave the player ample opportunity to revise the action.  If I were the GM, I *might* even be more lenient that this any give the player one *more* chance to revise their action after previewing the result, since the result is likely going to be a loss of the character.

So is this a fair use of the concession rules to enforce the potential lethality of magic?  Or mundane attacks, for that matter?

Making use of this mechanic should obviously be done sparingly (and hopefully would not need to be used more than sparingly).  It would also probably be a good idea to have at least some rough guidelines as to what constitutes a (potentially) lethal attack.  For example, an attack with a weapon rating greater than the target's stress boxes that results in enough stress that the target could not avoid being taken out even with a maximum defense roll and even if they were previously undamaged.

Thoughts?

Offline Tedronai

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2011, 04:19:19 AM »
Problem 1) you don't have to describe it as anything close to a "'Corpsemaker Mk II' fireball" for it to be a weapon:6, zone-wide effect.  It's entirely reasonable to describe a weapon:6, zone-wide effect in such a way as to reasonably assure a non-lethal taken-out result
a weapon:6 sleep spell, for instance
or a weapon:6 heat-stroke spell
The spell in your example is pointedly described as being designed to cause death ('corpsemaker'), thus biasing the results against the player's intention.  The gm should point that out in his confirmation of intent, and, if it is discovered that the player does not intend to actually kill the targets, recommend that an attack method more suited to the intended results be devised.

Problem 2) even 13 shifts in a single attack is not sufficient to guarantee even a non-lethal taken out result, let alone death

Problem 3) concessions are NEGOTIATED, and can be refused by the would-be victor
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Offline devonapple

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2011, 04:24:41 AM »
So is this a fair use of the concession rules to enforce the potential lethality of magic?  Or mundane attacks, for that matter?

Brilliant!  Yes, this is a very hardline - but ultimately "fair" - use of narrative mechanics to underscore that negotiations of a particular metagame issue have not been productive. That said, I personally feel the inspiring situation (of which the example is a very accurate representation) as a breakdown of group vision: the GM and the player each have strong but conflicting visions of how they want the game to go.

In the case of a "green" player asserting what an objective observer would agree is a ludicrous interpretation of the "taken out" mechanics (or just reality), then yes, the anecdote presented is a wonderful splash of cold water.

Problem 3) concessions are NEGOTIATED, and can be refused by the would-be victor

Also this. In the case of a more seasoned player, this type of strongarm use of the concessions mechanic will probably be transparent, and it may lead to a further schism at the table.
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Offline Ophidimancer

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2011, 04:26:27 AM »
Your approach strikes me as wrong somehow, and a bit unnecessary given,

Quote from: YS203
If the damage exceeds the character’s stress track, or occupied boxes “push” the stress off the right side of the stress track, the character is taken out, meaning the character has decisively lost the conflict. His fate is in the hands of the opponent, who may decide how the character loses. The outcome must remain within the realm of reason

Emphasis mine.

Offline Sanctaphrax

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2011, 04:36:30 AM »
I dislike this.

Problems of this sort can and should be dealt with at character creation.

If you don't like 8 shift evocations, tell your players that you aren't comfortable with them and have them make a non-Blast-O-Matic character.

If you want to make the Laws more serious, then work things out with the player before the game starts. You can say something like: "any serious evocation attack against a mortal is grounds for a compel that would give you First Lawbreaker."

Offline luminos

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2011, 04:36:59 AM »
I think this approach is workable, but it needs to be backed up by a pre-game discussion with the entire group about expectations around lawbreaker status, and expectations around weapon strength and taken out results.  Hopefully, if everyone agrees ahead of time that nuking a group of people is not a reasonable way to knock them unconscious, then you won't have to worry about this problem.  But if for some reason someone still tries it, then you can use this method without guilt and remind them what you all agreed to at the start of the game if there are complaints.
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Offline Tedronai

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2011, 04:37:47 AM »
Reasonable outcomes for a large intense fireball easily being along the lines of horrible, disfiguring burns as an extreme consequence
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Offline luminos

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2011, 04:41:52 AM »
I dislike this.

Problems of this sort can and should be dealt with at character creation.

If you don't like 8 shift evocations, tell your players that you aren't comfortable with them and have them make a non-Blast-O-Matic character.


Its a separate issue (for me at least) as disliking 8 shift evocations.  Its about gaming the system to produce unreasonable results in the fiction.  Weapon values are abstractions, but they are abstractions that are supposed to mean something in the fiction.  And the laws are supposed to have very real implications for how characters act in the fiction.  Using the rules to ignore what would make sense fiction-wise just feels all kinds of messed up.
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Offline luminos

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2011, 04:43:59 AM »
Reasonable outcomes for a large intense fireball easily being along the lines of horrible, disfiguring burns as an extreme consequence

Which is precisely why I advocate the pre-game discussion before implementing lawbreaker policies.  That way, the group could work it out for themselves what constitutes reasonable, rather than relying on assumptions, which given this discussion, are guaranteed to clash.
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Offline Ophidimancer

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2011, 04:48:30 AM »
Reasonable outcomes for a large intense fireball easily being along the lines of horrible, disfiguring burns as an extreme consequence

Horrible burns are a reasonable outcome, horrible burns that absolutely cannot lead to death are not.

I don't think every single situation can be discussed before hand, and the Storyteller is the arbiter of reason.

Offline Drachasor

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2011, 04:48:35 AM »
I think lawbreaking is best decided as out of game discussions.  The players and GM should determine what "within reason" makes sense and work from there.  Arguably some elements in evocations have an advantage here (like air for electricity, hence stunning), but in the end it is up to the group.

As a baseline though, I think the player should always know before any given action is actually taken that it could result in Lawbreaker if the GM decides that way for a particular action.  Perhaps this should even be treated as a compel on the high concept IF the GM determines it is appropriate so that the player has one last chance to get out of it by spending a fate point (or even accepting debt).  I like this since it has the element of risk in it for the character, while letting the player maintain narrative control.

I think the OP's example is one of a bad player AND a bad GM.  The proper thing for a GM to do in that situation, if he really feels it is lethal, is say flat-out that the player's feelings have nothing to do with how they will rule and if that if they use the spell people will die.  He should make that abundantly clear, which is not something that was done there.  Instead he indicated that was his likely ruling and gave hints.  Lawbreaking isn't something that should be sprung on a player like that, even with hints...even with blatant hints....even with hints you think only a moron wouldn't get.  It should be extremely, supremely, explicit, imho, because it is a pretty big game-changer.  Springing it on a player, no matter how explicit you think your foreshadowing was, is a good way to really piss them off (not every player is like this, granted, but a good many are).

On the other hand, I don't even really agree with the GM there.  You make that super-heated blast and have it blow up over people so they get hit by the concussion...then I think it is fair to say it isn't lethal.  Of course, the player didn't say that.  Just saying, there are some creative ways to go with a lot of things.

In any case, if anyone feels like in their game the GM has to "get" the players and make them get Lawbreaker stunts, then something is really fracked with the group dynamic in that game.  That's how GMs in parodies of RPG groups play (like DM of the Rings).*  Frankly, if I found myself in a game like that, I'd quit.

*Which is why I like Darths and Droids, since actually is a very funny comic about a group (GM included, I think) that is having fun and enjoying their time despite the quirks.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2011, 04:50:14 AM by Drachasor »

Offline Drachasor

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2011, 04:51:10 AM »
I don't think every single situation can be discussed before hand, and the Storyteller is the arbiter of reason.

The game actually tends to indicate the group as a whole is the arbiter of reason...at least as far as conventions like lethal force and the like go.

Offline luminos

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2011, 04:55:48 AM »
In any case, if anyone feels like in their game the GM has to "get" the players and make them get Lawbreaker stunts, then something is really fracked with the group dynamic in that game.  That's how GMs in parodies of RPG groups play (like DM of the Rings).*  Frankly, if I found myself in a game like that, I'd quit.


Yeah, absolutely.  Which ties into a point that I think gets glossed over in these discussions, and that is that it doesn't have to be about getting the player when its about getting the character.  Compels are already evidence that the game separates the two concepts.  Its very possible to play a game where the characters get slapped with lawbreaker status they do not want, while the players are okay with it.  If the players are never okay with getting lawbreaker on their characters, then they really really really really really need to say so as part of the pre-game discussion, lest they end up having their expectations undermined through play.
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Offline Ophidimancer

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2011, 04:57:38 AM »
The game actually tends to indicate the group as a whole is the arbiter of reason...at least as far as conventions like lethal force and the like go.

Well ok yeah, but it's not just the one player.

Offline Tedronai

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Re: Giving teeth to enforcement of The Laws
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2011, 05:04:06 AM »
Horrible burns are a reasonable outcome, horrible burns that absolutely cannot lead to death are not.

That's where the actual negotiating of concessions comes in, rather than the GM or player simply mandating the result, and the reasonableness clause, again

'Everyone survives with horrible burns' is not meaningfully less reasonable than 'everyone dies'


Well ok yeah, but it's not just the one player.

Nor is it just the GM
Even Chaotic Neutral individuals have to apologize sometimes. But at least we don't have to mean it.
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