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Johnny’s Five – Five Issues With Mental Powers
Posted By John Arcadian On March 11, 2009 @ 3:31 am In Johnny's Five | 16 Comments
Yes, yes, I see that you’re thinking about reading this article. You are looking at the words and contemplating whether or not you should comprehend them . . .
Ahah! I was right! You’ve read these words, just as I predicted!
Mental powers can be used to great effect in a game, but they can also be incredibly unbalanced. We’re not talking Jean Grey wielding deadly telekinesis, but Charles Xavier re-writing a person’s mind type of mental powers. So without further ado . . . Yes master, I’ll stop procrastinating . . . let’s get on with the show.
1. Mind Reading Reveals Secrets
In games that focus on social aspects or have deep and intricate plots, secrets are important. One PC with adequate mind reading powers in the right place can blow the whole thing wide open. When the player meets the BBEG in disguise all of his secret plans might be revealed. Heck, the player doesn’t even have to meet the BBEG, just a well informed henchman.
2. Mind Control Makes Your NPCs The Player’s Bitches
Pardon the language. Most role-playing game worlds are populated by 3 types of people. The PCs, the bad guys and everyone else. Generally, everyone else is of much lower ability than either the PCs or the bad guys, and thus much easier to take control of with mental powers. Don’t want to pay for that item, control the shopkeeper. Don’t want to talk or fight past the town guard, turn them against each other.
3. Your Players Will Eventually Use Their Mental Powers to Pick Someone Up
Updated based on Oddysey’s Comment
Sad, but true, there is always a player who wants to score, more than they want to play the game. While these can be interesting role-playing segues leading to character depth, they are more often sophomoric attempts at being funny. The impact of using a mental power in this way depends on how it is being used. Utilizing a mind reading power to determine the results of a character’s seduction attempt can lead to interesting responses and provide the GM a channel to poke fun at the character. Utilizing mind control powers to force an otherwise unwilling person into an undesired act can bring up some big issues at the table.
4. A Strong Enough Psychic And You’ve Got An Army
As point 2, if you’ve got someone who can take over another person’s mind, you’ve eventually got the leader of an army. Throw some range and power behind a psychic and you’ve got a person who doesn’t need to worry about combat ever again.
5. I, uh, totally forgot what the last one was. Oh yeah, wait no.
Mind wiping. In an incredibly over-powered Vampire game, my character gained the ability/curse that he would be forgotten almost as soon as he walked away from a person. I loved to quip: “Don’t worry about my name, you won’t remember it anyways.” at any opportunity. While it was fun it was also hard to leave instructions with anyone or keep people I was trying to influence on track. If you take it one step further and wipe more than just a character from a person’s mind you can leave a person unable to function.
Ok, so those are some of the issues with mental powers. That’s okay though. Every ability or power has some issue. Aside from how they can be abused, mental powers can be really fun too. So let me lay down another 5 on you. Five ways to keep mental powers balanced and fun.
1. Use The Game System’s Built In Safeguards. If Need Be, Up them
A lot of games build in safeguards to their mental powers. If you find a power being abused then read up on the power and what safeguards there might be against it. Saving throws, resistance rolls contested rolls, etc. If they aren’t up to snuff you can always make it easier on the defender by giving an across the board bonus.
2. Plan For The Power
If you know a player, or npc, has a mental power, then plan to use it in the game. The vital piece of information that you are trying to get the group to understand could be as easily gotten as sitting in a bar and covertly scanning the minds of the BBEG’s henchmen who visit.
3. Tin Foil Hats
Magneto’s metal helmet was solely written in so that he could block out Xavier’s mental powers. The particular mold used to make a wine common to an area might provide some resistance to mind-reading. A magic item might prevent it out-right. While a bit cheesy, these kinds of elements can keep a character with mental powers on their toes and out of people’s heads.
4. Don’t Deny Using The Power, But Find Ways To Make Its Use Appropriate
So the PC’s have mental powers. Let them have some fun with them. Denying a power, or shutting it down every time can ruin a player’s fun. Work with the player to make the power appropriate in the context of the game. Give the BBEG a tin foil hat only when you need to. Remember, if the characters have psychic powers, the bad guys might as well.
5. Society Always Has Consequences
Rampant abuse of power doesn’t often go un-noticed. Just because you can get stuff for free, pick up chicks, or dudes, effortlessly, get your own army of hapless followers or blank a person’s mind it doesn’t mean you can get away with it all the time. Having a little up-rising against the person using the powers, or having someone hire the PCs to look into the demon that has been plaguing the town, only to find that the demon is the psychic PC can make a player use their power with a bit more caution.
Master says to tell you that there aren’t anything such as mental powers and you really don’t have to worry about them. Master also says he wants me to make him a sandwich. So while I’m off doing that, tell me what you think of mental powers in games? Had any fun experiences with them? Broke down crying as you watch the PCs psychically trod over your carefully crafted world because of them? Know of any other good ways to counter them?
Answer the last one first, my tin foil hat doesn’t seem to be working. Yes master, mayo on the sandwich . . .
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