GM Misery Index: PC Abilities that Cause Headaches

As I GM I welcome the challenge of creating an entertaining, challenging campaign for my players. That said, there are some player abilities that make my GM Misery Index climb like Greece’s unemployment rate. For those that are not familiar with the “GM Misery Index” is the numerical measure of pain one must endure while running a campaign. Sometimes it is annoying players, real-life intrusions, plot disintegration or, as in today’s example, powers that make life hard for a GM.

I am sure there are literally endless powers and abilities that make a GM miserable, but I have two that induce pain just thinking about them. Flight and infravision.

I come from a “D&D” background, so flight is a mid-level ability for spell-casters in most editions. Recent editions also allow wings for some races, mostly at higher levels as well. This is wise choice because on-demand flight makes encounter design a huge hassle. Now every encounter, (barring locations where flight is not possible) requires either a flying critter or a ranged attacker. Omitting this results in the flying player facing little or no risk and my NPCs face an airborne sniper. I can tolerate it at mid to high levels in a campaign, when NPCs tend to get larger tool kits to handle airborne threats. What drives me crazy are the low-level flight PCs. “Alpha Omega” allows wings at first level for very little cost. Chasms, trapped floors and climbing encounters degenerate to “I fly up and attach a rope.” What kind of world is it if a NPC cannot threaten to throw a PC off of a building? That is just wrong.

Yes, there are ways to challenge even a flying character and I just “have to accept” what the player chooses for their PC, but that does not stop me from bemoaning flight as a PC power. Flight drives me crazy, but a close second is infravision.

Note that infravision is different from night-vision. Night-vision allows PCs vision in very low-light conditions. Helpful, but not as broken as infravision. Infravision lets you see into the infra-red spectrum, heat essentially. Here is a quick list of what infravision does to a campaign.

1. Vision in total darkness.
2. Undead-spotting “Hey, that guy is room temperature!”
3. Disguised robot spotting (see above)
4. Which button did the NPC push? Oh yeah, the one glowing bright red.
5. Hey look, I can see through the smoke!
6. Which door leads to the occupied room? The red one, of course.

You get the idea. This is only a small sample I generated in five minutes and several of them really take the wind out of an encounter. I raises my index…significantly.

This post will not make any real difference in the greater world, but it is good therapy for me. So if you have your own favorite powers that raise your “GM Misery Index,” please drop me a comment. I would love to share your pain.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

5 thoughts on “GM Misery Index: PC Abilities that Cause Headaches

  • May 18, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    I had a similar problem with a flying PC in a game. I gave the PCs a small framed painting and magic rings that let them teleport inside the picture. I thought it was a nice way to give them a portable base. What I didn’t count on was them all going into the painting except for the flying PC, who would then fly them to wherever they were going. Non-airborne encounters? /Gone./

  • May 19, 2010 at 6:20 am

    XP is earned for overcoming challenges. Maybe the first couple of times a PC uses his flight ability to fly out of reach of an enemy and then just casually snipes it from up there he’ll earn xp. After that, there’s nothing ventured and nothing learned. I don’t discount the tactic. Its still a valid way to effectively bypass an encounter. Its not a way to learn and improve skills, though.

    Infravision also has levels of effectiveness. I don’t play that its sensitive enough to see which button someone pressed more than a few moments later. Most smoke comes from a big heat source. If the smoke doesn’t have thermal qualities of its own, the source may appear “bright” enough to IR vision to effectively blind the character using it. I remember some example from 1e AD&D actually having the character with a torch extinguish it so the elf could use his infravision… which also implies that IR vision was a thing the character could turn off and on… and if its not always on, he undead/robot spotting is something a character won’t always be able to do (and a well-designed robot may be designed to take this into account… and its easy enough to add a spell or magic item a smart undead uses to the same effect).

    My biggest headache is usually teleport or such spells (Dimension Door, etc.). I know they’re not broken… but I prefer games where its not easilly available. That said, I did ruin a DM’s adventure by whipping out some teleport magic item he’d given me months prior. I hate teleport so much, I never used it and he forgot about it. A HUGE adventure was created where we had to transport a dangerous criminal across a continent… until I said, “Well, I guess this is the time for us to use that teleport rod.” and the DM’s jaw hit the desk. I even offered not to use it or to accept it if he said I had it so long, the magic expiration date had passed or something… but he felt he’d be more wrong to do that to us than to let us use our resources… and an adventure he had been slowly working on for over a month never got used!!!

  • May 19, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Mind Probe or any type of ability that lets a character read minds. Any adventure that has any type of mystery about it is quickly unraveled. I feel it really takes away from our ability to tell stories.

    Danger Sense. I do not allow my players to take this ability. Not because it is over powered but rather that I simply forget to use it, time and time again. Then I feel bad the player spend character generation resources to get the ability, so I disallow it from the start.

  • May 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Callin: I think you just made me realize why I had issues with Danger Sense, too. You’re right! It has nothing to do with the power of the ability. I just forget about it too often then feel bad… or even CAUGHT when I do… and compelled to make it up by having it work the next time without a roll but then I resent that!

  • May 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I never got to do what the people you had did with IR. I always had GMs that were prepaird to make sure it was not too easy to do those things. For instance…

    1. Vision in total darkness. (IR only shows whats warm, if everything is cold then you still cant see it.)
    2. Undead-spotting “Hey, that guy is room temperature!” (Nothign for this, no undead in the games I had IR)
    3. Disguised robot spotting (see above) (Robots trying to pass, internal heating/cooling systems to make them appear human. Ran into a few people with cyberware that did that too.)
    4. Which button did the NPC push? Oh yeah, the one glowing bright red. (6 buttons show being pushed)
    5. Hey look, I can see through the smoke! (Not if the smoke is heated.)
    6. Which door leads to the occupied room? The red one, of course. (Unless that door is trapped and set up to look warm while the other one is made of a much better insulator.)

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