Author Topic: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice  (Read 62245 times)

Offline LCDarkwood

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The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« on: March 15, 2011, 11:19:44 PM »
So, very few things are less interesting to me than determining when a Law of Magic is "officially" broken. Your Story, page 284, end of commentary.

What is interesting to me is the stuff the game will do when it comes up in play. So let's talk practical and leave the fictional lawyering for others.

A Word on Killing

Consider that the game rules do not, in fact, allow for an accidental or emergent result that kills someone.

The only way you can kill someone is to take them out in a conflict and then declare you killed them. As the player who wins the conflict, you absolutely can always declare that when you throw magic at a mortal or off-limits being, that you put them in the hospital, knock them out long enough for you to achieve your goals, etc. If you're going to kill someone, it's a willful player choice to put that drama into the game.

(Though, theoretically, the GM could also propose it as a compel if you have "Anger Management Problems" or whatever as an aspect. Or, someone could take you out in a mental conflict and declare that you lose your shit and roast a guy. Whatever. The point is, the dice are never going to tell you that you killed someone. Someone at the table is choosing to bring it into play.)

So whenever you're talking about a First Law violation in your game, keep in mind that there's going to have to be, by default, some sort of consensus about crossing that line.

To Power or Not to Power

At the end of the day, a Lawbreaker power is the same as the rest in one key area - all that matters is that you can somehow justify bringing it into play.

When you're figuring out how to make that decision, I'd like to suggest that the least important question you should be asking is whether it's a fact or not that the law was broken. Instead, you should ask yourself if the impact on that character makes things more interesting or less interesting, and how.  

Consider the case of Joe Wizard, who blasts a guy in a fight that's about to shoot his friend and takes a compel to say he killed that guy. He takes the stunt and shifts an aspect to "I Do What Is Necessary", which becomes the justification for more killing.

Late in this storyline, some scenarios down the road, we find out the dude he axed was actually a White Court vampire flunkie working for a more powerful boss.

Does that make the process of corruption suddenly invalid? Do we rewind everything?

Hell no! The Dark Powers are always willing to help. If I've convinced myself I have a conduit to killing magic, why would they argue with me? Magic is belief. The line between "the universe is corrupting my soul" and "I believe my soul is corrupt" is super, super thin.

So regardless of the initiating circumstances, there's something to be said for taking on the power anyway - it provides a tangible benefit to using that kind of magic again, which puts a new set of choices in front of the player every time he takes his stuff out for a spin. It puts a temptation out there for a free benefit if you're just willing to declare your magic inherently, unremittingly lethal.

Keep in mind, too, that there's nothing technically stopping you from spending one of your actual milestones on a Lawbreaker power, if you later decide that an "edge case" incident counts as a Lawbreaking as far as your character is concerned.

Aspects Work By Themselves Too

Understandably, though, this isn't always the effect you're going for. Sometimes, maybe you just want to give Joe Wizard something to think about or reflect on, an attitude adjustment, personal reflection, etc. Maybe the point is that he *almost* went over and is pushing at the boundaries of Lawbreaking with an edge case.

Every session gives you the opportunity to rename an aspect. If you want this in your game, all you have to do is change up an aspect to reflect it. Anything that happens in the story of the game can be given tangible weight by reflecting how it affects the character through renaming aspects.

This is a good option to take if, for some reason, there is serious disagreement about whether the violation is "real", but you want it to have an in-game effect anyway. So if you can't reach the consensus that says, "this is a Lawbreaking", your character can still go through "Loss of Faith in My Magic" or "Overcautious About Battle Magic" or whatever you want.

Of course, I think you get the best mileage with the Lawbreaker power *and* a changed aspect, but that's just me.

Corruption Isn't Always About Evil

We have a tendency to look at the Laws as things that turn ordinary, nice wizards into MFing Kemmler. So, it's understandable that some players are going to have an issue with the idea of being a Lawbreaker, because they don't really want their character to be an Evil Jackass.

But all we really know, as a baseline, is that breaking the Laws fundamentally changes you somehow. There's a lot of room to decide how you're going to express that change. That's why you don't have to, if you don't want to, worry about intent too much - good intentions can cause corruption just as much as bad ones.

Let's look at another Joe Wizard. This is a young dude, just getting started, who fries a mugger in self-defense because he's afraid. First Law violation, period dot.

But what if we decide the aspect is "Crippling, Massive Guilt"? 'Cause clearly, Joe's not a bad guy, right? No one expects he's going to go from magical self-defense to setting kittens on fire just to listen to them shriek.

However, what could happen is that his guilt keeps him from using his magic, even when its arguably necessary. Even when it could help people and prevent harm. Even when an innocent is being held up by the throat by a loup-garou, and he could save that person, but God, what if something goes wrong? What if he misses? What if he kills another innocent? Better that they die by the loup-garou's hand than his, right? Better he doesn't have it on his conscience, right?

And soon, this Joe Wizard finds himself utterly incapable of risk and sacrifice. His decisions become inherently selfish, all centered around keeping him, at all costs, from having to deal with that guilt again.

How is that not a kind of corruption?

So, keep in mind that you don't have to characterize this process as a descent into blistering, making-soup-with-babies sadism. Anything that people can feel can be taken too far and become destructive.

The World Doesn't Know the Difference

In terms of what happens outside the character, regardless of whether you express the incident with a Lawbreaker power, an aspect, or both, keep in mind that people in the setting are going to draw their own conclusions.

I mean, Morgan came after Harry in Storm Front for a crime he didn't even commit, and then came after him again for investigating it because of how much of a hard case Morgan is about the Laws.

The White Council doesn't have some mystical way of knowing with 100% certainty who broke the Laws and who didn't. And like any other organization, they turn a blind eye toward Lawbreaking they deem necessary to achieve their goals (see the Blackstaff).

So, whether you choose to take the power, change an aspect, both, or neither, it doesn't say anything about what's going to happen in the story relative to the incident in question. You could all agree that no Lawbreaking took place, make no changes to the character, and the White Council might still come down on you because some Warden heard you broke the Law and gets zealous.

You could take the power and an "All Kittens Must Die" aspect, and have everyone else in the setting think you were totally justified and totally off the hook. And any combination of things between these extremes. Maybe that's what's actually the interesting part about the situation - not what happens to the character, but in the world around the character.

In Sum

Whether or not the Law was broken is the most boring thing to dwell on - either you reach consensus quickly or you don't. From there, move on to what's interesting. Where the drama lies in the situation, whether for your character or the setting or both, should be your guide to playing with the Laws using any or all of the options above. Have a guy take a Lawbreaker power when everyone else thinks it was cool. Have the world tell a character he's evil and broke a Law when his sheet doesn't change. Play with the middle ground and all of its awesome potential.

And don't worry about the so-called facts.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2011, 11:28:24 PM by LCDarkwood »

Offline KOFFEYKID

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2011, 12:07:54 AM »
Forgive me from popping in to quibble but...

Quote from: Your Story, Getting Taken Out, Page 203
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—very few people truly die from shame, so having someone die as a result of a duel of wits is unlikely, but having him embarrass himself and flee in disgrace is not unreasonable.

The bolded part cuts both ways. While its inappropriate to have somebody flee from a duel of wits by flapping their arms and screaming like a lunatic, you can have them embarras themselves leaving it up to the person running the character to react in a way appropriate to the character.

However, it also means that you cant (without GM intervention) just say that the weapon 10 evocation you hit the group of mortal gangbangers with left them all miraculously alive. Thats not really within the realm of reason, considering that a weapon 4 attack is a grenade (which granted, people have survived), I cant really think of something that would constitute a weapon 10 attack.

My point is you can "be forced to kill" if survival is not within the realm of reason.

Otherwise I find your post to be very interesting.

Offline Tedronai

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2011, 12:15:57 AM »
My point is you can "be forced to kill" if survival is not within the realm of reason.

As decided by the group as a whole, with the continued enjoyment of the game for all involved being the primary concern.
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Offline LCDarkwood

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2011, 12:22:32 AM »
My point is you can "be forced to kill" if survival is not within the realm of reason.

I feel you. Everything is negotiation, sure. I'd be careful with your line of reasoning about the raw numbers, though. I mean, I could theoretically get 12 shifts on an attack where I punch you in the face, if I invoke/tag enough aspects. Does that make it the force-equivalent of a 12-shift evocation in the fiction? Probably not.

Interpreting that can be tough sometimes, because all a point of stress really measures is progress toward winning a conflict. It's not a statement about physics in any literal sense. You could lay me out with a three-shift Fists roll, if I only have two stress boxes on my track. I can also take 20 shifts worth of consequences (all four levels including Extreme) and choose to stay in the fight in the face of a fireball to the nose.

That said, of course it's totally fair to call ninja bullshit on a player who's all like, "Woo! 12-shift gravity hammer, eat it!" and then backtracks and goes, "Uh, but I totally pulled it enough not to kill them. Honest." You just have to judge the situation on the ground and use your people skills. No set of rules can substitute for that.

Offline KOFFEYKID

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2011, 12:37:42 AM »
I was talking about pure weapon rating as opposed to the roll for accuracy on an attack. Sure you can invoke your accuracy up to 12 but you'd still be swinging weapon: 0 dukes (barring claws or inhuman strength or greater, some stunts like lethal weapon or berserker). I'm talking literally about hitting somebody with the equivalent of 2 and a half grenades in the face. :)

Offline Tedronai

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2011, 01:04:04 AM »
A character gets hit by an attack from a 'Mac truck', causing him to get Taken Out.  A Mac truck is about weapon 5, significantly above a hand grenade in the non-linear scale of weapon ratings in DFRPG.

Does this mean that he was actually hi by the Mac truck?  Run over?  Turned into 'street pizza'?

Not necessarily.

The result could, for instance, be narrated as forcing the character to dive wildly and desperately out of the path of the truck, down the steep, but not quite sheer, cliff at the side of the mountain road, inflicting dozens of abrasions, contusions, and other individually minor injuries, along with perhaps a few bruised and broken ribs, and a fractured leg.

The character will quite reasonably survive, assuming that he is delivered to a medical facility in reasonable order, after suffering a Taken Out result from a weapon:5 attack.  He'll need that medical attention, and quite possibly could end up in a hospital bed for the next few weeks, but he survived.

And there's no reason why similar lines of story logic could not be used to explain the results of a weapon:20 evocation attack from Blasty McBlastypants, the Blasty-Happy Sorceror of Legend.
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Offline KOFFEYKID

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2011, 01:14:18 AM »
All Im saying is that in some situations it makes more sense for there to be a death than to give some wildly implausible reason for survival.

Say there is a group of 4 thugs in a parking lot which is 9 zones big (a square split into 9 pieces). They are all in the center zone, the area is completely empty and consists entirely of flat pavement. A weapon 10 effect hits every zone, tell me how they survive?

I know its a situation pretty much setup to make the only plausible outcome death, but thats sort of the point.

Offline Tedronai

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2011, 01:19:36 AM »
Tell me what that 'weapon:10' effect is.

Is that a weapon:10 spell designed specifically to put people into a deep and dreamless sleep?
They're asleep.  And will be for quite a some time.  Maybe it'd be better described as a shallow coma.  They might need some medical attention in the form of long-term minor life support (fluid and nutrient intake is going to be an issue for someone who's asleep for weeks or months).  But, barring that, they'll live.
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Offline LCDarkwood

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #8 on: March 17, 2011, 01:56:58 AM »
I'm talking literally about hitting somebody with the equivalent of 2 and a half grenades in the face. :)

(Contextual note: I agree with you that sometimes, the nature of the attack leads to only one logical, lethal conclusion for Taken Out. I'm giving myself permission to float onto another topic because I find it fascinating. So, uh, don't assume that anything I say below is anything but what it is.)

Actually, after the defense roll is accounted for (presuming you hit, of course), you're not really talking literally about anything of the sort. A shift is a shift is a shift.

So if you have a Weapon:10 bazooka, and you roll a Great, and the defense is Fair, you inflict a 12-stress hit.

If you have Weapon:0 fists, roll a Legendary, invoke three aspects, and the defense is Fair, you inflict a 12-stress hit.

In game terms, those two results have equivalent meaning. But like I said, no one would suggest in the fiction that a 12-shift Fists punch is the force-equivalent of a 12-shift hit where you got most of your shifts from a bazooka's Weapon rating.

For a normal guy, you're still looking at taking a Moderate and Severe consequence if you want to stay in the fight. The bazooka gets no inherent privilege of effect in this case - the fact that it's a bazooka just means that your consequences are going to be "Burned to Hell" and "My Gut Has Shrapnel In It" vs. "Major Head Injury" and "Bruised Ribs".

Fate has a kind of schizophrenia about it at times, because it can often "feel" more simulative than it really is - the only thing it's trying to simulate is narrative logic. The mechanics only really represent things that are highly abstract, but those abstractions are bound in by the concerns of the fiction we're creating at the table.

So we have things like Weapon ratings, which gets bigger, ostensibly, as the weapon gets "nastier". We have them because the fiction suggests that we should pay attention to that.

But high Weapon ratings don't necessarily mean a weapon is more lethal - in game terms, all it means is that you're more likely to get a bigger result without having to invoke aspects. It doesn't magically make it more likely that a certain weapon will kill over another, because as I said in the OP, no dice result equals a killing strike automatically.

And that's intentional, because it keeps fictional interpretation where I think it should be, in the hands of the individual group. I'm okay with a game where we decide that a 12-shift knife stab kills you, but a 12-shift bazooka hit explodes nearby and tosses you about so hard that you end up shattered in the hospital, but survive. And I'm okay if we decide later in that same game to make a bazooka hit kill someone and a knife stab put them in the hospital.

For some folks, the fact that you can only situationally associate one set of constraints with the other is a bug. For some, and for me, it's a feature. So it goes.

Offline KOFFEYKID

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #9 on: March 17, 2011, 09:23:02 PM »
Well my point in using weapon rating over accuracy is more that, you can pull a punch, its hard to argue that you "pulled" the explosives in the warhead making them less lethal.

Offline Tedronai

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2011, 10:45:41 PM »
Then again, it's a lot easier to 'miss' with a 'bazooka' and still inflict meaningful harm than it is with your fist.
Just because the dice say that you 'hit' doesn't mean they actually took a rocket propelled grenade to the face.  It could easily have hit a few meters to the side, hitting them only by way of debris and shrapnel, which is very easy to justify as being highly variable in effect, and thus not necessarily lethal.
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Offline devonapple

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2011, 11:33:07 PM »
Ultimately, DFRPG is not intended as a First-Person Shooter (I love First-Person Shooters, myself - especially Thug Simulators). It is designed to tell a story (which most FPS' are terrible at doing), so a lot of the mechanisms which appear to be about causing damage are actually about balancing and resolving story elements, as part of a shared narrative. It isn't HERO system, where you have regular attacks and Killing Attacks.

We even have Evil Hat's lead developer telling us that Weapon damage and damage shifts are intended to be abstract measures of plot effect, and they can be as "mortal" or not as is called for in the shared fiction each group is creating at their own game tables.

So, if the shared narrative at a particular gaming table is that anything above Weapon:3 is a killing blow, with commensurate consequences for indiscriminate use, then go for it, and have a great time!

But it isn't an oversight on the part of the game creators: it has been explained as a deliberate choice. One we are free to houserule, of course.
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Offline sinker

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2011, 06:05:49 PM »
All Im saying is that in some situations it makes more sense for there to be a death than to give some wildly implausible reason for survival.

Thought I'd chime in here. I can agree with this a bit. However there is never, ever a situation where it's ok to destroy another player's fiction without their consent. Forcing a lawbreaker on someone can do that. That kind of thing can destroy the trust at the table and can separate long time friends. If you're playing a game where everyone agreed to this rule before hand then maybe it could be ok, but that still doesn't perfectly justify it. Perhaps they agreed without thinking about the consequences. People do that. Doesn't mean that they want their character destroyed from their perspective.

That said, of course it's totally fair to call ninja bullshit on a player who's all like, "Woo! 12-shift gravity hammer, eat it!" and then backtracks and goes, "Uh, but I totally pulled it enough not to kill them. Honest." You just have to judge the situation on the ground and use your people skills. No set of rules can substitute for that.

Emphasis added. Gming is all about knowing your players, knowing what they want and telling a story that everyone enjoys. If forcing a lawbreaker power on someone is going to be good for the story and for all the players then by all means, though it may come up on it's own if that's the case. Otherwise you might want to relax a bit and just let the fiction be what it is.

Offline MorkaisChosen

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2011, 02:23:06 PM »
That 12-shift Attack spell could be any number of things, and it's not unreasonable, even with something like a blast of fire, to go with a Taken Out condition like "Badly burned and unconscious." It might seem like playing the system a bit- but if someone seems to be rather less than appropriately careful than they should be, you can always Compel...

Offline Taer

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Re: The First Law of Magic In-Play: Semi-Official Advice
« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2011, 02:09:26 AM »
Though, theoretically, the GM could also propose it as a compel if you have "Anger Management Problems" or whatever as an aspect.

This feels like a mean thing to do.

Yes, Aspects should lead to interesting and fun drama. Compels should lead to dramatic things, things that could be very, very bad to characters.

But this is different from most compels.

Wizardly characters tend to skirt the edge of NPC-dom as far as Refresh in a lot of cases. In the face of a compel like that, a player cannot do anything but resist, if he wishes to continue playing his character.

Or in other words, compels should lead to bad things happening to the character, not to the player. To me, this kind of compel would feel more or less like 'rocks fall and you die unless you spend a FP to resist'. You certainly can have(and should) have anger influencing a character's magic, but not to the point where you compel him to use black magic.

It's sort of like the difference between compelling a RCI to feed vs. compelling him to kill. The first is valid and can lead to all sorts of interesting drama. The second is forces you to either surrender FPs or, well, lose the character.

Anyhow, just my 2 cents, I simply don't think this should be in semi-official gameplay advice.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2011, 02:12:30 AM by Taer »
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