Page 1403 - To Err is Common

14th Jul 2020, 6:00 AM in A Canterlot Wedding, Part 1
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To Err is Common
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Newbiespud 14th Jul 2020, 6:00 AM edit delete
Newbiespud
It's a fundamental piece of metagame knowledge across many systems that player-characters and monsters are far and away more capable than commoners, implying training, magic enhancement, and specialization. Otherwise, anyone could complete the PCs' quest and anyone could stop a rampaging monster. There's a heavy emphasis on "only you can do this"-brand individualism built into the fantasy.

We're still chugging along with our weekly D&D games! This week we finished up our one-shot-now-two-shot in Theros. We hunted that monster.
The First Labor, Session 2: Podcast | Video

34 Comments:

Gamemaster80 14th Jul 2020, 6:04 AM edit delete reply
And yet when I try to get that across in my campaigns my players are always like "don't you have town guard?" "Can we get the guards to help us?" "Shouldn't you be sending soldiers to kill those goblins instead?"
Guest 14th Jul 2020, 7:25 AM edit delete reply
The D&D games I played in usually solved this by showing just how powerful the town guard was early in the campaign by showing them have problems in a "fair fight" with goblins, or other low level monsters. For example - our "Sword's End" campaign had the town guard nearly overrrun with goblins, until our plucky band of young teen heroes did an end-around and killed the goblin raid leader. Thus showing we were 'heroes' and getting us voluntold to scout the goblin invasion, and eventually recruited to STOP the goblin invasion. Thus leading to the rest of the campaign...

A different campaign had us as guerrilla fighters, fighting AFTER a draconic/evil invasion wiped the major armies. Again - after we were ranked up a little, it was painfully obvious to us why the "level 2 fighter" armies died in droves to the invasion. (In fact, my character became famous simply because I sat down and used a fraction of my treasure as a high ranking character to fund rearming and re-equippping a unit of volunteers with low level magic armor and gear JUST to keep the friendlies from dying in said droves. By the end of the war, they were considered the elite shock troops of the unified armies, simply because they survived enough battles that killed the rest of the mooks...)
Anvildude 14th Jul 2020, 3:22 PM edit delete reply
The problem that I have with that is that then you have almost literally nothing to stop the player characters from flaunting the law of the land in towns. And that way lies burned cities.

Personally, I prefer having it so that the players have power that literally anybody could have, but that they're just the ones that aren't tied down, or are reckless enough to go out and do stuff. Like, the town guard could handle the goblins, but they're too busy guarding the town.
Malroth 14th Jul 2020, 3:25 PM edit delete reply
Malroth
That's how I usually run things, The PC's aren't unsually powerful, just unusually insane.
Thor 14th Jul 2020, 11:00 PM edit delete reply
The biggest issue when you run a game like this is you must completely rework the economy/society to include the existence of common magic. If the players are NOT super rare/powerful in their abilities then getting level 2 or 3 spells cast on a daily basis is trivially easy for people with significant resources and available for people with more average amounts of cash.

Think about how a medieval setting changes if create food and water, cure disease, and basic healing magic are readily accessible. Or how politics/military conflict changes when things like message/sending are common.

This of course gets even more strange if standard guards are any kind of threat once the players reach mid level and get access to spells like teleport. Even if the guards are not all lvl 9+ the fact they can threaten the PCs means that at least some of them are. Even standard martial characters in D&D are terrifying in combat at that level compared to lvl 1 and 2 commoners. Riots would not be a threat to such a kingdom since 5 or 6 of the more powerful guardsmen could just wade into a crowd and start incapacitating/killing everyone with impunity.
Draxynnic 15th Jul 2020, 1:05 AM edit delete reply
The general approach I'd take is that the PCs are still special, but not SO special that a sufficiently powerful political leader (how powerful is 'sufficiently' depends on level and the scope of the campaign) can't put together a team that can challenge the PCs in a pinch. There may be consequences to diverting these assets to deal with whatever the PCs might be expected to do, so there's still space for the PCs to be heroes, but there ARE bigger fish out there if push comes to shove, even if the majority of most armies are composed of low-level grunts with nonmagical gear.

Generally speaking, though, this DOES require the existence of reasonably common magic. The prices for NPC spellcasting in 3.5, for instance, implies that such spellcasting is uncommon enough that it couldn't replace regular farming, medicine, and so on, but it IS something that the aristocracy can probably make use of.

(The Heroes of Battle supplement has an interesting discussion on this sort of thing, where it points out that for the price of equipping a mounted knight, you could also supply a low-level arcane spellcaster with a wand of magic missiles and a few scrolls of fireball...)
Malroth 15th Jul 2020, 12:53 PM edit delete reply
Malroth
A Warrior 4 in full kit can charge for 2d8+12 damage each round for 4 fights per day essentially forever, that wizard apprentice with a magic missle wand is dealing 1d4 damage per round for maybe 4-5 days then is useless. it's a case of the right tool for the right job.
Draxynnic 16th Jul 2020, 3:20 AM edit delete reply
True, but let's turn that around. A fireball or two from the wizard's apprentice will do 5d6 damage (or half of that, depending on saves) to warrior, horse, and possibly a few of the warrior's mates as well. The apprentice would likely also have their own spells in addition to the wand, possibly even including a level 2 spell or two if we're assuming the opposite number is a warrior 4. Doesn't matter of the warrior in full kit can theoretically keep going for years (and then pass on armour and weapons to their replacement) if they die in the first battle and the other side loots the corpse. A barrage of fireballs will do that, and even 1d4+1 per round can be painful when it's ignoring that expensive full plate.

Right tool for the right job is accurate, but it swings both ways. The classic knight or sergeant (clarification: in medieval terms, 'sergeant' was used to denote someone who fought as a knight but who didn't have the title) is probably the better options for regular low-intensity conflicts where there's low risk of the enemy holding the battlefield afterwards. If you're looking at a major battle, though... those apprentices with fireball scrolls could probably kill a lot of armoured men-at-arms, and the consumable resources they use are resources that the other side isn't going to be able to claim as spoils if you lose.
Draxynnic 16th Jul 2020, 3:34 AM edit delete reply
That said, the main point is to show the economic side of things as assumed by the prices in the core rules. A noble who's capable of assembling and equipping a troop of armoured men-at-arms can probably also use those funds to amass some significant magical resources, whether in the form of magic items or direct spellcasting services. A campaign where magic is supposed to be rare should probably involve prices for magic items and spellcasting services higher than in the core rulebooks.

Conversely, however, the pay for a trained hireling is 3sp per day, of which some is going to go into food and other expenses. The price of a remove disease (or other 3rd-level spell) is 150g. This pretty much puts such magic outside the reach of most commoners. Strictly speaking, an altruistic spellcaster could provide these spells for free, but they're apparently rare enough that those who do want to be paid can charge a premium.
Guest 16th Jul 2020, 7:09 AM edit delete reply
For us - it was less of a problem. Our party for the Sword's End campaign was mostly good aligned - and self enforced our behavior when one character got a little squirrelly. The "Wings of Death" campaign was magic poor, and most of the surviving towns had an evil occupying army with DRAGON air support on call- so getting noticed by the town guard was a quick way of committing suicide for you and everyone around you. (We had a near TPK early on that taught the survivors THAT lesson the hard way...)

I must also admit - my regular player groups generally have far more mature (aka older) players - so we generally didn't have the 'chaotic insane' ("I burn the orphanage") type players in the D&D campaigns. And the other games that did have those type of players, the party usually let Murphy's law and self inflicted karma handle them. ("OK - you set the orphanage on fire, but now you are surrounded by flames. The rest of the party is 'looking on in horror' and not helping you escape. What do you do?")
Nohbdi 15th Jul 2020, 1:44 PM edit delete reply
In one of my campaign settings (that I STILL have yet to actually get a group together long enough to play), the reasoning behind this is that the PCs are, literally, 'more than human' - although many might argue as to them being something LESS, as well.

Long and short, the average town guardsmen can generally handle small threats, like a handful of goblins passing by or a rampaging worg; against anything with more than, say, a 2 CR, however, you'd need somewhere between a full company and a battalion, and you'd likely lose men in the process.

Heroes, however - and the Crown is very careful to encourage the kingdom to call them such - are people who have willingly gone through various trials and rituals, which end with them literally having a piece of a monster grafted into their bodies and tied to their essence. Those who survive the rituals gain strength and power (as well as powers) from the graft, allowing them to actually stand a chance at going head-to-head with the bigger, nastier threats out there.

To keep these Heroes from simply turning on the kingdom and using their power to conquer everything in sight, the Church builds into the rituals a certain weakness - basically, if a Hero gets out of control, they send out other Heroes armed with weapons specially designed and enchanted to disrupt the ritual bonds (in other words, 'Hero-Slaying' weapons).

In all, it isn't a perfect solution to the world's problems with monsters, but it's working for now, and sometimes that's enough.
Jennifer A Burdoo 14th Jul 2020, 6:12 AM edit delete reply
My own intermittent campaign is like that - the players are part of the "specialist" company of the City Guard, the ones the rest of the Guard calls on when they can't even identify the monster, much less fight it. "Oh, a dragon's trying to nest in the City gates. Call the Queen's Own Troubleshooters, don't they have a half-dragon knight on the rolls?"

Adventurers don't make great guardsmen, but they do make good troubleshooters. Virtually any sort of character can be part of this unit, and I run what I've just learned is called a "Western Marches" style of game - that is, there is a greater pool of characters and any few of them can get together and adventure at any time.
you know that guy 14th Jul 2020, 7:22 AM edit delete reply
In Paranoia, the PCs are called Troubleshooters. They typically go to where the trouble is, and shoot it. And each other. And nearby citizens.

Of course, Troubleshooters differ from Adventurers in that the DM can simply order them to go to places and do things.
Jennifer 15th Jul 2020, 5:50 AM edit delete reply
That's one of the reasons this unit is called "The Queen's Own Troubleshooters." The Captain is an NPC questgiver; he seizes the party by the lapels, screams "HANDLE IT!" and throws them at the problem.
Digo 14th Jul 2020, 6:12 AM edit delete reply
With as many love songs as there is about suddenly finding yourself in love without warning, you'd think people would pick up on this... Of course love has a stealth skill. Cupid will sneak attack you in the heart when you least expect it!
Valorn 14th Jul 2020, 9:16 AM edit delete reply
I've never been a fan of the "only you can do this" or "chosen one" tropes, so I avoid them in my games. Instead I play it as the world is too dangerous for the town to be left unguarded long enough to have their own town guards deal with the issue. The players and adventurers like them are the only ones willing to risk braving the world outside of town walls for an extended period. If the players turn their backs on a quest, there's always other adventurers who the people can turn to.
Wulfraed 14th Jul 2020, 9:29 AM edit delete reply
*** Multiple part post as it exceeds the character limit ***
"""
It's a fundamental piece of metagame knowledge across many systems that player-characters and monsters are far and away more capable than commoners, implying training, magic enhancement, and specialization.
"""

And some rule sets are making that even more blatant... Digging up some ancient history here:

RuneQuest 2nd Ed:
Basically, a character starts at age 16, rules have a die roll for "background" (peasant 25%, townsman 35%, barbarian 25%, 3 levels of noble -- poor 10%, rich 4%, very rich 1%) which determines starting equipment and initial money. Everyone has a basic belt knife, but to start with a sword and armor requires one to be in the noble ranks).
After spending said starting money, a typical beginning character might have a sword, more likely is using a blunt club (tree branches are readily available), and has armor equivalent to someone wearing a piece of carpeting as a poncho. Motorcycle leathers would be heavy armor for a starting character.
They have basic skills, modified by their characteristics (a high DEXterity will increase manipulation skills, etc.).
To become an initiate in a cult requires passing a "test" -- for my favorite cult (Humakt), that is rolling under CHArisma*5 + Sword Attack % divided by 2, using %ile dice.
Sample weapon skills (16 year old): Dagger 25%, Mace 25%, 1H Sword 10%, 2H Sword 5%, Shield (medium) 10%
Wulfraed 14th Jul 2020, 9:30 AM edit delete reply
RuneQuest 3rd Ed:
Minimum age is 15 -- but normally one uses 15 + 2D6 to determine starting age. Background is replaced by Culture (D8: Primitive 12.5%, Nomad 25%, Barbarian 37.5%, Civilized 25%).
Based upon culture, one gets increased /base/ % in particular weapons. One then rolls for /parents/ occupation (tables specific to culture). Each occupation lists various skills for which the character receives from 1 to 5% per year of the 2D6 age roll. Characteristic based modifiers to skills also apply.
Characters also start with a list of equipment based upon occupation -- which often includes at least one weapon and some sort of armor.
RQ3 is primarily fantasy Earth, so initiate status is a generic %ile for Ceremony skill, and %ile for "religion specific" skills (closest match "War God") that means rolling primary weapon attack, primary weapon parry, secondary weapon attack, shield parry -- and succeeding at three of them.
Sample weapon skills (21 year old, I generated the character to match RQ4):(attack/parry) Dagger 51%/18%, Mace ? (Humakt cult forbids blunt weapons), 1H Sword 69%/28%, 2H Axe 34%/18%, Shield (viking round) 34%/48% (yes, this character is almost as effective "attacking" with the shield)
Wulfraed 14th Jul 2020, 9:30 AM edit delete reply
RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (aka RQ4, unless I missed a release in the last 20 years):
Standard character generation results in 21 year old character (and at a specific year in Glorantha!). Background/Culture is replaced with Homeland (chosen by player, though maybe limited by GM -- hard to be a Prax nomad if the GM is focused on a Lunar Empire campaign). Then one generates family history (grandparent and parent, occupations and events in Glorantha history) as some events may influence the characters attributes (reputation and "passions"). While occupation is normally inherited, player characters may choose any or roll on the occupation table (if parents didn't inherit from grandparents, player should come up with some story for the change). Finally four years of events for the character itself. The event/history tables have modifiers for homeland.
Then one distributes points among elemental runes (60, 40, 20, 0, 0, 0), while applying modifiers based upon homeland. Distribute points among "power/form" runes (opposed pairs; two pairs 75/25%, the others 50/50). Then distribute 50 points among any runes -- keeping the opposed pairs totaling 100%. It is recommended that one maximize runes compatible with the cult one intends to follow.
Roll characteristics -- two of which will be modified based upon primary (+2) and secondary (+1) elemental rune. Some homelands also affect some characteristics
Based upon characteristics one applies skill category modifiers (as with previous).
Skill chances modified by homeland (for sample character this includes +10 dagger, +10 battleaxe, +15 broadsword, +15 medium shield). Occupation modifiers (generated light cavalry) unit weapons (javelin, broadsword, medium shield) +25.
Assumes one is a cult initiate -- Humakt 1H sword +20, Other weapon +10; all cults +20 to one cult skill, +15 to another.
Sample weapon skills (21 year old): (attack) Dagger 95%, Mace (forbidden), Broadsword 115% (high enough to do split attacks -- two attacks at 52%), Battleaxe 45%, Javelin (as 1H spear) 40% (as missile weapon) 80%, Medium shield parry 90%
BackSet 14th Jul 2020, 9:39 AM edit delete reply
It is a well known fact that the PCs are the only competent good guys in the setting. And that's assuming the villain is any good at being a villain. And that the players haven't gone full on murder hobo and become worse than the villain.
Solitary Performance 14th Jul 2020, 11:08 AM edit delete reply
I can agree with the metagame knowledge -- a major city's guard is usually a bunch of Warrior or Fighters who are maybe lv2, the squad leader might be 3 or 4. Captain of the guard? lv6. The ruling monarch's elite guard? probably 4-6, with the captain of the elite guard probably lv7, 8.

The truly scary NPCs are the ones who are usually unique powered/positioned, like "The Queen's Champion", or "Grand Marshal of the Alliance's Combined Armies", who is probably built like, and might have once been, an adventurer... because that's when you deal with a like, Lv10+ character packing a suite of magical gear.
Story Time 14th Jul 2020, 11:41 AM edit delete reply
Any story about characters with stats that they should not have? Like a Barbarian Orc with high intelligence, or a Magician with more Con that a paladin?
Boris Carlot 14th Jul 2020, 2:20 PM edit delete reply
My elf barbarian had a point of Arcana because Daddy sent him to magic school before they both realised he had dick-all talent for magic. Was fun getting a natural 20 and lore dumping the mage and the cleric for once
Winged Cat 14th Jul 2020, 12:22 PM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
As Cadance, I might reply to that last panel with, "Since you got a 25, you can tell that it's at least a bit due to Dexterity. Clearly, Cadance has had her own adventures and leveled up since she babysat you. Presumably some of those adventures were with your brother, and he's no level 0 commoner."
Malroth 14th Jul 2020, 3:28 PM edit delete reply
Malroth
If she wanted to get away with it sure. She wants to bring suspicion on herself for whatever reason.
Digo Dragon 14th Jul 2020, 5:15 PM edit delete reply
Digo Dragon
Maybe not to make it too difficult?

Personal experience here--having someone else play as the NPC/BBEG makes the character a bit more dangerous than if I the Gm play all the roles. Part of that is players may know my GMing style and tales, but may be unfamiliar with the guest player.
Robin Bobcat 14th Jul 2020, 3:23 PM edit delete reply
We had a long-running campaign where it was explained that some folks are blessed by the gods. Not like, a HUGE blessing, but they're just a bit more special than everyone else. But at the same time, they get a lot more crap thrown their way.

Nobody knows how or why, and even the gods are silent on the matter, but some suspect it's part of an ancient plan to foil the forces of chaos without direct action.

You can *try* to live the life of a simple farmer, but it's very likely that trouble will find you at some point.

Most kingdoms acknowledge these sorts, and know that they tend to show up if there's problems. They can be a handful, but they're usually granted a bit more leeway than the average commoner - carrying weapons in public and so forth.

I will note our usual new character introduction is to have a blast of trumpets and an engelic choir sound from above. The new character will descend from above upon a shaft of light, a clear sign from the gods themselves that this person is to join them on their quest...

... the beam of light cuts out three feet above the ground, sending them face first into a mud puddle, because the gods don't want them getting a big ego.
SureenInk 14th Jul 2020, 3:37 PM edit delete reply
SureenInk
The way my campaigns are run are following some of the systems in 5e where the NPCs in the Monster Manual are actually decently powerful. For example, a lot of wizards in Volo's Guide are actually around level 7-10. In my current campaign, the players are just one group of adventurers, but they're also one of few adventurers who have been able to journey into the monster-infested city and return alive.
keybounce 14th Jul 2020, 9:45 PM edit delete reply
The real example of "PC competence" is seen in the EqG show where Twilight is fixing a boat that the boat staff are incapable of fixing.

Seriously, we see the mane 6 handling stuff that the ordinary background people should be seeing. What's next, assuming that only a farmer and a dressmaker can teach college classes?
CliffRobotnik 15th Jul 2020, 5:27 AM edit delete reply
Cadance, we're in a pandemic and your wasting food!?

For shaaaame!
RuBoo 15th Jul 2020, 7:12 AM edit delete reply
To be fair to Cadance, this is (presumably) set, like, years ago. No pandemics in 2012. Good times...
CliffRobotnik 16th Jul 2020, 4:58 AM edit delete reply
2012.... Feels like an eternity ago...

I wasn't Thirty yet.

God MLP has been a part of my life for nearly TEN YEARS...!?

God I feel old... Birthdays this weekend, so that doesn't help... Maybe I'll go finish those last three and a half seasons I skipped... At some point I just watched the premiers, finales, anything with Chrysalis, and any episode that confirmed or debunked a fan theory.
Mr. Guy 15th Jul 2020, 6:04 AM edit delete reply
In my games I tend to make adventurering a guild thing. At early levels the monsters threaten minor towns too small to have a guard and they depend on essentially mercenary forces like the adventurers for protection on an 'as needed' basis. Larger towns have competent guards, but they also offer bounties to dangerous or hard to track down targets just like real cities often did. I also don't force players into a particular situation. I try to craft something that would entice their characters to action, whether that involves earning money/prestige or appealing to their ideals. And I have a backup encounter in case they aren't interested in the main one. This did get one player mad once, as he thought the back-up encounter was just me railroading the main encounter
ArtQueenAnna 15th Jul 2020, 10:21 AM edit delete reply
Usually, what I do with my scenarios when I DM is to have the local guard/any "competent" NPCs have abilities based on what's around them. A small backwoods town with maybe a couple of wolves and bandits will have a town guard much weaker than say, one from a city with a large bank vault that would attract thieves.