Monday, November 8, 2010

An Embarrassment of Riches

Well, shit...

So, I'm not gonna lie Gentle Readers. I love stuff. And by stuff I mean the guns and gear section of every RPG made since Chainmail. I'm the guy who uses cheat codes in games like Fallout to make my character's carrying capacity unlimited so I can carry all the weapons and armor and gubbins and accoutrement and etcetra that game designers see fit to jam in there for pedantic, obsessive, detail oriented mouthbreathers like yours truly to collect. I just can't help myself. I must have all of it. This hoarding instinct, which thankfully only manifests in my house in Megaton, tends to sometimes spill over into my GMing, usually with hilarious and game breaking results.
Now, I've made it pretty clear that I'm an ardent supporter of the Tycho Brahe school of Game Mastering. Sadly, all of my belligerent swagger and player killing instincts go straight out the fucking window when it comes to stuff, and my players' relationship to it. You see, I reckon that since I desperately long for stuff, they must also. They must, as I do, burn for that new rifle or suit of armor or combat bike. So while my rational GM brain says "fuck that" and attempts to play the Salieri to their Mozart, my deep, dark reptile brain flips over and says, "No, they must have it, give it to them". It's like a sickness, like an old lady who has fifty years of Time in rickety piles in her living room, and I can't help it. So I give the players their toys and then they, as is their wont, run my game completely off the rails because I've given them something that is too powerful, doesn't fit, or allows them to constantly get out of jail free, as it were.

You see where this is going, yes? Yes, sadly, I've done it again. As my tens of readers know, I'm currently running a Rogue Trader game called After the Gold Rush. Jacko, playing our Arch-militant Bors, got a Heavy Bolter as part of his starting package. What's a Heavy Bolter you ask? It's basically a man-portable 20mm anti-materiel auto-cannon that fires gyro jet rounds that explode when they penetrate a target. Now, these things kill pretty much anything you point them at. The down side is that they're heavy, awkward, loud, and expensive to feed. They also require you to be "braced", which takes a combat action, to fire them without crippling penalties. The thing is, the Heavy Bolter isn't the problem here. There are things in the setting that can shrug off bolt shells like rain. The problem is the accessories I allowed him to buy for it.

The thing that totally broke the Heavy Bolter for us was a bit called a suspensor. Suspensors are essentially anti-grav bipods that allow a heavy weapon to be fired as if it were braced all the time. That means that Bors can just stand in the middle of a corridor and spray bolt shells all day long and not suffer any penalties, at least at first and as long as the ammo holds out. Now, when he asked for this, which is something that exists and isn't that hard to get hold of, I should have given it some thought, considered the implications, and said, "Hell no". Of course, reptile brain said, "Yes, yes, give them stuff!" and off he went to the suspensor store and with a quick Profit Factor test abolished the majority of the difficulty of using his giant gun.

You'd think I'd know better. Even Jacko was surprised when I said yes. He gave me one of those, "Seriously? Well, okay..." kind of things and it was something that he actually wanted. Now of course, almost nothing I throw at them short of a full-on WAAAAUGH! has a chance of touching them if Bors in in the group. The suspensor isn't the only problem, the other is a rule called Righteous Fury that is sort of broken from the factory and that we're totally misunderstanding. This, at least, I can fix. Unfortunately, now that Bors has the Suspensor I just can't go take it away from him. Well, maybe I could, but I'd have to come up with a really good reason why, if only to justify it to myself.

Aside from my inability to tell people no and not feel like an asshole, which is less a GMing problem and more a "lay here on the couch and tell me how this makes you feel" kind of problem, this anecdote illustrates one of the many struggles of being a good game master. Players want to have fun, and despite all my smartassery and Penny Arcade referencing to the contrary, I feel like it's my responsibility to see that they do. Especially when my players are mostly grown-ass men and women with jobs and families and other responsibilities that decide to take time out of their busy schedules to play pretend with my dumb ass every other Thursday. Balancing the playability of a story with the amount of fun players are having is a delicate job. It's a job that takes practice, fortitude, and an ability to stand up to players who, at the end of the day, pretty much want to do what they want to do and don't really care if it affects your precious little story.


Zorak said...

Hippie indie freak say, it my story, not you story.

A.L. said...

I'd recommend taking a look at the horde rules from Deathwatch. They're very easily ported over (being the same system essentially), and while the Heavy Bolter will do well against them, it'll be harder than say, a couple of dudes and their armor. It will also bring a lot of the challenge back into the fights from damage bonuses and such.

That being said, I can't really see a place where you messed up as a GM here. Rogue Traders buy shit, and a suspensor isn't all that rare. Them getting one was just a matter of time really. Doesn't mean you can't take it away on occasion though. :D

Sam said...

Have I gotten a chance to introduce you to the wonderful world of Daemons?

Write me. We'll chat. :D

Lonnie said...

Ohhh Daemons.....

While I've never touched the 40K RPG's, I know me some Daemons. Always fun. Some Tzeentchian fun with Tratorious Hand and that Heavy Bolter should be the groups worst nightmare.

Did I mention I love Daemons? :D