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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Broken!

There is a term among gamers for when a given thing or rule is unacceptable within the general parameters of the rule. It first became common with Magic: The Gathering, for a card that unbalanced the game to the point where you either had to house-rule its use, or issue more cards to deal with it.

That term is "broken."

One of the first cards I ever saw that was considered "broken" was Mana Drain, a blue interrupt that allowed you to not only counterspell any card, but enabled you to use the mana your opponent used to cast it... to fuel a NEW spell you could then use AGAINST him.

In particular, I remember a quote from one of the developers discussing this card: "The entire R&D team would have to be hit by a bus before we'd reprint Mana Drain."

I understand the card's back in print now, as a rare. Or was. Because Mana Drains are back in use, with new art. Plainly, someone decided sales were more important than game balance. Then again, considering how many new sets come out per year for that game, perhaps game balance is just something they don't give a shit about any more.

I have found myself pondering that lately, since someone brought to my atttention the time I vetoed a spell in use. The spell, Benign Transposition, a first level spell, allows the caster to switch the position of two allies.

I was aghast. A FIRST LEVEL TELEPORT SPELL? WHAT THE FUCK WAS THIS?

I'm an old-school player. Back in first edition, it was made clear there was a REASON wizards had four sided hit dice: it was because they never got outdoors or got any exercise. They spent all their time studying, writing, pondering, reasoning, and memorizing. Magic was hard, and it took some serious skull sweat to wrap your head around.

This is why first level spells were little things like Tenser's Floating Disk, or Magic Missile, or Sleep. Simple things. And it was all a first level spellcaster could do to force ONE of the things into his brain. It took time, and practice, and experience, before a wizard could manage more complex matters. Hell, the text for illusion spells made this quite clear: if you can't visualize it effectively, you can't create a convincing illusion.

This is why Teleport is a fifth level spell -- more complex and far-reaching than even the ever-handy Fireball, or Lightning Bolt. After all, you're literally folding the fabric of space and time, here, and ghod help your victim if the wizard drops a decimal point while he's in between locations. The results of teleport screwups were inevitably ghastly (at least in editions prior to 3.5). This was NOT easy stuff... which is why a wizard has to be ninth level or higher in D&D 3.5 in order to even consider it....

...and even in 3.5, an extremely player-friendly environment compared to previous editions, it's possible to get hurt a little if you screw it up. Admittedly, taking 1d10 points of damage is pretty minor compared to "reappear phased inside solid object, instant death," but, hey, times change.

...which brings us back to Benign Transposition. A first level spell permitting the teleportation of two people, without error, without allowing for attacks of opportunity, just poof. So simple an apprentice could do it.

So... apparently, teleporting a person to a place that contains nothing is a FIFTH level spell, but SWAPPING two people the same distance is a FIRST level spell? And the second spell allows it to be done without error? Automatically? WTF? I'm sorry, that's just not sufficient. Perhaps it should be WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK??!?

Man, I can think of a million things that could go wrong with swapping two people in midteleport...
Teleport successful, but the players are wearing each others' hats.

Teleport successful, but the players are dressed in each others' clothes and gear.

Teleport successful, but the players have switched minds. Players must now exchange character sheets until they can figure out some way to undo this.

Teleport unsuccessful, players switch HEADS, system shock roll for survival.

Teleport wildly unsuccessful, both players arrive at one of the destinations, fused together into an abomination. System shock roll for survival; players' creature type is now "abomination."

Teleport somewhat successful, both players are now fused with their body lice on the genetic level; roll on the mutations table (insect parts) once per day for the next three weeks...

...but some dipshit game designer out there thinks this is a first level spell.

Regrettably, I missed this spell when I allowed the Spell Compendium to be used in my game. And it surfaced at the worst possible moment: when the players thought they'd found a clever way to save the day.

And I said "Fuck, no." And naturally, they called "foul." After all, it was in an official WotC supplement, wasn't it? And I'd said they could use the supplement. Naturally, I was just being a dick and running them down with the plot wagon...

After some thought, it occurred to me that I could see how they could arrive at that conclusion. After all, it would have completely derailed the finale I had in mind, at least as far as saving the "damsel in distress," so to speak...

It made me wonder how I could have fixed the situation. Let them pull it off? Thus legitimizing a thoroughly "broken" first level spell? Or put my foot down, and have them think I was just being an asshole?

Where's the win, here?

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