January 24, 2011


Today I want to talk about something that came up in a game a friend of mine was running. The summary is a player went up against a foe that was a magnitude or two of power above his character. In an attempt to keep failure interesting my friend had the foe beat the character back, but not deal any long term harm. The player turned around returned to the fight immediately. When he inevitably lost this time the character lost a hand.

Now, I don’t think that permanent harm is untoward in the right system, and in this case, they were playing a World of Darkness game with mortals, so permanent afflictions are a core idea of the system. The problem is, the character in question was built as a two weapon fighter. A large amount of this character’s experience was sunk into two weapon fighting merits and specialties.

This kind of thing is when I start wondering about the intent of the consequence. Yes, the player knowingly fought an enemy out of his league. He went back in after being soundly beaten. And lost. An in game consequence is entirely justified in my opinion. But the consequence chosen in this case is a bit extreme. Instead of hampering the character it has literally removed the intent of the character.

This player, without meeting him, obviously wanted to play a two-weapon fighter, and spent many of his finite resources on that goal. To take that goal from the player in a way that forces the player to continue playing the character without the abilities that obviously drew the player to the character is actually worse than just killing the character in this case.

This is the kind of event that sparks my often referenced opinion that you should be talking to your players. These kinds of consequences are the top level of drastic and can really create some bad blood between GMs and players. If the players know that a whim is all it takes for them to lose their favorite abilities, they’ll play differently than if they can feel safe in their favorite abilities, but know they can lose other things.

How about you, readers, do you think this kind of consequence is suitable, too much, too little?


  1. I'm going to say something weird: "Players should never be punished."

    Characters, on the other hand, can and should be.

    I almost never think in terms of "punishments." I more often think in terms of logical reactions. If the characters piss off the local baron with his hand-picked elite guards standing at the ready, well, the "punishment" is out of my control. The guards simply do what the guards would do.

    That said, it's very rare that I play a game or use a system that doesn't allow the character to reinvent themselves after something traumatic.

    Look at your example.

    That sounds like an AWESOME time to reinvent the character. Your two-weapon fighter lost a hand? Perfect. Throw on a gruesome prosthetic, grafted-on weapon, or firearm wired onto a hand-claw, and we're good to go. The character build remains viable, but the look of the character has shifted due to the horrible encounter with that one evil menace. It adds depth to the character, and is something unexpected.

  2. In terms of player versus character you're right and I didn't word my post very well. Characters take punishments, and that's one of the reasons I think this event didn't sit well with me, since it is the player being punished more than the character.

    Beyond that, I wish more games had solid retraining rules, and even plan to use some very flexible ones in ExoSquad.

    And seriously, that is a very cool way to make sure it was the character punished and not the player.