Eldon, I need to temper my quirky sense of humor sometimes. I tend to be a bit too tongue in cheek for my own good.
I don't really try to play "duck out of water" characters, it is important for characters to be competent so that the party as a whole can be successful. I just don't feel a compelling need to be OVERLY competent, which I see a lot of people striving for.
My halfling bard detective has been quite useful so far in Carrion Crown. As someone else pointed out, there's a lot going on besides fighting undead. Sure he's not real great against undead, but he's been very good at research, investigation, diplomacy and influencing the townsfolk. I've had a great time playing him.
If he were dead weight or even worse, an actual liability, I wouldn't enjoy that. He's an archer bard and so provides some useful ranged attack potential when the rest of the party is mostly melee or spellcaster.
If I were playing an undead-slaying beast I doubt I'd be having half as much fun. What's the challenge in killing endless waves of undead if that's what you were specifically designed to do? I'd get bored.
Carrion Crown, like all other APs I'm aware of, has a players' guide. We used the players guide. I don't recall if the players' guide has any specific warning about undead, but it certainly implied that undead would be encountered.
With all the discussion of Carrion Crown online and from other gamers our group interacts with, we were all very well aware of the nature of the adventure.
We all individually chose to build and play characters that we wanted to play. It just so happened that none of them have any special undead-combat abilities. If one of our group had built an undead-blasting specialist, nobody would have cared. I certainly wouldn't have objected and would probably have said something like "that's going to certainly be useful."
So I really don't care if someone wants to use their knowledge of the adventure path to create a character tailored to tackle that adventure.
I probably wouldn't do it. I never have, and don't have any real desire to. But then I like being perverse and proving the conventional wisdom wrong. That's why I'm playing a halfling bard with a chip on his shoulder in Carrion Crown. But I wouldn't accuse someone of being a power gaming munchkin if they did craft a character tailor made to be the most effective character possible against an adventure path.
I might suspect it....
As with most things, there is more than one way to view what is and isn't appropriate metagaming.
It should be clear to any objective, clear-thinking person that building a specific undead-blasting character to play in Carrion Crown is meta gaming.
Not all meta gaming is bad. But some is. The boundary between what is good and bad metagaming is a shifty boundary that changes with different perspectives and experience with the game.
While I would not make an issue of it if the subject came up, I tend to think the folks arguing against crafting specific builds tailored to deal with a particular adventure path have a point. It is "stacking the deck" in your favor, using player knowledge that is then contrived to be character knowledge to avoid accusations of power gaming.
I'm in carrion crown right now. I'm playing a detective bard. No one in our group deliberately built an undead focused character. We have a half-orc barbarian, a half-orc cleric, a human evocation specialist wizard, a gnome inquisitor and my halfling detective bard.
So far we are doing fine. If we had an undead blasting specialist, the game would be way too easy I think. I'm glad we don't have one.
@Mark - I consider death to be when a character has reached or exceeded -con hit points, or has been hit with a death effect that supersedes hit point damage.
It is an unusual meaningful fight in my campaigns where someone doesn't go into negative hit points at least once in the fight.
In our last big fight one of the PCs went down and was looking to get hit again, so the party paladin used his ability to channel positive energy to heal the whole party (it was the only healing he had left) which saved the PC, but also healed up an enemy NPC that had gone down earlier.
The party I am running now has only recently reached levels that spells such as "raise dead" are a potential means to recover a dead party member. That may well factor into future combat decisions for me. But so far it has not.
My group has a mixed bag of players, some like tactics, some don't care about them. When I am a player I tend to become the tactical leader of the party unless I am playing a character that is deliberately uninterested in tactics.
Our combats tend to be pretty fast paced when I GM. I use a few tricks to keep combat moving, such as the "you're on deck" reminder and a rule that if you aren't ready when your initiative comes up, you automatically are considered to be withholding your action until the end of the next player's turn.
The things that tend to hold up combat for us are simple things like counting damage dice, or remembering that some effect is in play that we overlooked as the player was choosing what to do. That happens more times than I care to admit.
But for the most part our combat is pretty smooth and we get through most fights in four or five rounds.
Some of our combats are more cinematic than others. We can get excited about the events unfolding. It's funny, when we finish gaming and I'm wrapping up, my wife will sometimes comment how much fun we seemed to be having and I won't even recall all the laughing and shouting until she reminds me.
As a player, I hate in when I know that "the fix is in." So as a DM, I don't fudge, unless I think that I've made a mistake. The players are free to bite off more than they can chew, and if they are losing they had better have a way out. If they end up winning a tough battle, good for them! They'll get lots of XP and they may get a rich treasure - plus the satisfaction of knowing that they won fair and square.
Corathon, but they didn't win "fair and square". They won a carefully crafted battle designed entirely to suit them according to their abilities and equipment.
The "won fair and square" thing is an illusion from start to finish. Thinking that the illusion is superior because you don't fudge during the encounter is just another illusion. The "fix" was in when the encounter was created.
I seem to be somewhat in the middle of the extremes being presented on this thread. Which isn't surprising since I frequently find myself in the middle on many issues, game or non-game related.
I try to keep in mind one overriding thought as I GM, and that thought is "I want my players to get a chance to feel freaking awesome tonight."
Really, that's the main goal. There are a lot of secondary goals, like verisimilitude, in game consistency, proper rules adjudication, good story telling...
But in the end I believe that the reason my players are even playing the game is so they can feel awesome at least once each session.
The trick is to make my players feel awesome without overtly creating contrived scenarios that tend to make them feel like the awesome is not coming from them. That's a hard row to hoe. If you make things too easy, the awesome doesn't feel genuine. If you make things too hard, or too frequent, the awesome can feel more like stress and lead to mental fatigue.
While I can't claim to be successful in my pursuit of providing opportunities for awesomeness, I do know that a TPK of the party because I made an error in my encounter design is the opposite of awesome.
Mark, I have a similar situation. I've had players come back to the table after a long lapse between sessions quite sincerely asking "OK, who am I again?"
One of my players is really only interested in getting away from his house for an evening.
We typically spend at least half an hour each session getting the group back up to speed. And I publish campaign notes on my blog that they can read whenever they want.
Kirth, much like mpl, I think you are making things too binary. There are distinctions in GMing between "hard-ass" and "softball". Not being a complete hard-ass does not mean you are softballing.
In my mind there's some subtlety here. I am feeling that while I still run a highly challenging campaign, there is a real possibility that I have become too reluctant to kill off PCs, and as a result the players have become less effective as an adventuring party. If I had killed off a PC a month or so ago, perhaps when they hit the wizard encounter they would have been more cautious and effective and I wouldn't have been in a position to TPK them so easily.
The longer this thread goes, the more I am feeling like I have been too soft as a GM for too long. I haven't killed a PC in months. And the last best chance I had to do a TPK, I totally wussed out and downgraded an NPC instead of just letting it happen.
I'm probably losing my cachet as a hard-ass GM. It's probably time to do something to remind my group that I am one.
I don't "fudge dice". But that's mostly because I want to respect the die's randomness as providing its own story element.
The wizard example above is really the only example I can think of where I flat out modified an existing NPC's power level on the fly.
There are lots of ways to nudge the threat level of an encounter as the GM. The most common situation that comes up is probably the opportunity an NPC or monster might have to coup de grace a helpless PC. I know that many players feel that opting to perform the coup de grace is frequently considered a "dick move" by the GM. But it's clearly an option that is on the table.
Similarly, most monsters or NPCs have multiple attack options. GMs can easily adjust the encounter by choosing less optimal attacks or less optimal spells to use against the party. Then there are tactical options that can be used or not used.
Is it the opinion of the "impartial GM" advocates here that choosing a less optimal attack, spell, or tactical option is just as bad as modifying the power level of an NPC? Does that sort of GM play their NPCs and monsters as lethally as they possibly can? Including all coup de grace opportunities?
Kirth Gersen wrote:
Kirth, I have made it clear that in this case my GM prep failed. I admit it, with humility and a certain amount of damage to my pride as a GM. But there it is. I created a too powerful wizard for my players to succeed against.
Having admitted and acknowledged that, what is better for the group overall once I, as the GM, realize in game that I made a game prep mistake? Is it better for the group overall for me to say "oh well, that sucks" and TPK the group exactly by the book than it is for me to make an easy and reasonable power adjustment to tweak the encounter back to its intended purpose?
You say that the GM should be "impartial". What exactly does that mean? Are you impartial when you are doing your game prep? Or do you construct your encounters to be appropriate to the party you are hosting?
I am not impartial as a GM. I admit it. I am a player advocate as a GM. Pure and simple. I want the players to feel challenged and sometimes have a little fear of god put into them, but that's because I think that makes for a better story.
But impartial? Not even close.
Shin, PCs die in my campaigns. They also sometimes run away and hide.
If my goal was to create a challenging encounter that might push the party to their limits, I am accepting the risk that a PC could die. Maybe two, but two dead PCs better be major boss fight.
I agree that an RPG is different than a book or movie. In my mind an RPG is at its best when it feels like a collaborative story telling session where the players have the ability and opportunity to make the story their own. I work hard to give them that opportunity.
In my mind if I make a mistake and create an encounter that is clearly going to TPK the party, running that encounter to its inevitable conclusion just because "that's what I wrote down a month ago" is far more of a GM controlling the story than it is for me to adjust the encounter to it's intended threat level and allow the players to continue to add to the story.
What I find interesting is that in our group I am considered the "hard-ass" GM because I DO kill PCs on occasion. But that's because I try to provide some very challenging situations, which can sometimes walk a fine line between just powerful enough, and too powerful. All I'm trying to do is keep as close to that line as possible to create the most thrilling and exciting environment for the players.
It can be exciting and fun for the players to get through an encounter with a PC killed off. It is almost never exciting and fun for the players to suffer a total party kill. At least that's been my experience. It's part of my job to do what I can to avoid a TPK, while still making the game feel dangerous and exciting. Or that's how I see it.
Kirth, why do you feel it is important for the GM to be held to the same standards as the players when it comes to running an encounter? Is it because you feel that if the GM adjusts something on the fly, but the characters can't that is somehow an unfair advantage that the GM is taking advantage of?
If I viewed my role as GM to be creating "fair fights" and running them "by the book" so that they could be audited after the fact for accuracy and appropriateness, I might agree with your approach.
But I don't view my GM role that way. My role as the GM is not to "fight fair" but to create an environment for the PCs to shine and give the players a few hours of fun by immersing them in an imaginary environment where they can be what they can't be in real life. As has been said up-thread, to me it is the story that is important, not the mechanics.
I'm really not interested in proving how well I followed the game rules to run an encounter. The rules are there to provide a framework for the story, and that's how I treat them.
Keep in mind that making adjustments as I have described in this thread is a rare thing for me. The wizard encounter is the first time I had to make that sort of adjustment in months. All of the other encounters in the caverns went as I expected them to, and needed no adjustment. So we are talking about edge cases here, not every encounter. Or at least in my case that is.
I acknowledge that I am not perfect and make mistakes. Fixing mistakes on the fly is, I think, an important skill for a GM to have. For me to TPK a party because of a mistake I made and then claim "my hands were tied dudes, look, here's the wizard's specs, it's not my fault you couldn't beat him" seems to me to be the antithesis of good story telling.
I'm not in competition with the players. I am providing a stage for them to shine.
Here is perhaps a relevant example from the game I am currently running.
The party was sent off on a mission to acquire a specific item that has crucial information about how to resolve the current apocalyptic crisis. This particular mission required them to be sent through my world's version of the "Underdark" to find a secret location and from there to find the item and return with it.
The trip through the underground caverns took the party through a series of encounter, including some Drow, some lizard people (custom creatures of my own design), a fungal realm (again custom creatures of my own design), and a few other encounters. They had to search for clues in the caverns to locate the secret hideout, and then once they found it, they had to either talk their way into retrieving the necessary item, or fight for it.
The "fight for it" encounter is the one I mentioned up-thread where the wizard I had created as the current resident of the secret lair turned out to be too strong, and would have almost certainly TPK'd the party.
I accept full and total responsibility for the wizard having been created incorrectly in the first place. But now, after literally months of real time and weeks of game time, the party was now faced with a TPK that would quite literally have resulted in having to start over from scratch. Had I run the encounter as originally designed, it would have been "game over". I recognized the problem in the first round when the wizard's first spell more or less temporarily disabled half the party.
So, if I were to follow what I understand to be mpl's approach, I would have been committed to TPKing the party and pretty much wiping out months of game progress due to a single miscalculation on my part. By readjusting the wizard's power on the spot, the encounter became what I had originally envisioned it to be, which was a significant sub-boss fight that pushed the party to their limits, but that they could win.
In my mind by adjusting the wizard's power on the spot I was able to have the game continue, give the party a suitable challenge and avoid the potential for ruining five people's fun for weeks.
Am I to understand that in the same situation the "proper" response would have been to say "Oh well, I messed up, but that's the way the cookie crumbles?"
Interesting. What you describe here sounds more like how I view my gaming than what I understood mpl to be saying. I took mpl to be saying that she didn't have a "goblin encounter" she had an entire goblin lair and how the PCs interacted with the goblin lair was entirely organic and logical based on how the goblin lair was laid out. That implied that if there was an opportunity for the PCs to encounter some ogres, then there was an ogre society in the game and the PCs interacted organically with them, and that would extend to the entire world.
When I run a campaign I work very hard to make it internally consistent. I don't just throw in a group of ogres from out of the blue, if I add some ogres to the game, that will be done in such a way that the ogre's presence "makes sense" to my view of how my world works. But that doesn't mean I have an entire ogre society worked out, I just have the ogres I need for the encounter. As these things happen I update my world's documentation so that if I add ogres to an area, ogres will remain in that area unless they are driven out.
The difference in what you describe and what I am saying seems to be that once you have added the elements of an encounter you don't modify them for the benefit of the players.
But let's pursue that. Let's say that you have laid out an area of your world and decide that there is a family of ogres the party is likely to encounter at some later date in the campaign. But as you play the campaign you realize that the party has been optimized more than you had originally expected and they are just waltzing through your prepared content. Would you then go back and add another ogre to the ogre party, or add some minions or mooks to the ogre encounter so that when the party gets there, it's not a walk in the park? Or do you just write the ogre encounter off as an already created encounter and therefore it's just what it is?
If you DO adjust the encounter at that point, do you see that adjustment as being qualitatively different from adjusting the encounter as the encounter itself is engaged?
Well, mpl, you must have far more time for your GM activities than I do, and I spend a LOT of time on my GM activities. Your approach here implies that you can't have a group of ogres unless you have worked out the entire ogre ecology, otherwise you just have an arbitrary number of ogres somewhere in the world for the players to encounter. You cant have a random manticore flyby unless you have the entire manticore family defined and laid out.
It simply isn't realistic for me to create entire lizard folk societies just so I can have a lizard folk encounter for my players.
So I create actual encounters and do my best to make them a challenge for my players. And sometimes that means I will adjust them as I discover more about the players' abilities and desires.
I'd love to roam around in your worlds so I could explore this concept of never creating an encounter and having the whole world laid out organically for me. Maybe some day I'll get to do so.
mpl, I do think we aren't on quite the same page, but I think I understand your point, but we disagree about free will and player agency. This is what I mean by "binary", you seem to think that any adjustment by the GM automatically invalidates player choices entirely. That logic would suggest that if I add a goblin to the encounter, then nothing the players do matter at all any more. That would only be true if the GM will make any adjustments necessary to have exactly the outcome they want. That's not what I am describing at all.
Your logic would seem to suggest that players never had any free will to begin with since every thing they do is dependent on the GM's whim. So if the GM is designing things with the goal to have a desired outcome, which I think is what most GMs do as a matter of course, your approach would seem to suggest that there's no point to playing at all since the players choices "don't matter".
At least that's how it seems to me.
mpl, I think you are going pretty binary on me here. Adjusting an encounter to better balance it is not the same thing as ensuring that the players survive. In my opinion it also isn't removing player agency, in fact I would argue it is creating player agency. If my encounter is clearly going to TPK the party no matter what the party does, adjusting it on the fly so that it is balanced provides the players the opportunity to make choices that matter.
You seem to be taking my comments too far. In my opinion anyway.
Nor do I really see what's so damaging to disbelief about a highly magical world where you can buy magic items. A world with as much magic floating around as the typical D&D/PF world, but none of it is for sale is much weirder.
Especially since those adventurers are going to eventually be leaving a trail of no longer useful magic items behind them. They'll become a sort of portable magic mart themselves....
You have provided some good options yourself. Some other ideas to consider:
1. Consider adopting some alternative tactics. Instead of a series of straight-up combats, create some skirmishers who harass the party in ways that make it difficult for the party to engage them. Couple the skirmishers with some terrain challenges, make the encounter about how the party needs to exploit or overcome the terrain.
2. Misdirection. Have the party encounter a situation where they need to intervene, but it is not clear who the good or bad guys are. They have to figure out on the fly what the situation is and which NPCs or monsters are truly the enemy.
3. Social encounters. Design encounters that are deliberately non-combat, but require social skills to defeat.
4. Puzzles, the party can't directly engage the enemy until they figure out how to remove or overcome an obstacle.
5. Skill challenges. 4e does this pretty well, so you could get some ideas from that system. Set up a series of skill tests that the party has to successfully overcome to win the encounter. Skills might be things like tracking, climbing, jumping, etc.
I guess I should answer the questions for my own GM style.
I do not make any explicit statements about whether I will or will not fudge dice or modify encounters. I admit that I imply that I don't fudge dice or modify encounters and I let the players believe that I am a "hard-ass" GM deliberately. I do so because I think players like to believe that their GM is a tough GM because it gives them a sense of satisfaction to win against such a GM. But I've never made an overt statement to the group about my GM fiat willingness or history.
As far as game play itself goes, if I design an encounter and it is clearly overpowered, I do view that as a failure on my part. I should know the player group better. For this reason I typically design a good fraction of my encounters with the potential to modify the encounter plausibly during the encounter. That usually means having some backup NPCs or monsters that can be called into the fight if it is clearly too easy, or it means holding back on some of my most powerful NPCs or monsters in the early rounds to see if using their big guns might be too much.
I recently ran an encounter with a higher level wizard and it was clear within the first few rounds that if I unleashed the wizard's full power, the party was doomed. So I downgraded him by two levels on the fly and continued the encounter as if he had been that level to begin with. That meant losing an entire level of spells, which made him too weak. So, again, on the fly, I gave him a scroll to enable the single casting of the higher level spell that put the party at greater risk.
The players had no idea of course. I wonder if other GMs do the same thing or this on-the-fly adjustment of encounters is considered "badwrongfun" by some players.
Bob, I suppose it's a judgment call whether Julio is moving or being moved. He clearly appears to be swinging under his own control as opposed to being yanked unknowingly.
I think the point has been made though, clearly the story here (and in other places) trumps game mechanics. I was just pointing that out since this thread frequently gets into deep discussions of exactly what rules Rich is following for his characters. I personally think Rich is pretty fast and loose with the rules and story always trumps mechanics if they ever conflict.
And that's as it should be. :)
I've seen a couple of threads lately where the issue of GM agency in encounters has come up. Some people have made it a point of pride to say they "don't coddle the players" while others have made it an equal point of pride to say that they are player advocates and want the players to generally be in a position to win encounters and be heroic.
GM fiat is written into the rules so the ability of a GM to "fudge" an encounter is clearly well within the game's scope. But it may or may not be in an individual group's social contract.
I am wondering how GMs in general address this issue with their players. Do you have a specific social contract in place? By which I mean have you officially stated, in your capacity as a GM, at the gaming table (or through email) that you do or do not fudge encounters? If you have made such a statement, to you truly stick to your guns, or do you sometimes fudge anyway?
And what do you consider "coddling" or "fudging" anyway? If you carefully tailor an encounter to match the party's power level, is that an example of coddling the players? After all there's usually no compelling story reason that a group of ogres be 3 ogres instead of 6. But 6 would wipe out the party, while 3 would be a good challenge. So by building a 3 ogre encounter are you already "coddling" the party, even before the encounter begins?
If you do tailor encounters to match the party's power level, and it ends up that you misjudged and the encounter is obviously careening towards a TPK, do you consider that to be a player problem and continue to play your NPCs or monsters rigorously according to their abilities, or do you consider the situation to be a GM mistake that now needs to be corrected by the GM by fudging some rolls or making some deliberately poor tactical choices?
Actually, it helps to cover my mistakes that I reskin so many creatures and use so many custom monsters. If I have a custom monster and forget to utilize a feat, who knows? If I use a wrong feat, who knows? I just have to be consistent. I can't tell you the number of times I've made an error, and that error became the new reality. :)
I think there is a distinction between a GM who knowingly fudges a roll or knowingly ignores an obscure rule to make the encounter or story better, and a GM who makes an outright mistake.
If the GM rarely makes a mistake, then an air of calm confidence when someone points out the mistake is better than "oops! I never knew that! I guess we'll have to redo that encounter".
I make mistakes every game I GM. I know I do. I used to include my "GM errors" in my game notes I sent out to my players. My goal in doing so was to acknowledge my errors and give the players a chance to address any issues that might arise from those errors. Eventually my players told me that they really didn't care about the GM mistakes and I quit publishing them. But I'm aware of them, usually.
But I am a highly confident GM usually. On occasion I can get knocked off my game by situations where I feel I didn't prepare properly and I really hate that feeling. Which is why I do try to prepare. I think the game is much smoother and more fun for everyone when the GM is calm, confident and assertive about their rulings.
But if the GM is consistently making bad rulings, eventually even confidence and assertiveness won't bail them out.
Other than "confidence" I think the best quality a GM can have is an awareness that they are always still learning how to GM.
The "consortium" in my game world deals with the security issue differently than what you describe. Instead of building a bunch of fortresses and employing an army of security guards, most shops who participate in the consortium have the ability to provide the customer with illusionary versions of their stock. The actual stock itself is mostly kept off-site in a secure location. In the case of very high level items, those are usually kept in the consortium's special demi-plane storage facility.
When a customer agrees to buy an item, the actual item is retrieved or delivered.
A thief who tried to steal something at the store itself would typically find only some very low level items and some consumables that just aren't worth the effort of stowing in the secure location. Also that thief would discover one of the other benefits of becoming a partner with the consortium. The Consortium doesn't like thieves stealing their magic stuff.
Wraith, that's more or less what "membership" in the consortium's magic item distribution system provides for shop owners, collectors or whatever. They receive a magical device that allows them to query about the availability of an item and then receive instructions on how to "order" it. For low level shops that usually means some mundane means of delivery, but for major shops which deal in very high level magic items, it could mean teleporting the requested item directly to the shop.
This is one way that the consortium keeps tabs on powerful individuals. With very little effort they can retrieve detailed information about just about any character's inventory of magical items. Which is a very critical bit of information to have in case they need to intervene in some way with those individuals.
Sometimes the PCs are looking for something that is unlikely to be found in a local shop. The last time was when a PC was looking for a specific enchantment on a falchion. The local armorer referred them to a nearby arms collector who had a wide collection of weapons, and who happened to be a fan of the falchion. That became a hook for a plot element and ended up with the PCs having developed a connection (although they did not know it) with the world-spanning consortium.
The falchion was not immediately available, they were told they would need to perform a service in lieu of outright purchasing the falchion. It was a short side quest which advanced the plot in a significant way, and by the time they got back, the falchion was available and off they went.
That sort of thing happens on occasion in my campaigns. Which is why I bristle at the "magic mart" pejorative. You can satisfy player requests in a reasonably plausible manner with a little effort without resorting to overt GM fiat if you want to.
I actually try not to have any "standard adventurers pack" for my characters. It's hard not to since it is a natural tendency to look for efficiencies in repeated actions.
But I do try to approach each character from their own backstory, personality and training. Part of that personality might be a tendency to over-estimate ones' own abilities, or to not have much experience in the outdoors.
My first level druid who had been raised in a dryad grove and had never even visited a village before becoming a druid had nothing in her starting gear that she had not made herself. Including clothes. Or lack thereof...
However, when I am playing a skill-monkey I do generally take the same starting gear using the logic that such a character would have the same general needs and would therefore purchase more or less the same stuff.
Those characters tend to focus on carrying a lot of small items that have multiple uses. Things like twine, fish hooks, mirrors, paper, etc. They also tend to carry stuff that lets them overcome or avoid obstacles, like pitons, silk rope (always silk) and tools.
I really do like plaster though. People really don't understand the things you can do with some plaster...
Did Julio leave a threatened square adjacent to Tarquin? I suppose the lack of an AoO is due to Tarquin dropping his dagger, but why did he drop his dagger? There's no rule saying he has to drop his dagger to dodge a harpoon. Either way it's fiat.
And no, there's no way you can argue that the psion had already used her turn. Her last turn she had Julio prone after hitting him with some blast. Julio got up, moved to the rope, cut it and was pulled away. There's no way by the rules that the psion wouldn't get another shot at him between her last blast and his grabbing of the rope.
Maybe that's how this will end, Julio will get nailed by a psychic blast and fall to his death. I dunno. If an NPC escaped this way in a game I was playing there'd be all kinds of accusations of GM fiat and rule breaking.
But, that's the point. It's a story, not a game.
It's probably moot, but it's moot, not mute. (Sorry, pet peeve)
I run my own campaign world but I find the CR system helpful in my own encounter design. Sure I don't treat it as the bible, but it's a good first approximation and allows me to set up encounters more quickly than if I had to work everything out from scratch.
I also create my own monsters from scratch and create what I hope are unique and challenging encounters using custom monsters, so I am well aware of the difficulty of balancing encounters. And I can tell you, it's not easy. A lot of GMs are very bad at it. Telling people "you can run a low magic campaign easy! You just have to adjust everything on the fly" is making some pretty big assumptions about other GM's skills and desires.
In the end we are really debating the following two approaches to the fundamental design issues in the game:
1. Allow players to acquire items pretty much as they wish with minimal GM intervention.
I've played in both types of campaigns, I've GM'd both types of campaigns. In general the work and skill required on option #2 is significantly higher and the potential for player dissatisfaction is higher too.
Doesn't mean it can't be done. It just means that it's more difficult to do. #1 allows you to work entirely within the rules. #2 requires making GM fiat adjustments that are not simple and impact different classes differently.
If the purpose of this post is to provide guidance to other GMs about how they might want to approach their own games, my basic advice would be for fledgling GMs to avoid making the job harder than it has to be until they have at least mastered running the game within the rules.
If the vast majority of magic items that characters acquire didn't become obsolete within a couple levels, magic items would remain "rare and special" and we wouldn't have people complaining about "magic marts".
People who want to reach some sort of comparison between their games and the vast majority of fantasy literature need to come up with some way for magic items to be meaningful throughout a character's entire career.
I still remember the first D&D campaign I played in. I fell in love with the entire concept of D&D and my characters absolutely lusted after their first magic items. That first +1 sword was rare and magical indeed.
But a few weeks later, when that same character stumbled onto a +2 sword, I had a revelation about one of the game's most fundamental flaws. Suddenly my +1 sword was pointless. My character carried it around in his stuff for a while, but that +2 sword never felt nearly as "rare and special" as that +1 sword had when I first got it. After hauling around a useless +1 sword for months of game time, I eventually sold it off. When that +3 sword showed up, I dumped that +2 sword at the first place I could find that would buy it.
And that's when I realized how "rare and special" magic items truly were in this game.
A long time ago I created my own mass combat rules, in effect I created an entire wargame system so that I could do large combat in D&D. But that meant moving between different rules systems to work out the situation.
In the past several years I've decided that massive combat between armies is part of the background story of the campaign, and is not something I even game out if the party is not directly involved, I just write the ending I want.
If the player party is involved, I define some critically important tactical objective for them that will impact the battle in some meaningful way. Perhaps it will mean army A wins if they succeed and army B wins if they fail, but usually it is less impactful than that, but determines if a key prisoner is rescued, or if the defeated army can retreat without massive losses to fight another day or if some key enemy is captured.
Then I set up encounters that are sized for the PF rules and run the encounters as the battle rages on in the background.
The GM can negate the ring of sustenance any number of ways if they really want to. And if your GM relies on "old tropes" there are plenty of old tropes that aren't addressed with the ring of sustenance.
Anyway, if everyone else in the party has a ring of sustenance, I probably don't need one. They can stay up all night and be bored while I sleep. :)
In the group I play in 4 of 6 of us are prepared to run a game, most have been playing DECADES and run the sort of game they like, all different. Pathfinder can be played as a low magic setting, yes it takes more work but it is still less than running a high level game in my experience. I prefer characters to be the star not builds, stats and equipment. That's why I don't like the magic mart.
The "magic mart" is not the problem. The problem is the expectation of magic items being part of a standard build. The "magic mart" is just a particular solution to the problem. You have another "solution" to the problem. Neither solution is "right", both are a reaction to a fundamental game design flaw.
I'd personally rather see the fundamental problem solved than argue about what bandage is better.
But the devs have made it clear they don't intend to fix it.
Abraham, that is what I have found to be the case too. I have had situations where a player has not wanted to replace an item that NEEDED to be replaced because the player was emotionally invested in an item because of the way the item had been acquired and how it had been described.
My tenth level druid has a special non-magical wooden quiver that was given to her by her mentor druid. She has had ample opportunity to replace that quiver with a magical quiver, but she never would because the quiver meant so much to her. The GM finally had an NPC recognize the quiver and offer to magically enhance it for her. But the campaign ended before she could get it done. So it is still just a wooden quiver.
Here's my bottom line on this, and why I no longer go to great lengths to try to "fix" the magic item problems in the game.
The problems are extensive, and the synergies involved with how magic items are woven into the system mean that if the GM wants to "fix" things, it will require extensive adjustments to a fairly significant fraction of the game mechanics. That means some GMs will be much better at it than others, and GMs who misunderstand, under-estimate or simply don't realize the implications of their changes can frequently make things worse, not better.
The work required to do the adjustments is not trivial, and if a GM has a finite amount of time, the time required to deal with the adjustments means less time in game prep or story development.
Even given the time and skill necessary to both do the adjustments and do them "right" there is still no clear evidence that the end result is any more "realistic" or "plausible" than just running the game as written. Most of the suggestions made to make magic items more "rare and special" create their own sorts of verisimilitude problems, and as a result, the actual players spend just as much time metagaming the situations as they would have with no adjustments.
For me personally I finally just decided it wasn't worth the effort. My players have not complained. Frankly, if anything, the result has been the players feel more empowered in pursuing their own character concepts.
So why is the psion just standing around while Julio escapes? Why didn't Tarquin get an attack of opportunity as Julio sundered the cord?
For those who constantly try to explain actions in the strip according to the "rules of the game" this strip is an excellent example of how Rich lets story trump mechanics.
I had thought the point of the thread was to pick items that are unusual, not the stuff that everybody automatically takes.
Of course I'm perverse anyway. I hate taking the same stuff everyone takes. I can't recall the last time one of my characters had a "ring of sustenance" for example. Every time I think about one of those "gotta have" items, I pretty much convince myself that it is up to me to demonstrate how you can get by just fine without one...