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GameMasterY: Adjudicating Rules - Abilities that Change how a Game is Played
Roleplaying games are great fun, allowing people to play characters that have incredible abilities, awesome powers, mystical might, combat prowess, cunning social skills and many other fantastical possibilities beyond the pale of the mundane world.
Yet, despite valiant efforts by designers and GMs alike, it is not always easy to take into account all the potential changes that a given ability will cause to the game. The more abilities exist, the more challenging adjudicating the interactions between these various abilities and the game environment becomes.
As with all special abilities, the ideal solution is to make the ability part of the resolution, without letting it completely solve every challenge, or removing it from the game. Players who can use the abilities that make their characters unique and special are happier, more engaged players. Players who meet with GM imposed-obstacles in taking abilities, or have abilities related to their character concept removed, banned, or limited by the GM will likely feel cheated and unhappy.
Here we will review some of the most common abilities that change how a game is played, how it is prepared for, and list some possible implications of each ability in order to give the GM food for thought.
Mastery of, or association with, an element or elements is another common theme that is found in many genres. An element in this usage, is any substance or energy of a relatively pure nature. The most commonly described elements are earth, fire, water, and air. Less commonly described elements might include wood, metal, void, cold, mist, smoke, electricity, plasma, light, darkness, spirit, ectoplasm, cosmic energy, radiation, and more. When a character obtains control over an entire element, it grants a wide ranging effect that is limited only by the creativity of the player.
- Mastery of water might include freezing liquids, manipulations of frozen liquids, moving liquids through other mediums, pressure, humidity, other liquids that are not H20, swimming, breathing in liquid, and control of things mainly comprised of water like plants, animals, and people.
- Mastery of fire might include heat, control over sources of heat, increasing and decreasing heat in other substances and mediums, control over substances that are heated or melted, moving fire and heat through other mediums, and transmutation of other substances.
- Mastery of electricity might include generating electricity, controlling and redirecting the flow of electricity, manipulating devices and things that use electricity, accessing information that is stored electronically, manipulating bio-electricity, and even flying via electrical ionization impulses.
Not all elements are created equal, and that equality depends largely upon the environment and setting. Some genres have more prevalence to certain elements than others. In a modern or futuristic setting, control over electricity grants huge advantages, depending on what can be accomplished. But in a fantasy setting, control over electricity is usually much more limited. In futuristic settings, control of earth, air, and water is of great use on a planetary surface, but in space the utility will be more limited and restricted.
These are some of the things that must be considered before allowing elemental control abilities.
There are reasons why gunpowder contributed to the destruction of the armored knights and samurai of yore as the combat specialists of their times, and those reasons are seldom well represented in RPGs. The invention of gunpowder made guns, grenades, and bombs not only possible, but common. Furthermore, it changed mass assaults by poorly trained infantry from a menace into a guaranteed deadly confrontation. Guns change combat so that with minimal training and enough people in one place, a group of people can lay down a deadly range of fire that will kill any who approach incautiously.
- Bonus Point: Gunpowder, like so many other Chinese inventions: moveable type, compasses, accurate timepieces, mechanical calculators, assembly line mechanics, and flight; changed what was possible, and paved the way for many other inventions. Many inventions that were subsequently reinvented by the individuals listed in the history books were actually invented in China (or other locations) hundreds of years previously.
This reality of warfare is incompatible with most RPGs ethos of game design. Almost all RPGs are designed so that the characters are the heroes, or at least the main protagonists, of the plot or story, and are further designed to keep (most of) the PCs alive. Most design theory as applied in RPGs espouse a gradually increasing level of power, with all PCs kept to roughly the same level of ability.
In such a game, a realistic gunpowder device will end the career of a PC in a single round, at almost any level of play. Most games approach this in one of three ways: banning gunpowder, forcing some sort of limitation into the cost or availability of gunpowder, or abstracting combat to the point that "hits & damage" do not represent actual wounds per se, but rather a reduction of a combat capability of some kind - thereby reducing the effect of all weapons, including gunpowder devices.
When adding gunpowder to a game, the designer and GM must carefully consider the implied level of realism or abstractionism the combat system represents, where gunpowder devices will scale into the both the combat and economic systems, and how the addition of a powerful explosive material will dramatically alter gameplay and combat.
For example, gunpowder devices may allow:
- A group of minimally trained low level units to effectively attack, wound, and possibly destroy other units, regardless of those units' level or capabilities.
- Damaging attacks over a wide range of area.
- Extremely powerful attacks which destroy objects, destroy portions of a large object, and create a damaging shockwave.
- Accelerating projectiles to high velocities over great distances, which may then subsequently explode in addition to the high speed impact.
- Timed sequential or cascading explosions for diversion and disruption.
- Creation and usage of guns, artillery, bombs, grenades, dynamite, and other explosives and weapons.
The long held dream of mankind. Anytime an additional dimension is added to a game, the possibilities (and paperwork) increases dramatically. Flight has the potential of nullifying obstacles of height, depth, and width. It allows access to otherwise hard to reach locations, and enables travelers to ignore difficult terrain.
Tracking flight can involve a lot of work as the PC can potentially move in any direction, which makes calculating direction, vectors, and range an exercise in math. Ariel combat with multiple participants is even more complex. It does not help that there are not many table-top tools for accurately representing a character's or object's position in mid-air.
Planning for flight requires imagining new kinds of obstacles, ones that not only involve the flying PC, but require the skills and abilities of other PCs, so that flight becomes part of the solution, and not an encounter ender.
- A maze without a roof will not hinder a flying PC in the slightest, but one that has an illusion cloaking what it looks like from above will involve not only the flying PC, but also a magical type PC to counter.
- A tower with no entrance but a window or door at the top is an easy reach for a flying PC, but if it is also locked and/or trapped, it will need a skillful type PC as well.
- An obstacle course which was designed with flying in mind can also be presented as a new type of challenge, forcing the flying PC(s) to maneuver around moving obstacles and turrets which shoot at them as they traverse the obstacles!
- There is not much cover in mid-air, unless it is a cloudy day. As they say in Japan, "the nail that sticks its head up, gets hammered down". Flying is a great way of advertising just where the group is to all sorts of things for miles around. Players are well advised to be careful, lest the characters be mistaken for a snack.
The ability to control the actions, words, or even thoughts of another individual has long been postulated as a villainous (and occasionally heroic) ability, ranging from from addictive fascination, through advanced hypnotism, futuristic devices, and arcane magical bindings, to outright complete control of another's mind.
The first challenge to use of such abilities by heroic types is the ethical and moral angle. Can forcing someone to perform acts against their will be considered a good act at any time, or for any reason? Personally, I say no, it can never be considered a good act; at any time, at any place, or for any reason whatsoever... however, each of you must decide for yourselves how this will be handled in your games.
The second major aspect of mind control type effects and abilities is that they remove an opponent from play, and effectively add the controlled individuals capabilities to that of the PCs.
- Epic Fail: I have personally seen where a GM designed a campaign such that the players would encounter whom was intended to be the major reoccurring villain for the entire campaign early in the first adventure, only to have that NPC fail a save versus mind control from one of the PCs. Instead of adjusting on the fly to have another individual become the main villain, or deciding to have some cohorts of the NPC realize that something was going on and try to rescue the NPC from the clutches of the PC, or working with that PC to come up with something interesting and satisfying for everyone all around, or some other easy adjustment to the plot and campaign, the GM abandoned the game without notice and never returned. Don't be that person.
A lot of the potential of this sort of ability will largely depend on the exact rules of the particular game system in use. Some systems limit it to certain types of creatures, others impose limitations of various kinds on how it can be used, how much time it takes to use, what actions can be commanded, how visible control is to others observing the controlled, and what happens to the controller for the duration of the control. Despite these limitations, clever PCs can and will find ways to maximize the effectiveness of such a powerful ability.
Some potential uses might include:
- Forcing someone to reveal their intentions and true motives.
- Forcing someone else to perform acts for which they will get in trouble.
- Forcing someone to fight or protect someone or something.
- Forcing someone to grant access to something or somewhere.
- Forcing someone to ignore another's existence.
- Forcing false memories into someone, or removing memories of some event.
The ability to perceive things outside of your normal range of senses is a powerful information gathering tool. Information is what allows for accurate, timely, and effective responses, and can make or break a plot line or campaign arc. Some versions of this ability allow perception only at near quarters, while others allow one to perceive at great ranges, and even into the past or the future.
The ability to see what has actually happened in the past can give the PCs great leverage against opponents who have things to hide, and the ability to see into the future can allow the PCs to prevent or alter the outcome of the impending event - which may or may not actually be for the best....
The ability to see what is currently happening nearby allows the PCs to avoid traps, counter ambushes, and generally be forewarned of danger. Being able to perceive events distant can provide the inside scoop needed to get access to someone or something, anticipate an outcome before news of the event reaches the area via normal channels and take advantage of it, and even provide a limited forewarning from things which require time to travel to and affect the local area.
Depending on the game system in question, some or all of the following may need to be considered, as remote viewing may allow:
- Perceiving the contents of locked, sealed, or hidden containers or locations.
- Perceiving distant events which allow one to gain a material or social advantage.
- Learning of past events which someone wants to keep secret.
- Perceiving future events which allows the PCs to act for or against a particular outcome.
- Becoming aware of dangers before they happen, countering traps and ambushes.
- Finding people, places, or things, whether they want to be found, are hidden, or not.
- Viewing people, places, or things in realtime, which viewing may or may not be traceable and/or detectable.
Returning from Death
One of the design methods that are frequently used to keep player's characters alive, is the revocation of death. While the origin of this concept goes back as far as humans have been saying, "Let me try that again!" in RPGs it is used to allow players to continue playing as the same character even after a death event.
In early RPGs, and the wargaming systems that preceded them (and from which modern RPGs descend), death of a given unit or individual character was final. However, as gameplay and rulesets moved away from mass combat and control over multiple units towards a metric of "single player, single character", the attachment towards those individual characters grew.
The elements of myth, fantasy, history, and speculation that all RPGs draw from include a rich background in stories about people avoiding, cheating, and even returning from death, and this entered into RPGs along with the other concepts common to such sources. With the rise of video gaming, multiple lives and consequence-less death became firmly entrenched into gaming concepts.
Possible variants include clones, raising from the dead, resurrection (which is technically not the same thing as being raised from the dead, but that gets into philosophical and religious debates), soul capturing, reincarnation, continuing as a ghost (which might allow possession of another body or continued influence in the mortal world as a disembodied presence), and a few others.
Regardless of one's philosophical view on this matter, and with the exception of a few rare game systems (and occasional house rule), return from death is here to stay. Sadly, few game systems bother to deeply intermingle the consequences of the capability of returning from death into the plot or campaign story lines, let alone the cultural and societal implications thereof.
Some possible complications thereof:
- Unrealistic roleplaying may result when the fear of character death is removed. Most players are not able to handle the mental dichotomy that results from playing a character who fears death (after all, it's usually extremely painful), even if a return method is available, when the player knows that dying is temporary for the character, and it has zero emotional impact upon the player. Despite claims and self-belief to the contrary, the majority of humans are not actually able to role play something that they have no feelings about or towards.
- Suicidal strategies and tactics become much more common, with "hit it till it falls down" near the top of the list.
- Being able to 'cast a spell' and poof, the person is back - who then takes the most optimal action possible the second their eyes open, really breaks immersion, and is horrible metagaming.
- Players have an expectation of their characters lasting longer, which may or may not be good for your game.
- Death, what happens afterwards, and the details and complications of coming back are seldom dealt with in any degree of detail in virtually every game system. The lack of information can be quite difficult to work with, especially in multi-theistic systems.
- If returning from death involves a new and/or different body, what will prevent the wealthy or powerful from monopolizing and abusing the system to persist their rule and access to wealth?
- It would seem a natural conclusion that those who control the doorway of death, would leverage it to have a rather large say in politics, which does not seem to be taken into account of in virtually any game system.
- Assassinations would take on tenor of a well timed disruption tactic, or a method of protest or warning, rather than a method of removing someone from power.
- The have and the have-nots would make for a rather large social rift and form unique kinds of classes.
- Gives a whole new dimension to the wealthy elite who may throw their lives away in dissipation and excess, trusting in being able to replace and/or return to their bodies whenever they feel like it.
- In most games, returning from death can take anywhere from six seconds to ten minutes. This has certain tactical possibilities. Especially if you need to take a (really and truly) dead person somewhere as part of a (sort-of) bluff.
- Many games have a limit on how long someone can be dead, but for the more powerful versions of returning from death, this limit can be hundreds of years or more. Better hope that the corpse of that marauding general who conquered half the world is well and truly hidden for the next millennia or so!
Rocket tag is the phenomena inside a game akin to a nuclear arms race. The players and the GM get into a power contest of some kind versus each other. The most important thing to remember about rocket tag, is that IT IS ALWAYS THE GMs FAULT! This is because, quite simply, the GM is the one empowered by the group to say 'yes', or 'no'. Therefore, they have the responsibility and duty to say 'no' when the occasion calls for it.
It typically starts off when the players unexpectedly overcome a powerful villain or group, and take all their stuff. With that stuff, their characters experience a jump in power, which the GM responds to by bringing in more powerful things than before. The players either defeat the next group and take their stuff, or coerce/force the former villains to join them, increasing the power of the party yet again. The cycle repeats, and it turns into the plot of the Dragonball series, or Bleach, or other similar manga.
Another common starting point is when the GM allows people to make characters and does not check them over personally and completely, or does not understand the implications of their selections, or may not even know the sources that they used and the details of the selections in question. When the GM is caught by surprise later by something they didn't know they needed to plan for, or because they assumed that the players would limit themselves to the GMs expectations (expressed or not), the escalation cycle may begin.
Regardless as to the exact origin or details, it cannot happen without the GM allowing it to happen. It is basically the GM version of the hammer-nail syndrome where they try to solve what they view as problems among the players by hitting the characters in-game with a bigger hammer, and it doesn't always turn out how they expect.
The best solutions for rocket tag is for a GM to play with different settings, scenarios, levels of power, and players... until they learn what they like, dislike, and why. (This can take years of varied experiences to develop and learn, by the way.) Then, clearly express their expectations to any and all prospective players, followed up by carefully checking starting characters (and level up options) to see that they conform. If they find anomalies, rather than auto-banning the questionable thing with little to no explanation, sitting down and discussing it with the player and working out a solution.
Not all players are created equal, and something that would be misused as a simple hammer for everything by one player, will be used thoughtfully and creatively with excellent role playing by another player. The only way to treat your players fairly, is to treat them all differently - for each is a unique individual and none come from the same background or experiences.
- Bonus point: I have in my current gaming group a player of over 20 years of gaming experience who is really bad at role playing a character, though they try, but is an unparalled tactician, strategist, and riddlemaster. I have another player who has never gamed before, and is always worried about getting the rules wrong, but is one of the best role players ever, that I have personally met. They are both excellent players, and bring great things to our table, and those of us who GM work with them to highlight their areas of strength and shore up their weakness. They each require a totally different approach, and respond best to completely different things.
In short, apply your creativity to working with, not against, your fellow gamers, and don't be that GM who has to beat the characters with a "bigger stick".
Some suggestions for short circuiting rocket tag escalation:
- Check the options the players have selected for their characters. Discuss anything that is viewed as problematic. Repeat each time a level up occurs.
- Plan ahead, the characters can't take what isn't there. On the other hand, don't cheat the players out of a just reward. Winning small stuff here and there, plus an occasional big haul is the standard expectation in almost all RPGs.
- Don't freak out. Play it cool, calm, and collected. If you find that you really can't handle the sudden alteration in your plans/plot/story/NPCs, call for a break and go for a short walk or breather. Adapt, adjust, and take what the players just did to make the story even better! (Besides which, if the players can come back from the dead, so can your NPCs...)
- There are so many ways to foil a PC other than hitting them with a big stick. I recall one time I matched a super sneaky sort against the party sneak specialist. Turns out they both couldn't spot each other, so neither could they find each other! Turned into an awesome game of blindman's bluff. With the help of the rest of the party, the NPC sneak was finally defeated.
- Work smarter, not harder. As the GM, one has nearly infinite options available to them. Vary the challenges to target different characters and abilities, as the goal is not to defeat the players, but to make them use most or all of their abilities in order to defeat the challenge. Setbacks and failures are fine, but overall, the players are generally intended to succeed in RPGs. If you are playing differently, be sure that everyone knows it ahead of time, and agrees.
Animals are often ignored, especially when they are commonly found in a given location or area, and behave just as that kind of animal is expected to behave. The person you expect to be in the background is just as often ignored. The shapechanger steps into this niche and owns it. When a shapechanger is on the scene, one cannot trust anyone, sometimes anything, and very few things can be kept from the reach of a determined shapechanger.
- A few forms of shapechanging allow the user to become objects or inorganic creatures.
- Most forms of shapechanging only allow for organic objects, and animate ones at that.
- Some kinds of shapechanging restrict what sorts of creatures can be changed into. Some only allow animals, or creatures of your kind, or creatures of a certain theme, while others allow any sort of creature, or perhaps a limited set of creatures of any type.
- Shapechanging may require a total transformation, from one thing into another thing; but some kinds allow for partial transformations to the base shape in order to gain specific benefits and abilities.
- A few versions of shapechanging are limited in scope or ability to just a few shapes, or only allow very minor alterations to the base shape.
- Some versions allow the shapechanging to make improvements to the base shape, even heal.
- Most variants of shapechanging permit fairly sizable alterations to size, mass, and shape - the exact physics of which is mostly hand-waved away.
Being able to become something, or someone, else is a huge tactical advantage, so long as one knows how to act and behave like the person, creature, or thing that they have become. Some possible applications are:
- Overhearing secrets or witnessing events as a nearby animal or insect.
- Impersonating someone to gain access to a person, place, or thing.
- Impersonating someone in order to frame them for actions they did not commit.
- Impersonating someone in order to give them an almost perfect alibi.
- Reaching locations impossible to someone of your normal shape and size.
- Perfect, or near perfect, and completely 'real' disguises.
- Give birth to or breath new life into old legends as you mimic characters from stories.
- Gain abilities outside the normal scope of your race and form.
- Nearly unnoticeable and undetectable spying capability.
The ability to remotely reach out and touch something, or someone, yields a whole new realm of possible actions. There is tremendous utility in being able to move things without having to touch them, whether by the power of one's mind, or by some device, or even magical spell, this ability removes the brakes on normal limitations and gives a mess-with-anything-that-can-be-perceived pass to the character in question.
Some games try to limit this somewhat by making the effects visible and even traceable back to the person or device of origin. But even in such systems, the sheer utility in being able to remotely move, manipulate, and influence objects is an incredible ability that must be carefully planned for.
Some possible accomplishments may include:
- Remotely controlling devices by manipulating the controls.
- Moving objects into the way of opponents.
- Attacking, tripping, grappling, disarming, and otherwise directly interfering with opponents.
- Steal or manipulate objects tracelessly, and without leaving normal residue or traces to be detected.
- Forcing others to perform some action.
- Lifting and moving great weights or many objects.
- Dropping unexpected objects from great heights, or putting objects or people into the air.
- Escaping from otherwise foolproof enclosures or restraints.
Teleportation is moving something from one location to another location without actually crossing the distance in-between and generally doing so very, very swiftly. In essence, the target disappears from one location, and reappears nearly instantly in another location. Depending on how the teleportation works, one might be able to go anywhere they can imagine, or only to places they have seen and can recall with fidelity, or to where people they know well are currently located.
Being able to appear and disappear is very handy, and has numerous mundane and combat applications:
- If the teleport is a sudden operation, there may be a pop of displaced air upon arrival and a crack of air rushing in upon departure.
- Teleportation may use an intermediary location as a bridge, stranding is always a possibility.
- Teleportation may allow popping into places that have never been seen or visited, so long as one can get a precise direction and distance bearing.
- One may be able to pop around a combat zone unexpectedly, throwing off opponents.
- One could cross vast distances swiftly and secretly, allowing for numerous shenanigans.
- Teleportation may allows items and persons to accompany the 'porter, which is a great timesaver, nearly instant transportation, and sneaky access method.
- Some systems even allow one to teleport objects to your location. Great for not having to pack every single little thing on your adventures, or for getting that borrowed book back from your perpetually forgetful 'friend'.
Time travel is something that most game systems (and GMs) avoid like a plague, with the rare notable exception. The chaos that results from any plan, plot, or storyline meeting the players (and characters) repeatedly makes for calculating the cascading effects of actions taken in the far past which change events in the near past, let alone the present, quite chancy at best.
There have been numerous efforts at codifying what might happen if one were to travel in time:
- Inviolable History: In effect, one can visit and observe, but not alter anything. This works best with a purely mental form of time travel.
- Inertia Effect: The details of events in the past are mutable, but the major events which shape a time-stream cannot be altered.
- Mutable History: Any and every action will alter history, one can only hope the alteration is not too extreme.
- Multiple Time-streams: Certain events cause a fork to occur in the time-stream, in one fork, the event occurred, in the other it did not. Some theories postulate that all possible outcomes exist with multiple forks at each critical event. There are also theories as to how big an event needs to be before a fork is formed. In some theories, every event, no matter how small, creates countless numbers of forking time-streams; in other theories, only events which will have a big impact upon the development of a time-stream will actually cause a fork. A few theories even postulate that multiple time-streams exist in parallel up until the event occurs, and then the weakest time-streams fade away, leaving only the strongest possibilities. There is even a theory that only by active conscious interference could a fork in a time-stream be created; ie: without working time-travel, no forks would ever be created.
- Hybrid Theories: With so many competing theories, there are numerous combinations, mixes, and matches of various aspects of the differing thoughts and ideas out there.
There are also many lines of thought as to what effects time travel may have on the traveller or the traveller on time travel:
- Transitive Alterations: Changes to the past of a time-stream wholly affect the traveler's memory. Some versions of this idea leave dual memories of pre and post change.
- Intransitive Alterations: This is the most commonly used version, where changes to the past of a time-stream cannot affect time travelers, which can leave them in a tight spot when their pre-change knowledge is no longer valid, or makes them stand out in a bad way, especially if what they remember doing, and what everyone else remembers them doing are very different.
- Damaging Travel: Time travel is inimical to your kind of life-form, and it takes its toll on your health. Don't expect to retire.
- Sideways Travel: True time travel is not possible, instead you leap to alternate universes in which events occurred such that the "present" that exists there is the "past" that exists in your native time-stream. Returning may or may not be possible, as if you leave the new universe, you may not hit your home universe.
- Previous Lives: A few versions of time travel postulate recycling souls with previous lives, and time travel is only possible to those previous lives.
- Synchronized Passage: Time spent in the past or future passes at the same rate as time in the present. Spend a weekend away in another time, and when you return, a weekend has passed.
- Lifetime Limit: You cannot time travel to a time in which you don't exist. Used famously in a certain television show about time travel a few decades ago.
- One-shot: A particular time period can only be visited by a given individual, once. A traveller may show up earlier or later, but cannot overlap a previously visited section of a time-stream.
The most challenging aspect of time travel is how to keep track of what is going on when, and how previous events will affect later events, especially when the previous events change after the later events. When there has been a change to a 'current' event, one is often left with little guidance on how to role-play the matter. Furthermore, most gaming groups do not keep records sufficient to re-enact a previously role-played event with the changes necessary for the altered timeline, a critical necessity in order to properly take on a time-traveling campaign.
The power to reorder reality to suit your desire... it is a very potent and powerful ability. Whether it be the classical arabian form of a wish granting djinn or genie, cosmic power that is limited only by your imagination and ability to channel it, or some other form of reality alteration, being able to change things to suit one's whim and desire is a very difficult power to use, and to provide such a character with challenges as a GM. Most people do not have the self discipline to use such a power wisely, even within the constraints of playing a game.
Like most powerful abilities, players will usually fall into the hammer-nail syndrome, and start using it for every little thing, and even worse, start using it in the exact same way every time with no variation or imagination, which can be humorous at first ("I waste it with my cosmic power!"), or disruptive ("I waste it with my cosmic power! That makes the 1573rd time... cool.) GMs are not immune to this either, especially when they make frequent use of GMPCs in general, use NPCs to move the plot along regardless of what the players are doing (or not doing), or decide to resort to rocket tag because they fail to think of other solutions.
This sort of power requires strict adherence to, and understanding of, the rules involved. Almost all game designers are aware of the difficulties of this sort of power, and build in various limitations and weaknesses; which vary from ruleset to ruleset.
The possibilities of this power are literally endless, and limited only by imagination and the rules of the particular game system in use. Here are only a few possible examples:
- Emulating or duplicating other powers and abilities.
- Some versions allow powerful things created to exist independently from the creator, which can throw off the economic, crafting, and implied power constraint system in the rules.
- Travel anywhere instantly, or close to it.
- Affect, alter, bind, free, destroy, or create other people, creatures, places, or things.
- Attempt to become immune to just about everything.
- Long life span.
- Affect the past, present, and/or future.
Remember, the ideal solution is to make the challenging power or ability part of the resolution, without letting it completely solve every challenge, or removing it from the game. The goal is happier, more engaged players. When players are enjoying the game, that gives the GM a much needed boost in the morale and pride department. After all, GMing is hard work, and it needs rewards too.
I seldom bother to plan how a given group is going to defeat or overcome any challenge, because whatever I plan, the players will likely choose something else. And that something often makes for a funnier, more interesting story than anything I had thought of! Your players are a valuable resource. Treasure them, lead them, guide them, and let them surprise you. It is well worth the effort.