Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Spock Effect

Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch coined the term "The Spock Effect" while discussing the psionics rules for GURPS. Specifically, his reasoning for the significant revisions to those rules for the 4th edition of GURPS.

The Spock Effect, bluntly put, is when a character or character type has significant abilities or powers that are supposed to be balanced by behavior restrictions or other elements of characterization. While it works fine in a story, it tends to be a real pain in a game. Because all the upsides are things that show up on a character sheet as things that a player can use (and expects to be able to use) while the downsides of the character type generally don't show up on a character sheet at all. (While GURPS actually gives points back for taking a mental or social disadvantage, none were required to use psionics in previous editions. So the balancing elements that they were relying on didn't really exist.)

The standard fantasy paladin is actually a good example of this. Lots of cool powers predicated on the character maintaining a particular alignment. And we've all heard the stories of the player of the murderous and otherwise evil paladin, who wanted all of the power but none of the responsibilities of being a paladin.

A couple of the major character types in Rifts also grant awesome power with some fairly minor or avoidable costs. Juicers are a pretty good example of this. Incredible physical abilities balanced by a fairly limited lifespan. I wonder if anyone has ever actually had a Juicer character end up dying of natural causes. Between GMs that might not keep strict calendars, campaigns that don't last that long, or all of the other things that are trying to kill you on Rifts Earth, I can easily see this 5 year limit as no big deal.

Dragons are another example of this sort of not-really-limited power. As near as I can tease out, the primary restrictions on dragon characters are that they are supposed to be really young and therefore played with a touch of naivete, and also the fact that the Coalition is anti-magic and even in human form a dragon would set off all sorts of magic detectors.

Here's what I'm looking for from the peanut gallery: Are these "soft" downsides actually useful in your campaign? Any horror stories of characters ignoring the restrictions and running roughshod over your campaigns? Have you strengthened any of these restrictions to give them more weight (I read somewhere about a GM who required Juicer characters to have to continually replenish their drug supplies)? Or you ignore them entirely with no ill effect on your game at all?