• Jonah Elliot

Mind Control, and why it sucks.

Ever play Diplomacy?

I played it once. We didn't really finish. I was pretty proud that, as France, I managed to take over England, making that particular player whine about how he didn't want the Beatles to sing their song in French.

A friend of mine told me it was the game that broke up marriages and ended friendships. I mention this because I'm going to get into a feature of RPGs that I think is just about as effective in messing up your group and getting players pissed off at each other, messing up their own friendships and screwing up your game group. That element is mind control.

I'm not saying mind control is necessarily a bad element. But it's something the players should use on the NPCs, or that the villains use on the players.

It's when players would mind control their other characters that things got messy.

This is one of the many flaws of Vampire the Masquerade I found fault with. They even had a name for it: the Blood Bond. When someone else drank the vampire's blood three times on three separate occasions, they were under a sort of subtle mind control. Disobeying the vampire's request would cost willpower, and you were pretty much their puppet, with very few exceptions.

Now this was handy for a Vampire to create his own servants and protectors. But it worked on other Vampires as well. And then only player would get the annoying idea of binding the other players to his will, usually in as sneaky a manner as possible. And once it was done, you only half-controlled your character from then on. You had to look to askance to Fred across the table to give you permission before you took any substantial action.

The results? Usually wanted to bash Fred in the face for ruining your fun.

I'd like to say that Dungeons & Dragons was free of this particular nuisance. But I had a friend pull it off before. Oliver played some kind of cleric that was able to give subtle suggestions to other characters to go to services at his "church" and sitting through enough of these enabled him to force a saving throw when you wanted to take an action against his ethic. Since I was playing a pretty selfish Charlatan and this was wrecking havoc to my character concept. After all, I was playing a character to rip people off and con them, not to be mind controlled by the local Jehovah's Witnesses.

This pretty much wrecked that campaign. Fortunately, our campaigns rarely lasted more than a few sessions anyway, though gradually we started bleeding members through shennanigans like this.

The thing is, dominance is attractive to a certain kind of player. That could be why a lot of us play RPGs. Not as storytelling, but as power fantasies. I can't control my boss, my professor, my family. But I can pretend to be a badass Enchanter who can ensorcel everyone around me, make them do as I command. That might be a little fun when it's the innkeeper, but how much more awesome if I can literally do it to my friends, sitting around the table with me?

His friends may think otherwise, of course.

Maybe it had to do with our age. High School kids and college students probably enjoy this sort of mischief. A more mature campaign, however, likely would need a few harder limits. Thing is, I'm not sure how one would enforce this as a gamemaster. I'd want to discourage it, of course. But I suspect the counter would be "I'm not killing him. I'm just making him less of a threat to me. Why's that a problem?"

The problem is people's fun. Thing is, if this goes on for a while, the game no longer becomes "A party against the dangers posed by the game master." But instead "A party at each other's throats, as each player fights the others for dominance." In which case, the GM might as well sit back and just adjudicate a slug fest or series of mind games between the players.

Which I've done.

And I'd prefer not to do that again.

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