Why no mandatory Sense of Duty?

by mshrm

At one point, early on, when I was seeing the amount of treachery and back-stabbing going on, I speculated about the possibility of making “Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions)” a required trait. I had done such things in the past.  The “Supers 1200” game had a package of required traits just for being on the team, and a recommendation for Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction that was so strong as to be a requirement. (“If you do not have this, you will die in the first two seconds of your first real superhuman combat.”) The “Space Cowboys” game had the loose arrangement that all PCs were either family members, or hired hands, which had consequences for what traits one could purchase. I didn’t enforce a rule that any family member had to be dedicated to the family’s well-being, but that’s how it worked out. The players enforced their own rule, there.

When it came to Dungeon Fantasy, though, all I did was speculate, the one time. I never actually instituted the requirement. I felt it went against the sandbox nature of the experiment. The idea is to give the players as much power to decide — as much agency, as they say — as possible. In the words of Uncle Al, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”  My goal is to set up an interesting series of environments and inhabitants of those environments; how the PCs interact with those environments is entirely up to them.

So it follows that if the PCs want to find comical ways to step into the grave, they should have that freedom. If the party is fighting itself, as well as the monsters, I expect an overall drop in treasure extracted, as well as life expectancy. If the party is working well together, covering each other’s weaknesses and reinforcing each other’s strengths, using sound tactics, they’ll walk right over any monster I throw at them, and get rich doing it. I don’t need to wave the all-powerful wand of the GM to make that happen, it just emerges from the variables naturally.

One example came up, this past session, when the seasoned pros told the new recruit the tale of how Needles gave up a fortune by trying to keep the treasure to himself.  Acting alone, he was able to score 25cp, all for himself. Tax-free, you might say. If he had shared the loot, the gem likely would have been identified as magical, sold for ten thousand copper, with a share coming to 2,000cp each.

There’s a reason Jed’s new mantra is “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

In the meantime, since they can’t count on the Immutable Word Of Ghod* to say that every applicant is trustworthy, the party has again started enforcing its own rules. They’ve hammered out something resembling a charter, with the ground rules that the party operates by. Rather than hoping that every party member has uncharacteristically warm feelings for one another, they’re going to spell out expectations and police themselves. You can bet, if PC X is caught stealing from a fallen comrade, rather than honoring that comrade’s will (“I leave all my stuff to my next character…”), PC X will shortly wind up dead at the bottom of a pit, and PC X+1 will get the story of how PC X was swallowed whole by a purple worm, instead of any inheritance.

* * *

* This should go without saying, but:  They really shouldn’t trust everything I say, just ’cause I’m the GM. I’m an unreliable narrator, at best. I’m just reporting the evidence of their character’s senses. I try to shove off as many rolls as I can to the players, but I always try to roll the “what do I know” and “what do I see” rolls in secret, so I can give them false information if they crit fail. My NPCs lie. My truthful NPCs are often wrong. I just promise not to lie about the meta-game stuff, like “town is safe” and “stick to the templates”.