Friday, March 11, 2011

Discussion: Do You Think This Was Fair?

This isn't a look for validation or vindication. I want to get that out of the way first.

In my last L5R game, I attacked a Rank 1 Ronin with a heavily armored Rank 4 Crab NPC. For those who don't know L5R, that is like attacking a level 2-3 fighter with a level 15-17 one with significantly better equipment.

The situation was basically like this: Two of the PCs are making moves to take over the underworld. In the process they have taken control of an opium supply ring, and recently found that one of their clients wasn't paying. When they went to demand payment, they were essentially told to fuck off. Long story short, violence happened, the PCs killed the owner/guards and took the tea house as their own. One of the PCs was put in charge of this tea house for the group/gang that was being formed.

A couple weeks later, this large brutish person - a hired gun - came in to trash the place. The PC attacked, a fight happened, and the tea house burned down.

Now, myself and both players this affected seemed to have a lot of fun with this. I'm not ashamed of it, and I would do it again. However, some friends have had interesting reactions along the lines of "Why would you do that?!" to the action. I even understand where they're coming from (focus more on the 'game' and seeing an intentionally un-winnable situation). However, I am curious about you.

What is your initial reaction to the attacking of a low rank PC with a high rank NPC? Did you think it was a case of unfair GM syndrome? Were you curious about the details first? Or did you go "yeah, that's cool"

Have you ever done anything similar in your own games? Do you try to avoid doing similar things? Why or why not?


  1. Nope. Sounds to me like you did the right thing.

    Sometimes PCs get themselves in too deep, and need to be reminded of the fact. Sometimes putting them against a very powerful foe is a way of giving them a long-term goal - beating that guy who smacked them around - that they will only be able to achieve after a load more training and experience.

    Depending on the players, it's also fun to sometimes put the PCs against foes they simply cannot beat in straight combat, so they have to find other means to defeat them. For example, by disgracing or discrediting the foe, or by implicating them in a crime in some way. Nothing says "I beat you" than watching the poor mook being hauled to jail :)

  2. I've tried that last one, but not in a way they ended up in jail. It can have mixed, but fun, results. Sometimes with that you have to tell the players "this isn't someone you're supposed to beat the old fashioned way", which can ruin some of the tension. Though, better that than ruining their fun.

  3. I've done this before and I think its fine- in fact, I think its a great idea to occasionally put your party up against people who are tougher than they are- just as I think they should occasionally be faced with people well below their challenge level. It allows (or forces) the players to react differently to different situations. The 'head on' approach won't work against some foes. In my own Star Wars campaign, the group ran into someone WAY more powerful- in fact, a whole group that was more powerful than they were. I had intended for them to get their butts royally stomped IF they went head to head with these guys. But my players decided to talk instead- and actually managed to sway 'the big bad' from his course of action. It made for a much more dramatic encounter than a straight up fight would have.

  4. I tend to stick with the "couple levels above or below" standard for the encounters in my current 4E D&D campaign. Every monster I throw at my PCs is custom made, so I tend to make them around the PCs' level. Of course, this is mostly because our game has a pace and a tone set and throwing something like that at my players would throw them off, and they likely wouldn't have much fun with it. I've had them face encounters that they just couldn't win and they ran, but they honestly would have had more fun fighting.

    But that's mostly because of the tone and pace we have for this campaign. It would be a way out of left field encounter and would throw everyone off their game. Now, for an L5R or Shadowrun game, I would be more likely to throw something at the players that they couldn't handle simply because the systems support it so well. With 4E so centered around combat, it's harder to do that type of thing.

  5. Sometimes things happen. Not every sutuation comes down to an even chance. Is it unfair? Yes, but not everything has to be fair.
    In one Shadowrun campaign the party had a jacked up van (and by jacked up I mean expensive) as a mobile headquarters. One day it simply blew up. It sent a loud message to the characaters and players. Was it fair? No. Did it add to the game? Yes.
    Fun > Fair.

  6. onedtwelve brings up a great point. This worked because of the tone of the game. This game I am running was set to be about the characters, and their lives (and their families' lives) in this one particular city.

    Now, the setting for the game may change with time...maybe...but the game is still going to focus on the story of those characters' lives. Which means stuff like this can happen without breaking the tone.

    In a more combat oriented game, or a dungeon crawl, it would be less kind to do it, as it violently goes against the tone of the game.

    Also: Fun > Fair...damn good advice.