Friday, September 2, 2011

Abuse of Power: A Survey!

What is the biggest screw-job you've ever perpetrated against your players as a Referee?

What is the biggest screw-job a Referee has ever perpetrated against you as a player?

I want to qualify "screw-job" for these purposes... I'm not talking about something stupid you did when you were 12, or "The GM is a dick" style power trips.

I mean above-board, belongs-in-the-game screw-jobs.


  1. As a referee, I don't tend to screw my players too much, but the following spring to mind:

    - pitting 1st-Level PCs against a fearsome owlbear (plenty of things around its lair that would have helped them easily defeat it, but one PC decided to try and befriend it, and was eaten);

    - imprisoning the high-level PCs in a 'zoo', thus ridding them of their items and forcing them to think their way out;

    - sticking them in a ruined mansion and then having them shift time-zones by moving from room-to-room or be triggering spells, splitting the party; did this again in a different campaign, with an old temple, one ruined, one at its prime with lots of snake-people.

    As a player... nothing really springs to mind. My DMs tend to be the non-screwy types. The only thing that I can think of that sort of counts, is staring the current game in a cell without any equipment, at first level.

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  3. Several years ago, in a 3.0 game, my sorcerer was killed by a dwarf fighter in our group due to an inter-party conflict that had been brewing for several weeks.

    The problem was that I had to work late, I wasn't even there when it happened.

  4. As a DM I assigned a "guardian angel" to a Paladin that was really the demon Pazuzu in disguise. The campaign aborted before I was able tp actually drag him down to the Lower Planes Faust-style, but dude was eating up the extra benefits of angelic assistance.

    As a player I was in a superhero game where we needed the Golden Plates of the Joseph Smith to save the world from some Cthulhu-esque entity. My guy, an anti-hero type, figured we'd have to steal 'em. Our team was distrusted like the X-men outside our home town, so I felt we wouldn't get an appointment with the elders of the LDS Chruch, much less convince them to entrust us with their most sacred objects. Turns out the GM did intend us to walk up and ask the dudes. By swiping them we tainted the Plates wth our sin, rendering them useless in the fight against the nameless horror.

  5. As a DM, I think the biggest was having an Assassin who was a hot chick in a tavern pick up her target (one of my best friend's favorite fighter PCs), take him upstairs, have some fun, then IIRC (it was about 15 years ago) had him roll the assassination percentage. The Fighter was later raised, and was much more careful after that.

    As a player, I can think of a couple of "DM just being a dick" situations, but nothing springs to mind of actual, by the rules sorta stuff you're asking for.

  6. i wanted to rescue a woman from a slaanesh altar hidden in some woods, while the other characters created a diversion. i managed to sneak into the camp and to the altar (fully aware of the danger and feeling that i'd spend a fatepoint soon.), but promptly realised (aided by several obvious remarks from the dm) that i would be unable to make it back out again unnoticed while carrying a semiconcious, obviously heavily drugged body.

    i figured that a mercy killing was better (for her soul, that is...) than being sacrificed to a chaos god, so with a little prayer to sigmar on my lips i quickly slit her throat and got away.

    at the end of session i got negative xp for this act, as the dm claimed it was murder... :/

    can't remember any of my own dm-screwjobs. that's the players job. :)

  7. I was running Champions back in the day, and a player created a character who wanted a vicious but non-lethal attack. We sat for about an hour working out how to do this in game terms.

    Finally, the player got a chance to play and to use this nifty weapon. After the battle, I had him sitting in the back of a black and white while the patrolman asked him:

    "Do you have a permit for that thing?"

    His expression was priceless.

  8. Well, I can't think of any real "screw-job" I have done as a Referee. Though my players would say doing "Death Frost Doom." I Guess I did amp it up a little by putting it in Ravenloft.

    The biggest screw-job wasn't done strictly or completely above board, but enough was done that I grumbled and continued to play the character was an elven ranger I was playing was forced to abandon a principal of "ratting out" another player. Before this, since the beginning of the game, that same character was given a ring that turned out to be the key to enter Myth Drannor--and was kept alive to get the players there.

  9. I ran a campaign in which the players were a band of brigands and cutthroats, i.e. a typical group of PCs, but with no illusions about how what they were doing wasn't murder and robbery for personal profit.
    From the start of the campaign, the PCs were looking for a certain magical item - a bottle, that was supposed to grant wishes. The party spent the first part of the campaign scouring the city looking to obtain this bottle.
    Eventually they find it, and open it. It is not, as one might expect, a genie bottle. Rather it is a gateway device for a Mephistopheles-type, who appears in a cloud of smoke. He does, indeed, agree to grant them each a wish, in exchange for the standard payment. The players were understandably reluctant. Mephisto spins a good line, though, and the PCs are already deep in the shit with another faction also looking for the bottle, so eventually they agree. They forgot to specify a time for their end of the bargain, though, so the devil takes their souls on the spot.
    This is not a TPK - it turns out you can live without a soul, you're just Damned. Dogs growl at you. Horses shy away. Food turns to ash in your mouth. Also, you gradually waste away until you become an undead creature. In order to delay this last effect, the party are forced to sell several years of their lives to a witch, in exchange for charms to ward off their inevitable destruction. This gives them time to try and track down and restore their souls.

    We never finished that campaign, but I still consider it one of my best set-ups, and certainly my biggest screw-over. If I run a game for a different group who decide to play an evil party, I'll probably do the same thing.

  10. In what was our second annual Halloween Hellfest, I brought an adventure that was inspired by Robert Howard's "The God in the Bowl". While it was a game setup to be incredibly tough session, I gave the "big bad" a few abilities that continually left the players out of reach.

    That session ended in a TPK. Hey! Look at that. The third annual Halloween Hellfest is almost here.

  11. I don't know if this is what Jim means, but I'll put it out for you to decide.

    It was a mega-dungeon and the players were in a section inhabited by demon possessed marionettes: doll golems. They were at one end of a long tunnel that had a light at the other end. This caused them to stop in their tracks and decide what to do, which of course spurred a wandering encounter check.

    Lo and behold, a short, fat marionette comes walking down the hall with a note inviting the players to tea. The players eventually make their way to accept the invitation.

    The scene is a tall (for a marionette, 3') queen doll preparing the table. Sitting there are some other dolls and two deceased members (still dead) of the party they left behind the previous session.

    Is it really a surprise if I told you the tea was poisoned? Of course not, but here was a chance to get some info, providing the players were not poor guests, and drank the tea. And they did get some info while they stalled as much as they could. Then one player actually went to drink it, but another knocked it out of his hands before he did, and a combat broke out.

    I think that was above-board but a screw-job nonetheless.

  12. My biggest screw-job was an unintended but logical result of a situation I created:

    There was a great and powerful city which had grown around a stronghold built by an extremely high-level Lawful Good Cleric and an extremely high-level Neutral Good Magic-User.

    The guardians of the city were a large force of high-level Paladins who rode Bronze, Silver and Gold Dragons and were armed with Wands of Disintegration.

    A Wand of Disintegration had the range and to-hit modifiers of a heavy crossbow, but could be fired once per round and did 10d6 damage.

    But, if a Wand of Disintegration was hit by the blast of another Wand of Disintegration, it would explode, doing all the damage of all the charges still in it, with a blast radius of 10 yards per charge.

    A PC followed one of the Paladins until he was alone, managed to kill him, and took his Wand of Disintegration.

    Later, he used that Wand of Disintegration on another Paladin.

    Other Paladins -- and the PC -- were within the blast radius of that Paladin's Wand of Disintegration.

    Other Paladins were within the blast radii of those Paladins' -- and the PC's -- Wands of Disintegration.

    And so on, and so on.

    The resulting crater was several miles across.

    And the seismic shock eventually caused the whole continent to sink.

  13. Total setup involving a player's primary character getting assissinated. (We play Pendragon and backup characters are a necessity to make it through the gaming session.)

    The player character was a vassal knight to a Countess in Dark Ages Britain. A princeling of the invading Angles paid a diplomatic visit. As the princeling made his way back home the knight, unbeknownst to his Countess, ambushed and murdered the princeling. Unfortunately, a couple of retainers escaped back to the Anglish king and reported the incident. That winter, enough assassins were sent to the knight's manor estate to overrun the place. Burnt down the manor and killed everyone inside, including the knight's wife and kids. There really was no hope for the knight unless he rolled an amazing series of critical success, which didn't happen.

    The only surviving family member was the knight's eldest son, who was a page at the Countess' keep at the time. Last gaming session the son reached the age of majority, was knighted, and is now the primary player character for this player. Another case of character death furthering the gaming experience.

  14. There was a wish-granting mirror that could not fail to grant a wish. Because my PC's family and village was wiped out in a battle between two mages, I wished away the existence of all magic, divine and otherwise, throughout all universes.

    The party was, at the time, escaping the temple through a magical tunnel and some were flying toward the roof.

  15. Way back when I was running a Rifts game, sometime in the halcyon days of the early 1990' of my friends at the time was a real munchkin type...he was always getting on my nerves, rules lawyering, insisting on rerolling bad dice rolls (which was like every other roll for him)...just fighting me all the I had him meet up with a dragon transformed into a human. They got into a fight, and my buddy didn't have his mega-damage armor on. During the fight, I rolled a natural 20 for the dragon in human form, and ruled that the dragon knocked the PC's head off! My buddy was pretty pissed at that. The rest of the players were very amused at the turn of events. Later that day, being a somewhat minor artistic talent, I drew up a picture of the dragon knocking the PC's head off and hung it up on the wall at my buddy's house. Yeah, looking back, all of that was pretty dickish. But is it justified when dealing with players who themselves are being dicks? Is it ok to fight dickishness with dickishness? ;-)

  16. Is it ok to fight dickishness with dickishness?

    I say do unto others as they do unto others.

    So, yeah.

    Dicks deserve to be treated like dicks.

  17. recently I had an NPC turn one of the characters into a bucket full of talking, magical water (bucket and all). Probably the biggest screw-job in ages, but in context it was mostly justified.

  18. One of the players wanted something different. Between games we came in to agreement that his new character was indeed a dobbelganger who worked agaisnt other players. Sabotage like leaving during wilderness trek guard duty with flimsy excuse and watching monsters get a suprise round, things like magical items and gold getting mysteriously lost between sessions when there is plausible explanation like thieves in city etc. All treachery culminating in planned betrayal after great fight when he murdered several party member and escaped.

    Other players where becoming increasingly paranoid towards all NPC's but none really thought that one of the players would be DM's accomplice.

  19. Biggest as referee: Pitting two first level magic-users against a direwolf. They had to win to prove themselves innocent of witchcraft. No one dared to cast any spells, so they were slaughtered in a few rounds.