Gaming Tonic

Rules Mishap, What Do We Do Now?

imagesIt doesn't matter if I am running a game in Pathfinder, D&D Next, 4E, Champions, or any other game system, inevitably somebody screws something up.  It could be the way a spell works when it's cast, the way a certain power makes you move, or some other rule.  Somebody will screw something up.  You can count on it.  It can create a challenge for the DM, but it isn't the end of the world, although it might be the end of somebody’s character.  This happened in my Pathfinder game set in my homebrew world last week.

Okay, here is the setup.  The fey creature used a magic device to cast a spell on one of the PCs, a Dominate Person spell to be specific.  The character was in the middle of casting an Enlarge Person spell with him as the target.  The player rolled a save, failed it, was telepathically commanded to help slay the rest of the party, and joyfully followed the command.  Two rounds later, another player points out that the dominated PC is immune to the spell because he is an aasimar and immune to mind-effecting spells because aasimar is an outsider subtype.  Screeching halt to game right there.

Now we have an error in mechanics so how do we handle it?  We could press on and get it right next time.  Rewinding is another option.  Perhaps I could change the magic item that was used to dominate the PC into a more powerful magic item that would affect the character.  Each of these has pros and cons much like many choices, but should we establish a standard operating procedure that we use to handle rules mistakes in the future, or do we handle it differently each time this may come up in the game?

If we press on and just allow the character to suffer the effects even though their race is immune, the game doesn't have to stop and now we are all aware in case it comes up again in the future.  That will probably work unless the PC dies in the encounter and then the player will probably have something to say about just pressing on.  In this case it might be the best choice since it's really the responsibility of the player to know what defenses their character has, and to bring them up when they are attacked with something that doesn't affect their character.  The fact that the player was already casting an Enlarge Spell on his character, and that spell doesn't affect their character either kind of opens the door for this solution.  The immunity cuts both ways and the player agreed that this was acceptable.  Fortunately the player is pretty easy going and has been gaming for a long time so he has seen a few situations in his time.

The rewind option was the least attractive option for several reasons.  The first reason is there is absolutely nothing dramatic about a do over.  If you want to break the immersion and take everybody out of the game and into the world of mechanics this is the way to do it.  Lots of times the opponents have already revealed more of the powers, talents, and skills that they have available, and the first time around some of these were probably a surprise to your players.  They will not be surprised the second time around and the players will have their PCs in a more capable position to deal with them.  Sometimes this will make some of the opponents powers absolutely worthless.  The third reason is as the DM you are bound to make errors, and lots of times these errors are in favor of the PCs.  If you realize after the fact that you made an error do you rewind?

A couple of sessions before the Dominate Person incident came up one of the players maneuvered in a way during a particularly tough encounter to draw in a second encounter.  I totally forgot this until about three rounds later but didn't spring it then nor say that I was going to rewind because the PC should have probably been dead.  I'm not a bloodthirsty DM by nature and my players know that if one of their characters dies it is never intentional so I wouldn't suggest rewinding to hit their characters harder.  You already have enough ability at your fingertips and you can get them next time.

It was suggested that I could just change the Wand of Dominate Person to a Wand of Dominate Monster.  That fixes the problem at hand but has the potential to leave a much more powerful item than level appropriate in the hands of the PCs.  It also kind of rewards the players for not knowing the ins and outs of their own characters.  I'm a firm believer that it's on the players to know what their characters can do, because the DM has more than enough on his plate without having to memorize all the PCs in the game.  So this wasn't going to work for me in this situation although it is an excellent option to keep in mind for the future.

Oddly this rules error only resulted in one PC death and it was not the character under the influence of the dominate spell.  It was another play who also is a DM quite a bit.  He took it in stride.  I often seek his advice when we have issues at the table and this case was no different.  He also likes to change out his character pretty often so if anyone was going to get whacked it was fortunate that it was his character.  I am really excited by the next character he will be playing by the way.  I guess you could say it was a good PC death, if such a thing exists.

I'd like to hear how some other players and groups handle these situations or would've handled this situation in your game.  Do you think I should have done something else?  I seek the wisdom of the reader knowing there is no right answer for every situation and every group.  The comments section is your own personal micro blog so feel free to use it.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

Comments (8) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Ooof. That’s a tough one. I would see if the players were enjoying themselves. If the rules flub is now hampering their enjoyment, reset. If they’re enjoying the game regardless, keep going and fix it next time.

  2. just wanna point out, yes i was casting enlarge person… and that spell does not affect me…. but i do get to hold it in hand and hit others with it… what is sad is that i remembered that and forgot about the dominate….i think it was just my evil side wanting to run rampant. as for the overall i am still -2 to kill someones characters, lol

  3. I don’t think you should ever rewind the game. I will, occasionally, let a PC apply extra damage that he’s forgotten after his turn has past, but not if another character’s entire turn has also past. Winding back turns only drains the combat of any sense of tension; it’s just not worth it.

  4. I strongly believe that a person should know their character like the back of their hands. If you have played that character from the start then there is no excuse to not know what your character can and cannot do. The rewind option is never a good bet. Even some people from my group handle this type of thing differently. For example, there are some who are adamant that they should be able to apply the extra damage from the power they forgot to apply last round. I don’t believe that. I like to punish myself. I have activated auras that do damage to monsters every round and kick myself when I forget to tell the DM that this is so. I just chalk it up to having to remember this next time around, or even pay attention when it is the monsters turn….even when I am not being attacked. Lesson learned and guess what, I hardly ever make the same mistake twice.

    Great article.

  5. Anytime a character gets dominated, a couple of things happen: 1) The character being dominated is excited by the chance to take on the other PC’s. 2) the other PC’s do their best to not kill the dominated PC and continue the other fight at the same time. That being said, it’s very easy to forget about the little things your character can and can not do. In this case, most of us are playing characters and classes we have never seen before and learning the rules as we go. Chock one up the experience and learning and move on.Besides, we will have have more mistakes to correct later.
    As far as PC death goes, it happens. It’s not what anyone really wants, but without danger, there is no game. I might as well just let you tell a story with no interaction from me at all. Like story time in kindergarten.

  6. ROOOOOOOOOOK!!!!!!!

  7. Rewinding is always the last choice for me for those three reasons you pointed out above. I think you did right just pressing on after talking to the player about it. Ultimately, in my games where PC deaths are on the line like this situation I like to get a group consensus before ruling and pressing on.

    There is such a thing as a good PC death and this was it. Will you guys ask each other years down the road, “remember when your aasimar was dominated … etc. etc”? If you’ll remember it, joke about it, and laugh … then it was a good PC death.

  8. I agree with Alton. The easiest way (in my opinion) to maintain game immersion and pacing is to simply say, “Yeah, you’re right. Aasimars usually are unaffected by mind control, which is why you are now able to break free of it.” …And continue the game.

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