Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two Rabbit Tattoos Argue About Immovable Rods

Left Rabbit Tattoo: "Let's talk about immovable rods."

Right Rabbit Tattoo: "Only if you promise not to make dick jokes."

LRT: "I swear, on our mother's teats."

RRT: "I don't like giving my players an immovable rod.  It breaks the game.  There's too many ways for players to abuse it, and it makes certain encounters trivial."

LRT: "I like the immovable rod!  There's a bunch of powerful ways to use it, but none of them are obvious.  They all require the players to think."

RRT: "It doesn't matter.  It's too powerful, and not in a predictable, numerical way.  And by that, I mean that it makes their characters irrelevant.  It doesn't matter if they are a wizard or a rogue or what level they are.  The power of an immovable rod is mostly uncoupled from the numbers on their character sheet, so that makes their character irrelevant."

LRT: "You'd rather the PCs have magical weapons that are tried to their character sheet?"

RRT: "Yeah, because that makes it more personalized and more predictable.  Like a sword that does +1 damage for every spell the wielder has memorized."

LRT: "That sounds way less interesting than an immovable rod."

RRT: "Not if all of the caster's memorized spells flicker through the sword when it is swung.  The side of the blade looks like a Korean music video."

LRT: "Okay, I guess that sounds a little cool."

RRT: "And when you stab someone with it, their wounds bleed motherfuckin' snakes."

LRT: "Point taken.  Mechanically predictable items can as interesting as the immovable rod.  But they don't have the same strategic possibilities."

RRT: "I agree that the strategy of the Korean music video sword is pretty simple, but I can come up with some very interesting items that synergize with other party member's abilities to make complex tactics."

LRT: "If I can't make dick jokes, then you can't talk about synergy.  And anyway, that's the opposite of what I'm talking about.  The stuff you can do with an immovable rod are all big picture ideas, and they're all highly situational.  You can only use it to destroy a train if the train is stationary, for example.  And those strategies rely on creativity, outside of the character sheet."

RRT: "Those strategies turn it into a game of How to Solve Problems with Physics, instead of the characters that we are actually supposed to be playing.  And I disagree that predictable magic items preclude outside-the-box creativity.  A magic hammer that does double damage against prone people inspires lots of creative thinking about how to get enemies prone."

LRT: "That's not creativity.  You just look through the rulebook for all of the ways and weapons that can knock people prone, and situations where you can set up a tripwire."

RRT: "Obviously we have different definitions of creativity, then."

LRT: "Totes McGoats obvi, natch."

RRT: "Look, when I design a game, I design it to be awesome.  Seeing the emperor enter the city in his hummingbird palanquin is awesome, even though the PCs have the agency to go fishing instead.  But as a DM, I spend a lot of time thinking about how situations are presented and approached.  Fights atop a moving train are awesome.  It's less fun when the PCs pull an immovable rod out of their ass and crash the train with it."

LRT: "It gives more player agency, though."

RRT: "Player agency isn't the highest priority, though.  Fun is.  And anyway, I don't think you should define player agency as 'giving players enough tools to fuck up your game' anyway."

LRT: "I have fun as a player when my actions impact the game more.  And yes, I love it when players have the power to fuck up my game."

RRT: "But in this hypothetical situation, derailing the train frees the demonic elephant-slug chained up in the caboose, thereby creating an unwinnable encounter.  I'm not going to remove their agency if they find clever ways to derail the train, but the fact is that the players would have more fun if they had just fought the lich-dervish on top of the train like I intended.  And if would have an easier time making encounters that everyone would enjoy if you would stop giving them items like immovable rods."

LRT: "I'm going to give them all immovable rods next session.  They're going to fight an immovable dragon that breathes immovable rods."

RRT: "The train thing was almost a TPK.  No one had fun."

LRT: "C'est la vie.  The PCs should really have checked all the cars to make sure that there wasn't a demonic elephant slug in one of them."

RRT: "That's not their job, though."

LRT: "Then you shouldn't have put it back there, as the DM."

RRT: "When the players have so many tools at their disposal, the number of dramatic, awesome ways I can present things drops.  When there are so many entrances into a garden, how do you prune the central tree so that it looks most dramatic when it is first viewed?"

LRT: "That's true.  Conflicting design goals, man.  Fact of life, just like how the strongest bridge isn't the cheapest bridge or the prettiest bridge.  I mean, fuck, have you seen that bridge?  That's a seriously ugly bridge.  It looks like it fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down."

RRT: "I feel like we're getting off topic."

LRT: "Don't you hate it when you think you fart, but instead you accidentally shit on a nun?"

RRT: "And anyway, this talk isn't about the power of magic items, its about their predictability.  Items don't have to be chaotic to be awesome, flavorful, and character-defining."

LRT: "I'd rather give players that freedom, though, even if it means giving them the freedom to make their games slightly less fun.  Because agency is hella fun on its own.  It's not just the DM making dinner--you've gotta give players a chance to add their own ingredients to the stew."

RRT: "I've had your stew.  It was like getting my tongue stuck inside a dead turtle."

LRT: "Gross, dude.  Stop doing that to turtles."

Joesky Tax: Korean Music Video Sword

Magic sword that does 1d6 damage, unmodified by Str, +1 for every spell you have memorized.  All of your memorized spells are displayed on the side of the blade when it is swung (clearly visible to enemy spellcasters).  The wounds created by this weapon bleed toothless snakes.



  1. That made me giggle.

    I'm wit the Left Rabbit Tattoo. I like things like the immovable rod. Sometimes it makes a nice break to play Solve Problems With Physics instead of Solve Problems By Rolling Dice Until You Get A High Number.

    I also think Solving Problems With Physics is closer to old-school play. Iron spikes to keep doors open, Triggering cave-ins to kills too-powerful monsters. Disarming traps by weding them closed or blocking them up or refastening the tripwire, rather than just rolling disable traps skill.

    That's all good stuff. Also immovable rod-type items, as in your discussion, open up more options. Korean Music Video Sword gives a nice mental image but for the wielder it mainly just means Bigger Numbers On Dice. I don't mind if it doesn't tie directly to a charcter sheet - a reative player can probably find ways to us it in their class that another class cannot (a thief can use it while climbing! A wizard can levitate it up and then tie a rope to it! etc)

    Finally , it puts proper Speculation into your Speculative Fiction - like all the best fantasy ramifications are explored for things that do not exist in our world (as opposed to simply Medieval Times but with More Special Effects). Giving players a chance to explore those ramifications make for more interesting and meaningful fantasy worlds.

    (For an example look at things like the Dwarfish Device artefacts in late Discworld books - a small, slow moving perpetual motion machine with infinite torque looks unassuming but has the potential to change the world. This is fantasy as awesome engineering).

    Would I just give out an immovable rod? No way. I'd probably save it to higher levels, it would be difficult to get, it would be a big deal when found, and I would probably take it away again at some point. But while it's there, it serves as an excellent sword for untying some Gordian knots in your campaign.

  2. Instead of immovable rods, why not have rods of 500lbs resistance? For that matter 1/4 weight and 1/4 size bags are interesting alternatives too.

  3. Immovable rods can be limited in all manner of ways: giving them limited resistance, limited charges or time to function, making them leak slowing aura or have a risk of breakage and creating a stasis bubble if damaged while not activated. Obviously, it creates more ways to "break the game", if you just give such rod to players, without at least considering, how it could be used in your module.