March 16, 2010
And yet, presenting a group of players with the ability to have something they know they should not accept can add a new dimension to role-playing. Some of the best struggles seen in books and film center around a character fighting against his darker urges. Will Luke Skywalker give in to the Dark Side? Will the hero kill the villain in revenge or abide by the law?
Including this aspect into an RPG can provide for more choices for a character, but there are a few things to consider.
It has to be clear from the outset what crosses the line; what constitutes giving into the temptation. In most games killing creatures is acceptable and expected. Killing of “innocent” creatures may cross a line. The trick is to set hard boundaries ahead of time and let the players know what those are.
Is killing a grocer crossing a line into the wrong side? Is killing a grocer who cheated you acceptable? Is killing a grocer who is possessed and trying to kill you acceptable? These are all variations on killing a grocer and some may be allowed and others not.
Announcing that a player has crossed over after an action when he did not expect it, is not a part of temptation. If a situation arises where a character can cross the line he should be warned of this fact before he commits the act. Temptation involves a character making a conscious choice to cross a moral line.
There has to be a reward the players want. It has to entice them. If crossing a line gives nothing in return then there isn’t any reason to give in to the temptation. It also has to be strong enough to overcome any negatives that making the choices entails.
There is a wide variety of rewards possible. Bonuses on an out of character level are popular; small bonuses to certain rolls such as hit or damage. There can also be role-playing advantages such as access to new spells or abilities that only those who walk on the “dark side” have the ability to use.
There has to be a noticeable consequence for accepting the temptation. If giving into temptation has no negative aspect to it, then there is no reason to not give to the temptation every time it comes along. Again the consequence has to be strong enough to make a player hesitate about giving in.
Consequences of a role-playing manner need to be harshly enforced for it to have any effect. The goal is to present a system of choices where taking the benefit is something done rarely. If players get to the point where they feel the consequences are minimal then it becomes a no-brainer to take the benefits. Players should be hesitant and fearful to use the system. This will add a sense of risk-taking and of making serious choices.
In my current 4E campaign the characters are all offspring of demons. The theme of the campaign is them trying to come to terms with this, as well as trying to control their demonic side. To facilitate this with game mechanics I devised a system for allowing them to tap into their demonic heritage, but with a role-playing cost.
The following is how I presented the information to the players [I have added some comments and insights and these can be found within this style of brackets]:
Blood Points (BP) allow you to do things beyond normal ken. Every time you choose to gain a BP you can gain a bonus to a roll or do other unusual things. [This simulates their demonic side giving them power beyond a normal person.]
You may not have more than 10 BP at any point and therefore may not choose to gain a BP if it will take you above 10 BP. [This is a limitation to how often they can make use of these bonuses.]
If you currently have any BP the DM may, at any time, force you to take an action not of your choosing. You are allowed to make a normal Willpower save to not do the action. If the action happens, you lose 1 BP. [This simulates their demonic side taking over and their willpower keeping control. Of course if their inner demonic rage is not released it stays within them until later. If it is released they have in effect purged part of the demonic taint. Actions I would force upon a character usually include attacking or killing of innocent NPCs. This leads to further consequences within whatever community they are visiting.]
You must keep a running total of how many BPs you have ever gained. Every 10 BP gained will cause you to gain 1 ASP. [ASP = Alignment Shift Point. Each ASP gained moves them one step closer toward Chaotic Evil at which point they become an NPC; one which I can use against the rest of the party at a later point. In effect, the ultimate consequence of giving in to the temptation of using their demonic abilities is the loss of their character.]
• Gain +1 to hit and damage roll for one attack.
• Gain +1 to saves for one round.
• Gain +3 to a skill use.
• Reroll one die roll. You must keep the new roll.
• Spend a Healing Surge.
• Gain a critical after rolling a successful hit.
• Regain the use of an Encounter ability.
• Succeed at a skill use.
• Regain the use of a Daily ability.