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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Intermission: Hungry Ghosts Plays RPGs

It is July, and Hungry Ghosts is moving from The City That the Transformers Would Destroy to the Ancient Land of Witch Trials. In the spirit of traveling back in time, Hungry Ghosts will entertain his Beardlings with tales of Games Past. Hungry Ghosts makes some strange miniature conversions, but the madness started long ago. Gamemasters: Heed this warning.

The Saga of a Problem Player

In gaming, many people play a kind of idealized version of what they would like to be in real life. I was the albatross around their necks. Excessively vicious, entirely useless, or completely insane were the kinds of characters I played. I am what is known as the Problem Player.

At one I-Con, some guy was having a play-test of his home-brewed game, and let us be whatever we wanted. So I say "Even Kender?" "Yes, even Kender." "And 'multiple personality disorder' is a disadvantage? I get more skill points to compensate?" "Yup." "Can I pick the personalities?" "Go ahead."

Thus was born a Kender Cleric of Cthulhu, with Mighty Cthulhu as one of his multiple personalities. So he was an obnoxious kleptomaniac with pockets full of melty butter, dead bugs, and your spare change under the best of circumstances. But when in the Cleric of Cthulhu personality, he would summon himself as Mighty Cthulhu, and try to eat the faces of the other players.

Whatever the game, when multiple personality disorder was allowed as a disadvantage, I took it.

I was banned from playing the Star Wars RPG because I wanted 2 characters - a one-armed Wookiee who could speak only Kashyyk, with a Robot arm as translator and weapon, who did not get along with each other. Thus bringing up the existential question "an angry Wookiee will rip the arms off of a person, but will he rip off his own arm?"

Banned from Vampire as well. No Chimpanzee Vampires allowed. And no retarded redneck Vampire. No 4-year old child Vampire.

I can also tell you that the look of terror in the eyes of your adventuring companions when your Elf Fighter/Magic-User charges into battle wielding 2 Wands of Wonder is priceless.

Mr Biggles

And then there was the Gnome fighter, Hubert Biggles, who refused to reveal his character class to the other players, as no one in a real fantasy world would go about asking "what character class are you?" Yeah, I just said real fantasy world. Hubert Biggles also refused enter battle directly. He insisted he was a chef and was adventuring to raise money to build his restaurant.

When Skeletons attacked in the forest, Hubert used his grappling hook to lasso a Skeleton and tie it to a tree, then beat it to bits.

Once we reached the caverns of the Orcs, Hubert skittled around to behind the Orcs, taking advantage of his small size. Then he "assessed the treasure situation" while the other players lost hit points. After the Orcs were slain, the Adventurers could hear Ogre-speak in the next cave. While they discussed what should be done, Hubert passed a note to the DM that he would cut off the head of the Orc leader, kick open the door, and present the Orc-head to the Ogres, saying "Look what has become of your Orcs! Bow before our might and we may let you live!"

The Ogres were not very impressed, and the rest of the players were quite distressed. Seeing the Ogres were not impressed, Hubert once again used his small size advantage, and tumbled betwixt the legs of the charging Ogres, leaving the other Adventurers to fight while again he "assessed the treasure situation".

After the others had been badly wounded while defeating the Ogres, we found 4 comely human women awaiting rescue.

Our Mr Biggles asked the DM "can I hit on them? You know, for waitress-harem purposes?"
"Sure, roll less than your Charisma on percentile dice for each one."

Hubert Biggles reveals that he has a 17 Charisma, and actually got 3 out of 4 rolls under 17.

In this adventure, the DM was highly amused, as he knew I was a fighter, yet had not lost a single hit point through careful use of missile weapons or small size, had grabbed all the good treasure, and entranced 3 comely human women to assist him in his restaurant quest.

But when you show up for a game with a new DM with a Gnome Fighter and three NPC human waitresses...well, it doesn't help when your friend who is playing a Ninja named Mushi-Mushi (which is what Japanese say when they answer the phone, or something like that) decides he is so impressed by the Gnome Restauranteur that he discusses the possibility of being hired as sushi chef while they are scaling a castle wall.

Death Angel

And Shadowrun. I would only play Dwarfs who used guns bigger than they were, or Elf Snipers who were never seen. Our maniac Dwarfs were named Death Angel (it was a family tradition, and Dwarfs love tradition). With lots of spiky armor.

In one incident, after needlessly starting a bar fight with some Trolls in a no-guns allowed zone (which Death Angel seriously protested and demanded to wait outside, but was cajoled into playing nice), a Troll grabbed Death Angel and threw him across the room. The spiky armor and helmet resulted in Death Angel being stuck to the wall for the remainder of the fight, neutralized and wriggling in anger.

Later, the poor GM casually mentioned that a few blocks away, we could see some Elves in a dispute with some Trolls. Knowing that the situation was irrelevant to the mission, and knowing that these Elves wore the jackets of the most powerful Elf gang in all the land, most of the rest of the players said “we ignore it and keep on going fast before they see us.”

Death Angel says “Elves vs. Trolls? Shoot the Elves!” GM again warns that these are Elves not to be messed with. Death Angel persists, as his gun is of the type usually limited to helicopters and he hates Elves (Trolls too, but they were clearly losing and Death Angel had to assist them. And ). Death Angel fires the auto-cannon at the Elves, and is vicious enough to actually kill one of the Elves and wound several others. Elves are very surprised and very angry.

Death Angel does not run away from Elves, and is now in combat with half a dozen very powerful wizards and such. His only comrade is a friend who is playing a character of the Detective class. Which is usually limited to NPCs because of its limited usefulness. And the same guy who was our Ninja-Sushi Chef.

Death Angel gets seriously wounded, but GM is the sensitive type who likes to let his PCs live if at all possible, so he says Death Angel is down to his last bit of energy but will live if he apologizes to the Elves, or successfully plays dead. Not going to happen. Death Angel says he will wait until the maximum number of Elves are close to him, checking out if he will apollywoggy or play dead enough for them to honorably let him live. Then Death Angel informs GM that he blows himself up, and hopes he takes the Elves with him.

GM and other PCs are shocked, and GM asks how Death Angel will accomplish this. Death Angel has several kilos of C-12 plastic explosives strapped to his body at all times. GM says “you need an electrical charge to set off plastic explosives.” Death Angel says he wears Shock Gloves. GM and other players demand to see character sheet. Character sheet reveals that, yes, Death Angel had the necessary equipment, and had, in fact, always planned on dying in that manner. And then destroyed several city blocks.

Our Detective friend survives, but spends the rest of the adventure burnt bright red and naked. And refuses offers of new clothing.

Other specialties of mine were playing the Useless Bard, the Slutty Druid, the Actually-Practices-What-He-Preaches Paladin, the Barbarian who eats what he kills. Or what others kill, including other PCs when they die. “But we can't resurrect him if you eat that arm...”

When given the chance to play super-powered D&D with something like 100 levels to distribute among whatever character classes you wanted and play races not usually permitted, I played a level 100 Leprechaun Illusionist.

Anton Christpuncher

The Christpunchers were my family for The Sims. I refused to buy them a house, and instead purchased a circle of cactus plants. I placed several couches, televisions, and bars inside the cactus-circle. But no bathroom.

Each of the Christpunchers, Anton and the Mrs, and our little boy-child and girl-child, had their own television. They all played their TVs at maximum volume. This made the Christpunchers engage in physical combat with each other. Which were enhanced by the alcohol. Which was the only source of food (yes, The Sims considered booze as food). Which the children also consumed.

So the drunk children fought each other. Mr and Mrs Christpuncher fought each other. They would break each others' TVs, which were replaced. The Christpunchers didn't have jobs, but a ring of cacti is considerably cheaper than a house, so there was plenty of money to replace the TVs. Lacking a bathroom, they would soil themselves and pass-out due to excess alcohol.

All notices from the game about school buses arriving to pick up the kids were ignored. All warnings about wife-beating were ignored.

Eventually, the game sent social workers to remove the children from this unsavory home environment. Eventually, the game sent the police to save Mrs Christpuncher from her husband. Which was sexist, since Mrs Christpuncher frequently started the drunken brawls.

Anton's starter funds did not last forever. The bank came to take away the couches, then the TVs, then the precious cacti. Anton was left standing in front of his bar, pounding back booze, pissing himself, and passing out. The glorious cycle of nature.

The bank repossessed his bar. Then Anton would find some money – an aunt dies and leaves him a few thousand dollars, while laying on the ground he'd find an ancient coin worth beaucoup bucks. These were used to buy more bars as needed.

The game would not let him die. I promise you that I did my best to kill him. But the game would not let him die.

Problem Player Becomes Game Master

Given these shenanigans, attempts have been made to move the Problem Player to the other side of the Wall of Fear and Ignorance (which is what the GM's screen is actually called in Paranoia).

Of course, I chose the most lethal games.


Rolemaster was known for its insanely complicated rules and endless rule supplements (Want to know how much a diamond golem weighs? There's a table for that.). Also for its critical hits system, and its recognition that wounds bleed if you don't make them stop.

So our merry band of adventurers, having persevered through several hours of navigating the character creation system, begin their quest.

You hear a rustle in the bushes.”

Ok. We are mighty adventurers, and a pointless encounter would not come so early in the game. Let the Warrior inspect the bushes.

Warrior is Level 1, and it is indeed a pointless encounter. Or at least one meant to teach that our adventurers cannot poke their noses into anything that they see or hear. So our Warrior encounters an angry badger, who has a higher initiative.

Angry Badger makes very impressive dice rolls, and scores a critical hit of severe impact. The height difference results in Angry Badger tearing off the Warriors genitals. Unfortunately, everyone thinks that they are too important to play a character-class with healing spells or skills, and our Warrior bleeds to death while Angry Badger runs off with a snack.

No more Rolemaster.


Paranoia takes place, generally, in an underground city run by an insane computer after the surface world is believed to be destroyed by nuclear war. The computer hates mutants. The computer hates secret societies. Every character is a mutant, and every character is a secret society member. They must conceal this from each other and everyone else.

The city's Research & Development department likes to experiment with equipment like nuclear grenades with a 100 meter radius of effect and a 50 meter maximum launching distance. If the player characters do not test their experimental equipment, they will be punished.

The society in general likes forms to record everything. Many of the games published supplements are actually packets of forms for the players to fill out. Some try to trick players into admitting mutant powers and various illegal actions. Some ask for tongue prints or tissue samples. Players start licking forms, and are told to lick harder because the form is in triplicate with carbon paper sheets in between the copies. They get anxious about what tissue samples are required.

Even seemingly beneficial events cause distress. PC tries to use cred-stick to withdraw a bit of funds for some Bouncy-Bubble-Beverage. Machine malfunctions and gives PC a million creds instead of 10. Now PC has too much money for someone of his level and does not know what to do with it.

The game is so lethal that the players actually start with a series of 6 clones, with new clones arriving after the previous clone is killed.

How can you make this worse? Send them above ground. Far above ground.

Our anxious clones are given the great honor of piloting an experimental spacecraft to the moon, which they have no idea even exists. This creates a clone-replacement delivery problem, so the moon mission requires that the extra clones are in suspended animation and strapped to the bottom of the spacecraft.

As Paranoia is designed to create animosity among players, disputes arise while flying to the moon. PC1 threatens PC2. PC2 hides in closet. PC1 fires laser gun at PC2 in closet. Laser goes through closet door and PC2, but the closet is clearly shown on the map of the spacecraft to be directly in front of the spacecraft's engines. Boom!

This moon mission is too important to let one catastrophic failure kill the program. Luckily, the clone-container managed to separate and return to earth. And our players now know not to shot lasers in an enclosed explosive environment. So the Clone 2s make it to the moon.

But the moon is an airless wasteland, and the clones don't know they can't breathe without special suits. Time to activate Clone 3.

But the moon has already been reached by both Commies from Sov-City and evil Aliens from Outer Space. Fighting disables spacecraft, and our clones must use the escape pod to return to earth.

Oops! They left their remaining clones on the moon. And the very expensive spacecraft. They return to receive a very intensive debriefing and a very large bill.

Call of Cthulhu

This is another game where you know that your character is going to die, you just don't know if you will be eaten, disintegrated, or rot away in an insane asylum. How do you make this more evil?

Things can always get worse, as every Ukrainian knows.

You tell your players that they will not be rolling up some characters. Instead, you inform them that they will be playing themselves in the adventure. You tell them they are to deliberate to decide the values of their attributes and skill levels. Who is smartest? Who is strongest? Who can throw something accurately?

That is how.

What Have We Learned?

We have learned that the Problem Player cannot be tamed by Responsibility. The problem player will destroy his character to prove a point, to entertain himself, to have the fun of rolling up a new character, to watch a Robotech re-run.

Power will only corrupt him. And he will start by removing you from your “safe” games like D&D and Champions, and make you take Critical Hits, lose Sanity Points, and generally prove to you that inexperienced hobbits really should stick to farming because Adventuring has a very high mortality rate. Tom Bombadil will not save you from every Barrow Wight.

Or will do something terribly stupid, like wanting to play Bunnies and Burrows (based on Watership Down).

Thus, it is best to confine him to adversarial gaming situations, where brutality and treachery are expected – Warhammer, Cosmic Encounter, Magic, Axis & Allies, Mighty Empires, Risk.

But some problems can't be solved. Your Problem Player is often such because he gets bored by the simplicity of many games. He will therefore often win a disproportionate percentage of these games. Worse, though, he will know when he has no chance to win, and will either attempt to lose in the most spectacularly disruptive manner, or purposefully select an opponent to overtly or covertly favor to end the game faster.

This problem player has been banned from Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly. And will only play Japan in Axis & Allies, because the game's outcome is known if competent players are involved, and Japan has the most freedom of action because nothing Japan does matters.

Ultimately, the best choice may be to let him take a go at a multi-player video game, and let him play all the slots against himself.