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This question could be also How to avoid teleport/drop bomb/teleport back attacks? or How to avoid the use of Dimensional Shamblers as bomb carriers?


Recently my group of players thought about using a Dimensional Shambler to rescue a member of the team that had been taken captive.

They thought it was a good idea to send the Dimensional Shambler with a bomb, tell him to drop it, take their colleague and come back.

After a bit of discussion we reached the conclusion that the bomb part didn't make sense because the evil guys have much more magic powers at their service and if this kind of trick could be done, they would do it much more often and there would be lots of Dimensional Shambler terrorist attacks... something that didn't make much sense for all of us.

The real question

Even we some how decided that this was not possible, I still would like to find a reasonable argument to make our Call of Cthulhu world more plausible. And I thought that this was not something that could be applied to our Call of Cthulhu game, but to any game system where teleporting is feasible.

So the real question, is why don't these kinds of attacks happen often?

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Here are some interesting examples of "Weaponized Teleportation". Most of them don't appear to include bombs, but still of interest when reading this question. One example that uses a bomb: "Star Trek: Voyager once used Tele Frag to destroy a Borg ship by attacking their shields and beaming a photon torpedo inside." And this tactic was a common tactic in Stargate: SG1 and the Stargate movie. –  Byte56 May 15 '13 at 18:13
The general technique is sometimes called "Scry and Die," and much electronic ink has been spilled on dealing with it in D&D. The reason reason is: it's not fun. But discussions about Scry and Die offer varying in-world justifications. –  Alan De Smet May 15 '13 at 20:19
It's worth noting that for some groups (though, admittedly, none that I would join) do enjoy "Scry 'n' Die" as a valid tactic (and much of the game comes down to protecting against it and forcing enemies out of their protections against it). –  KRyan May 15 '13 at 21:50
@Byte56 It's even a specific category of weapon in the game FTL. –  starwed May 16 '13 at 18:29
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5 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Two reasons.

First, the various horrors and Things Man is Not Meant to Know that populate the universe in a Lovecraft Mythos game are not organised enough (against us, at least) to pull this kind of thing off as a regular tactic—if they were, the world would already be consumed, enslaved, or worse. Since we're playing a game where we investigate and try to stop that kind of fate, we can presume that the horrors haven't gotten it together enough, or just haven't bothered yet, to destroy the world. Teleport-bombing is small potatoes: why bother when it's easier to just eat the planet?

Second, they just don't think like people do. What makes sense for us as a sure-fire strategy just doesn't matter to them. It's much like a fly beating at a window (where we are the fly in this analogy and the horrors are the humans): it's obvious to the fly that the solution is to go straight through that unobstructed opening in the wall! Why don't the giant pink creatures that we're fleeing from, which clearly want to eat us, pursue us? We're getting away!

Except the fly isn't getting away, it's trapped. And we don't care. And our motives are certainly not comprehensible by the fly. Also, maybe we're not organised enough to deal with the clear and present danger that this insect poses to… our plans for getting ready for work and finding our keys? Maybe we'll take a half-hearted swipe at it while we go by, but unless the fly swatter is ready to hand we're just going to get on with our day and let the fly die in the window in its own time. A spider (i.e., Shoggoth, etc.) will probably get it for us anyway.

Humanity, and the whole Earth really, is like that fly to the Lovecraftian horrors. They're inimical to us, yeah, just like people really don't like flies in their house. But they're not going to bother with eradicating us unless it's convenient, they usually don't think about us, and the only time they'll actively go after us is when we pretty much fly straight into their "hands". If their incomprehensible cosmic plans call for it, they'll get organised and eradicate us, but why would they bother otherwise? Are you really going to fumigate your house every time a fly gets in? No, you're only going to bother with a major infestation, or when trying to sell the house in a tough market, or something like that. And how much can that fly in the window grasp about these factors that control its fate and continued living? None. It just beats against the glass.

Event that analogy is flawed, because it attempts to parallel their thoughts to ours. The useful take-away part of the analogy is that we're insects to them, not worthy opponents that deserve much attention or efforts to teleport-bomb, and that our intellects and comprehension of what is sensible is so disconnected from the true nature of reality that we can't explain or predict their actions.

The only adversaries in a Mythos setting that are going to be motivated in a human-understandable way enough to want to teleport-bomb the heroes are other humans, and if they're treating with horrors enough to become dangerous cultists, they're already far gone enough that what they're doing is already quite insane and has incomprehensible motives. Insanity is enough explanation to not do the obvious thing.

Even sorcerers who have maintained enough of their cunning to be somewhat comprehensible in their motives are going to have more going on than merely teleport-bombing some annoying investigators. Being Mythos sorcerers, to do anything mystical they have to get close to those horrific truths of reality that can burn out a mind, and how often can someone grab hot coals to fling at their enemies before they get burned? The more powerful the sorcerer, the more frequently they use their power, the more likely they are to have inhuman motives or to provoke or discover something that will destroy them (or the world). Sorcerers are either going to be self-limiting for their own sanity and safety, self-limiting by being insane and doing incomprehensible things for incomprehensible reasons (see above), or they're going to be self-limiting by earning a Darwin Award.

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Here's why these kinds of attacks don't happen more often:

Unless they are specific to the plot and you're interested in investigating this kind of attack, they are incredibly uninteresting and often don't suit the kinds of villains we tend to use in RPGs.

Let's handle the second one. Most RPG villains (hell most villains in general) are egoists and enjoy the monologue face to face with the hero/heroine action. Some villains are aware of this tendency, but still fall afoul of it. A villain who uses minions to do his terroristic bidding is something of a coward in our minds and doesn't seem all that threatening (even if in reality it makes him quite a bit smarter). Villians in RPGs are often quiet similar to our favorite movie villain, we want the confrontation of the final showdown.

The reason for this is simple. In most RPGs (and in most movies, TV shows, and stories). The protagonists are the heroes, the main narrative conflict is that final show down with the villain. Often the villain's main screen time is when he is facing down the protagonist and if his chance to shine is marred by the fact that he wasn't the one who planted the bombs or set the fires then it's something of an oddity.

All that to say, this kind of discussion should be a red flag to the DM that he's not played his characters up to the level he should have. This is a plot hole to some degree. Even if the villain is quite egotistical, he should have seen this avenue (especially if he thinks highly of himself). However, maybe bombings weren't part of his repetoir. As a DM I would see this as an opportunity to make my next villain a dimensional shambler launching terrorist.

The ultimate reason that the teleport/bomb/teleport trick isn't employed more often is because it's narratively hard to deal with(it potentially takes the PCs out of the center of the action). However, if it suits your game, figure out a way to incorporate it.

Some games deal with things like this by both limiting range and limiting teleport to line of sight. If that's not a limitation in your game's mechanics then I'd suggest taking this player idea and building a future plot around it.

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-1: I read the question as explicitly asking for an in-fiction justification; they already acknowledge the meta reasons of why not, and you spend most of the answer rehashing that ground. –  starwed May 15 '13 at 18:47
@starwed that's not how I read this question at all. The question kind of explicitly ignores the actual reasons, and is not necessarily looking for in fiction reasons. Ultimately the reason is "it's not what villains do unless that's the plot" is both the in fiction and meta reason. –  wax eagle May 15 '13 at 19:20
Clarification I was looking more for a in-fiction justification, to be precise the players now have met (and annoyed) several powerful Mythos sorcerers that are supposed to be smart enough and capable of doing such kind of attacks, but I want to "justify" why they don't do it... Also we have meta-gaming reasons (basically it spoils most of the fun...). So maybe while writing the question to be more generic and more useful for other GMs or players I didn't make it very clear... –  pconcepcion May 15 '13 at 20:51
Zachiel, Sevensideddie not a forum remember... Take discussion to chat please. –  mxyzplk May 15 '13 at 23:45
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There is one great explanation for why it doesn't happen in Call of Cthulhu in particular and one great explanation for narratively why it doesn't happen that often.

But you asked the question regarding any game system where teleporting is feasible, and seem to want an in universe answer. That is a bit hard since each universe is a bit different, but I can suggest a few that are broadly applied.

There are countermeasures

In many Universes with teleportation, there are generally ways (often very easy) to stop it from affecting a specific area. In Star Trek shields will stop a transporter, and once the shields are down you don't need to get that fancy since a torpoedo or two will end it. In many systems with magical teleportation, there are wards that stop it.

Of course, not everywhere will have countermeasures, but you can expect the plot- significant/high-value targets for both sides of any major conflict to have the countermeasures. And many systems have sophisticated enough magical investigation that even against a soft target without countermeasures they will probably find those who did it.

Inherent Limitations on Teleportations

Other universes have limitations on the teleportation. Earth: Final Conflict had portals that were essentially teleportation, but only between two fixed technological constructs. So, sure you could teleport your bomb in, but only if you could get your portable portal generator to that destination first.

Some fantasy fiction has effectively similar limitations where you can teleport but only if certain conditions are met, such as having placed a magical item that you can teleport to there already or even having someone there on the other side to help you or being able to see the target.

Of course, even with those limitations there are cases where it might make sense to teleport in a bomb (or magical explosive), but the limitations make them rare and make you work to arrange it so it's possible.

Gentlemen's Agreements and MAD

If you look at the real world, there are often limitations on the way we wage war and what weapons are used. These are rooted in different things like tradition, treaty, and simple practicality. For instance, the ancient Greek City States had many traditions about how they waged war between themselves. The Geneva Convention is all about what the modern world considers appropriate and inappropriate during a conventional war.

And then there are practical considerations where you hold back using a weapon simply so that your enemy does not use it in return. This was behind the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine dealing with atomic weapons.

I can't actually come up with an example of that in any fictional universe with teleportation, but I could easily see it. All the civilized realms might agree no teleporting anything behind enemy lines, it is simply taboo. Again, that doesn't mean it won't happen, but it does mean it will only be used by rogue groups that can expect to be hunted visciously.

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An example in a fictional universe would be Battlefield Earth where he teleports a dirty bomb to the alien home world, using their own teleportation device, destroying it. –  Edward Goodson May 16 '13 at 14:40
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Is it even safe to teleport a bomb? Most teleportation messes with time and space. If it is a timed bomb, it could explode on the way. If the bomb is radio-triggered, it could also explode on the way as it could receive many waves at different frequencies during transit.

My science is quite rusty, but I wouldn't bet on it being safe to teleport a bomb.

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That was one of the questions that we discussed on my group, we actually reached the conclusion that the Dimensional Shambler will refuse to carry a bomb... but they are not very smart... so could be easy to trick them... and probably the evil great sorcerer of the evil sect don't care that much if is not that safe... I mean the bad guys can have minions to do the dirty job and fool them to pretend the thing is safe... –  pconcepcion May 16 '13 at 12:41
@pconcepcion Then the bomb explodes in the way and the shambler dies (and if not it will be angry). –  Flamma May 16 '13 at 17:41
that could happen, but what I ment is that those sorcerers are powerful enough... so they don't care that much and can try even several times... and... well it's more or less always safe for them... so... why they don't try it? –  pconcepcion May 16 '13 at 18:14
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In my own games most bad guys use dimension locks etc to keep dimensional travel into their lairs from being possible, and/or employ a kind of redirect the puts anyone crossing dimensional barriers into a specific place within their domains and have the manpower to deal with intruders at that place.

I also have most of my player groups that have detect teleportation made permanent, and with the ability to cast divert teleport. Even without the big cities using the same tactics as the bad guys there are always the possibility of adventures that would start diverting all teleports into the cities, or the city guards casters, if such became a problem. The magical means exists to deal with the problem in many if not all campaigns and the bad guys are just as aware of it the good guys. They could us such tactics but it would be short lived, if it ever worked at all. (the military also might already track teleports). In most campaigns teleport is only reliable at higher levels and even then they can be interfered with. I have even seen it used as an adventure hook in a published adventure.

With trace teleport and teleport object the bad guys are just as likely to have the bomb reappear where it started from before it blows up. There are a thousand ways it could be handled. If they aren't in place already it is because there hasn't been a problem. If the problem arose then solutions would be put into effect. Use it as a campaign having the players but the solutions into effect or ignore it as per the possible solutions however works with your campaign.

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This doesn't answer the question of why bad guys don't use this tactic offensively? Is every populated area under a dimension lock? –  C. Ross May 15 '13 at 15:26
Every populated area I was Sheriff of would have a dimensional lock. And I'm sure there'd be some hippy wizards outside the gates going "Help! We're being oppressed! Free teleporting!" but most people wouldn't mind the minor inconvenience to their travel plans when you consider the great benefit of security, right? I mean, right? It's not like we're allowing dimensional teleportation but performing telepathic scans on all incoming and outgoing dimensional travelers. –  corsiKa May 15 '13 at 15:54
@c.Ross I expanded my answer to make it more specific how this applies to the exact question asked. –  Edward Goodson May 15 '13 at 21:40
These spells sound very... D&Dish. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 16 '13 at 2:19
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