Path of the Banisher Issues

I've got a player in my ongoing FS2-based campaign who is playing a Thief, who has picked up a couple of Advances from the Path of the Banisher. Specifically, Blunt The Crane's Beak and Stave Off Monkey.

Both of these are attack-nerfers - the first reducing damage on an ally by 5 points (meaning only a really serious hit is going to have any effect once Toughness is deducted), and the other completely nullifying any successful attack upon him.

The problem is that, rules-as-written, as both of these are Interrupts (1 shot for the first, 5 for the second), there is nothing to stop the character using them every time he or an ally is hit, effectively making himself invulnerable, and his allies almost so. The fact that he ends up using all his shots to do so doesn't stop him building up yet more 'interrupt debt'. (And, if he does have any shots in a fight, he uses them to provide Defensive Boosts.)

The end result is that fights are now tending to drag on, as the opponents can't take him down, and have a very hard time damaging his allies, and those allies just slowly wear down the opponents.

I know one solution is to have some kind of ticking clock which means they need to resolve the fight quickly, but it seems artificial to have one in every fight scene.

Has anyone else encountered this, and do you have any other suggestions for dealing with this?

A few ideas, most of which, like the Time Pressure, aren't things you can do every fight, but could mix in from time to time:

  1. Blunt the Crane's Beak says "one of your nearby allies". So another situational option might be to have the fight scene take place in two different areas at once, with the PCs needing to split up a bit.
    1b. Prodigious leapers taking the battle to another rooftop.
    1c. There's a busload of civilians he needs to go protect while everyone else tackles the big-bad.
    1d. A battle inside a building with clearly defined sense of which characters in what rooms, and possibly two different interior locations the PCs need to get to at the same time.
    1e. Combine one of the above with a Foe Schtick that throws the victims far away even if they take no damage. You blunt his attack, but now that character is forcibly moved to the other part of the battle.

  2. It doesn't do anything about Chase Points, so throw in a big chase scene to mix things up.

  3. Environmental Damage is unaffected. These powers target actual directed attacks, not static damage or Resistance Checks. So set the building on fire!
    3b. Have a runaway vehicle crash into the building!
    3c. Battle in a toxic chemical factory!
    3d. A fight in a minefield!

  4. Give them a reason to want to use their shots for something else.
    4b. Have an enemy call-out and challenge the PC with these powers to a duel.
    4c. Throw a foe at them from their backstory / melodramatic hook that they might want to deal with personally.
    4d. There's a single GMC that the baddies are trying to assassinate, so the PC has to play bodyguard and spend all their interrupts protecting just that one Supporting Character, not the other PCs.

  5. Attacked by a supernatural critter that is immune to damage except from the chosen one of the ancient prophecy... who just happens to be this PC. Everyone else does zero damage.
    5b. Maybe it's angry ghost of the character's ancestor's, so only their bloodline can put them to rest.

  6. A major Boss might have flaming fists or a magic weapon, represented by a custom Foe Schtick that says his damage can't be reduced or prevented.
    6b. Or maybe the Boss is also a master of the same Fu Path, so he knows the secret to cancelling your methods. (Plus, he can use the same methods himself to prevent damage to his Mooks.)

  7. The foe might have a baleful magical aura that does environmental damage to everyone nearby. If you attack this foe, you take damage. If you prevent or redirect this foes attacks, you take damage. So the PC can still use their powers, but each time it is at the cost of personal danger that they can't prevent.

  8. A variation on time-pressure: Instead of it being that you have to end the fight in a hurry, it's that something happens at set predictable moments. Like a scything blade or wrecking ball that swings through the room on a regular frequency, or a rhythmic pulsing of energy from a magic item or scroungetech device: Everyone knows that this will happen on Shot #8 of every Combat Sequence this fight. Anyone who is acting on Shot #8 can automatically get out of the way with an Athletic Stunt or a high Action Result, but if you don't get to take an Action on Shot 8, you instead suffer 20 points of Environmental Damage. He'll still be able to do the little one-Shot interrupts, but will have to take at least one 3-Shot action each Sequence, and not really be able to use the 5-Shot interrupt much at all during this fight.
    8b. The room is flooding. At some point each Sequence, everyone must spend a 3-shot Stunt to keep their head above water. At the end of the sequence, if you haven't done at least one Stunt, you suffer 5 wounds (doubling each Sequence as per the rules for Drowning in the environmental damage section). It doesn't require timing your action to a specific Shot, but it does require you saving a few shots for activity instead of spending negative every round.

  9. If all else fails, you could talk to the player about it, and come up with a house-rule to solve the issue. If you present it as "clearly, the game's designer's weren't think that you'd choose to go infinitely negative on initiative and never take a direct action yourself," most players will acknowledge they've found an unintended exploit. Once they're on the same page as you, you've got a few possible house-rule fixes:
    9b. You could impose a limit on how far negative they are allowed to spend themselves in Shots. 9b1. Maybe a rule that they can't take a shot penalty greater than their Speed? 9b2. If that's not restrictive enough, you could rule that "Once you're into negative Shots remaining for the current round, you're only allowed 1 more interrupt".
    9c. You could add a Fortune cost to the power. 9c1. If that's too harsh, you could put a cost on it the same way Prodigious Leap works: "If your current Fortune is less than 2, this costs 1 Fortune". And then, in some sessions, you put in challenges that are likely to leave him Fortune-deficient.

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Thanks! All good solutions (which I'm now kicking myself for not thinking of!) They've not yet gone infinitely negative, but the way things were going, it looked like only a matter of time, so I wanted to be ready for it.
It's a recently-joined player with a new PC, so it wasn't an issue I've had to face before in this ongoing campaign - in the previous two years, the PCs have been a lot more interested in laying on the smackdown!
Thanks again!

(I should mention that they've also come up with some pretty innovative ideas for providing Defensive Boosts and Crane's Beak Blunting, so have inspired the other characters to be more inventive than 'I shoot him. Again.' after almost three years of fights, but it has led to the fights dragging, too.)

I just checked the rule book and you're quite right about being able to go into shot debt. I've always run interrupts the same way as active dodging. If you have no shots left you can't do it, you just have to suck it up.

Particularly towards the end of a sequence it adds a little tactical play. Do you dodge but loose a chance to act or do you soak the damage and act. This choice can be difficult if there are "for this sequence" effects in play.

I think your anecdote about rolling shot debt highlights exactly why it's a bad idea. I wouldn't allow it. That way the use of these interrupts is self limiting. Interrupt your way down to shot 0 and you're sitting the rest of the sequence out while everyone else has fun.

I suppose the rules as written are also limited by the fact that the debt is added to the next initiative roll. So if you've got a -20 modifier and roll 9 on your initiative you are sitting out the next sequence. At this point you now have a -11 modifier so rolling 10 means you sit out that sequence too. Plenty of time to beat on the other PCs while your thief is leaning against a wall panting.

Under FS2v2 rules p.102, you can Dodge (as a 1-shot interrupt) even when you're out of shots, it just puts you in debt (as in the example given on that page). From memory, FS2v1 had a slightly different action economy, although it's been a while since I've read those rules. Wasn't it 'free dodges in the last three shots'?

Exactly ... but as the only actions they are taking are Interrupts, they don't actually need any shots of their own to continue nerfing attacks against themself or others.

I am going to give a couple of Foes the Don't Turn Your Back schtick, which means that if all of the players aren't keeping the pressure on them, then those FF get the Attack bonus through gaining better positions.

Having thought about it again I realise you are right and even when they aren't acting PCs can still make interrupts. That seems broken to me and I will continue to say that you can't go into negative shots with interrupts.

I'm thinking that might overly penalise the slower characters (not an issue for a Thief archetype, admittedly!).

I'm considering ruling that a Dodge is the only interrupt that you can make once you're out of shots, but then that would mean that Gun Schticks like Flesh Wound would not get used once a character is out of shots. I shall think more on't.

After hearing about this through the final session of Apeworld on Fire run by Matthew Hambley, I was reading up on this in the rulebook (v2.1) on page 102.

The usage of interrupt does have a flaw that everyone has called out and holds out a situation that the designers did not fully think players would do.

The aim of the box does call out that they were trying to wrinkle out the old infinite dodges in the last 3 shots in the initiative though, as typical with some players, this creates challenges to find other ways to 'game the system'. I would try to argue the use of the phrase on what it is referred to 'particular condition' and consider that when no more shots they only get one dodge or one interrupt.

The alternative to combat this player behaviour is withhold advancement.

I've decided for the campaign I'm starting next week, I'm going to impose a rule of you can't interrupt when at negative shots. You still can interrupt at zero, so if you spend yourself down to exactly 0 with a final attack for the sequence, you still get to dodge once when an attack comes in after your last go. Seems like a decently balanced alternative that gives you a little flexibility at the end of the sequence without allowing for abusive infinite stalls via certain schticks.

That's an idea, but won't it penalise those who roll Initiative that isn't a multiple of three? E.g. with an Initiative of eight, they'll act on 8, 5, 2 ... and won't be able to Dodge, through no fault of their own, as their final attack in the sequence will leave them at -1, a sitting duck for any foes acting on shots 2 or 1.

Maybe if Dodge is the only permitted Interrupt when at 0 or below, it would prevent the abuse of the more powerful Schticks, while not penalising those with non-multiple-of-three Initiative rolls?

That would, of course, negatively impact those Schticks with an inherent limitation (e.g. once-per-sequence, or less often, like Flesh Wound), so maybe it should only be applied to those Interrupts without a prerequisite.

(As Flesh Wound can only be used the first time the hero takes 10 WP in a fight, under the original suggested amendment, it would be useless if that injury is taken in shot 2 in the example above ... and can't then be used later in the fight, either.)

Designing game balance is hard. :slight_smile:

(Ironically, the character who started this whole train of thought did actually make some actual attacks in last night's game rather than just doing Defence Boosts and nerfing attacks - partly due to having two Foes with the Don't Turn Your Back Schtick (which fitted their role as experienced mercenaries), so he had to keep throwing things to keep at least one of them occupied - he was unlikely to hit, but it stopped them getting attack bonuses on the heroes. And then he managed to strike the final blow on two of the three FFs in the fight - hopefully this will encourage him to continue being more active!)

I see what you're saying, but I also suspect that it's more of a problem in theory than in practice. If, as you suggested, they rolled 8 initiative, and act on 8, 5 and 2 that also means that they didn't Dodge at any point before Shot 2. So if they chose not to Dodge in most of the sequence, it seems weird to me to think of also not Dodging at the very end of the sequence as being somehow a big problem.

More likely, a player who rolled 8 initiative will look at that roll, and decide it means that they will get to attack twice and dodge twice this sequence. If we get all the way down to Shot 2 and they haven't had to dodge even once yet, they may well decide that they are happy to take the risk of giving up on dodges they may not use in order to get 1 more attack this turn. That strikes me as an interesting decision, one worth having in the game.

That's my take on it, anyway. Also, it seems to me that "some initiative rolls are better than others" is a feature, not a bug, so even if this does somehow make not-divisible-by-3 rolls a little worse in some way that I'm not seeing, I'm not particularly worried about that.

My campaign hasn't started yet, so, admittedly, I could be wrong in any number of ways...

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When they get to shot 2, they need to act then, and can't decide to hold that shot in case they need to dodge, as FS2 doesn't have a 'held action' mechanic, unless you introduce one as a house rule - that's what Interrupts take the place of.
Admittedly, I use the time-saving option from p.104 of allowing retroactive Dodges, so I will often announce the hit before the player announces the Dodge, which means my players tend to Dodge as a reaction to a hit, rather than when they are targetted for attack. (But, as per the book, I also don't tell them how good a hit, so they don't know whether they need to use Fortune or not, or whether the Dodge will actually avoid the hit.)

Good luck with your campaign!

When they get to shot 2, they need to act then, and can't decide to hold that shot in case they need to dodge, as FS2 doesn't have a 'held action' mechanic, unless you introduce one as a house rule - that's what Interrupts take the place of.

You're correct. Hmm. Maybe I'm overthinking this, and should only jump in to fix things if a PC actually abuses the infinite interrupt loophole. I just feel that if a published archetype (the Exorcist Monk) has this exploit without even a single Advancement, then it seems likely that there are other potential run-away problems hidden in the schtick trees once they start Awesoming Up. If there's a simple, elegant rule that can solve it before my players discover a broken mechanic, I'd prefer to implement it proactively.

I had toyed with the idea of allowing a maximum of 1 interrupt while at negative, as that would also fix the problem. It would be more flexible and forgiving, but it's also got some inelegant memory issues in long or large battles, and is a little harder to explain. In contrast to that, "Can't interrupt if you're in negative shots" seems cleaner and easier to grok.

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Yep, might as well give your solution a try and see how it works out.