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The Arms Race Must End


Territan
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I'm getting fed up with my group, enough so that I may spike the campaign I'm currently running with them, even though they enjoy it immensely.

 

I describe my players as "diabetic kids locked in a candy store for a weekend." They've built the most densely top-heavy combat-based characters imaginable. They don't forget skills or merely neglect their skills as backhand them out of the way as they pass that rack on the way to pick up more powers. Sometimes during play, they may say "I need to pick up that skill," but after the session ends, invariably they reach for the Powers book first and the skill list a distant seventeenth.

 

How do I stop this? Throwing tougher opposition at them merely validates their decision to power up. I prefer to think I run a fairly heavy skill- and interaction-based game, but the one time a skill-based character nearly "got away with it," the gnashing of teeth and threats to ragequit the investigation were impressive indeed. (Maybe that's the way I need to go?)

 

Additional point of information: This game has gone on for a while now, so some of these characters have crested 500 points (400+100XP). Those points have to go somewhere. And these people pretty much cut their teeth on Marvel, which was powers first and skills a distant seventeenth, so...

 

 

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Have you thought about hard caps? Though it sounds though that the main problem is your players like one type of game and you another. Perhaps talk to your group and tell them that you would enjoy having a skill based scenerio  now and again. It’s acknowledged that the GM should hav fun too.

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I would definitely start by sitting down with your players and discussing your concerns. Explain what's bothering you and what your preferences and priorities are, but also ask them what they enjoy and expect out of their games. Express why you would prefer something different, but also solicit from them why they want to play the way they have, and see if you can accommodate each other. Highlight what you see as the advantages to adding more emphasis on Skills; and I recommend phrasing it as "adding" rather than "changing," i.e. they don't have to give up what they like, but an additional dimension could be fun. From how you describe your players, they may simply have no experience with the kind of game you're proposing, and don't yet appreciate how enjoyable that can be.

 

It's usually possible to reach a satisfactory compromise making room for multiple priorities, if all parties approach it reasonably and respectfully, and listen as well as talk. :)

 

EDIT: If they agree in principle, one thing you can do is allow your players, and offer to help them, to rebuild their characters with more emphasis on Skills fitting their concepts. That may mean sparing them extra Experience Points so they don't have to give up a lot of their beloved Powers. ;)

 

 

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Maybe set up some Rules of Engagement where the heroes must not cause excessive Body damage, making the heroes invest in STUN only attacks or CSL: Pulling Punches.

 

And making them spends say 25 Points on skills so they would be well rounded.

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46 minutes ago, Ninja-Bear said:

Have you thought about hard caps? Though it sounds though that the main problem is your players like one type of game and you another. Perhaps talk to your group and tell them that you would enjoy having a skill based scenerio  now and again. It’s acknowledged that the GM should hav fun too.

 

Both of these suggestions are on point and I 100% agree with them.  I like to lay down rules like for every 20 xp you bump the active point costs by 5 (for example).  That deals with raw power fairly easily and transparently.

 

The fact is though that some characters rely on powers by concept and some don't.  Superman and Batman are are great examples of the opposite ends if the spectrum that everyone knows.

 

Powers are flashy and fun too so I think it's pretty natural people gravitate towards them.  If they're building within concept then I say you're doing ok.

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I do agree that talking to your player may be the best option, but I also suggest building one game where the villain is never on the scene.  Much like The Riddler, they use puzzles and skill related obstacles to overcome.  

 

It may sound cruel, but every time they use their powers in that game, they fail (fudge the dice if you have to), every time they use a skill, they get closer to the answer (again fudge the dice if you have to).   

 

When you see a superhero movie or TV show, it almost seems like having more powers means more fun.  But playing with skills and thinking it out is also fun, but if you players are not used to that; they can push back if you force them.  

 

Maybe you can suggest playing ONE game using new characters based on skills.  Like the show Arrow or characters just staring out.  Even The Flash could not run faster than sound when he first started.  

 

I wish the best luck for you.

 

 

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You should restrict the points on villains the heroes face too.  One problem right from the start in Champions was the villains presented were two or three times the starting points of any hero. 

 

Villains should win because of underhanded tactics and by putting innocents in danger, not because their so powerful they can't be touched.

 

This isn't The Flash.

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After the scenario is completed, go over it and point out all the places that they could have made it easier on themselves if they'd had (and used) certain skills.  And make it start costing them if they don't...like, they invade the base and get swarmed by every villain and agent there because no one had Security Systems and they tripped the alarm; the agents then keep the rest busy while the supers take down one of their number with ease.  Force them to retreat or else.  Maybe the hero that is taken down is kidnapped while the rest get away, and they have to run a rescue mission.  Then say something like, "Man, if somebody had had Security Systems, maybe the group would've been able to take out some of their number before the entire house fell down around their ears."

 

Or they miss the back door to the place because they didn't Interrogate a captured agent and force him to give up the intel on the place.  Or they couldn't transport the maguffin that they need because no one bothered to buy Combat Driving (or Driving at all, for that matter).  Or "It sure is lucky that the ambulance showed up when it did, otherwise Nega-Man could have died without medical help."  You get the picture.

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DC Legends of Tomorrow has heroes with powers, but they always seem to end up in a fight involving Martial Arts.  This actually makes sense as Heroes have to be careful not to kill henchmen and others they might be fighting.  Most Golden Age heroes fought this way.

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2 minutes ago, Ninja-Bear said:

Cassandra weren’t some of the villains built more powerful because they were suppose to take on a group at a time?

 

Actually I think they have either a vary powerful attack and defense, but a vulnerability that can remove those powers.  An OAF or IAF is something villains should have more often then a hero.  They should also use those points for Followers who will keep the heroes busy by ambushing them, and threatening innocents.

 

A VPP is a very good option for a villain because of it's flexibility in attacks.  

 

 

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From my experience, and going on only what you stated above...

 

1) What do YOU want out of the game? What does a game that you like look like compared to what is going on?

2) Specifically if you say interactive and skill intensive, yet somehow the mute, skill-less rage monsters still come out on top... what exactly is happening?

3) As Lord Lidaden said, and after you are clear on what you are looking for, you need to talk with the players about the desired out come. "I'm not enjoying this and I'd rather not play at all than continue where we are..." is legitimate. 

4) It may be, and I'm only assuming here, that the problem is the classic reward system that many games, D&D primary, have taught players... the "I win when the end of the night comes and I get to write more stuff from the book down on my sheet," kind of thing. Personally, I come from the "Character advancement is bullshit. Character DEVELOPMENT is what matters!" school of RPGs, but then I'm happy never to look at a book, and EXP rarely comes up in our games. If it makes sense that a character develops a new skill or ability, and the table agrees, then the player gets to add it in, and everyone suggests ideas about how it might be built, or whatever.

5) This also ends up at the point I've made in other threads... are the players coming up with character concepts that they want to bring to life in play, and then using the rules to figure out a way to do that... or are they looking at the rules and cramming together the mechanic constructs that will make the most efficient damage dealing/soaking pile of points? D&D, again, is about reading the rules and finding the most efficient class and package to maximize your hit dice and damage output... it has nothing to do with characters. If they approach Hero with that mentality, then all that matters is points on the page and efficacy of rule knowledge and play in simulated combat.

 

In the end, this will not be resolved by in-game campaign rules and guidelines. This is a metagame issue of play styles and intent and desired outcomes of the play group.

 

Good luck. Any more details to provide, might help the discussion.

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I'll play devil's advocate against Neil's post (though he has some excellent points that I don't dispute, and as he and others have said, talking things out with the players is definitely an important first step.)

 

If you do end up pitching the campaign and starting over, you could set a minimum level (say, 15-25 points) of noncombat skills.  Things like Breakfall, Rapid Attack, Martial Arts, etc. don't count toward that total. If going this route, you need to enforce this at character creation time.

 

In my current campaign, I gave each player 5 extra points, requiring that it go toward a Contact.  Maybe do the same, but requiring that it go toward a single skill (which would generally be the base roll + 1), something in which that character specializes.  Or better yet, give each player a free +3 with any one noncombat skill they purchase, making him/her relatively expert in it - but make sure nobody steps on anyone else's schtick.  If one person wants to be have Criminology at +3, nobody else can take their free +3 with it.  You might have a hacker (Computer Programming +3), a master detective (Criminology +3), a ninja (Stealth +3), a con man (Conversation or Persuasion +3), a cat burglar (Lockpicking +3), etc.

 

The hard part, however, is that you as GM need to provide opportunities for them to use those skills throughout game play.  (And make those opportunities specific to the skills they bought, not ones they haven't bought but think they should.)  Given their apparent predilection away from skill use, these opportunities may need to be blatant and even prompted by you.  ("Okay, you've found the VIPER base.  Does anybody have Lockpicking?  Security Systems?")  That may mean having a more relaxed attitude toward noncombat things they do.**  And don't be overly strict if a given situation doesn't fit their skill perfectly. 

 

And finally, make sure you spread the joy around.  Don't make every adventure about the master detective.  Give the ninja or the hacker a chance to shine. 

 

Also, you could reinforce their use of skills with some skill-based rewards.  "That was great how you got the VIPER base's location out of the captured agent.  Take 2 extra XP for +1 to Persuasion."  You don't want to give everybody extra XP every session, but rewarding one person per adventure isn't bad.  Maybe get the players' input.  ("Okay, who do you think had coolest use of a skill tonight?  Not counting yourself.")

 

** I recently ran an adventure where the heroes were looking for a VIPER Nest after the Goons in Green kidnapped a homeless guy with a powerful mutant power.  They had the Nest location narrowed down to a square mile of the city, and wanted to set up sensors and set off underground explosives to try and locate suspicious underground spaces within that area.  Given the relatively large area they needed to cover, the plan wasn't highly realistic -- but it fit comic-book logic just fine and was admittedly creative, so I let it work for them.  Also, when they decided to disguise themselves a VIPER agents to sneak in, I let it go without throwing any real roadblocks in the way.  After all, they were having fun.

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If you want to subtly change the players attitude about skills, especially if they are heroes, frame them.

 

Frame the heroes for a crime and attitude they did not commit.  The government and other supers then become "villains" they can't fight without looking guilty.

 

If they attack the authorities, it will only worsen their position in the news.

If they hack sites with their powers, it will probably get noted by the govt.

If they spread 'fake news' with their powers, it will probably get noted by the forensics team by the govt.

If they mind control or telepathically read people, it will just get the public to mistrust them more.

 

They will need skills to deduce who framed them.

They will need skills to gather evidence on the framing.

They will need contacts to get the evidence and people on their side.

They will need skills to persuade the public to trust them.

If they don't have the skills to properly do things, but the player knows what to do, the action may succeed but are crude and unpolished.  Deduction might lead them to a correct target but on incorrect pretenses making the case inadmissible.  Evidence gathering might become tainted for court use.  PR work might make the heroes look innocent but laughing stocks.

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Are you giving them opportunities to use skills?  Sometimes GMs complain that players are combat monsters, and then you see what kind of game they're running, and it's all combat.  Well, no duh they're going to create combat monsters.

 

Here's my suggestion.  Run an adventure that absolutely, positively requires skills.  If they don't have the right ones, they end up on a wild goose chase.  Don't have it completely bog down -- that's boring.  They shouldn't be sitting around the table scratching themselves while you glare at them and shout "See how important skills are?!?!?"

 

Instead, let them jump to the wrong conclusions.  Let them slam face-first into a villain's trap.  Have them attack a superhero team, thinking they are villains.  They're having fun during the session, and then at the end they realize they've totally screwed everything up.  Don't be vindictive, make it comic book-ey.

 

--

 

Scene 1:  Somebody robs the diamond exchange or something.  The coveted Royal Diamond has been stolen!  The heroes show up, and the bad guys are already gone.  You have them roll Criminology and/or Deduction.  Of course, no one has those skills.  So you let them try and figure it out.  Roll Security Systems/Systems Operation.  Oh you don't have it?  Okay.  You watch the security cameras, interview a few witnesses ("Which way did they go?"), and take off looking for the bad guys.

 

Scene 2:  You ask them to roll Tracking.  They don't have that skill.  Instead they use their powers (enhanced senses or just really fast flight) to try to find the bad guys and catch up.  They just barely manage to see somebody suspicious entering a warehouse at the pier.  They bust in to find a guy at a big computer terminal, and several robots.  Combat with the bots ensues, the players win.  The guy at the computer (protected by a force field up to this point) finishes typing something and he teleports away.  The players want to know where he went.  Okay, roll Computer Programming and/or Systems Operation.  They don't have it.  But somebody talks their way through how they should really be able to use the computer, and you let them do it.  They find the info on where this guy went, where all the diamonds are being held.

 

Scene 3:  The players fly or teleport or whatever to the secret base.  There they find a group of costumed people sitting around a table.  The people look like they match the info on the computer, and in the security camera video.  Apparently they're called the Masters of Disaster.  Okay, roll Knowledge Skill: Superheroes/Supervillains.  Oh, you don't have it.  The players have never heard of them, these guys must be new.  But here they are!  Combat ensues.  The players stomp the Masters of Disaster into the dirt.  Players gloat, ask where the diamonds are.  Or at least they will ask that, once the Masters of Disaster wake up.

 

Scene 4:  A TV over in the corner has a news flash.  Something bad has happened elsewhere in the city.  A laser beam of incredible intensity has just melted the Tower Bridge.  Scientists say only the Royal Diamond could focus that much energy.  Maybe there's a clue as to what they did with it here in their base?  Hey, what's this?  Why are there pictures of these guys saving people?  What are these news clippings of a team called The Protectors?  Aren't they the team from a couple states over?  Is this really them?  Looks like they were following the real Masters of Disaster.  Oops.

 

End game session.  When players complain, you tell them you gave them like 10 chances to figure out something was amiss.  Criminology or Deduction could have given more information on what really happened.  Security Systems or Systems Ops could have told them that the security tapes had been tampered with.  Tracking could have helped you follow their real path, not the distraction they set up for you.  Computer Programming could have revealed the fake info you found on their system.  KS: Supers could have told you who The Protectors really were before you beat the crap out of them.  You guys just fell for every simple trick in the book.

 

Next game session, they join with The Protectors (after apologizing profusely), and go stop the bad guys.  The Protectors have skills that make the fight significantly easier.  They give a brief lecture about how the PCs really need to be better trained if they're going to be superheroes.  You narrate that the PCs have taken this information to heart.

 

--

 

If they still don't learn their lesson, run them through another adventure.  Let them try and fake their way through skill use.  "Yeah, you can figure out how to use the enemy computer..."  Let them do it once or twice, then "no you can't solve this.  Maybe Larry can try?"  At the end of the adventure, they get zero experience points.  But they do learn the skill they used earlier in the adventure.  "You get Computer Programming.  What's your Intelligence?  Oh a 13 huh?  Well you get Programming at 12 or less.  No XP though."

 

Start to steer their characters where they need to be.

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OK I'd recommend some skill-based games to get people used to the idea of skills as a valuable ability (danger international, Pulp Hero, etc).  Find a genre they all like such as Western Hero and run a few scenarios in that as a breather from the superhero campaign and give them a sense of how skills are and what they do.

 

Then in the game, set up more investigations, tricks, traps, character interaction and such that requires them to use skills to solve the problems and beat the bad guy. Your blast isn't enough, but there's a booster in that blast-proof safe, if only you can pick the lock...

 

Also, caps on powers, limiting what they can get and do helps focus people.

 

EDIT:

I should add something.  In the games I've played in, the arms race is usually the result of players feeling outclassed and frustrated by the opponents they face, who always seem so much more powerful.  So people amp up their character in response, trying to deal with the challenge.  That's not always the case; some players are just naturally power hungry or focused on what badass thing they can do, and some are competitive, so they always have to have the biggest blast or whatever. But its worth looking at your GM style and seeing if maybe there could be something you could change there, too.

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21 hours ago, massey said:

Are you giving them opportunities to use skills?  Sometimes GMs complain that players are combat monsters, and then you see what kind of game they're running, and it's all combat.  Well, no duh they're going to create combat monsters.

 

Here's my suggestion.  Run an adventure that absolutely, positively requires skills.  If they don't have the right ones, they end up on a wild goose chase.  Don't have it completely bog down -- that's boring.  They shouldn't be sitting around the table scratching themselves while you glare at them and shout "See how important skills are?!?!?"

 

Instead, let them jump to the wrong conclusions.  Let them slam face-first into a villain's trap.  Have them attack a superhero team, thinking they are villains.  They're having fun during the session, and then at the end they realize they've totally screwed everything up.  Don't be vindictive, make it comic book-ey.

 

--

 

Scene 1:  Somebody robs the diamond exchange or something.  The coveted Royal Diamond has been stolen!  The heroes show up, and the bad guys are already gone.  You have them roll Criminology and/or Deduction.  Of course, no one has those skills.  So you let them try and figure it out.  Roll Security Systems/Systems Operation.  Oh you don't have it?  Okay.  You watch the security cameras, interview a few witnesses ("Which way did they go?"), and take off looking for the bad guys.

 

Scene 2:  You ask them to roll Tracking.  They don't have that skill.  Instead they use their powers (enhanced senses or just really fast flight) to try to find the bad guys and catch up.  They just barely manage to see somebody suspicious entering a warehouse at the pier.  They bust in to find a guy at a big computer terminal, and several robots.  Combat with the bots ensues, the players win.  The guy at the computer (protected by a force field up to this point) finishes typing something and he teleports away.  The players want to know where he went.  Okay, roll Computer Programming and/or Systems Operation.  They don't have it.  But somebody talks their way through how they should really be able to use the computer, and you let them do it.  They find the info on where this guy went, where all the diamonds are being held.

 

Scene 3:  The players fly or teleport or whatever to the secret base.  There they find a group of costumed people sitting around a table.  The people look like they match the info on the computer, and in the security camera video.  Apparently they're called the Masters of Disaster.  Okay, roll Knowledge Skill: Superheroes/Supervillains.  Oh, you don't have it.  The players have never heard of them, these guys must be new.  But here they are!  Combat ensues.  The players stomp the Masters of Disaster into the dirt.  Players gloat, ask where the diamonds are.  Or at least they will ask that, once the Masters of Disaster wake up.

 

Scene 4:  A TV over in the corner has a news flash.  Something bad has happened elsewhere in the city.  A laser beam of incredible intensity has just melted the Tower Bridge.  Scientists say only the Royal Diamond could focus that much energy.  Maybe there's a clue as to what they did with it here in their base?  Hey, what's this?  Why are there pictures of these guys saving people?  What are these news clippings of a team called The Protectors?  Aren't they the team from a couple states over?  Is this really them?  Looks like they were following the real Masters of Disaster.  Oops.

 

End game session.  When players complain, you tell them you gave them like 10 chances to figure out something was amiss.  Criminology or Deduction could have given more information on what really happened.  Security Systems or Systems Ops could have told them that the security tapes had been tampered with.  Tracking could have helped you follow their real path, not the distraction they set up for you.  Computer Programming could have revealed the fake info you found on their system.  KS: Supers could have told you who The Protectors really were before you beat the crap out of them.  You guys just fell for every simple trick in the book.

 

Next game session, they join with The Protectors (after apologizing profusely), and go stop the bad guys.  The Protectors have skills that make the fight significantly easier.  They give a brief lecture about how the PCs really need to be better trained if they're going to be superheroes.  You narrate that the PCs have taken this information to heart.

 

--

 

If they still don't learn their lesson, run them through another adventure.  Let them try and fake their way through skill use.  "Yeah, you can figure out how to use the enemy computer..."  Let them do it once or twice, then "no you can't solve this.  Maybe Larry can try?"  At the end of the adventure, they get zero experience points.  But they do learn the skill they used earlier in the adventure.  "You get Computer Programming.  What's your Intelligence?  Oh a 13 huh?  Well you get Programming at 12 or less.  No XP though."

 

Start to steer their characters where they need to be.

 

When the characters don't have skills an INT roll can be used.  Minor special effects based on their powers could also help out (Firecracker notices an usually heat trail which the heroes can follow).  Of course what ever clues they find might lead to a trap (SFX: Evil Laughter)

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My last DM would not approve a character without 30-40 points of skills. You may have to restart a campaign. Make a point to use information gathering as a part of play.

My character, Talos was designed around "Streewise" information gathering. He had criminology but not deduction.  He is not a Batman, just a guy who grew up on the streets. his high char is PRE at 20, so these skills are a natural choice for Talos.

 

9 +3 CSL with the three Punch attacks in Multipower

3 Streetwise 13-

3 Charm 13-

3 Conversation 13-

3 Persuasion 13-

3 Interrogation 13-

3 Stealth 13-

3 Shadowing 12-

3 Breakfall 13-

3 Criminology 12-

2 Campaign city:  KS 11-

2 Super human world:  KS 11-

2 Ambidexterity -1 with offhand

------------------------------------------------------ 42 total Skills

 

 

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I'm fine with one or two characters just being dumb brutes in a group but there needs to be at least one or two people with lots of skills to do the street and thought work, make things, fix things, talk to people, etc.


Which brings up another aspect: press and authorities interaction.  Without conversation, persuasion, charm, etc the superheroes should have a hard time getting things across.  They should be misquoted and mistreated in the press, have a poorer time with cops and politicians, have a hard time convincing that lady they saved that they are the good guys, etc.

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To play the Devil's Advocate for a moment, assume we make skills essential for success.  How do the players perceive this? 

 

Enriching the game?  I suspect not, or they would already have had skills.

 

Forcing a "character tax" to reduce the points available for Kewl Kombat Stuff?  More likely.

 

Do we end up with a "skill monkey" role forced upon one of the players, much like the historical perspective of the D&D Cleric - SOMEONE has to play it for the group to succeed, but no one wants to?

 

Maybe we have a discussion on wanting a game with more out of combat activity, which means investing some character resources in out of combat abilities, and everyone gets 25 (or 40, or whatever) points to buy an out of combat abilities suite, over and above their existing abilities.

 

It seems like that discussion is long overdue - when the GM reviewed these characters, was it overlooked that no one had any skills to be used out of combat?

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All I’m going to say is that if the players are enjoying the kewl powers and are avoiding the skills AND didn’t like that a skill monkey villain almost got away with it, forcing skills is going to end in disaster and could just end the group playing Champions  again.

Edited by Ninja-Bear
Stupid spelling error
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What you really need to do is lead by example.  For your next villain create something with a lot of skills and use it against the party.  Make the villain a little weak on the combat side, but go nuts for skills.  His combat abilities should also be designed to be able to take advantage of his skills.  The idea is to create a synergy between the villain’s skills and powers.  Once the players have been beaten down by something supposedly weaker than they are they may get the idea.  Most of my characters are built this way and they seem to be the most powerful characters in the group.

 

Another thing to do is to allow the characters to fail if they don’t have the skills.  Many GM’s will bend over backwards if the characters don’t have the right skills or powers.  This often leads to situations like you are in.  This encourages the players to ignore the things they should be purchasing.  The way to fix this is to let them fail form time to time.    

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