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Author Topic: A gentleman's agreement regarding personal lieutenants  (Read 945 times)
paddyfool
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« on: February 05, 2012, 06:36:08 AM »

Given that the NPC rules are highly flexible, and can easily be used to create something horribly broken, we would suggest that players avoid the following in building and playing a PL (or AC, although not all of these would apply to the latter):

- Taking any ability which grants a feat to the party (e.g. Teacher, Cadre, Trailblazer).  Taking a feat to get a feat (and have the rest of the party get it too) is not right.
- Taking more than one base class core ability, more than one expert class core ability, or a class ability at a much earlier stage than a party member would have it (e.g. a gamebreaker ability).

EDIT: Unnecessary (see Mr A's post).
- Taking a spell of a much higher level than a caster in the party would have access to.
- Outshining any party member at what they do.  In particular, avoid very high damage-output builds (e.g. archery abuse, natural attack abuse)
- Taking too much free stuff (a rough upper limit of "a study and a language plus one beneficial 0 XP ability for every 15 XP the character is worth" might make sense).
- Taking the "story-critical" ability.  The campaign should not revolve around an oddly unkillable NPC tagging along with the party - that way madness lies.
- Making them disruptive or highly unhelpful for the party.
- Being slow while controlling them in play - being quick is a virtue for everyone, but if you add a PL or AC, you may be roughly doubling the decisions and dice-rolling necessary in any given combat round.
- Abusing the "Veteran" ability.  Some would argue this shouldn't be available to PLs at all; to me, it certainly seems a bit much if used to boost the TL of the PL above 1 before level 4, but a grade or two might be justifiable after that point.
- Above all else, don't be a [abbreviated Richard].

Also, given that the rules for a PL nominally grant full control of said individual to the referee, may we request that the referee:

- Allows the player to largely direct their PL's course of action.  They built it, they really should get to play with it.  Above all, the PL should not become a DMPC.  Ideally, the referee should never have to step in.
- Involve the PL in the plot etc. to a level which the players as a group are happy to roleplay.
- Not be resentful of or especially hostile towards the PL, and especially not single them out in combat - the player may be just as attached to them as their actual PC.

------------

So, how do these sound?  Obviously, these wouldn't be hard-and-fast rules, just general guidelines.  Do any of these sound unreasonable to you, and are there any I missed?
« Last Edit: February 05, 2012, 07:43:47 AM by paddyfool » Logged
Mister Andersen
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« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2012, 07:23:59 AM »

I'll address these first because they're all based on a false premise:

Given that the NPC rules are highly flexible, and can easily be used to create something horribly broken, we would suggest that players avoid the following in building and playing a PL (or AC, although not all of these would apply to the latter):

- Taking any ability which grants a feat to the party (e.g. Teacher, Cadre, Trailblazer).  Taking a feat to get a feat (and have the rest of the party get it too) is not right.
- Taking more than one base class core ability, more than one expert class core ability, or a class ability at a much earlier stage than a party member would have it (e.g. a gamebreaker ability).

While it was entirely possible under 2.0 to make feat-radiating GC NPCs (but not PLs, who were simply half-strength PC builds), in Mastercraft it would appear that the increased flexibility has come at the expense of Core Abilities becoming almost entirely the sole province of PCs. A quick glance shows a total of about 4 core abilities available to NPCs, only one of which -- Only the Finest -- is a direct party buff (in this case, to Appearance).

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Also, given that the rules for a PL nominally grant full control of said individual to the referee
- Allows the player to largely direct their PL's course of action.  They built it, they really should get to play with it.  Above all, the PL should not become a DMPC.  Ideally, the referee should never have to step in.

Actually, RAW gives control over player NPCs to the player, with the unstated proviso that a GM is able to step in and exert event control as warranted through things like the morale system (which is also meant to affect PCs).
« Last Edit: February 05, 2012, 07:41:35 AM by Mister Andersen » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2012, 08:58:09 AM »

1. Making them disruptive or highly unhelpful for the party.
2. Being slow while controlling them in play - being quick is a virtue for everyone, but if you add a PL or AC, you may be roughly doubling the decisions and dice-rolling necessary in any given combat round.
3. Allow the player to largely direct their PL's course of action.  They built it, they really should get to play with it.  Ideally, the referee should never have to step in.
4. Involve the PL in the plot etc. to a level which the players as a group are happy to roleplay.
5. Not be resentful of or especially hostile towards the PL, and especially not single them out in combat - the player may be just as attached to them as their actual PC.
6. Outshining any party member at what they do.
7. Abusing the "Veteran" ability.  Some would argue this shouldn't be available to PLs at all; to me, it certainly seems a bit much if used to boost the TL of the PL above 1 before level 4, but a grade or two might be justifiable after that point.
8. Above all else, don't be a [abbreviated Richard].

These I pretty much have no problem with. The second point has little to do with player controlled NPCs and more to do with the player themselves: some folks just don't get into combat the way others do. But the chances are generally good that if someone is making the investment of their character options to grab a PCNPC they're not going to be clueless how to use them.

A caveat on #5 is that by their very nature some PCNPCs are inherently going to get themselves made priority targets -- spell casters, certain species, damage potential, etc. A good GC will point this out to the player as part of the NPC approval process.

I'm generally with you on #7 -- keeping PL threat level down is one of the stronger balance mechanisms for PCNPCs. If you're going to let them use it, hit them up for 5 XP.

Pretty much everything else I wouldn't poke at with a stick I'm afraid. They're incredibly subjective.

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Taking any ability which grants a feat to the party (e.g. Teacher, Cadre, Trailblazer).  Taking a feat to get a feat (and have the rest of the party get it too) is not right.

As a GC, I'm actually more inclined to look favourably upon a party-buffing NPC than one that just solely benefits the player, especially if it fits the NPC's concept. It shows they're at least trying to be a team player.

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Taking more than one base class core ability, more than one expert class core ability, or a class ability at a much earlier stage than a party member would have it (e.g. a gamebreaker ability).
- Taking a spell of a much higher level than a caster in the party would have access to.

Sooooo many games never make it as far as level 14, but again it all comes down to what the GC feels is appropriate (and that's my biggest problem with all this, it feels like a player trying to browbeat everyone else into his preferred play style). If someone's pet gorgeous cleric (only the best, lay on hands, lifeline, mass cure wounds) means that everyone else is free to get on not being relegated to the party medic/buffer, then more strength to 'em.

Hell, having someone around with Lifeline for a low level game where it's still far too easy for PCs to get ganked by a couple of good rolls is an absolutely brilliant idea. Of course, this lucky charm could easily attract the wrong sort of attention...

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- In particular, avoid very high damage-output builds (e.g. archery abuse, natural attack abuse)

Why? What if we're all social and stealth oriented characters who need an NPC howitzer to guard our behinds? Or noobs needing a babysitter? Or dragon riders? Having an NPC capable of inflicting that sort of output doesn't mean they're going to be there all the time to do it.

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Taking too much free stuff (a rough upper limit of "a study and a language plus one beneficial 0 XP ability for every 15 XP the character is worth" might make sense).

Someone like C-3PO is a classic example of an NPC with "All the languages!" in effect. Moderation is generally a good idea yes, but like everything else this is, again, very context dependant and entirely up to the GC to decide if it's appropriate.

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- Taking the "story-critical" ability.  The campaign should not revolve around an oddly unkillable NPC tagging along with the party - that way madness lies.

IF the GC don't want it, you can't have it. Personally I have problem with it, but I think it is probably underpriced for what it does (should be 0 xp for 1/adventure, 5 xp for its current functionality)



« Last Edit: February 05, 2012, 09:08:31 AM by Mister Andersen » Logged

paddyfool
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« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2012, 10:17:54 AM »

These I pretty much have no problem with. The second point has little to do with player controlled NPCs and more to do with the player themselves: some folks just don't get into combat the way others do. But the chances are generally good that if someone is making the investment of their character options to grab a PCNPC they're not going to be clueless how to use them.

A caveat on #5 is that by their very nature some PCNPCs are inherently going to get themselves made priority targets -- spell casters, certain species, damage potential, etc. A good GC will point this out to the player as part of the NPC approval process.

I'm generally with you on #7 -- keeping PL threat level down is one of the stronger balance mechanisms for PCNPCs. If you're going to let them use it, hit them up for 5 XP.

Fair points all.

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As a GC, I'm actually more inclined to look favourably upon a party-buffing NPC than one that just solely benefits the player, especially if it fits the NPC's concept. It shows they're at least trying to be a team player.

I second the general principle of NPCs being well-used as party buffers and backers - I was just specifically ruling out a feat-generation loop (which, as you pointed out above, the rules don't allow for anyway; hence the edit).

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Taking more than one base class core ability, more than one expert class core ability, or a class ability at a much earlier stage than a party member would have it (e.g. a gamebreaker ability).
- Taking a spell of a much higher level than a caster in the party would have access to.

Sooooo many games never make it as far as level 14, but again it all comes down to what the GC feels is appropriate (and that's my biggest problem with all this, it feels like a player trying to browbeat everyone else into his preferred play style). If someone's pet gorgeous cleric (only the best, lay on hands, lifeline, mass cure wounds) means that everyone else is free to get on not being relegated to the party medic/buffer, then more strength to 'em.

Hell, having someone around with Lifeline for a low level game where it's still far too easy for PCs to get ganked by a couple of good rolls is an absolutely brilliant idea. Of course, this lucky charm could easily attract the wrong sort of attention...

Probably a good idea.  I should probably rephrase this to another thing to watch out for under "not outshining the PCs" rather than have it as a couple of sections in their own right anyway.

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- In particular, avoid very high damage-output builds (e.g. archery abuse, natural attack abuse)

Why? What if we're all social and stealth oriented characters who need an NPC howitzer to guard our behinds? Or noobs needing a babysitter? Or dragon riders? Having an NPC capable of inflicting that sort of output doesn't mean they're going to be there all the time to do it.

For many games, combat is a fairly big part of it.  Turning much of the combat into "staying alive while the death machine who follows one of you around takes care of things" doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs.  The very openness of PLs makes them more ripe for abuse – I haven’t tried, but it looks on the face of it like a Vanguard Captain at level 1 could have a PL with a significantly higher damage output under equivalent levels of combat-specific optimisation to a level 1 soldier. 

But again, this is a subcategory of “outshining the PCs” (where I put it in an earlier edit).  I should probably replace that with the following, in fact:

- Should not outshine the PCs.  Damage output and abilities only normally available to high-level characters (e.g. spellcasting, gamebreakers) should be treated with particular caution.

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Taking too much free stuff (a rough upper limit of "a study and a language plus one beneficial 0 XP ability for every 15 XP the character is worth" might make sense).

Someone like C-3PO is a classic example of an NPC with "All the languages!" in effect. Moderation is generally a good idea yes, but like everything else this is, again, very context dependant and entirely up to the GC to decide if it's appropriate.

There’s a feat for that.  But yes, infinte languages certainly wouldn't break the game.

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- Taking the "story-critical" ability.  The campaign should not revolve around an oddly unkillable NPC tagging along with the party - that way madness lies.

IF the GC don't want it, you can't have it. Personally I have problem with it, but I think it is probably underpriced for what it does (should be 0 xp for 1/adventure, 5 xp for its current functionality)

I may have gone a bit too far here.  There could even be times and places for story-critical PLs and ACs; but, as you highlight, at least part of the problem is that this ability nominally comes free.

I'm going to go away and see how this might be done better, and then probably post a new list.  Thank you for your input.
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2012, 11:29:52 AM »

What exactly is the goal of all this, btw?
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Sletchman
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« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2012, 01:38:30 PM »

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- Taking the "story-critical" ability.  The campaign should not revolve around an oddly unkillable NPC tagging along with the party - that way madness lies.

IF the GC don't want it, you can't have it. Personally I have problem with it, but I think it is probably underpriced for what it does (should be 0 xp for 1/adventure, 5 xp for its current functionality)

I agree that for (and only for) a PCNPC it should have some cost.  However, since the quality is just putting a mechanic on the "recurring villain" it shouldn't come with a cost for GMNPCs - that's just a GM descision about their narrative.  Same with Everlasting - a textbook recurring villain quality given mechanics.  I'm honestly not even sure why these need to even exist as qualities - GMs have been using them for years without actual mechanics beyond "this guy comes back".

---

The only guidelines I can think of is basically what you put down as Point 8.  While I don't disagree with any of your other "rules" per se, I can think of a time and a place where they definitely should be broken.  I just check for combinations and if I see an NPC I know will be disruptive, I tell the player to try again (especially since, with my players, they are well aware it will be disruptive).  Coordinated Strike, Spellcasting (Natural Spell abuse especially), Veteran, and extremely powerful attacks are the big ones I watch for.
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« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2012, 02:53:57 AM »

I agree that for (and only for) a PCNPC it should have some cost.  However, since the quality is just putting a mechanic on the "recurring villain" it shouldn't come with a cost for GMNPCs - that's just a GM descision about their narrative.  Same with Everlasting - a textbook recurring villain quality given mechanics.  I'm honestly not even sure why these need to even exist as qualities - GMs have been using them for years without actual mechanics beyond "this guy comes back".

I think it's primarily used in published modules to denote, "This guy should come back," or to identify NPCs with some actual ability to recover from nearly any wound.
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paddyfool
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« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2012, 06:50:38 AM »

What exactly is the goal of all this, btw?

A series of suggestions for good practice in making PLs?  I was going to add on a section for good ideas as well, but now I have to majorly reconsider the bad ones...

(I should also make room for Coordinated Strike, plus the action-economy breakers as things to watch out for).

Let's start again.  How would this do as a matter of first principles about what a PL should generally be about:  they should be helpful (or at any rate, not be a millstone); they should be fun; they should not outshine party members at what they do especially if this would mean dominating in major aspects of the game, such as combat; they should be simple to use and they should not slow things down too much.
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2012, 07:15:50 AM »

I don't know where you're getting the idea that people will be making mill stones with any sort of deliberate intent. Chance are that when it happens, there has been a failure of communication between the player and the GC about what to expect from the game -- like when someone has a Large or Huge rootwalker sidekick and the vast majority of the game is going to be spent dungeon crawling.

Also, I think your slant with this is wrong. It's not up to you (or anyone) to say outside your own game "This is the proper way to do PC NPCs, and if you don't you're a sodding blighter, what what!" It's pretty much spitting in the face of Rule Zero, and I have trouble even beieving there's a need for it.

A better option, rather than a "Should/Shan't Do" list is a "How To" Guide/Primer on the subject that is illustrative rather than prescriptive.

"So, you want a sidekick, hey? Well my friend, remember that they're not just for Christmas; a sidekick is for life. Or at least until someone takes a crowbar to them..."
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« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2012, 09:14:25 AM »

Putting a price to Story Critical is pointless. Either allow it or don't. Of course, I have no idea why people think it shouldn't be allowed. It doesn't really do much mechanically.

It doesn't let them spring back to life after each scene, Cheating Death says you come back next adventure. It doesn't mean the GM has to approve the attempt, note the 'may Cheat Death' bit.

Mechanically it lets you avoid the rating and rolling of the story why the NPC didn't die. It also, depending on how the GM wants to interpret it may allow you to avoid some small Reputation losses. Personally I'd judge on a case by case basis.

Other then those things, it doesn't do anything other then provide a rules fig leaf let a player not just increment the number after the NPC's name.

Also, Story Critical is the only way other then the GM spending his dice for a AP/PL/Familiar/whatever to Cheat Death.
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« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2012, 10:02:10 AM »

I don't know where you're getting the idea that people will be making mill stones with any sort of deliberate intent.

I don't know where you got the idea that that was what I was worried about.  It's not a question of that being the intent, it's that it wouldn't hurt to flag up things which might potentially make a PL a millstone.  (Not that I've seen any real millstone PLs yet as it happens, so perhaps I'm worrying unduly).

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Chance are that when it happens, there has been a failure of communication between the player and the GC about what to expect from the game -- like when someone has a Large or Huge rootwalker sidekick and the vast majority of the game is going to be spent dungeon crawling.

Another thing that should definitely be emphasised in general is the importance of good communication on this front between the player and the GC.

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Also, I think your slant with this is wrong. It's not up to you (or anyone) to say outside your own game "This is the proper way to do PC NPCs, and if you don't you're a sodding blighter, what what!" It's pretty much spitting in the face of Rule Zero, and I have trouble even beieving there's a need for it.

That really wasn't my intent, and I'm sorry if I came across that way.  But precisely because NPC generation is so open-ended, I do think there are some things which could do with caution flags.  This is largely based on my own (limited) experience - the first time I built a PL, I then took a good look at it and had to go right back over it with a nerf bat.
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2012, 12:47:14 PM »

Well, maybe 5 is a bit harsh, but the quality is hands down superior to the baseline option PCs get: 1/scene vs 1/adventure, guaranteed petty fate vs. complete range of dooms so by extension the only thing that gets roled is the nature of their return and not its severity, and it interacts with any other mechanics that allows other-than-next-adventure returns. The inference is in fact that you avoid the whole group vote pain-in-the-arse, simply roll 1d20 and wait.

(I do find it odd that there isn't a counterpoint campaign quality to Dead is Dead that allows next scene/session cheating of death and/or better odds of non-sucky fates.)
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« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2012, 12:53:43 PM »

The 1/scene is pretty meaningless since if the NPC cheats death, it's still gone for the rest of the adventure. It's also pretty simple to use either the voting method or the 1d4+1 method listed in the NPC rules.
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2012, 01:11:50 PM »

That "returns next adventure" bit really is misjudged, isn't it? I mean, outside the small subset of convention/living 1-session adventures which I don't see a lot of, it pretty much renders the entire cheating death exercise pointless. Is the player really going to be sitting around twiddling their thumbs for several sessions after having essentially been told to bugger off, or else going through the effort of coming up with a new character and integrating it with the party only to replace them with the original?

So for cheating death to be a viable option, it pretty much has to work on a "return next session" basis. So thinking about it in those terms, Kren's absolutely right. It's not a concern because every special PC in the game should have the quality by default.
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« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2012, 01:35:06 PM »

That's a different issue, and to be honest making it out for session, doesn't break anything that I can see. I'm not sure making it out for the scene would even break anything if you want that CRPG feel, as long as all Special NPCs use the same scale.

Heck, make it out for six minutes real time for Fantasy Toon!
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We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming. - Werner von Braun
Right now you have no idea how lucky you are that I am not a sociopath. - A sign seen above my desk.
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