Dealing with Power Creep

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by Tom Verreault

Power Creep is a common problem in most role playing games. The term “power creep” describes a situation where the player characters become so powerful that a referee is forced to trot out progressively more powerful enemies and common street thugs need not apply. In Star Frontiers power creep can occur on two fronts: equipment and skills. Power creep with skills can happen when a player has pushed a skill to level 6th and in most circumstances becomes a one hit wonder with that skill. In the area of equipment, it naturally happens through the accumulation of wages, captured equipment, and issued equipment.

Power Creep in Skills

Power creep in the skills area is really the natural progression of the game. Game play results in experience points that are spent on skills and abilities which make the player characters naturally capable irrespective of their equipment. There are no game mechanics for taking away skills and abilities other than combat modifiers for the effects of wounds and etc. It may be possible to introduce story elements that strip player characters of skills or abilities. I strongly recommend against that as it is a recipe for player resentment. It may be possible to do it carefully but it is counter to the point of the game.

If the player characters have become to powerful due to skills and abilities there are two strategies that can deal with that.

Armageddon

Armageddon is the climatic battle of good and evil in the Bible; sort of a battle of all battles. Craft a climatic campaign that embraces the worst of power creep in the adversaries and allow the player characters to go out with a bang. If you have time to plan ahead and see power creep coming down the road, ask the players what they envision for the character and file their answers away. If power creep is already upon you then you can even discuss the situation with the players suggesting an Armageddon campaign to them before starting new with new characters. Their feedback will guide you in campaign creation and help you deliver a satisfying climatic game. They may wish to simply retire the characters quietly and move on to a new gaming experience.

Change the Environment

Another strategy for dealing with skills power creep would be to change the environment. Carefully write adventures to feature more role-play and problem solving elements. Some players may not like the shift in game focus away from combat so a referee should watch for signs of apathy and restlessness in the players. Hostile weather, disasters and environments can provide threats to player characters despite their skill levels. It won’t really matter what their skills are if they’re freezing to death or facing an advancing wall of lava.

Another way to change the environment is to move the characters into dealing with alien environments and technology.  This automatically carries a -20% modifier to all skills, effectively stripping them of two skill levels and making challenges more difficult.

Equipment Power Creep

Advanced and high level Star Frontiers gaming has long been characterized by greater amounts of or more expensive equipment. Through the natural process of earning wages, stripping the enemy dead, and hanging onto issued equipment, player characters can amass a large stockpile. I once heard the “levels” of Star Frontiers described as; low levels involving player characters walking around doing stuff, mid levels involving PC’s riding around in vehicles doing stuff, and high levels involving PC’s riding around in spaceships doing stuff. This dovetails with the progression of “Alpha Dawn” action to “Knight Hawks” action caused by the original skill rules that characterized starship skills as advanced skills.

Over the past decade the trend in fan re-writes of the skills rules has been away from starship skills being advance skills. This consequently leads to a trend to introduce starship ownership to the player characters earlier in the game. Naturally that exacerbated the power creep trend.

Cost is the natural game limitation on powerful equipment. The rules state that half a player character’s paycheck should go to cover simple cost of living expenses. It’s a rough rule of thumb but probably one that most referees ignore especially if the player characters live on a starship. I recommend that the rule be enforced from the beginning with the percentage being reduced to a quarter of the pay check if they have access to free or cheap accommodations. Also nothing lasts forever. From the beginning have equipment break and malfunction so that just keeping a vehicle or starship running becomes a significant cost. Damage control during and after a battle can set battle damage to rights but this should only be considered a temporary or jury rigged fix and require an expenditure of money and time after the fact to make the repairs permanent.

Be Careful

Never arbitrarily take things away from the player characters; this breeds resentment. If the strategies for limiting power creep are consistently used from the beginning of the campaign, players will automatically accept them. If the campaign is in progress and power creep has set in, it can be difficult to institute these measures. In this case introduce them slowly. If all else fails let the player characters go out with a big bang.