Campaign Restarted

After what turned into a much longer break than I had expected my campaign is now back. You probably don’t care that much about my personal game, but it is in my game that I play through all the adventures that turn up in the Rolemaster Fanzine. No regular game means no playtesting and that means no fanzine content.

We played the first Tuesday in January, and that was mostly getting back into the characters, working out where we were, and I brought the characters virtually up to the front door of their next encounter.

I have misplaced a player, at least temporarily, so the party is now two player character fighters, a former player character rogue that is now an NPC, and the only non-human is a centaur healer, who was always an NPC.

My game has restarted because the game I am playing in Shadow World is taking a break. That was my Druid under old RM2 rules. My Druid is 5th level, possibly pushing 6th once we get the final experience.

Our group now has four GMs, one running Call of Cthulhu, one running 5e, and two Rolemaster. We are playing every Tuesday, alternating one RM game with one of the others. Right now it is CoC and RM.

Do Powerful Magic Items Spoil Games?

This is an observation I have made over the past 30 years. When a character is given a powerful magic item it seems to have a negative impact on the game as a whole.

The GM we have just finished with is the kind of GM that don’t kill characters, it is very hard to die in his games. His villains are more likely to take the opportunity to escape than to press their advantage and kill characters. He enjoys high-level campaigns and big battles against powerful foes. In one game we started session 1 at 10th level. It is only in the final session of the campaign, the final battle that the gloves come off and let the dice land where they will.

Given that this is a GM that actively tries to save characters, in each of his last two campaigns, there have been two character deaths, and they were both effectively character suicides. Where the player has said that they don’t want to play that character any more. The reason in both cases was that one character with a powerful magic item had made the other character superfluese. This happened not once but twice. In both cases the players talked to the GM, created a new PC that was not going to have to live in the shadow of the other character and rejoined the game after their original character was killed.

I have seen players get very upset or feel their character is suddenly underpowered when they lose a powerful item that they have become accustomed to.

A GM I used to play with many years ago used to enjoy throwing characters into rivers or in the sea, and then washing them up on the beach or bank without half of their equipment. It was his way of resetting the magic item economy. He did this once and one player left the game and never returned because they felt robbed.

Players who knew the GM was used to these regular inventory resets and took them in their stride.

I would honestly say that I have never seen a game improved by powerful magic items.

I tend to not give out items where the bonus is more than +5 more than the characters level. At 5th level you may get something that is +10, and +15 at 10th. It means that I can frequently give a magic item as a reward, knowing that it will still be an upgrade from what went before.

I recently saw a character at 4th level given a +30 broadsword that did x2 round so of Stun. +30 is a huge bonus anyway, but if your opponent of almost constantly stunned that is almost a +60 bonus (+30 + another 30 for being stunned) and you rarely ever need to parry because they cannot attack you back.

I suppose the problem is at its worst when only one or some of the characters have these over-powered weapons, those without will always be overshadowed by their allies.

In the game with that+30 sword, most of us would just parry and wait for the uber-fighter to come around and kill everything. Even the other fighter in the party would just parry every round. We all became bit parts in the story, which is not what RPGs are supposed to be about.

I suspect that this is only really a problem for items that have a lot of utility. Swords get used almost every session, something that allowed you to transform into a great white shark would be less useful but could be a lot more powerful.

4 thoughts on “Campaign Restarted”

  1. First of all, I always love hearing about the personal games of people on this site (and others). It helps give perspective in terms of the secret boons and pitfalls of GMing that you’ve come across. Speaking for myself, keep these anecdotes coming!

    I tend to agree, although my experience is far more limited. I constantly refer back to my first two major campaigns that ran for several years, but the second campaign started when my group and I hit college, and we were far more mature as gamers by that point. We essentially had leapt ahead several thousand years in the world I had created and it was a far stingier item economy, and the game was far better, in my mind, as a result. Player decisions mattered more because they didn’t have all-powerful tools at their immediate disposal to solve or circumvent problems.

    Player responses are always mixed. Two players took it in stride, while one who is far more of a min/maxer, seemed to rail against the new economy a bit. Ultimately though, I feel this is something that players have to adapt to over time… much like the frog in the boiling pot.

  2. I’ve always stuck by a rule close to what you mention, Peter, but I think that has more to do with my gaming background (which, as I’ve mentioned before, skews very heavily into non-magic and often modern or historical settings). When you’re running a non-magic game, bonus items are quite rare or nonexistent, so I’ve always been reasonably aware of their impact on the game. My games are also relatively low magic, so the odds of a high bonus item floating around without some kind of strings attached (it was the honor weapon of a particular dwarven clan, for example, or the signature weapon of a particularly vicious rogue who learns of its location and wants it back…) are pretty low. I’ve played in games where that standard didn’t exist, and they got dull pretty quickly. On the flip of that, my first RM game was with a group that practiced full party reset (in other words the GMs tried to kill off the entire party) once you hit fifth level. Not much fun.

    I’ve also noticed players with a min/max mindset tend to have the most trouble with a restricted item economy. Luckily I’ve had few of them in my groups, and I tend to discourage that behavior in any case. It may be fun for them, but it’s usually no fun for anyone else in the group.

  3. Me too has seen gaming groups turning sour over items either not working as expected or failing and/or break outright because of failed saves.

    i am not a player-killer, but still like to show them (with mercy) their errors in singular obsessions.

    i have been tortured myself by GMs even as a noob first-timer in some rpgs, to show me that over-specialization/-confidence/-reliance can cause an abrupt end and/or a short lifetime of a character.

    me thinks that every gaming group has a story of the over-specialized weapon-type fighter loosing his favoured death-maker and being reduced to a literal meatdoll in combat.

    i can only chime in that those with a min/max mindset (tend to) have the most problems with that subject, but also the rare quite the opposite, embracing their errors and literally failing forward reasoning that it is only a game having fun nonetheless.

  4. I’m with you on that as well Peter. First, if one has something, then so should everyone else or your players risk having little to contribute. Second, you as the GM end up having to superpower every encounter to match the magical items or it all becomes too easy. I do break the +5 rule though with some items but the bonus is always balanced by a negative. e.g. I might give you a +20 OB magic weapon but it has a summon undead spell on it constantly pulling peril into the path of the party.

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