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The Kobayashi Maru

    "The test (encounter) itself is a cheat isn't it? You programmed (designed) it to be unwinnable.", "Your argument precludes the possibility of a no-win scenario." "I do not believe in no-win scenarios."


    If you are anything like me and are a huge Star Trek fan, or even if you are not. You have likely heard the term Kobayashi Maru. This a training exercise for Star Trek cadets that offered a no-win scenario (a scenario where the players have choices, but no choice will lead to a net gain or success). It is used to test one's character or a solution that involves re-defining the problem, or to change the conditions of the test or encounter. This is a concept in encounter design that essentially states that game balance between players and opponents does not matter.


In Legends of Kralis we believe that every encounter has a way out and as you design the encounter do not worry so much about how the characters are going to make it. While you want to preserve the life of the characters and the party, it's no fun to TPK or lose your players but there is something to be said about not caring about "balanced" encounters.


It is half the fun to watch the players challenge your Kobayashi Maru and change the conditions of the test through their planning, skills, abilities and actions. They can change the whole battlefield within moments and take advantage of it turning the encounter on its head. As a GM I fundamentally do not believe in balanced encounters, its a harsh, dark, mean world out there and players whether they know it or not, want to feel heroic and often that should come at a cost.


I am a big believer of stacking the deck against the players and making them feel overwhelmed. Every player wants to get their assess kicked but they want to win in the end with that feeling of their victory being earned. That means the bad guys have to be overwhelming often very powerful and have the ability to end the character right there and right then.

As the storyteller you need to give the players a feeling of despair that they cannot do it, and when they pull out that victory by the slimmest thread the players will remember that and feel like heroes. But there is a line that you need to be careful not to cross and this takes time to develop you cannot throw a 10th rank monster at a 3rd rank party, that is not a Kobayashi Maru that is you being a bad sport and a "dick". Having really high level bad guys is a great opportunity to show players the kind of cool things that they are going to be able to do or replicate, it also helps show that they, while being heroic legends, should be afraid.


Remember the bad guys do not think in terms of balance, they think in terms of the Kobayashi Maru. It's up to the players to get it, and use good intelligence so that they do not walk into a scenario where they will get smoked.


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