Whenever I receive an email from a fan about what old-school blogs I read despite being a fan of 4e I always omitted The Tao of D&D, because I knew that if I told the average person who reads my blog about it they’d go there and post something stupid. I also feared that linking to Alexis’ blog would create some kind of dimensional portal through which he would leap out of my computer screen and chew on my face. Or punch me. That might perhaps be worse. However, I do read it, admittedly not much.
Lately, Alexis has been running a game of OD&D on his blog. I was interested mostly because, wow, D&D on a blog? That’s pretty cool right there, even if you’re a 4e fan you should go check that out (just please don’t get into any stupid arguments there, I’d rather not be the enabler for such things). I bet you if I ran a campaign off a blog nobody would post except maybe once a day, that’s just my luck with correspondence mediums. However, he’s doing it. And he’s gotten far too. However, this post isn’t about that. Rather it’s about this.
(Oh god I’ve opened the gates please don’t kill me I have garlic on me I’m not afraid to use it oh god oh god he’s gonna eat me)
“I’ve had it described to me by a smart fellow who doesn’t play D&D and who didn’t find my world compelling, that part of my problem as a DM is that I have a tendency to make suggestions to players. That I will answer someone’s action with, “Are you sure you want to do that,” or even, “Had you considered…?”
I’m told that, strictly speaking, it’s better to let players make their mistakes, kill them off if need be and let them learn. In other words, to behave as a video game would and be merciless.
I’ll tell you what the problem with that is.”
Now go read what the problem with that is. I’ll wait while sipping a daikiri.
What? You’re back? I’m not done yet.
Go do something else.
Quit bugging me.
I have to say I agree 100% with Alexis’ point of view on this issue. I also have to say that reading his long post about his own game has made me shed a few of my own fears and insecurities as a DM. It’s funny how you find such nuggets of gold where you least expect them to be. That’s why I read nearly anything. But anyway.
Often I came upon the notion that I was an “easy” DM back when I DMed for more diverse crowds. It was joking sometimes, serious sometimes. I didn’t like this label – when I looked at what being a non-easy DM was, as presented to me, it just left a sour taste in my mouth. That’s not how I play. I don’t let the players stand around in a spot for a half hour trying to figure something out only to go and die because, woops, they figured wrong. Gee, do I go left or right at the road? Woops, left kills you. Sorry. Karmic non-decisions of a cruel universe.
I also don’t let them take actions, at least not at first, that are just completely moronically stupid. At least, not without some hassling. It happens, even to good players. Even as a joke, I would often go “you do WHAT?” just to show them that, yeah, that’s a dumb idea. If they insist on it, then they mess up. But I think for a player in a new world, maybe even one they’re not used to, it’s better for the DM to err on the side of helpfulness than to be the unsmiling effigy of God’s disdain for his creation.
I would much rather have them roll to get a clue and move on enjoying the game, or keep them from dying (perhaps giving them a less lethal punishment just to show them that yes, they did mess up). A lot of people equate this to a negative stereotype of an “almighty creator of the game” that can’t stay away from “dictating the actions of the players.” That is to say that a DM should stay away from the game and let it develop, that he should never help, never favor – that he, in his neutrality, is just another dangerous portion of the world that cannot be easily bargained with. To do anything else is to railroad, I suppose?
I gave clues for everything. I designed some clever puzzle and just gave player’s clues on how to figure it out if they rolled well. Puzzles are already stupid hard to convey accurately unless you make the puzzle into some kind of prop and throw it at a player’s head across the table. I figure, if this character rolls well, then he knows. His wisdom or intelligence was good enough. I’m not just the DM, I’m one of the guys. I want to play a game, not run a meat grinder.
It wasn’t just on puzzles though. During combats, if the players had a particularly difficult time of fighting a monster, I would let them try to use their knowledge of the monster to see if they could gain bonuses or exploit weaknesses. Of course this was back in D&D 3.5, where there was a class that did this and the rules themselves other than this class didn’t really support it, but since nobody ever played the class in question in my games, I figured, why not? I got some complaints about that too.
The funny thing was, the complaint was exactly that. That the Archivist is the one that does this. Wow.
I’m a fairly permissive and friendly DM. I don’t pull my punches, but I do give opportunities and I do give second chances even when death seems imminent. I don’t play to kill characters, especially if I feel I never gave a chance to live in the first place.
It always haunted me, thinking that players wouldn’t be satisfied or challenged. As a player, I never really played for “challenge” I just played because I liked to be a character in a different world. I didn’t really get, as a DM, the notion that challenge should come first and be the real fun in the game.
So I tried to be more of a tough guy for a while to create “challenge.” No hints, no “get a clue” check, no little bonuses here and there, just the rules and the world, deal with it. Can’t figure out where to go for information? Too bad, come up with an idea and see if you don’t mess up for it. Rolled a good knowledge check against a monster? Well too bad, those don’t do anything to affect whether you miss it 20 times in a row or not. Doing something stupid? Well I guess this is the part where the DM is supposed to be having fun plotting how to murder you.
I just couldn’t bear it.
Nowadays, I’ve gone back to being more mellow, but that old fear was still around. Should I give them some options to their face? Is that railroading? Should I just let them figure it out themselves? If they roll low, should I give them another chance? Would that be too easy? But I think it’s time I stop questioning myself, and just game how I game. If you think it’s too easy, go play with somebody else. Maybe you’ll find the tough sheet-shredding DM of your dreams.
I’m not saying that being neutral is always negative. But it’s not me, and I think that the way I play is valid too.