This article is some creepy bad gamemastering stuff. It makes the author look bad, which we suspect is why it went offline in the first place, even though people still make reference to it.
Hit ‘em Where it Hurts by John Wick May 14, 1999 “There’s More Than One Way To Kill A Champions Character” One of my favorite things about being a Game Master is watching players bring me their characters for the first time just before we begin to play. The sheets are clean and white, waiting for the pizza stains and other scars that they will acquire over the months and years of play. I carefully peek over the sheets as the player watches, anxiously biting their lip, because they know exactly what I’m looking for. You see, I have a bit of a reputation. I kill characters. A lot of characters. Even in my Champions campaign, those big whopping 250 point monsters don’t stand a chance. But I don’t kill characters with muscle-bound monstrosities or lonely, brooding cigar chomping maniacs with razor sharp claws. No, I kill characters in a very different manner all together. I hit them where it really hurts: where they spend their points. This article is designed to show Game Masters how to use a character’s Disadvantages, Powers and Resources against him. The examples listed here were used in my Champions campaign, but with a little creativity, a GM can use these ideas in just about any game. Now before we begin, let me introduce you to an old friend of mine. Meet Jefferson Carter “I’ve read dozens of books about heroes and crooks And I learned much from both of their styles” - Jimmy Buffett Jefferson Carter is an NPC I use in a lot of my campaigns. As the head of Carter Enterprises, he is a model millionaire. He donates millions of dollars to charities, opens homeless shelters, fights for the rights of the working class and is always seen with the beautiful people. He is a handsome face with a charitable, giving heart. Carter Enterprises is also responsible for the founding of United Superheroes (or, “US”). Using his vast funds, Carter brings together the most enterprising and resourceful superheroes to fight crime in the city’s streets and root out corruption in the city’s government. His involvement with US has always been a public matter: he doesn’t believe that a good deed should ever remain anonymous. He defends the rights of super heroes to help support the police department and other law enforcement agencies. He was instrumental in passing “The Vigilante Act” a few years back that made the acts of super heroes legal and has a staff of the best lawyers in the nation on payroll to keep his employees out of jail and on the streets. In short, Jefferson Carter is the best friend a superhero could have. And with friends like him... well, I think you finish that one by yourself. Carter’s Secret Hold your allies close to you, but hold your enemies closer. - The Tao of Shinsei Jefferson Carter is a meta-human. Carter has many abilities that allow him to seek out a hero’s most precious secrets, then he uses those secrets against them. In my Champions campaign, even if the heroes weren’t employed by US, Carter would still consider them “employees.” In fact, those heroes would be an even greater challenge to his intellect and resources. Why has Carter gone to all this trouble? The answer is simple. Because he can. Carter is a mastermind, a genius beyond mortal measurement. Ever since his childhood, he has played “human chess” with his teachers and playmates. His acquired fortune came about from his ability to manipulate the minds and lives of mortals, and now he has learned to manipulate the minds and lives of meta-mortals. In short, he is causing pain, misery and conflict for his own enjoyment. And, don’t forget, he’s doing it for his employees. After all, he provided for the Vigilante Act. He provided United Superheroes. He equips and trains the supervillains they encounter. Carter is the reason they are living the life they are. And if his tricks and traps take out one or two heroes here and there … oh well. What is life without a little risk, eh? The Method Now down to the nitty gritty. Carter looks for a hero’s greatest weakness and exploits it until the character breaks. Listed below some of the more popular Disadvantages Champions characters take. Under each one is a method I used (Carter used) to get at the character. Just a friendly warning: some of these techniques may be considered by some GM’s to be “underhanded.” For those GM’s who feel that they should be fair and arbitrary (as I so often hear), I suggest they look up “fair” and “arbitrary” in the dictionary. Then, we can talk. DNPC For those of you who don’t recognize DNPC, it stands for “Dependent Non-Player Character”. I understand it’s a fairly common Disadvantage among players, but after this little stunt, I had a severe shortage of DNPCs in my campaign. One of my more resourceful heroes was a young lady named Malice. She was a martial artist who had a poison touch. She was fast, deadly and very lucky. She was also a big, fat thorn in Carter’s side. She was getting too close to his secret, so he decided to retire her. When she wasn’t running around in black tights, Malice was taking care of her aging grandmother. Grandmama was not too fond of those costumed heroes, especially that Malice girl. She looked like a hussy in that tight little costume. And what right did they have to do a police man’s job? Grandpa was a police man, after all (and the main inspiration for Malice to turn to a life of adventuring). In short, it would break Grandmama’s heart if she found out about her granddaughter’s secret. By now, you should be getting the picture. Just show Grandmama pictures of her granddaughter getting into the Malice costume and everything will be hunky dory, right? Wrong. When Carter does things, he does them with style. On Grandmama’s seventieth birthday, Malice took her out to her favorite restaurant. In the middle of the meal, one of Malice’s most hated enemies showed up on the roof with a bomb. Of course, Malice made an appearance. Her enemy (who knew she would show up) was prepared. He had a single agenda and he stuck to it. In the middle of the fight, he hit her with a paralyzing ray, ripped off her mask and threw her through the glass ceiling – right in front of Grandmama. The combined shock of seeing her granddaughter get thrown through the glass ceiling, fall fifty feet and slam to the floor was shocking enough. Add to it the realization that her granddaughter was that masked hussy was a bit too much for Grandmama to handle. Her heart seized, and as Malice watched on, trapped in her paralyzed body, her grandmother died. Malice retired the very next day and nobody ever bought a DNPC again. Berserk I love this one. Whenever I get to take a character away from a player for a while, explain that they’ve been unconscious and then have them wake up with blood on their hands is a chance to have some real fun. I had one of those berserking scrapper guys in my campaign for a short while. His name was Scrapper (I didn’t pick the name, guys) and he got hired on at US for only a short while. The player knew all the Champions loop-holes and he exploited every one. Instead of asking “What kind of idiot do you think I am?” I let him have his little combat monster, keeping a steady eye on his Berserk Disadvantage. After a couple of sessions, I got complaints from players. They complained that the character was nothing but a walking bundle of powers, a glory-hound and a bad role-player. I agreed, but asked them to be patient. After seeing a familiar wicked glint in my eye, they smiled quietly to themselves and waited for the hammer to fall. The next session, they encountered one of my favorite villains. His name is Mindbender, and you can figure out the rest. Mindbender took one look at Scrapper and he knew what to do. He invoked a little mental heavy artillery and before Scrapper knew it, I was rolling dice, making a regretful look and asking him to make his Berserk roll. Now Scrapper only goes Berserk when he sees red trolley cars (his mother was killed by a run-away red trolley car). He knew there were no trolley cars in Minneapolis and asked me why he was going Berserk. I told him he was seeing trolley cars wherever he looked and he had no choice but to make the roll – and make it at -5, at that. After all, he was surrounded by the bloody things. He failed the roll, went nuts and I took away his character sheet. At that moment, Scrapper starting attacking everything in sight, including his buddies. They had no chance but to defend themselves against a little rule-bending combat monster who was going at them full tilt. His little rampage caused a whole lot of damage and took out a small child’s eye before they got him under control. The parents sued US, Scrapper was brought up on charges of negligence and reckless endangerment of life and spent the next twenty years in prison. I suggested to Scrapper’s player that he should be more careful with his Disadvantages. Surprisingly enough, the next character he made was a little more respectful of the rules. Go figure. Psychological Limitations Some of the most powerful Disadvantages are “Psy Lims.” Codes of Conduct are always fun to play with. One of our heroes, a guy named Tristan Thomas who went by the name of “Paladin,” had a pair of interesting Limitations. He would not strike a woman, no matter what the circumstances, and he was a firm believer in The Law. He would not tolerate any infringement of the law, not in himself and not in others. Of course, this provided me with a whole bunker of ammo to use against him. The first thing I did was have him fall in love with a pretty little librarian Angie Isolde. That should have been enough of a clue for him, but unfortunately (for him), he didn’t pick up on it. You see, Angie was a “renegade super” named Vengeance. She had no license to practice and often found herself at odds with US. Neither of them knew their Secret Identities, and Paladin was beginning to develop a nice, healthy hatred for Vengeance. She had picked up on his “don’t strike women” code (thanks to Mr. Carter’s agents) and would somehow always know where Paladin was. She would chose the day and date of her attacks carefully, embarrassing him at every opportunity. As the rivalry between Vengeance and Paladin heated up, so did the romance between Angie and Thomas. When the time was right, Carter arranged for a subtle drug to get slipped into Paladin’s system that would drive him to the edge just at the right moment. He met up with Vengeance (right on schedule) and as she prepared for another opportunity to humiliate him, the drug kicked in and he started in on the unprepared super-babe. Needless to say, under his drugged state, he demolished the poor girl (he had 50 more points to play with, after all). When he gained control, he realized what he had done and watched as the police (who were conveniently called in on the scene by an anonymous tip) took off her mask and carted his beloved off to prison. Luck “Okay,” you say. “That’s just fine taking advantage of a character’s disadvantages. That’s no new trick. So what?” All right, how about using a character’s advantages against him? “Talents” can be a Champions character’s worst enemy. Luck is a great example. Players buy Luck for their characters all the time. Its like a little security blanket. It makes them feel as if they have something to fall back on if everything goes bad. The definition of Luck is “… that quality which helps events turn out in the character’s favor.” Okay, that sounds fine, but trust me, a good GM can find bad in just about anything. Remember, Luck isn’t contagious. Making a character Lucky does not make the whole group Lucky. Characters who buy Luck tend to be a little self-centered. After all, they would rather spend points on something that will get them out of trouble, rather than something that would compliment or aid the group. So, get the group in trouble, let the Luckster roll his way out of it, then make him wish he didn’t. It’s called “the frying pan and fire technique” and here’s how it works. Imagine the group getting hit by some area effect weapon. Of course, the Luckster wants to roll his way out of it. You tell him that’s fine and he makes his luck roll. He flies out of the effect and looks back to see his buddies frying. (Feel free to apply guilt here. After all, he could have grabbed someone to fly out with him, right?) Then, right after he’s out of the blast radius, have him notice that he’s flown right into a mob of supervillains, just ready and willing to pound on one lone hero. Let’s see him Luck his way out of a combined total of 1,500 points of hard-hitting villains. If only he had stayed behind … Or perhaps by Lucking out he’s put his buddies in deeper trouble. For instance, let’s use the area effect weapon again. Perhaps one of his powers could have countered the effect? If he had stayed behind, he’d have been able to help them out. But he chose to Luck out, and now his buddies are frying. Good thing he’s Lucky, isn’t it? Another example. The character is in an airport. He’s in the rest room and he stumbles across an envelope somebody dropped. He opens the envelope and discovers its filled with thousand dollar bills. Get you get any more lucky? Of course, the money belongs to a crime syndicate or something even more diabolical, and they’re going to be looking for that money and who “found” it (of course, they believe the hero stole it). And all of this trouble because the character was Lucky. Immunity Immunity gives a character supernatural immunity to diseases and poisons. It’s a very popular advantage. Of course, Mr. Carter had to do something about that. I had his scientists come up with a disease that would kill off anyone with the “super gene” that meta-humans had. Carter had a cure, of course. The only problem was all those super fellows who bought Immunity were, well, immune to it. Find Weakness My favorite trick has to do with Find Weakness. This little puppy lets characters observe their enemies to find a weakness in the defenses of a target. The better they roll, the more damage they can do. A lot of combat monsters take this one. I always let them. They only use it once. Carter designs supervillains with a weakness the heroes can exploit. These villains he calls his “throw-aways”: punks he can throw at the heroes to watch their fighting styles and skills. He shows the heroes films of the throw-aways and shows them the weakness he’s “found.” Then he sends them out to confront the baddie, armed with the knowledge he’s given them. They find the throw-away, engage him, find his weakness and hit him as hard as they can. This little strategy always has the same result. The villain’s eyes go wide, he mumbles something about forgiveness and the hero watches the life slip out of his eyes. Killing a villain is a major crime. Heroes are expected to bring the bad guys in alive. But there’s no need to worry. The hero can rest assured that Mr. Carter’s lawyers will take care of everything. The Retirement of Mr. Fabulous One last story that I can’t take full credit for. One of my players, my buddy Danny, came to me after a game session with a problem. He had been playing a character for the whole run of the game, a very popular character who went by the name “Mr. Fabulous.” Out of all my Champions campaigns, Mr. Fabulous was one of my favorite characters. He was a modest little superhero with just a little bit of super strength, speed and endurance and a whole lot of heart. He dressed up in a colorful costume and fought for truth, justice and the American Way because it was the right thing to do. He always took a morning jog along Hennipen Boulevard and a mob of kids would follow him as far as they could. He bought ice cream and hot dogs at the little mom and pop drug store on the corner for lunch and he always had time for an autograph. Oh, and he fought crime, too. That night, Danny told me that Mr. Fabulous was going to retire. He really loved the character, but he felt it was time to let him take off his mask and get on with his imminent middle age years. We talked about it for a while and I gave him a suggestion. At first he was shocked, but then, as he thought about it, he agreed it was the only way to end the story of Mr. Fabulous. We shook hands and the very next week, the event we discussed took place. Mr. Fabulous did indeed announce his intention to retire. Carter and US throw a huge party to celebrate Mr. Fabulous’ twenty years of fighting crime. The event was on the front page of every newspaper in the nation. On the morning before his retirement, Mr. Fabulous stopped in the mom and pop drug store for his ice cream and hot dog. A young kid with frightened eyes was there with a gun, taking money out of the register. Mr. Fabulous held up his hands and tried to talk the kid into putting the gun down. The kid, with eyes full of tears, lowered the pistol. For some reason, Mr. Fabulous’ Danger Sense wouldn’t stop ringing in his ears. He turned around a little too late and took a bullet from the kid’s older brother right in the face. The ambulance arrived ten minutes after the incident. Mr. Fabulous was found, barely alive and in shock. They turned off the siren five minutes outside of the hospital. The death of Mr. Fabulous was a dark day in my campaign. He was one of the first super heroes, a mentor to more than half of the members of United Superheroes. A national day of mourning was held and we spent an entire game session on the funeral, listening to each superhero talking about their memories of their hero. What did this accomplish? What does this little incident have to do with using a character’s Disadvantages against them? Well, every character has one single disadvantage in common, and it isn’t on their character sheet. Sometimes we don’t see it, and it often becomes invisible in a superhero campaign. That little Disadvantage is that each and every one of us is mortal. In the world of superheroes, we sometimes forget this. While each of us would like to live forever, it is often a character’s death that defines him, not his life. Mr. Fabulous died trying to talk a scared little kid out of doing the wrong thing. He could have pounded the hell out of him, but he didn’t. He died trying to stop a crime without using his fists. What was Mr. Fabulous’ Disadvantage? He had a Code vs. Killing. Carter found out about it and set up the whole incident. But this time, his little gambit backfired on him. He thought killing Mr. Fabulous in a simple robbery would dishearten the superheroes of Minneapolis. He was wrong. It brought them together, creating a bond that could not be broken. And he was sloppy. One of the heroes began digging and found out the kids were paid to commit the crime. It was the beginning of the end for Mr. Carter. But that’s another story. -John Wick hit us with Legend of the Five Rings CCG, then the L5R RPG. Now he’s sailing the seas looking for booty in Seventh Sea. Just don’t call him Long John – he hates that.