Impractical Applications (A Tale of Two Controls)

Earlier this week I riffed about RPGs and mind-controlling the PCs. Unlike many of my subjects, I’ve seen that both go wrong and go right, so it’s a lot easier to put a few “do”s in with all my “don’t”s and the occasional “never ever not even then”.

The one of these that set off Tuesday night’s riff just happened in our Saturday D&D game. Scarcely two minutes into what was looking like a perfectly interesting diplomatic encounter (a tea ceremony, in fact—an uncharitable part of me wonders if our GM got cold feet about this whole concept as soon as it started), we found ourselves attacked by various nasties. A turn later, we discover that the rogue’s possessed, inexplicably raging, and attempting to attack the guy we were trying to have tea with. There was mistake 1—the combination of raging and a set target, as the player would explain after, was dead boring. (Given we were all pretty sure that weapon finesse and rage are mutually exclusive, it was also bad tactics on the part of the possessing force. Tsk.)

We weren’t, as far as any of us could tell, without options. With the exception of the NPC ranger, who goes after the various things attacking us, the party goes into damage control mode. It’s not that we shouldn’t have had options, mind—when you’ve got one party member packing dispel magic, and another who may not have prepared magic circle against much of anything but can provide something that always has one… well, yeah. But for some reason, the magic circle’s hedging out of mind control effects didn’t happen, which seemed particularly egregious when the beguiler threw her considerable arcane knowledge at it, nat-20′d and (probably to discourage applications of Dispel Magic) was told that it was something ridiculously powerful, on its home turf/plane/whatever, and probably next to impossible to do anything about. The fact that the guy whose life we were trying to save had a suicidally bad understanding of tactics did not help. And even the GM, at the end of the session, apologized for the fact that it had involved railroading—but it didn’t seem to serve any dramatic purpose. (We’re going to have Words, let’s put it that way.)

So I started looking through my memory for situations of mind control done right, and I hearkened back to the Exalted game in which I played Tuyet. The GM had an encounter he really wanted to arrange, and it required that our first attempt at Doing Something about Tuyet’s treacherous x-times ancestor failed. Somewhat irritating, but I liked drama, I could live with that. Then, in the middle of the fight, Tuyet gets successfully tagged with a “You are my ally and you are going to help me” effect.

This one fit most, if not all, of my rules of mind control. It was definitely interesting, both in a dramatic sense and in the sense that there was a lot to do—attempting to signal that she was being controlled (we had a telepathic communication, so she was saying one thing on it and another out loud), trying to prevent her great-ancestor from being attacked by her friends, trying to prevent her friends from being hurt by the ancestor. The conclusion was practically foreordained, but I didn’t really care; it was a mental exercise and a pretty good challenge.

6 comments

  1. UZ says:

    Is it wrong that I read that title and assumed that this would be a story about someone being mind-controlled by two different people at the same time?

    Mind control is always the best. There’s a villain, a brain in a jar or something, and they’re controlling someone with the incredible power of their gigantic intellect. And then what do they tell their mind-puppet to do? “Get them!” Gigantic intellect, no imagination.

    How about, “Mind-puppet! I command you to:

    1) Disgust them with terrible innuendo!
    2) Kick this puppy on my behalf!
    3) Tell them that they have to give themselves up for reasons that you can’t adequately explain at the moment!
    4) Begin a heartfelt soliloquy about how nobody understands you!
    5) Confess to an unforgivable crime that may or may not be true!
    6) Use all of your most expensive consumable items on them!
    7) Make puppydog eyes at them!”

    Every mind-control villain should have a good list of options, especially if the person they mind-control is too weak, clumsy or emotional to be any good at “getting them” in the usual way.

    I ask that every reader add a few items to this list, would you kindly.

  2. Ravyn says:

    In the case of Situation A, we agreed later that it would have been an awesome session if a. there hadn’t been a fight going on and b. the controlling entity had arranged for Ormand to start attempting to sabotage the tea ceremony, requiring us to try to explain away his breaches in etiquette (possibly without being entire sure which part of what he did was offensive or how best to excuse it) and to try to make him stop and figure out what was going on. Room for everyone, including the interfered-with player, to have a field day.

    (Though looking at your list, “disgust them with terrible innuendo” could have been an excellent subset of that…)

    I want to deal with your antagonists.

  3. UZ says:

    If my current PbP comes off right, the main antagonist will be trying to save the world by manipulating all of the local greater powers into having babies with each other.

    You would not believe how much skirting this will entail.

  4. Ravyn says:

    If that’s the antagonist, what are the protagonists doing?

  5. UZ says:

    Being good people with insufficient information :) It’s a bit complicated. See, the antagonist’s context has to do with a combination of heredity of traits and the old fantasy notion of gods being empowered by prayer.

    The players’ context, on the other hand, has to do with the common cause of civilization and the reasons why people would continue to behave morally when the enforcement of their code (as say with a Paladin) turns out not to be as strict as they’d thought.

    See, 80% of paladins are more or less serial killers barely kept in check by the threat of losing their huge powers. Imagine what would happen to the average paladin if they discovered – secretly mind you – that they didn’t lose their abilities when they broke their code of behavior?

    The two contexts do relate, but it is a bit obtuse to explain in a paragraph. Basically, the head god left, but the prayer machine is still running and empowering the nearest thing to it. The antagonist is trying to develop enough prayer demand (hence babies of demigods) to reduce the amount of power being fed to the thing. She originally wanted to seize control of the prayer machine for herself, but it was during that attempt that she found out about the thing, which changed her priorities a bit.

    So, she’s been encouraging the local demigods to have babies together by various means, in the hope that by a few generations later one of them will come out 100% god. Honestly it’s the kind of silliness I usually write about; I’m waiting to see if I can use my big biological punch line at the end, and it’ll all have been worth it. :)

  6. UZ says:

    Chronological note: This campaign tanked at the 3% mark, so the world will never know my genius. Curses, and so on!

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