Ahhh, the mind whammy. It is a staple of the sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure genres. You’ve got artifacts like the One Ring or Crenshinibon, psychics like Professor X or (to a lesser extent) Ben Kenobi, exotic doodads like the flashy thing from MIB or Captain Jack’s psychic paper, and even the slightly racist brainwashing of Temple of Doom (take that, Short Round!). But here’s the thing about mind whammies. As fun as it is to take control of the bad guys and march ‘em around like meat puppets, nobody likes when it happens to them.

In tabletop, the mind whammy can result in GMs taking literal control of characters. You can get private confabs in another room as the new team of mind-controlled PC and evil mastermind GM plot the downfall of the hapless party. Depending on the table you might arrive at compromise solutions like “roll to see if you resist for this round” or “you stand and do nothing as you war with yourself.” But in the worst case scenario gamers always seem to wind up in this tedious semantic debate about the exact meaning of the word “friend” or whatever, which is generally when you start yelling at yours.

I have a word of advice for GMs in this situation: don’t let the rules dictate player actions. It’s tempting to point to the printed description of a psychic power or troll the forums for absolute clarity on what the charmed condition really means. But at the end of the day, this is just another case of railroading. You’re letting the rules dictate how the player gets to roleplay. In my humble opinion, the rules of most systems are intentionally vague here because they ought to vary player by player.

I’ve always found that getting mind whammied allows for some of the best roleplaying. However, that only seems to occur when left to player discretion. I’ve personally had players try to break up fights between the party and their newfound best friend. I’ve seen guys skirt the charmed condition by casting haste on friends and foes alike (“They’re trying to kill you man. Run!”). I’ve even seen yackety sax chases through dungeon complexes as possessed characters do their utmost to stick and move, playing to win against the party. All of these were memorable moments, and probably wouldn’t have happened if I just said, “Sorry man, I’m in control of your character.” So trust your players on this one. It’s their character. Let them shine.


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