My last article was about the trope of mind controlled characters. Reading through the comments and seeing the many diverse options and attitudes towards mind controlled PCs, I can realize where there are narrative moments where it can work but that it is still a very tricky subject. So here are 5 tactics I wrote up (or grabbed from others’ ideas) that can help prevent mind controlled PCs from causing issues.
1. Limit Damage
One of the biggest complaints that I’ve heard or seen about mind controlled PCs is that it would suck to be killed by another player’s character. That’s true. It feels too much like inter-party conflict and blame wouldn’t be on the GM, but could shift to the player of the other character even though they were controlled. So one idea would be to put limits on how much harm the controlled player can cause. This can be detrimental to more cutthroat styles of gaming, but if it is known that a controlled PC wouldn’t be able to directly kill another PC or would get massive bonuses/re-rolls when doing something that would cause harm to other PCs it makes it a lot more palatable. It lets the PC act as information mole or saboteur of shared interests, but the player won’t end up getting blamed for offing or hurting another character.
2. A List Of Actions But Lots Of Control
The idea of the deep sleeper agent who doesn’t know they are a sleeper agent is a good character concept, of course this isn’t the sort of thing you can push a player to do. If a player gets mind controlled in a deep way, keep it private and give the player lots of agency in their controlled state.
Inspired off of something that Roxysteve said, making a list of the actions that the player should work towards is a good idea. That way, the player knows what their goals are in their controlled state, but they get a say in how heartily they enact those. You could strengthen this by giving extra XP for working towards those goals (until they are able to break the control) and penalties if they actively work against it. Penalties could be to XP earned or to their stats/skills as a temporary punishment. You could also give extra XP to characters affected by the “turned” players actions as well. This would reward the other players for dealing with the issues of a turncoat in their midst.
3. Degrees Of Control
So the PC failed a roll on a charm spell, and they immediately start attacking the other players. It might be as simple as this based on the mechanics, but it might be more nuanced or vague in the description. Making a chart that shows degrees of failure for mind control attempts can help minimize these issues. If a player knows they crit flubbed the roll and knew the risks of that beforehand, there are less hurt feelings when they start attacking. If it was only a minor fail, then the things expected of the turncoat player won’t be as extreme. Either way, it won’t feel like an all or nothing situation and the extra mechanic shows that the GM isn’t just being a dick trying to cause strife.
4. Give And Take
I like the idea of having give and take in games. You could use a sort of Mind Control Currency to achieve this level of cooperation in the control of the PC. Depending on the level of fail or the level of the spell, the GM might gain a certain amount of currency to spend to override player actions or force them to act against the party. When the GM spends this currency, the player might be able to keep it and use it to gain +1 benefit when trying to break free of the control. This would work well if they get 1 roll a day. The more they were forced to act against their nature or their comrades, the more they fight against it when the control is strengthened.
5. Puppeteer In The Open
A lot of these concepts involve the more long-term control options, and that is because those are the situations that are more narratively interesting and the ones that would tend to cause more strife. A player who gets hit by a spell and goes nuts is known to be under an enemy’s control and feelings are less likely to get hurt, so when this kind of short term mind-control happens, puppeteer in the open. Make sure that the other players can see that it is Mesmero the mindflayer and not Frank the barbarian that is doing these horrible things to them. Roll for Frank in the open so that the players can see the hand that bites them, or make sure you accurately tell Frank’s player what to do for that round.
Mind control is an element of many different genres and gaming systems, and it can be done effectively if you keep things in the open and are as fair as possible about it. I found the TVtropes writing on mental tropes very helpful to this, but crowd sourced wisdom is often best. So, what other tactics do you have for taking the sting out of mind control in your games? Do you tend to avoid using enemies who have it or do you use it as part of the narrative when it comes up?