Monday, February 6, 2012

Good Roll, But You Still Lose

On Friday I did something kind of mean to one of my players in my game. It wasn't without reason. It wasn't just out of a sense of cruelty. It was still mean though. In general terms, I set him up for action in his character's area of specialization. Then, when he won with some good rolls, I had him lose anyhow. Yep, I cheated him. No, not OOC. OOC he won that fight. However, IC the perception was different. I want to talk about that, why I did it, and why I think it was a good thing to do.

It's All Politics
If you have been reading my recent posts about my Friday game, then you know that the game has gone a lot more political than it was a few sessions ago. The players are in the beginning stages of Winter Court and things are beginning to happen at break neck pace as all the courtiers and samurai in the city settle in for a long winter of bickering and political games. This political backdrop is the source of the cheating, so keep that in mind.

The Dice Don't Decide The Winner
This is what I think my player forgot and what I wanted to get across with this situation. When it comes to contests it doesn't matter who actually performs the best. What matters is who the judge claims performed the best. So, in this case, despite the fact that the player should have won, the IC judge determined that the opponent won the match. Why? That is less important in a table craft sense than the fact that it can happen.

The Results
The results of this I think were pretty good. There was a couple of seconds where the player simply stared in shock and looked completely betrayed. I don't revel in this - and did apologize afterwards for suddenly doing it - but it was an important aspect of the world that needed to be conveyed. In character his character chose to insult the judges for calling it wrong and a kindly other duelist gave him a chance to save face, but the results were still the same.

Unfortunately, the act that let the PC save face will also have consequences. The duelist who threw a match to the PC afterwards as a sign that the PC had been cheated was someone of note. Which means that now this PC, a brand new and not very experienced PC, is marked as someone worth beating. More to the point, he has brought himself to the attention of a number of powerful - and already established to be petty - people. Some who will not be happy they were insulted publicly, or that it was shown to be them who were being petty by the actions of the other duelist.

The Point
So what was the point of all this? Well, for one I wanted to establish that life in the courts isn't always fair. That not everyone will conduct themselves as honorably as the PCs will often want things to be. For another, I wanted to see how the PC would react to being cheated. For a third I wanted to set something up where, depending on how the PC reacted, events could spiral and snowball from there.

The GM's Job
I am unapologetic about this - aside from the lack of warning I suppose - because I view this to be a big part of the GM's job. Player Characters are meant ot be challenged, and that can not always happen with dice rolls. You have to challenge the character beyond mechanics, and this situation was set up to do just that. The situations that spiral out from it will also challenge the PC in a number of ways.

Your Thoughts?
What are your thoughts on situations like this? Underhanded or a part of the setting that is important to convey on occasion?


  1. It's an interesting idea. There's one thing I'd do differently. I'd have had some one mention something in passing about the nature of the court. It should have been in the previous session or two and not in relation to anybody specific. It would prime the players to expect that not everything would be fair. Its especially good if it was from somebody that the players wouldn't neccesarily trust - a beggar or servant or criminal.

    Part of the issue is world awareness. The characters have been in the world and have heard stories about court - good and bad, true and untrue. The players only get the world through you. If you imply that everything is honorable and wonderful and then spring a nest of vipers on them it's a little unfair. It's a little different than a story, where that is a good way to shock a character, but I wouldn't spring it completely from the dark on the players.

  2. This is a very good point. With my group, we've played L5R games together for years, so I have a base level assumption of good world awareness from my players. We also discuss the world and it's horridness (in some areas) on a regular basis.

    Still, it is a very good point, and goes along with springing things on Characters, not Players.

  3. Reasonable and entirely appropriate to the setting, but a gentle warning that such things were possible at the start of winter court would probably not have been a bad idea.