What Makes it Okay to Put Them in a Spot?

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When is the DM “allowed” to put player characters in a dangerous or complicated situation? Consider the following opening scene, framed by the DM:

DM: “Dangerous and complicated thing X happens.”
P1: “What about my ability that prevents X from happening?”
P2: “What about realism that says X wouldn’t happen?”
P3: “I’m not even there for X to happen to me.”

In a game of fantasy adventuring, ostensibly, players want DMs to put them in trouble. After all, they’ve willingly chosen a career and lifestyle that will put them in trouble on a regular basis. This is the game we have chosen to play. Otherwise, we'd be playing some other game, right?

I have noticed on occasion, however, that players will object to being put in that danger and asked to figure a way out of it. Now, we’re not talking about (in this scenario) the DM negating a player declaration purposefully. In other words, the DM is not saying you’ve pulled a lever you never said you pulled (or specifically said you avoided) and caused said dangerous and complicated thing to occur. The dangerous or complicated situation must follow what’s gone before. Where nothing has been declared or established, however, the DM has taken liberties and established elements that create compelling action.

Or is that not cool? What justifies whether or not a DM’s dangerous or complicated situation flies with the players? What hoops does the DM need to jump through to make it “okay” to put the characters in a spot like that? As a DM, would you be okay if the players modified the scene the DM established to bring it in line with something they find more palatable? As a player who would seek to do that, would you make the dangerous or complicated situation easier on yourselves? If so, why?

(Note: If you could put your responses in terms other than “it’s just my preference,” that would be very helpful to the discussion.)

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Consider the following opening scene, framed by the DM:
DM: “Dangerous and complicated thing X happens.”
P1: “What about my ability that prevents X from happening?”
P2: “What about realism that says X wouldn’t happen?”
P3: “I’m not even there for X to happen to me.”

... players will object to being put in that danger and asked to figure a way out of it.

Maybe think of it as:
These questions are their way of proactively figuring a way out of it.

Their questions seem reasonable. They are doing their job as players. Be tough, but fair. If they've taken steps (or have abilities) to say, avoid ambushes, then they should benefit from avoiding an ambush... especially if you hadn't planned on that ability. Let them occasionally get an easy win. They've 'outwitted' the DM. Good on them.

Next time you can come up with a tougher situation for them. Or if you want the tough situation to start en medias res, maybe ask them how it might come to be. Example:
DM: "I wanted to start this session with the party being in jail. Will that work?"
P1: "Sure. We're pretty tough, but I suppose the town guard could muster up some high level sorts to get us to comply. But P2 can teleport, so I don't think he could be locked up."
P2: "The town guard can probably do something about that. Maybe anti-teleport manacles or something. A blindfold might even work."

Where nothing has been declared or established, however, the DM has taken liberties and established elements that create compelling action.
Or is that not cool?

Players will resist a DM taking liberties when it puts them in a spot. What makes it ok is to get their buy-in first (as indicated above). Another example:

Bad:
DM: Your parents are kidnapped
P1: Dude, I'm an orphan!

Good:
DM: I was planning to have your parents kidnapped in this session. Is that ok?
P1: Hmm. Well, I had intended to be an orphan, but I'm sure there's someone in my life that I'd be attached to. Or maybe this is how I learn about my real parents?


Good drama involves dilemmas ("impaling the protagonists on the horns of a dilemma" is a tried and true writing technique), so in general this is fair game. However, in regards to specific player complaints:


Players 1 and 3 have a legitimate gripe, at least if the DM does not have a sufficiently plausible reason within the context of the narrative to override their issues. Note that it only has to be plausible within the context of the narrative, and not necessarily "realistic". For P1, this involves having a sufficient excuse to override a power (and in 4th edition this isn't terribly hard given the general limitation of utlity powers). For P3 this is a problem of motivation, so tossing the ball back in the player's court ("What is your reason for boarding the Blue Dolphin / staying at the Green Rogue Inn / attending the court of Duke Darkbad?") is a reasonably LIM-based response.

Player 2 is just being contrarian. One of the basic buy-ins of LIM is that a setting only has to be as "realistic" as the collective narrative requires. Dragons, pixies, sorcerors, etc, are all inherently unrealistic. P2's problem is really a less-articulated version of P3's argument (one of motivation) so if you want to be egalitarian ask the player how it might have come to pass.
   
Or if you want the tough situation to start en medias res, maybe ask them how it might come to be. Example:
DM: "I wanted to start this session with the party being in jail. Will that work?"
P1: "Sure. We're pretty tough, but I suppose the town guard could muster up some high level sorts to get us to comply. But P2 can teleport, so I don't think he could be locked up."
P2: "The town guard can probably do something about that. Maybe anti-teleport manacles or something. A blindfold might even work."



That's my general approach in a nutshell, for the record. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Players will resist a DM taking liberties when it puts them in a spot. What makes it ok is to get their buy-in first (as indicated above). Another example:

Bad:
DM: Your parents are kidnapped
P1: Dude, I'm an orphan!

Good:
DM: I was planning to have your parents kidnapped in this session. Is that ok?
P1: Hmm. Well, I had intended to be an orphan, but I'm sure there's someone in my life that I'd be attached to. Or maybe this is how I learn about my real parents?



I posted about this situation generally as I think it's fairly universal, but for my own purposes, I'm thinking of a specific situation that I won't really need to get into here. I think buy-in is important, definitely. Where I may have made a mistake in this specific transaction was assuming I had buy-in where I did not.

However, to touch on one of the other questions I asked above, it's okay to modify the in media res problem with player contribution and collaboration before the action "starts" (at least in my book). If the situation presented by the DM is at least interesting and (hopefully) challenging, would you as a player try to "get out of it" before it even kicks off, or make it "easier" on yourself? If so, why would you? If you're in the position of the DM, would you be okay if the players did this?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Next time you can come up with a tougher situation for them. Or if you want the tough situation to start en medias res, maybe ask them how it might come to be. Example:
DM: "I wanted to start this session with the party being in jail. Will that work?"
P1: "Sure. We're pretty tough, but I suppose the town guard could muster up some high level sorts to get us to comply. But P2 can teleport, so I don't think he could be locked up."
P2: "The town guard can probably do something about that. Maybe anti-teleport manacles or something. A blindfold might even work."


Every group I've played in would have P2 telelport out of jail when no one is looking, then teleport back later.

Either the players buy into the DM's proposed story, or they make up their own story, or there is no game.

Those are the three immutable choices of RPGs. Since, like, forever.

(I can specifically remember having this same conversation on Usenet back in the early '90s, and I'm sure it was going on the Forum pages of Dragon magazine during the '70s and '80s.)
would you as a player try to "get out of it" before it even kicks off, or make it "easier" on yourself?

Yes. I would consider as many tactics/options as I could. If some of them seemed against what the DM intended, I would then try to provide him with possible reasons it wouldn't work.

If you're in the position of the DM, would you be okay if the players did this?

Yes. I expect them to use whatever resources they have available (indeed: hopefully I encourage it). If their suggestions seem implausable (or does not fit the scenario), I will say as much... but it doesn't hurt for them to ask.

Either the players buy into the DM's proposed story, or they make up their own story, or there is no game.

Those are the three immutable choices of RPGs. Since, like, forever.

Well put. But I think there's another option that is a mix of the first and second: "or they collaborate."

I don't remember Dragon, or any official product taking a particularly enlightened view of things, hence we have the idea that it's the players' job to go along with the DM, and the DM's job to entertain the players, which I think has issues.


If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I think there's another option that is a mix of the first and second: "or they collaborate."

Good point, and you're right that modern games do a much better job of encouraging collaboration than most old school games.
Yes. I would consider as many tactics/options as I could.



Why? Or rather, what would be your ultimate goal with this approach? Again, provided the proposed challenge was interesting. (We're also setting the goal post here to be "before action kicks off" meaning you're probably making the situation easier on yourself before it really gets going.)

For the record (and because I get more than a few accusations thrown my way), I'm definitely not judging. It's just my approach as a player, generally speaking, to like getting put in tough spots. Given the option, I'll always choose the worst situation to be in because in theory getting out is going to be harder and potentially more interesting. To me, anyway.

If some of them seemed against what the DM intended, I would then try to provide him with possible reasons it wouldn't work.



I respect that. I do it myself.

Yes. I expect them to use whatever resources they have available (indeed: hopefully I encourage it). If their suggestions seem implausable (or does not fit the scenario), I will say as much... but it doesn't hurt for them to ask.



We're on the same page here.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Yeah, I'm the kind of player who will put his character in a bad situation to see how it works out. I enjoy the drama and having my guy get beat up a little bit. As the DM, I do have a player who goes out of her way to protect her character, but with 4E roles and her being a Striker and the leader of the group (as in she leads, not her role) it kinda makes sense. She is zipping around the grip sniping anyone who attacks or is threatening the others, and they are keeping the badguys away from their glass-jawed damage-dealer.

During our last session her character was hit by a trap. Basically a water blast from one trap moved her into a whirlpool trap in the center of a sewer area. She probably spent 5 minutes trying to think of every possible way of countering the trap so it wouldnt effect her. I finally said "How about you just see what the trap does ... this would be the first hit you've actually taken this session." She grudgingly agreed.

The whirlpool sucked her Warlock under, doing about 8 damage and spitting her out a pipe at the far end of the room, which actually put her in better range of an escaping enemy, and gave her the "dazed" effect which she successfully saved against on her next turn. She was like "Oh. That wasn't so bad" and everyone else was saying "Aww, that's cool! Stay away from THAT thing!" I think it enhanced the fun instead of taking away, but it was a hard sell at that moment. Most players, unless they specifically go for something like a Defender class (I have a player who loves watching his guy take damage and still stand), will go to great lengths to protect their characters from harm.
During our last session her character was hit by a trap. Basically a water blast from one trap moved her into a whirlpool trap in the center of a sewer area. She probably spent 5 minutes trying to think of every possible way of countering the trap so it wouldnt effect her. I finally said "How about you just see what the trap does ... this would be the first hit you've actually taken this session." She grudgingly agreed.

An excellent anecdote. I see this a lot. I assume it's fear of the unknown. There's literally no limit to how bad a DM can make things, and if a trap could plausibly be a death trap, you're going to want to avoid it. Then this gets extended to avoiding every hit because you never know what riders it might have, or when you're going to need those hit points later.

Of course, this makes me think that an "interesting failure" approach overall might get people to start relishing traps, instead of trying to nullify them.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Centauri, my hope was for one of the players to see a benefit in the trap. Other than a 1d10 damage, it basically was a teleport (albiet with a dazed effect), moving you from one end of the map to the other. It actually took her away from a rather big monster that ended up spending a round chomping her sidhe minion (one of the Sidhe Lord powers) instead of attacking her or following her, or even going after a player character at all.

I also expected the PCs to start pushing bad guys into the whirlpool and just plant someone near the pipe to wail on them while they were dazed, but they never really got the chance to do it.
I would consider as many tactics/options as I could.

Why? Or rather, what would be your ultimate goal with this approach?

It's part of problem solving. The goal is to think your way past an obstacle. That can include considering certain proactive measures that you would've (or actually had) made ahead of time.

It's also part of establishing verisimilitude. For this reason I'll also inform the DM if he forgot to consider certain details that would make the scenario harder for me.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />Bad:
DM: Your parents are kidnapped
P1: Dude, I'm an orphan!




Well, sometimes it is a useful thing to be an orphan boy

(one of my last characters was a lazy Warlord|Bard named Major-General Stanley, who happened to be a victim of a pirate attack)
DM advice: 1. Do a Session Zero. 2. Start With Action. 3. Always say "Yes" to player ideas. 4. Don't build railroads. 5. Make success, failure, and middling rolls interesting. Player advice: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. Build off each other, don't block each other. 3. You're supposed to be a badass. Act like it. Take risks. My poorly updated blog: http://engineeredfun.wordpress.com/

DM: Your parents are kidnapped
P1: Dude, I'm an orphan!

Well, sometimes it is a useful thing to be an orphan boy

Anecdote: in a previous campaign I made the mistake of mentioning in my rogue PC's background that he only claimed be an orphan (even though he was raised in a perfectly normal family).

So of course the DM immediately took my family hostage. And I felt obligated to 'care' about them (even though that was implicitly not part of my character concept) so as not to ruin his plot. He then continued the "rogue cares about his family" plot-line for several months until I left.



DM: Your parents are kidnapped
P1: Dude, I'm an orphan!

Well, sometimes it is a useful thing to be an orphan boy

Anecdote: in a previous campaign I made the mistake of mentioning in my rogue PC's background that he only claimed be an orphan (even though he was raised in a perfectly normal family).

So of course the DM immediately took my family hostage. And I felt obligated to 'care' about them (even though that was expressly not part of my character concept) so as not to ruin his plot. He then continued the "rogue cares about his family" plot-line for several months until I left.





Sounds like your DM's way of seeking a penalty fifty-fold
DM advice: 1. Do a Session Zero. 2. Start With Action. 3. Always say "Yes" to player ideas. 4. Don't build railroads. 5. Make success, failure, and middling rolls interesting. Player advice: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. Build off each other, don't block each other. 3. You're supposed to be a badass. Act like it. Take risks. My poorly updated blog: http://engineeredfun.wordpress.com/
If the situation presented by the DM is at least interesting and (hopefully) challenging, would you as a player try to "get out of it" before it even kicks off, or make it "easier" on yourself? If so, why would you?



Of course I would, because if the DM is overlooking something that's going to ruin the scenario, it's better to notice this and fix it beforehand than to have it come up later on. If the game starts and then I realize I have Ability X that will solve the problem instantly, then either I use it and the problem is solved, or I pretend not to remember it to make things work better for the DM, which is just frustrating as a player, or the DM retcons something so that my solution doesn't work. The retcon option is sometimes viable, sometimes not...but much more likely to be viable if the need for it is noticed 

If you're in the position of the DM, would you be okay if the players did this?



Sure. Telling them not to is like telling them not to try to solve the problem. I might as well just make it a dictated cut scene. If I were describing something before the action started, and someone pointed out a big hole in my logic, I might alter things to make it work. More likely though, I'd pass it off as a big hole in the villain's logic, let them take whatever exploit, and improvise from there. I've seen some very fun plot twists emerge from this approach.
Regarding the original post, I fullly expect players to do everything they can to solve problems. Particularly if they have abilities that are applicable.

As far as objecting as a player, the only reason I would object is that a prior problem is being dragged out. I wouldn't want to take away prior accomplishments of my players nor would I want that done to me as a player. If I thought I had dealt with thing X already and the DM says no you didn't, I'd be a little frustrated. If it's a new problem, well, as others have pointed out, that's why we play this game.

Now, the player responses to this abstract situation certainly make sense for P1. For P2, hard to evaluate with so little detail, but things should always make sense within the context of the fiction and whatever has been established about the world. However, when there is a contradiction, part of the adventure can become finding out why this unlikely thing happened. P3 is hard to evaluate. Was this a DM oversight and the character actually wasn't there? Or is P3 coming up with something on the spot in a attempt to avoid the complication?
It's your job as a DM to throw challenges the players' way. If the players solve (parts of) the challenge before it's even begun, that's fine. Just roll with it and make up a new challenge, based on what they did to solve the previous one. Once you feel they've done enough to overcome your challenges, that's when you can end the encounter. 

To make it feel a little more fair, you can grant players small advantages in the next challenge if they solved the previous one in a particular clever way, or in a way that costed them a lot of resources (like daily powers or consumables). That way the players will feel rewarded for having used their resources in an awesome way, and you still get to run a cool encounter. 

Example
A common example is having the players be surprised by enemies, for example while they're resting. 

A player might object to that in several ways:

  1. My race doesn't need to sleep

  2. I have a high Perception skill

  3. I have a mechanical element that prevents me from ever being surprised


You can make up a new challenge for those players: 

  1. This didn't require an investment at all, so it makes sense to only grant this player a small advantage. You could ask him if he agrees that he isn't surprised but that he doesn't have his weapon drawn/armor on/shield strapped on. 

  2. If the player invested feats or items in getting his Perception as high as possible, you can make the advantage a little bigger by asking him if he agrees that he isn't surprised, has all his gear on but can take only one action during the first round. 

  3. This could be a daily power, which is a real investment. Give the player a full round of actions, maybe even give him an initiative bonus, but have the monsters focus fire on him initially.

Anecdote: in a previous campaign I made the mistake of mentioning in my rogue PC's background that he only claimed be an orphan (even though he was raised in a perfectly normal family).

So of course the DM immediately took my family hostage. And I felt obligated to 'care' about them (even though that was implicitly not part of my character concept) so as not to ruin his plot. He then continued the "rogue cares about his family" plot-line for several months until I left.

Aren't you to blame for that as well? As a player it is also your responsibility to make sure the DM is aware of your wishes. Accepting it the first time to keep the adventure going is great, but beyond that sticking to something you don't like seems rather odd... Mind you, I have learned to be very clear about what aspects of my PC's background are in my mind sacrosanct and which are open to (ab)use by the DM. As a DM I also learned to expect the unexpected. If I would use those parents as hostages, and the player would have laughed in the face of the kidnappers, I would have dealt with it through the story. The kidnappers clearly misjudged the character's relation with his parents ;)

As for Iserith's original question, as a player I don't mind when my PC starts in a difficult situation. In fact, I prefer it to a DM trying to get the character in that situation through dice rolls. When my DM recently asked whether I minded my PC to be captured by the enemy in an upcomming event, and told me the story intent, I did not object. My character would be difficult to catch, not impossible, and this way it was not a pointless exercise of dice rolling. Then again, I am one of those players that goes to great lengths to avoid dangerous situations during the game only to later realize that I should not have been that argumentive/fanatic about it. On hindsight the encounter (or event) was actually fun, and the arguments disruptive, especially for the rest of the people at the table. If I have time to think about it, I tend to be much more positive about bad things happening to my character. I am well aware a story about overcomming challenges and character flaws is much more fun to me than playing Superman without kryptonite.

In short, I never understood the negative emotions about scenarios where PCs start imprisoned or somehow knocked unconscious and without memory in the middle of a dungeon ;)
In short, I never understood the negative emotions about scenarios where PCs start imprisoned or somehow knocked unconscious and without memory in the middle of a dungeon ;)



To be fair, I'd say those objections likely come from seeing that scenario done to death.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
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A big part of it is trust. If a player suspects that the bad spot is going to go in a direction that they don't want for their character, or their game, then they'll push back. Players who have invested heavily in, say, ambush mitigation are saying that they only want ambushes that have a good chance of going their way. If the DM has to go to extreme measures to pull off an ambush that has a chance of not going their way, then that should be a sign that doing so would not be okay.

Not everything is as clear cut as this, because there might not be abilities to directly prevent, say, the monsters from kidnapping a beloved NPC or making off with the McGuffin. As much as we might all dislike railroads (though this is in no small part also a trust issue) in order for there to be an adventure, some tension must be created. Usually this "occurs" off-screen, before the adventure starts, and before the PCs are even involved. There's nothing they could have done to prevent it, so it's not their fault and they're just the trouble-shooters. Even if they fail, they can hardly be blamed.

So, I think that feeling of being made to look "at fault" without necessarily being at fault is the other big part of it. Unless there's a copious amount of trust around the table, players will tend to resist DM-imposed "bad spots" that, in order to have occurred, must in some way be attributable to a failure of the characters or players. The only way to "fairly" have something like that arise is to play it out, though even then a player might be right in assuming that the DM consciously or unconsciously arranged the encounter or made rulings during it such as to give rise to a particular outcome.

(This puts me in mind of the "red dragon blackmail scenario" that was argued over here, except that the assumption there was that they players had chosen to take on a foe they had little chance of defeating, and so don't have a firm basis for feeling that skipping ahead to the results of their nigh-inevitable loss was particularly disempowering.)

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

As a player it is also your responsibility to make sure the DM is aware of your wishes.

I tried to do so subtly. However: there were other (greater) issues that I was more direct about, but which were ignored. I absolutely agree with your point in principle, but in practice this tactic often may not have the desired effect. It's sometimes better to go with the flow.

When my DM recently asked whether I minded my PC to be captured by the enemy in an upcomming event, and told me the story intent, I did not object... In short, I never understood the negative emotions about scenarios where PCs start imprisoned or somehow knocked unconscious and without memory in the middle of a dungeon ;)

They seem like an expected possible reaction when the DM doesn't ask.

Players primarily do not like being captured because it makes them feel like they've lost control of their character. And that's pretty much where most people start drawing the line. The game is designed around controlling a character in a world created by another. It's usually implicitly understood that's the main reason for roleplaying. When the DM puts you in a situation you seemingly can't stop, you feel like there's no reason to be playing anymore because you've lost control of your role.

That said, I say it's fair game for the DM to put characters in a bad situation at any time, provided there's a mix of good and bad options, morally gray options, tricky/vague/false options, and so on.

In my last session, the players wandered into an illusory inn. They were fooled by the illusion fairly well. One started drinking the ale and eating the food there, the other was skeptical of the joint and didn't eat anything. But didn't fully realize the illusion until after his friend had passed out from the drugs in his food. The friend however, realized the whole place was an illusion, but passed out from the drugs as he came to this realization. The last thing he saw was a burnt out building around him before face planting in a rotten turkey on the table. The fighter, who hadn't eaten anything was then ambushed by three NPCs (one of which was throwing fireballs). The fighter was alone and unable to wake his friend. In the end, he had to surrender and they were both captured. My next session starts out with them in a prison cell. On one hand, yes...the players were a tad upset, but they knew they had a chance to avoid capture by disbelieving the illusion. They also came to the realization that being captured will lead them right to the people they're looking for. So, kind of a trade off I guess?
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So, I think that feeling of being made to look "at fault" without necessarily being at fault is the other big part of it. Unless there's a copious amount of trust around the table, players will tend to resist DM-imposed "bad spots" that, in order to have occurred, must in some way be attributable to a failure of the characters or players. The only way to "fairly" have something like that arise is to play it out, though even then a player might be right in assuming that the DM consciously or unconsciously arranged the encounter or made rulings during it such as to give rise to a particular outcome.



There may be something to this, especially as it relates to a particular example that came up for me recently. Even though in my style, it's perfectly acceptable for the players to adjust the starting scenario to account for things they haven't firmly established in the fiction but want to right now or to remind the DM about a detail he may have forgotten, the initial reaction I heard was very much along the lines of "There's no way I would have allowed that to happen."

Now, that may be true as far as it relates to the character's desires. I think a more interesting, fiction-generating approach would be to say, "Well it did happen. Tell me why and how and what you're going to do about it." The narrative that arises out explaining how and why adds to the scene and/or establishes elements that may be used later. In other words, "help me figure out why it did happen rather than why it didn't" because that's where potentially interesting story elements are hiding. It's not that the DM needs this thing to happen for his plot to work (especially since I have no plot); he wants it to happen because it's cool and challenging and may lead to some good fiction generation. (In this style, we need fiction to get generated all the time so we can continue building on it to drive the action.)

This actually gives the players the option to decide if it was their fault or wasn't their fault. I might decide as a PC that it was my incompetence that got us into this mess. Or I might decide it's cooler that it was that hireling's doing - you know, that guy I've been suspicious of since we met him in Fallcrest ("I told you guys he couldn't be trusted!"). Both of those things say something about the characters, the story, the tone of the game. I find it adds more layers to the fiction rather than saying why something couldn't happen. Does that make sense? 

Of course, there's no way I'm going to play out a scene in which one or more players simply object for any reason, even if I disagree with said reasons. I've already modified what I was planning to do. I don't want to force something on people if they're not going to like it by default. It's something I can easily "give up."

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Now, that may be true as far as it relates to the character's desires. I think a more interesting, fiction-generating approach would be to say, "Well it did happen. Tell me why and how and what you're going to do about it." The narrative that arises out explaining how and why adds to the scene and/or establishes elements that may be used later. In other words, "help me figure out why it did happen rather than why it didn't" because that's where potentially interesting story elements are hiding. It's not that the DM needs this thing to happen for his plot to work (especially since I have no plot); he wants it to happen because it's cool and challenging and may lead to some good fiction generation. (In this style, we need fiction to get generated all the time so we can continue building on it to drive the action.)

I like the latter phrasing better. I could be a whole pre-game thing like "I really think it would be interesting for X to happen and not be easily resolved. Is there any way you could see that happening and be comfortable with it?" A session-zero discussion of it would be good too, along the lines of "Please consider making 'fallible' characters, characters who can plausibly be at fault sometimes, without it being a huge issue for you, and maybe not even them." Characters in fiction are always doing things that are "their fault," such as not killing a villain when they had the chance, or not dealing with what in hindsight was a huge security hole. This creates an interesting driving force for the character, but only as long as they but a limit on the self-flagellation they commit.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I like the latter phrasing better. I could be a whole pre-game thing like "I really think it would be interesting for X to happen and not be easily resolved. Is there any way you could see that happening and be comfortable with it?" A session-zero discussion of it would be good too, along the lines of "Please consider making 'fallible' characters, characters who can plausibly be at fault sometimes, without it being a huge issue for you, and maybe not even them." Characters in fiction are always doing things that are "their fault," such as not killing a villain when they had the chance, or not dealing with what in hindsight was a huge security hole. This creates an interesting driving force for the character, but only as long as they but a limit on the self-flagellation they commit.



Yes, the latter phrasing is better. There are some other considerations I've mentioned with regard to my specific issue not the least of which is that trust. With my regular group, I could do what I proposed all day long and they'd be excited about. My mistake was in believing that might be the case here.

I wanted to establish a scene in a way I thought would be a good "cold open" to the next session which in my style is important - start in the middle of action. The Q&A that always follows the cold open ("help me figure out why...") would then modify or explain the opening scene. The objection occurred before we even got to the Q&A. So I chalk this up to overreaching on my part with players that simply aren't used to this way of doing things and reacted in a way that seems reasonable when considering why they might feel that way.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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One approach I use when setting up a problem for the players to solve is to think through possible methods of solution and build in things to counter them. Then the first thing the players come up with that I didn't think of will be what works. Example: An NPC villain had possession of an artifact that the players needed. He set up what he thought was an impregnable place to store it. One thing he didn't take into account was Breaching Armor, which can teleport through walls. If he had, the walls would have been thicker, or there would have been anti-teleport magic. Teleporting one person blindly into the middle of a booby-trapped room was still a risky maneuver, but it did get them the artifact.
One approach I use when setting up a problem for the players to solve is to think through possible methods of solution and build in things to counter them. Then the first thing the players come up with that I didn't think of will be what works.



In the "Yes, and..." approach that is baked into the LIM-style I espouse, cool problems are created, but not solutions. Oftentimes, not even explanations for said problems until we get to the Q&A and collaboratively figure it out. I try not to even imagine solutions. The PCs come up with a plan, I say, "Yes, and..." and ask for rolls as appropriate and we see what happens.

The problem I was trying to put in place for the cold open here was just that. The problem was not that there was an encounter (combat's a reward, not a problem), but that the encounter threatened PC goals in a fairly dramatic and direct way. Though I still don't think that was the true source of the objection.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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The PCs come up with a plan, I say, "Yes, and..." and ask for rolls as appropriate and we see what happens.



I can see this working. I can also see it meaning that the simple, obvious solution is always what works. My players start to come up with more creative ideas after they've verified that I've blocked the obvious ones. 
I can see this working. I can also see it meaning that the simple, obvious solution is always what works. My players start to come up with more creative ideas after they've verified that I've blocked the obvious ones. 



The approach certainly doesn't mean that the "obvious" choice is an easy one. The obvious choice might be ugly. It might come with cost. The die result might indicate success, but with a new complication. It's hard to say in the abstract.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

The PCs come up with a plan, I say, "Yes, and..." and ask for rolls as appropriate and we see what happens.

I can see this working. I can also see it meaning that the simple, obvious solution is always what works. My players start to come up with more creative ideas after they've verified that I've blocked the obvious ones. 

Yes, that's a possibility, but I hope blocking isn't the answer because one possibility there is that instead of becoming more creative, the players will feel stymied.

What I intend to try next is changing how I ask questions up-front, such as asking "What would be a cool way of achieving this goal." Though it occurs to me that a "soft-block" for more obvious ideas might be something like "You've heard of someone trying that before. Why didn't it work?"

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Yes, that's a possibility, but I hope blocking isn't the answer because one possibility there is that instead of becoming more creative, the players will feel stymied.



Argh, yes. I've had DMs like that where we'd pitch reasonable plans to resolve a fictional problem and it was block after block after block. After a few exchanges like that it was so frustrating we had to say, "Dude, why don't you just tell us the one solution in your head or let us fail so we can move on? We're not here to play guessing games all night."

What I intend to try next is changing how I ask questions up-front, such as asking "What would be a cool way of achieving this goal." Though it occurs to me that a "soft-block" for more obvious ideas might be something like "You've heard of someone trying that before. Why didn't it work?"



Clever. I'd love for a DM to throw that at me. That's a juicy fiction generator.

(Of course, we're getting off-topic, but if the OP has any official say in whether a thread goes off-topic or not, take this as my blessing to go crazy. I've gotten what I think is very solid advice from everyone on the original topic and it is much appreciated.)

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Yes, that's a possibility, but I hope blocking isn't the answer because one possibility there is that instead of becoming more creative, the players will feel stymied.



With my group at least, failing to have every idea they get work immediately does not do this. In some situations the players do run out of ideas, in which case our usual procedure is to start making Inisight or Perception checks, which is more or less a signal to the DM that some hints are needed.

 
hough it occurs to me that a "soft-block" for more obvious ideas might be something like "You've heard of someone trying that before. Why didn't it work?"



Doesn't this violate the "never say no to anything the players suggest" policy? 
Argh, yes. I've had DMs like that where we'd pitch reasonable plans to resolve a fictional problem and it was block after block after block. After a few exchanges like that it was so frustrating we had to say, "Dude, why don't you just tell us the onesolution in your head or let us fail so we can move on? We're not here to play guessing games all night."



Okay, yes. I've seen this too, and try very hard not to do it. That's part of why I generally determine what's there beforehand, rather than making things up on the fly.

Edit: Fixed a typo in the word "quiote." 
What I intend to try next is changing how I ask questions up-front, such as asking "What would be a cool way of achieving this goal." Though it occurs to me that a "soft-block" for more obvious ideas might be something like "You've heard of someone trying that before. Why didn't it work?"

Clever. I'd love for a DM to throw that at me. That's a juicy fiction generator.

That's what I would hope. And coming at it that way, or saying "What are the risks?" doesn't mean they can't try it, but it tells the DM what kinds of failures the PCs are cool with. If they admit that the risk of telporting blind are that you'll end up inside a wall, well, I think it's fair for them to wind up with their bootheel or ponytail merged with the stone, and then turn around and see the remains of the last guy, who didn't even make it that far. I'm imagining his pinky bone being used to hang pictures.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

With my group at least, failing to have every idea they get work immediately does not do this. In some situations the players do run out of ideas, in which case our usual procedure is to start making Inisight or Perception checks, which is more or less a signal to the DM that some hints are needed.



My preference would be to never get to that point. I like the pace and action to be non-stop, every session. To me, that's something of a mood-killer.

Doesn't this violate the "never say no to anything the players suggest" policy? 



Not at all. It's the DM (who is a player, too, in this style) suggesting that he'd think it more interesting to solve the problem in a different way. As to the question being asked, it doesn't say that it won't work. It's saying that it didn't work before. It might work this time. Maybe.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

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My preference would be to never get to that point. I like the pace and action to be non-stop, every session. To me, that's something of a mood-killer.



I can totally understand that, and want to try to reduce the amount of skill-checking in the next game I run. But in a group with four math teachers, there's a certain style of approaching things that's hard to get away from. Even if we aren't running out of ideas, we like to thoroughly investigate things before making decisions.
With my group at least, failing to have every idea they get work immediately does not do this. In some situations the players do run out of ideas, in which case our usual procedure is to start making Inisight or Perception checks, which is more or less a signal to the DM that some hints are needed.

I'm not sure I could explain why right now, but I hate that kind of thing, unless the relevant facts really are things that the players couldn't figure out but would be apparent to the players.

though it occurs to me that a "soft-block" for more obvious ideas might be something like "You've heard of someone trying that before. Why didn't it work?"

Doesn't this violate the "never say no to anything the players suggest" policy?

There is no such policy, that I know of. The approach recommended by the 4e Dungeon Master's Guide is to say "Yes, and..." - to not only accept, but to add on - and this kind of question or something like it could still be in line with that approach, but acknowledging the idea and adding details about it, in this case, the fact that it's not a guaranteed solution and might carry some interesting risks.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

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