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Hail and Well Met, fellow traveler! May my Stronghold provide a place for enlightenment and amusement, and somewhere to keep your dice dry. Enter and rest awhile.

15 August 2012

Character Punishment.

I've been staring at a blank post page for over an hour now.

Yeah. That's what my life is like right now. There's a lot of stuff that's hit--personally and professionally--in the past couple weeks and gaming, unfortunately, has taken the back seat. We're talking rumble seat, here. I've barely had a chance to meet my financial obligations to a couple of OSR friends' products, products I haven't had an opportunity to read because of those aforementioned concerns.

Writing and creating has been squelched nearly completely.

But, figuring on vacation upcoming where I'll have severely limited access to the internet, I figured I have to get a post down somehow about something to prove I'm still alive.

Hence the hour-long staring contest with the blank screen.

Sigh.

So I go to thinking about the only gaming I've been able to do: a PBEM solo game with one of my long-time gaming buddies. And by "gaming" I mean "stolen moments here and there when my paralegals leave me alone long enough between document drafts where I can roll a die and tell my buddy what's just happened to him." And by "PBEM" I really mean Yahoo! Messenger. It's choppy and can be slow and frustrating, but hey...it's still gaming.

So, at the risk of boring some all of you, let me tell you where we are and what we're doing with this solo game. Trust me, it has some bearing on the title of this blog entry: Character punishment.

As some of you may remember from a couple posts back in October of last year, our long-time gaming group picked up out original characters, rebuilt them for "Epic" use (meaning post-20th level and certainly NOT using the Epic Level Handbook) and went off on a "last" adventure to tie up some loose ends from some 10 years ago. At the end of some well-scripted encounters, the group found itself circled around an unconscious female NPC that had caused us no small amount of grief and pain in the several iterations of our original campaign: she had been welcomed into our party when, unknowingly, she was our red dragon nemesis in disguise. Make the assumptions that you want about the trouble she caused--you're probably 90% correct. She was so much trouble that the miniature the DM used for her was permanently cursed. He tried to use it in a different campaign and we all reacted so poorly to the miniature (with distrust, hatred, and anger) that he literally had to retire the miniature.

So we had angst toward the NPC.

And found ourselves surrounding her unconscious body.

And my friend "D", the elven Rogue...cut her head off.

Well, the DM didn't appreciate that all too much. He stopped short of calling for an alignment check. Instead, he had all of our various deities appear and take away the magnificent god-gifted weapons from the entire party. Yep....*poof*...our artifact/legacy level weapons were gone. That was how our adventure ended.... That and the final retirement of our original DM from gaming.

So...it's obvious that we were all a bit unsatisfied with that conclusion. Our group's "first-alternate DM" happens to be "D" and in the week following the conclusion, he came up with a continuation-adventure hook. You see, it was a joint idea a year ago between "D" and myself to re-visit our original characters...then our original DM jumped in and took over from there. But "D" came up with a great "postscript" story line in which the deities involved with each of our characters visited the Rogue and "expressed their displeasure." They gave him a good tongue lashing, then presented him (as part of his penance) the various artifacts to be returned in person to the rest of the group. So, we all got back our stuff...except for him. He had to go on a Quest to learn, among other things, patience, wisdom, etc. I played around with the story for a bit, added some color and flavor with the gods' different voices, and then we threw it out for the other guys to approve. Obviously, all the players approved of getting their stuff back.

Then what to do with the Rogue. You see, we all agreed (after hearing the original DMs exposition on who the NPC really was, her situation, background, etc.) that the Rogue had screwed up. He may have acted in character, but it was still a huge boo-boo. Even the Rogue agreed that he should be punished, somehow. Well, as penance, the deities would take away his animal cohort, most of his abilities, equipment, etc. (or rather, force him to leave them behind) and to temporarily reduce his XP to next-to-nothing. This effectively dropped him down to first-level, although he retained most of his skills and attribute levels. As "third-alternate DM" for the group, I then proposed putting him through several modules and adventures -- alone -- and allow him to rebuild his XP back to his 26th level. This would represent his "re-education" and "repentance." It also gave him a chance to restructure his character into a new class: one that we created that better fit his idea of his character.

It hasn't been easy for him. He's confessed to me that every time he leaves the camp or the door to the inn, he feels ready to wet himself. He's alone, remember. Even though he has most of his skills and attributes, he has no feats, no special abilities...nothing beyond second level abilities. He has none of his magic items, except for a bag of holding. He has no special weapons. Indeed, he started out with darts, a dagger, and a sap. He's since picked up a short- and long-swords, as well as a crossbow, but he's been very good at limiting his weapon use. I started him in a 1st-level adventure from Paizo (I'm not going to name names here; I was at first, but I think I won't, so as not to tempt him with metagaming and spoilers.) which, while not easy for him, went quickly. I'm now using a sequel adventure, which has yet another sequel after that. He should go up a couple levels by then.

It's been entertaining to watch. I threw a gelatinous cube at him and watched him panic; I threw some darkmantles at him and he nearly fled the ruins. In the past 12 years of gaming, we've never encountered either. It's amazing what a little lack of knowledge and surprise (and creative description) can do to a player. And to a character. I've come close to killing him a couple of times--really close--but he's pulled through. No fudging on the die rolls, either. It's all been straight up. He's done some unexpected things that have made me stretch myself as a DM and make some on-the-fly rulings. And it's been a lot of fun.

So...I suppose I can open it up to thoughts and suggestions. We, as a group, have never had to punish a character before. Did we do it the right way?

3 comments:

Tim Shorts said...

As long as he was cool with it and it continued on as being a fun game that's all that matters. To toss in my own experience with character punishment there was one player who continually threw fireballs in town, broke laws, killed guardsman and innocence. Typical PC I know. But in the game I ran there are repercussions. His character was ab elf so the council of elves in the city approached him and warned him to stop. He said he would. He didn't. A trial was held. The player lied about the things he had done, but the elves came prepared with the facts. In the end, the judge found him guilty. In my many years I have rarely seen such disdain for life. These laws you have broken are not just of men and elves, but of nature. You have shone yourself that you can act no better than an animal. Therefore, you will become an animal. You will be transformed into a mule and spend 100 years outside our city gates offering rides to those unable to walk. Once that time has passed we will address you other crimes.

So the player needed to make a new guy up. He was shocked at his sentence and shocked that him being turned into a mule for 100 years was just one of his punishments. Made for a fun session.

mikemonaco said...

So the party's arch-enemy is unconscious and the rogue finishes her and this ruins the campaign? Obviously I'm missing something. Why do the gods all care so much more for the red dragon than the characters, who seem to be heroes in their service?

I don't necessarily see how giving this player a starring role in 20+ levels of solo adventuring is 'punishment', but then I don't quite understand why a PC has to repent for killing an enemy, even if he could have captured her instead... it's not like he's a paladin or a ranger or a good cleric, he's a rogue.

The fact that the DM was mad because he had this whole back-story for the Mary Sue ... totally alien to my way of playing D&D so I guess I *am* missing something.

Different strokes and as Tim said if the players feel it was correct and fun, then you did it right.

Boric G said...

Mike:
Sorry for the confusion; I went back and read my original post and realized I'd left out an important fact.

The NPC had been possessed and controlled by the red dragon the entire time (according to the DM). She was an unwitting/unwilling participant in all the evil the dragon performed. When the dragon was defeated, she was left alone, unconscious, and near-death. She was also innocent.

The DM in question was the one that believed the Rogue needed punishing for his actions. The players were all pretty understanding about the Rogue's actions. It's a totally alien reaction to many, as a matter of fact.

Once that DM bowed out of the group, however, it was clear that we were going to change the ending. None of the players were happy about losing their trademark weapons; none of us were quite sure why the DM banished our weapons as well as punish the Rogue. So, the Rogue's player and I decided that rather than to just wave a magic wand and make it all go away ("It was all a dream and you wake up in the Inn, hungry and ready for the day."), we'd ret-con it a different way and play the character out of "the hole" in which he found himself.

Maybe it's "punishment" in name only. I agree that it seems small punishment to let him go through 20+ levels again. However, he also wanted to change up his character and get it closer to what he feels was the original intent. What he's on now is much more a "rebuild" quest than a punishment.

It also gives us a way to play in our free time and pick up more than one game per month. It also gives me some more practice at DMing...something I can always use.

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