The Power of Zero

2007 October 3
by Vanir

There came a certain point in my gaming life over the last couple of years where doing big giant things got boring. That is, I’d been in a couple of campaigns where the characters got to epic levels and were throwing down ridiculous amounts of damage. It becomes an arms race, and the monsters and you progressively get tougher and more able to kill each other. It’s fun sometimes, but it lost its luster after awhile. So I decided to step away from the large and look at the small.

Paradise By The Continual Light

In the last campaign I played in (and that Dante and Kanati are continuing), I played a kickass bardic rock star named Bat Loaf. His stats, skills, and spells were not really set up for combat. He was a lover, not a fighter. I mean that in a very literal sense. In every town, he was hooking up with every hot barmaid he could find. I would add that we never got too far into roleplaying the details of these encounters — because, well, EWW. Suffice it to say that the process was abstracted into a series of Perform checks. Heh heh.

My bard’s love life is a tale for another time. What I will talk about, however, is how you can produce some very powerful results out of seemingly nothing if you just use your imagination. Being the lecherous dog that he is, Bat Loaf had a veritable arsenal of spells designed to aid him in his chosen lifestyle, including:

  • Feather Fall – Let’s suppose that Bat’s current bedmate sleeps on the second floor, and her husband walks in. There will be no hastily-constructed bedsheet rope and probable falling damage for this bard! He will float gently to the ground and hope he remembered all his clothes.
  • Percussion – Used during concerts…. and for mood music after the concert!
  • Easy Math – Used to quickly count the proceeds from his concerts, because he was always running away from someone due to his after-concert escapades.
  • Ventriloquism, Minor Image, and Ghost Sound – great for stage effects – and for convincing distractions when he needed to flee a lover’s room in a hurry.
  • Contraception – Surprisingly, the only spell I chose from the Book of Erotic Fantasy for Bat Loaf. He was, if nothing else, very practical in these matters. I’d have taken Remove Disease too, but it was not available to bards — so he found himself at the temple a couple times begging for forgiveness and relief from burning sensations.

By now you may be wondering what all this has to do with getting “powerful results”. Watch and learn.

Lost Boys and Gladiatorial Girls

One night, our party came to a village and Bat immediately set about his usual business of getting loaded on ale and taking the hottest woman he could find to take to his room in the local inn. The paladin of the party always spent the night in a local temple, cleaning everything to atone for his sins. It was at this time that our illustrious GMs decided to have the party captured and taken off to fight in some secret gladiatorial games run by an organized crime syndicate. Problem was, they just got everybody in the tavern at the inn – not Bat or the paladin. So, one GM went upstairs with the captured players, and it was up to Bat and the paladin to launch a rescue mission!

Once we found the place (it was secret, after all), we started talking to the people there. We weren’t getting a whole lot of answers because most were just there to bet on the games, but one guy told us the city guard shows up and runs everybody off sometimes. The place was heavily guarded and had wards against spells, so here I am thinking this is the clue to freeing my comrades — I have to make the bad guys think the city guard is coming so they all run away!

I don’t exactly remember what Plan A was for accomplishing this. I do remember it resulted in a big mess where I was confused about where the guards (who helped enforce the no-spellcasting rules) were relative to Bat and it ended up with him getting killed with a battleaxe after he cast a spell. Fifteen minutes of argument later, the GMs and I had successfully made our Craft(Compromise) check and they used their godlike powers to reset time to right before Bat cast his spell. In this new and improved timeline, I metagamed slightly and knew the guards would totally kill Bat with a battleaxe if he cast a spell inside the arena. (It’s just common sense, after all.)

Thusly, Plan B was born!

Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through

Bat went outside the arena, rolled around in the dirt a little bit and messed up his hair and clothes, and pretended to collapse at the feet of one of the guards outside the arena gates. But not before wheezing “the city guards…. they’re coming… RUN!!…..”. The guard didn’t so much believe him, which I found a little strange, but I went with it anyway. Not to be stopped, he crawled off and hid behind a nearby tree. Then he cast Ghost Sound. At Bat’s level, he could create as much noise at twenty normal human could with the spell, which was perfect for a believable city guard facsimile. Definitely enough to convince a gate guard that the sounds of angry soldiers coming over the ridge were very much the real deal – especially with Bat now screaming and running toward him yelling “I TOLD YOU!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!!!”

Everybody at the arena had a protocol for when the city guard showed up – they dropped everything and ran like hell. And so it was a fairly simple matter to free our friends, because they were still locked up in the fighters’ quarters near the ring and there was nobody guarding them anymore. A few monster encounters later and a ton of looting and we were on our way. We figured out the puzzle and won the day! Right?

Well, as it turns out, Dante and Kanati had an entirely different night planned for us. The captured PCs would get to fight and show off their skills in the ring, and exciting monster battles, lots of cool stuff. And it also so happened that they had a very special encounter planned in case of emergency to give the PCs a way to get free — the owners of the arena, knowing that the standard protocol when the city guard showed up was to drop everything and run like hell, would hire some mercenaries to pose as the city guard, not even telling their employees the truth. And then they’d pocket all the money people had placed as bets. All this was to have been revealed to us at the end if we’d talked to the right NPCs. But instead, my 0 level spell brought everything crashing to the ground, and we ended three hours earlier than we usually do.

This story has been clinically proven to stop “power gamers” dead in their tracks, and I have learned no fewer than three new four-letter words since it happened. This, my friends, is the power of roleplaying!

Use it wisely.

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