Thursday, September 24, 2015

The fine line between challenging and impossible - DM THOUGHTS

Ever had a game of DnD where your Dungeon Master seems to be out to kill you no matter what?

First round: Everyone’s surprised, the enemy spellcaster casts Hold person on both the fighter and the cleric. Don't question it, he just does. The rogue suddenly realizes he is in a place with absolutely NO place to hide or run to. The enemy hard hitter hits the mage for infinity hit points of damage and kills him. Now it’s the party’s turn, but the rogue now has a mage down, a Cleric and a Fighter on hold for 7 to 10 business days, and a mage, two Barbarians, and a pack of wolves on top of him.

Don't be this douchebag...

Another (less extreme) example

The players prepare for a Dungeon crawl. They enter the Dungeon and immediately spring a trap. One player fails his reflex check and dies. The other three continue and enter a room with a deadly encounter with a vampire. Just as the name of the encounter suggests it, another player dies. The remaining two decide to exit the dungeon for now, and return with a different approach and two other companions. Just as they start to leave, the doors close and water starts to flood the room. 2 rounds later they are drowning, and a few failed Constitution checks later, it's a TPK.

Ugh... why?

The first thing that comes to mind when a DM sets his players up for failure like this, is "Why would he do that?".

- Players were getting cocky, the DM needed to show them that death was very possible.

- Nobody likes an easy game.

- Encounters are meant to be challenging

- I don't want to make it easy on them, my games are always hard.

These are ALL valid reasons to make a game harder, more difficult, or more challenging. However there is a fine line between making it challenging and making it impossible. Encounters should be challenging to keep your game interesting and your players awake. However, once you start throwing deadly encounter after deadly encounter, eventually one of them will die, and will probably resent the fact that you seemed to be trying to kill them from the beginning.

As a DM, one should be mindful of this balance, after all the idea behind a roleplaying game is to defeat an objective using everyone's abilities in creative ways. You do this while playing what is essentially a part in a story. you, the DM, are ALSO playing a part in that story. However you get to play everyone else in the world. and here's where you need to make a distinction.

It's not a game of "the players vs the DM".

The moment you start seeing the players as your enemies, it will be easier for you to start enjoying it every time you put an impossible obstacle in front of them, because then you "win". And where's the fun in that?

Yeah, I know... it's pretty sweet...but hear me out

There's just one DM and at least 3 or 4 players. If in the end you're the only one having fun at the table, then you have failed to make it entertaining for the majority of those at your table. This eventually leads to players asking themselves why they are doing this in the first place... subjecting themselves to hours of frustration just so YOU can have a laugh everytime they fail, and once they realize they don't like it, they leave and stop going to your games.. So how do you avoid this?

Try this: the players are not your enemies, see them as your allies. Sure, you're the one who places the problems in front of them, and you probably have an idea of how they could overcome that problem. S use that in your advantage. Your attitude should be "Ok guys here's the situation, how are we going to move the story forward?". If they give you ideas that are creative and inventive, then reward them with a positive outcome and move the story forward. It's a lot more fun to do this than just throw in a random no-win scenario and have them all die.

This does not mean that there should not be any impossible tasks in your world. A level 1 party that stumbles upon a dragon's hoard should be very aware of the fact that they are in for an almost guaranteed death if the dragon finds them. This is common sense. But placing nothing but extremely hard or near-impossible tasks between the players and their ultimate goal will get boring for them really fast.

So in conclusion, keep your games balanced, give your players the opportunities to shine and solve the problems in front of them. Don't go easy on them. And don't go out of your way to make their lives miserable either. Balance. Balance is everything.

Thanks for reading!