Players will always surprise you. That’s something you learn as a GM and something you have to be prepared for – things not going as you foresaw or anticipated. In an established game this can be a cause for concern for a GM who lays careful stories and plans for key moments.
But in game testing, where you want things to break, so you can fix them, it can be a boon.
I’m having to come to terms with a game breaker in VANGUARD – Timeloch. Timeloch is an esper ability that allows the player to control time – time travel in narrative is hard enough, but at least the story moves with the time travel – but timeloch allows for bubbles of suspended time, within a continuous time stream.
I love the idea of a timeloch esper, and I don’t want to take it out of the game – but I definitely need to tighten up the rules surrounding this profoundly influential ability.
The problems have been coming to light as one of the game testers is a rather powerful timeloch, capable of creating bubbles of static time at a distance. This has allowed him to suspend enemies, block incoming ballistic attacks and avoid all sorts of other damage and danger. And while I commend his use of the ability and clever ingenuity it is obvious to me that I’ve let it go to far. The rules for the abilities are clear in terms of what the timeloch can do – but not so much in what they can’t do. And I am to blame for the game break here as I let the player manipulate the ability in ways that I had not anticipated or planned for – so I could see where it would lead.
As an example: this character timeloched an enemy combatant, moved in close and killed the enemy with ease. Now the description clearly states that any object that comes in contact with a timeloched object becomes subject to the same time loch so in practice he should have been timeloched the moment he tried to touch the enemy and if I’d played it that way there wouldn’t have been any issues.
But having allowed the attack to go ahead I set a precedence which I’m now going to have to reverse, something I don’t like doing.
But this and other uses of the ability in the game test has bought up loads of questions concerning how this ability should be administered. Are things caught in the timeloch still subject to external influences such as fire, heat, other esper abilities? While in the wording of the rules a bullet shot at a timeloched target would be halted in the same timeloch the moment it touched the target – does it then continue on the same trajectory and velocity it had once the effect wears off? And what if an esper with pyro-kinetics decides to melt the target in timeloch -are esper abilities beheld to time when activated?
Do these issues even need to be clearly laid out? or should it be up to each individual GMs interpretation and how they want to play it? I’ve been GMing for a long time now and one thing I try to do in designing mechanics is ensure that there is as little stress on a GM as possible, the least amount of confusion and reason to break play to have to consider possible outcomes of one decision or another – but as a game designer you can’t build in every scenario, because the players will always find a new path to lead you down.