I’m back! (hopefully)

Whew! That was tough work!

I’m giving this whole blog thing another chance.  So without further ado…

Controlling mind control

Mind control can be a powerful element in gaming.  It can provide important story elements to your game, be used as a tactical ability, or just be a fun addition to a scene.  Using your enemy (or friends, for that matter!) as a tool for your own purposes can be extremely effective, and can spice up gameplay.  However, you have to be careful how much and what kind/mechanic you use in your game, as it can cause a number of problems.

You don’t get to have fun anymore

One of the goals you probably have when you game is to have fun.  In combat, each player gets to perform their actions from time to time.  Then, they get to plan their next move, or watch what everybody else is doing, but generally they sit around waiting for their next turn to roll around.  Mind control often has the problem of taking away somebody’s turn.  This is basically saying to them “Sorry, you don’t get to have fun this time, maybe next turn”.  When you are waiting for 10 minutes for a round to finish, this can be a very big deal.  You might not be able to do anything for 30 minutes or more, while gameplay continues for everybody else!

How can you fix this problem?  There are a number of methods.

  • Removal. Don’t use mind control unless you think you and your group can handle it.  But if you really want to have enemies that use it…
  • Moderation. Use mind control abilities occasionally.  A player may not mind losing a turn every session or so, but if they loose 3 turns in a row or lose a couple turns each combat in a session, they will start to get bored or irritated (These are the two emotions you don’t want your players to experience).  If you absolutely must mind control characters more than once or twice a combat…
  • Backup. You can have backup characters that your players can play.  Maybe there is an NPC that just happens to show up at the right time, or maybe your characters have some followers that can help out.
  • Switch. You can let the player play their character against the other players.  Be careful with this one though, as you can cause tension between players, and forcing somebody to attack their friends can lead to them not acting in a manner that you had not intended when you decided to mind control them.
  • Distraction. Some players are okay with losing their turns.  If it’s okay with you, and okay with them, then there’s no reason not to do it.  Let them talk with other players about non-game related stuff, read a book, check their email, whatever.  For a purely hack-and-slash game, this can be just fine.

Influence, not influenza

The methods listed above are okay for hack-and-slash games, but what about for roleplay-heavy games?  Your players will want to explore their characters’ interactions with each other and the world, building on the ideas that created those characters.  So what happens when you take control from them, forcing them to act contrary to the character they are trying to develop?  I’ve played with several players that would be okay with it.  In the interest of driving the story or creating an interesting scene, they are willing to give up their character for a little bit, and then explore their character’s development after they have regained control.  “How does my character feel about the fact that he just lost 10 minutes and everybody is yelling at him?”

For players who do not like this (most of us, I believe), there are  other options.

  • Influence. Instead of taking control of a character, you can give that player some guidelines on how to act.  “You’re not sure why, but you suddenly feel furious at your party”  and let them act it out.  Think of it as being the director, and giving motivation to your actors.
  • Lies. Add knowledge that could cause dissent amongst the group, whether or not it’s true.  The fighter suddenly realizes that the reason he’s been feeling awkward around his wife recently that she is sleeping with the Wizard!  Maybe the fighter will go into a rage and attack the wizard, maybe he will sulk in the corner, maybe he will secretly plan the wizard’s downfall, but either way the player is acting on their character’s personality, giving them a chance to learn more about their character.
  • Conspiracy. You can always speak with your players ahead of time.  Ask them if it is okay to mind control their character, and give them a chance to think about how they will act ahead of time, so that they don’t get stuck switching gears, delaying your game session.  While there is something to be said for throwing surprises at your players and watching how they react, some players will freeze up; will want to act, but are just not sure what to do.  Try your best to accommodate the player mix in your group.

Story control

When mind control is part of the main story, your players can be left with the feeling that they are being railroaded into a scenario, instead of letting it unfold naturally.  This is a difficult obstacle to overcome in any game, let alone a game where you are controlling the characters actions.  So what is the solution?

  • Get into character as the GM. One possible solution is to give your players options of where to go and what to do, while giving them just a push in the direction you want.  This is really really hard, but you can do it!.  Prepare your world, think about it’s peoples and places, it’s lore.  Before a game session, read over your notes and think about your npcs motivations.  Remember, your character is the entire world that the players live in, and if you have that world in your mind, you will find it easier to come up with responses to your players actions.
  • Fuck ’em. Railroading can be a useful tool sometimes.  Just try to give your players choices later in the game, or have a good enough reason for driving your players down a single path that they do not feel constrained.
  • Just roleplay it. Re-read the previous section of this post, all of those options work out here.  Try to think of a few possible ways that the players may act, and give them the tools to act in those ways.  And if they throw you off, get away from your story, that’s not always a bad thing!  Just try and give them some fun for their effort before you push them back on track.

Well, there you have it.  I hope you find this as informative as it was for me to write it.

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~ by episoen on November 16, 2009.

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