Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Temptress got an Upgrade

I had the rare fortune of being reviewed and recommended by Bryce Lynch over at Specifically, he was looking at The Face of the Temptress.

He liked my innovative approach to possession and cursed items in "Temptress." And that was a good feeling.

On the other hand, he felt my approach to realizing my idea was "weak." He had three complaints.
  • He found that my rules were scattered and disorganized; they required too much page flipping.
  • I didn't provide guidance besides a comment in my Afterword about changing the theme.
  • He felt that Bassanta and her gifts were an uninteresting choice of villain and gifts. They, in his estimation amounted to a theme of "pretty girl."
As you may have gathered from my reviews, nothing makes me more impressed than a writer who takes criticism in stride and uses it to make their game better. So now its my turn. 

If I am going to talk the talk, I had better damn well be ready to walk the walk.

So I took two days to rework Temptress to try to address the criticisms.

Scattered Rules

I am so used to embedded rules from playing 80s modules, the idea of compiling barely occurred to me. When possible, I repeated the rules for Bassanta multiple times, and cross-referenced where I could. But yeah, it is hard to get the big picture that way.

  • I put Bassanta's chatacter profile and stat block right up front.
  • Rather than trying to compress every ability and power into AD&D-style pseudo-narrative description, I broke it down into independent, discrete sections for each major ability, like in D&D3e or later.
  • I put simple, clear page references in the events rather than embedding the rules.

Tools for Changing the Theme

I created three alternative villains as appendices to the module. Each has different goals and desires, but each wants to steal the body of a PC that suits their tastes. They each are tethered to a different artifact, offers different gifts, and threatens with different curses. They each have different requests that, when met, let them give more gifts and take fuller possession of the PC target. 

Each one is similar that, hopefully, they can serve as a jumping-off point for building your own "Tempters" that can slowly trick the PCs into giving away their selves to a friendly-seeming monster.

The "Pretty Girl" Criticism

I found this criticism more aesthetic than technical, but a wise man never throws away feedback out of hand.

I made Bassanta a Temptress for a major thematic reason: 
  • The point of the module is to put the PCs in contact with a villain that tricks them into slowly surrendering their own priorities and morals in exchange for powerful gifts.
  • In time, if they kept relying on this villain, they would have everything taken.
  • I wanted there to be warning signs that the PC was losing control... like abusive behaviour, threats, etc. at first; the proverbial red flags.
  • If that wasn't enough, then they will start finding themselves even looking like the villain.
  • Possession was never to be stolen player agency. I wanted the choice to say "No." Be valid and easy almost up to the end. And when the PC is in too deep, just asking for help is all they need to do.
This is an example of Social and Relational Violence in action. Something I have seen a lot of in a previous career. In mythology and literature there is an archetype that captures this behaviour. The Temptress is the embodiment of emotional and social violence. She is a very obvious choice to me.

Of course, The Temptress pretty much only has social abilities to work with. Charisma, not Strength, is her weapon. And her gifts and teaching needs to reflect that. I focused on Charisma boosts, subtle mind control, money, and power to reflect it.

Most monsters that are traditionally temptresses in Dungeons and Dragons are very poorly handled. Harpies, mermaids, rusalka, and succubi have some simple charm spells or mind control effects, rather than giving them means to actually tempt or seduce. Much of what I am trying to accomplish is correcting that oversight.

To me, it seemed on that an obviously abusive, manipulating character can be dismissed as just a "pretty girl" is confusing. Although, that is the power of abusive women in real society, too. Some people are very quick to dismiss a pretty girl as nothing more. People are often blind to bad behaviour thanks to the innate "lookism" and "sexism" of human beings. Maybe that my subtle abusive vibe with Bassanta is a mix of normal biases and me being too subtle.

So to fix it and make sure Bassanta was as malignant as can be, I did a few things:

First, I provided a role playing guide with some limited discussion of the behaviour of an emotionally abusive character and how to tailor language and attitude to simulate it.

Second, I put in a brief discussion of temptresses in mythology with a list of accessible examples from around the world. These first two solutions were meant to give context to both why Bassanta is not just a pretty girl and why she has the abilities that she does.

But neither of these address whether or not abilities in Dungeons and Dragons that change the social context are valuable enough to even make Bassanta's gifts anything more than making the PC yet another "pretty girl."

To help with that I thirdly included a simplified version of the NPC reaction mechanics from OD&D and AD&D. This ia one of those mechanics that made Charisma far more valuable and illustrates how the temptation to accept those powers works.

With the powers offered by Bassanta, the PC targeted for possession is likely to be welcome wherever she goes, be greeted by friendly faces, and get information for the party effortlessly. In a campaign rich in intrigue, time spent "in town" or where encounters with humanoid NPCs are common, this iscquite valuable. Of course, in a campaign spent in dungeons slaughtering monsters, it might not be so useful. But I should hope poisonous breath might be valuable in any campaign.

Personally,  my campaigns have never stayed underground, and my players highly value Charisma. But I can see how that might be considered weak. Hopefully, the reproduced NPC reaction rules will make the value more clear. If not, hopefully the inclusion of Cha'arg will appeal.

1 comment:

  1. 1) Rules. There's nuance here. Rules go where you need them. For a room? Next to the room. For an adventure you may pick up once a session to run another event? You want to put them somewhere where the DM doesn't have to hunt through the adventure for them, so, not inline with the event but rather somewhere else easily referenced. (Or, indexed/cross-referenced, etc. IE: easy to find/consult.)

    Pretty Girl
    My comments here were no so much on the villain but on the motivation of the player. The temptation aspect is the core mechanic here. You are tempting with "wanna be pretty?" And thus you also have a Pretty Girl villain to go along with that theming. But it's not the villain thats the issue, it's what you're tempting the players with: being pretty. This, combined with targeting females characters, lends to the idea that "GIRLS WANT BE PRETTY" I think you're on the right track, anyway, but maybe there was an exploration of CHA instead of COM to be had? I don't know; I think it's rough ground to explore. Heightened COM as a distraction from hightened CHA may have been a good route to explore, to turn this on its head, as yor follow up notes.