Player Trust

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What is it?  How do you get it?  How do you keep it?  What can you do with it?

In several threads, its been mentioned that some players are willing to work with a DM to do nearly anything, while others lash out and stonewall DM suggestions.  Some of this may be personality-driven, but often it is due to player trust issues.  It may not be with you.  Past DMs may have been terrible, horrible people, and you are inheriting a legacy of completely unsuitable DMs who made the players paranoid and hostile.  How can you build player trust?


Don't Betray Player Trust!

 
- If you have a description of the room that contains a trap, describe the room as ominous.  Make sure that they know it's a little forboding and dangerous.  That way even if they don't sense the trap, they 'know' something is off

- If the PCs trust an NPC, then make sure his motivations are described.  Trusted NPCs should be trustworthy.  NPCs that are seeking to betray the players should be shady.   Basically, make sure your descriptions match the motivations.

- Players should not feel like their characters are being taken out of their control.  

- Give the players choices.  Make sure those choices matter.  Do not employ Morton's Fork (Morton was a tax collector, and his "fork" was simple.  If you were spending lots of money, clearly you had lots of income and could afford higher taxes.  If you were living frugally, clearly you had lots of savings, and could afford higher taxes).  Show them the results of their actions in the real world - in a day, in a week, but NOT in more than a month (they'll have forgotten by then).  Basically, give them good things for what they've done, or bad things for when they fail.  

Respect Your Players

- If a player puts lots of time and effort into a backstory, don't ignore the backstory and continue with your plot.  Make the backstory a part of the world.  Make the plot take the backstory into account.  Make people from the player's past show up and meet up with him.  

- If the players come up with a plan, they should get SOMETHING out of it.  It doesn't have to be "exactly what they want."  The PCs don't need to find every plan they come up with succeeding.   But they shouldn't come up empty handed.  For instance, lets say you describe a huge palace.  In your description you include an enormous library.  A few sessions later there's a mystery.  A player goes "lets break into the King's library and see if there's something that can help us!"  Well maybe they don't find what they're looking for (if you can find no convincing reason the king would have it).  But maybe they find other information that's helpful to them.  Or maybe they meet a librarian who shows them really interesting things and does some research because she finds the PCs' adventures romantic and interesting.  The plan didn't succeed like the PCs wanted - but they don't feel like it's a failure.

- If the players are clearly bored with a scene, don't continue it.  Stop and ask them.  You can abstract a lot.  If court politics make your players snooze, then don't go into them.  Say "the very boring guy in the fancy clothes goes on for a while, and now back to adventure!" 

- If one player is clearly bored while others are having a good time its harder.  But basically you should make sure that player has stuff to do at least 50% of the session.  It can be hard if all he enjoys is combat, so try and broaden his character.  Imagine he saved a group of guards who were clearly outmatched by an owlbear.  One of the guards comes over and personally thanks him for his efforts and offers him something.  That something becomes a plot hook later on.  Try and draw out his character while respecting the martial prowess that he clearly prides.  

Communicate honestly and effectively

If the players throw something out of left field at you or try something that you weren't prepared for, don't fumble about trying to come up with a solution.  Just tell them "wow, guys... I never thought of this.  This is really interesting, and I need 10 minutes to set things up.  Break time!"  They'll understand, and they'll actually be proud they thought of something you never did.  

- Tell them the nature of your world.  Be honest about what you've done.  If something is experimental, you can tell them its experimental.  Tell them you want to try it.  You're not infallible, you're not above the players, so communicate with them as equals.

- Despite the fact you're all equals, players will look to you to solve problems.  Work on them.  If a player complains, figure out the nature of the complaint, and address it.  Take the complaint seriously, but you don't have to immediately change everything because of one complaint.  That way lies madness.  Just tell them what steps you are taking, broadly, and ask them how it is going after each session.   That will build the trust that you care how they feel.  Most people, if they think you honestly care, will understand.  If they hate social scenes but one player loves them, they're probably willing to put up with half an hour of it each session.  Discuss it with both players, and reach an understanding.  If you don't want to keep your players happy - don't DM. 


Do this, and you'll be on the way to building up a huge stock of player trust.  If the players trust you will build fun and enjoyable settings for them and are working hard to make interesting things happen, they will give you a lot of leeway to build interesting scenarios, and even if after the session everyone goes "wow... that was crap" they'll accept that it was experimental and that some experiments go wrong (just don't subject them to too many failed experiments).  Because they know you care.   
First, don't use "gotcha" traps. Odds are they won't pick up on the "clues."

Everything you talk about boils down to either "Yes, and..." or "Talk to your players," both fine pieces of advice that you'll hear around here a lot.

More specifically, I encourage DMs to err in favor of their players as much as possible. When there's no clearly understood rule for a situation, allow the players' interpretation to be the right one, or make one that's in their favor. If that turns out to be somewhat too favorable to work, raise that issue later and change the ruling. But if you rule in their favor, at least initially, they'll come to see that when you make a ruling it's not out of adherence to a made-up reality, or to enable one of your own plot lines to come to fruition, but because you want them to contribute, take creative risks, and have fun. After a while, you can start making rulings that aren't in their favor quite as much, because they'll trust that you're making them for everyone's enjoyment, not just for theirs or out of some obligation to reality.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

My own tips:
- Learn the rules (and be constantly improving your knowledge with the player's help)
- Be flexible to others' viewpoints (maybe roll a die to decide who's to use)
- Never say no (mention if something seems unlikely, but let the dice decide)
- Use pre-made adventures (until the players trust you)
All good stuff. I'd add the following:

Don't assume you have their trust. Ask if you have it. How to ask is tricky because if you're direct, the response is likely to be "Of course" because who wants to risk being seen as that disagreeable in a room full of people, right? Instead, tell them what you have in mind, why you're doing it, and ask if it's okay to try it out.

I (re)learned that lesson myself recently.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
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Don't assume you have their trust. Ask if you have it.

Curious: is it important for the DM to know if he has the players' trust? Ok, aside from my fourth tip above (yes, I'm arguing against my own advice), shouldn't the DM have the same behavior whether he's acquired the players' trust or not?
Mvincent, I agree that a dm should run the same way consistently. Consistency builds trust and that means not acting one way until trust is assured before switching. A distrustful player will distrust an impartial dm regardless, as I myself have experienced...but that, sadly, is their issue to overcome.
I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it. #SuperDungeonMasterIITurbo My blog and stuff http://dmingtowin.blogspot.com/ 100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.
Curious: is it important for the DM to know if he has the players' trust? Ok, aside from my fourth tip above (yes, I'm arguing against my own advice), shouldn't the DM have the same behavior whether he's acquired the players' trust or not?



Interesting point. It's certainly safer to assume you don't have it and avoid "overreaching." The problem - as we explored in the thread on putting players in a spot - is that this line is very fuzzy. It will vary from person to person. Someone like me wouldn't question you dangling my character on a frayed rope over a sea of lava and asking me how I get out of the situation; someone like Madfox11, to cite an example from memory, wouldn't like that (until later as he mentioned). So it's better err on the side of caution and simply ask. At least, that's the conclusion I drew from that discussion.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
Check Out My D&D Next Playtest Campaign: The Next World

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Don't assume you have their trust. Ask if you have it.

Curious: is it important for the DM to know if he has the players' trust? Ok, aside from my fourth tip above (yes, I'm arguing against my own advice), shouldn't the DM have the same behavior whether he's acquired the players' trust or not?

No. Once a DM has their trust, he can do things that they'd shy away from, make suggestions that might previously have undermined trust. And mishandled trust can cause it to be degraded, but if the DM takes a risk with the trust and it pays off, an even deeper trust can be forged.

My players trust me pretty well. I err on their side a lot, encourage and nurture their ideas, and listen to their input. In a major fight they were in, they had blocked a walkway with Bigby's Icy Grasp and a shaman spirit companion, effectively blocking the enemy's escape. There was no way through these conjurations, so I asked the players if they'd mind if the solo moved off the walkway and climbed around them. I told them the DC I'd be setting, they agreed, and I proceeded.

I didn't do anything outside the rules, but it was a bit unexpected, mostly negated a player strategy, and might have been seen as a gotcha, and something they'd feel like throwing back in my face down the road. So, I made sure they were okay with it, rather than take the risk of abusing their trust.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

My players trust me pretty well...
There was no way through these conjurations, so I asked the players if they'd mind if the solo moved off the walkway and climbed around them. I told them the DC I'd be setting, they agreed, and I proceeded.

That sounds like the right approach for any group. How did their trust affect your behavior as a DM?

My players trust me pretty well...
There was no way through these conjurations, so I asked the players if they'd mind if the solo moved off the walkway and climbed around them. I told them the DC I'd be setting, they agreed, and I proceeded.

That sounds like the right approach for any group. How did their trust affect your behavior as a DM?

Well, it must be said that I didn't trust them at that time. I thought that if I just made that move I'd have some angry players. That example might be more about them gaining my trust, now that I think about it, but I also played that action fairly conservatively, and I haven't abused it since.

In our last session, an enemy was hanging from a ledge and I told them that he let go and scraped down the side of the building on his daggers. The fiction we'd established made that pretty plausible, but I think it also took a lot of trust for them not to demand a skill check or something from me.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

My players trust me pretty well...
There was no way through these conjurations, so I asked the players if they'd mind if the solo moved off the walkway and climbed around them. I told them the DC I'd be setting, they agreed, and I proceeded.

That sounds like the right approach for any group. How did their trust affect your behavior as a DM?




I can safely say that's not the right approach for any group. Certainly his group and other groups. But not just any group.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I can safely say that's not the right approach for any group. Certainly his group and other groups. But not just any group.


What downsides do you see?  (Not sarcastic, real question.)

My players trust me pretty well...
There was no way through these conjurations, so I asked the players if they'd mind if the solo moved off the walkway and climbed around them. I told them the DC I'd be setting, they agreed, and I proceeded.

That sounds like the right approach for any group. How did their trust affect your behavior as a DM?




I can safely say that's not the right approach for any group. Certainly his group and other groups. But not just any group.






He polietly asked the players in the group if he could circumvent a troulbing combination of abilities that made the fight less interesting, rather than arbitrarily decide he was allowed to regardless of player input. One could assume that the other alternative was to let them reap the rewards of their powers, but that was for the players to decide since he asked them, rather than just cheated them.


 


I’ve seen a number of DMs about wanting to handle certain player habits/powers and the number one best way is to talk to them rather than pick a punishment.

I can safely say that's not the right approach for any group. Certainly his group and other groups. But not just any group.


What downsides do you see?  (Not sarcastic, real question.)




Immediate downside: you've just halted game progress and broken immersion. Some players would prefer the DM just do as he pleases to not break the immersion.

Longterm downside: Players of a certain mindset would take advantage of that approach and try to bully the DM. I know some would simply say "don't play with these people", but it's not always that simple. Sometimes, it's not they bully intentionally. They just take the game competitively and if they see a chance to take advantage to make their character's life easier, they take it.

My players trust me pretty well...
There was no way through these conjurations, so I asked the players if they'd mind if the solo moved off the walkway and climbed around them. I told them the DC I'd be setting, they agreed, and I proceeded.

That sounds like the right approach for any group. How did their trust affect your behavior as a DM?




I can safely say that's not the right approach for any group. Certainly his group and other groups. But not just any group.






He polietly asked the players in the group if he could circumvent a troulbing combination of abilities that made the fight less interesting, rather than arbitrarily decide he was allowed to regardless of player input. One could assume that the other alternative was to let them reap the rewards of their powers, but that was for the players to decide since he asked them, rather than just cheated them.


 


I’ve seen a number of DMs about wanting to handle certain player habits/powers and the number one best way is to talk to them rather than pick a punishment.




The DM can't "cheat".

In my group in particular, the players would take serious issue with me asking them for permission to run a monster or NPC in a way I feel is appropriate. I think the immediate response would be "You're the DM, why the Hell are you asking us?"...proceeded by mockery...most likely. But we're a thick skinned group, so this kind of thing isn't an issue.

If my players feel anything I do is just too far out there or far fetched, that's when they'll call me on it. Moments like that, I'll take a step back and review it, but odds are good, I'm going to throw it at them anyway, especially if I had a good reason before hand.

Reminds me of this time I had a troll throw one of their horses at them. They tried to argue with me that the troll couldn't have done that, but I deemed it had the strength to do it. That was a fun fight.

In the same light, they have made other calls where I did reverse my decision because I concurred that it was an irrational action. Really, not that big a deal. I'd rather have the players stop the action than the DM, in other words (they're the reason we're playing. I'm the ref who makes judgment calls when an issue arises, I'm not there to stop the action arbitarily because I don't think the players will like something. In fact, in some cases, I probably would want to piss them off with an action. But that's an entirely different topic of conversation about wanting to invoke postitive and negative emotions). The DM really shouldn't break immersion unless something really off the wall needs to be dealt with immediately. And I personally do not deem making an action of a monster or NPC as an off the wall issue, even if the action seems bizarre.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
In my group in particular, the players would take serious issue with me asking them for permission to run a monster or NPC in a way I feel is appropriate. I think the immediate response would be "You're the DM, why the Hell are you asking us?"...proceeded by mockery

Thank you for explaining your position (as I too was curious about your previous reply).

But we're a thick skinned group, so this kind of thing isn't an issue.

Fair enough. In that case, I will amend my previous statement thusly:
"That sounds like the right approach for any group that isn't a bunch of jerks!" ;)
In my group in particular, the players would take serious issue with me asking them for permission to run a monster or NPC in a way I feel is appropriate. I think the immediate response would be "You're the DM, why the Hell are you asking us?"...proceeded by mockery

Thank you for explaining your position (as I too was curious about your previous reply).

But we're a thick skinned group, so this kind of thing isn't an issue.

Fair enough. In that case, I will amend my previous statement thusly:
"That sounds like the right approach for any group that isn't a bunch of jerks!" ;)



Look, call me what you will. But insinuate that my friends and family are jerks one more time and I will find a way to punch you through the Internet.

Edit: mainly because they're not here to defend themselves. If they were here, I wouldn't take issue with it... ;) 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Fair enough. In that case, I will amend my previous statement thusly:
"That sounds like the right approach for any group that isn't a bunch of jerks!" ;)

Or any group that already trusts the DM. As I pointed out, I can do certain things now without asking my group.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Fair enough. In that case, I will amend my previous statement thusly:
"That sounds like the right approach for any group that isn't a bunch of jerks!" ;)

Or any group that already trusts the DM. As I pointed out, I can do certain things now without asking my group.



I would actually say that trust is a better description of my group. They trust me as DM to make any action I deem necessary or appropriate (unless it seems just absurd without good reason).
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
insinuate that my friends and family are jerks one more time and I will find a way to punch you through the Internet.

Wasn't sure if you caught it: but I was specifically responding, with a my smiley-face and winky-face, to your statement that you and your group were thick skinned about such things. I was not being serious, merely following your lead.

My apologies if I was not clear about that. 

The DM can't "cheat".


Bull.  I've played 3E.  Ever played for the DM where the main villain somehow ALWAYS makes his save against Save or Die/Save or Lose/Save or Suck spells, especially in the first round or two of combat?  And he carefully rolls behind the DM screen?  Then asks you the difficulty of the save before saying the result? 

DMs most certainly can and do cheat.   And it does destroy player trust.  

So don't just say "DM controls the world, whatever he says happens!"  I'm no simulationist, but the fact of the matter is that when DMs lie about saving throw results it is cheating.  When DMs invent new abilities that allow the villain to escape, it's cheating.  When DMs circumvent PC plans and cause them to fail, it's cheating.   
The DM can't "cheat".


Bull.  I've played 3E.  Ever played for the DM where the main villain somehow ALWAYS makes his save against Save or Die/Save or Lose/Save or Suck spells, especially in the first round or two of combat?  And he carefully rolls behind the DM screen?  Then asks you the difficulty of the save before saying the result? 

DMs most certainly can and do cheat.   And it does destroy player trust.  

So don't just say "DM controls the world, whatever he says happens!"  I'm no simulationist, but the fact of the matter is that when DMs lie about saving throw results it is cheating.  When DMs invent new abilities that allow the villain to escape, it's cheating.  When DMs circumvent PC plans and cause them to fail, it's cheating.   



I do agree that a DM can "cheat". One of the more toxic memes I've seen is "fudging for the benefit of the PCs". When I am playing, if I didn't want a chance to fail I wouldn't be doing something involving dice.

Games go much better when the DM doesn't change stuff, over-rule things and out-right cheat the dice...because the players know they can trust the resolution systems in place. It gives them a tangible system to invest in. It lets them know the DM isn't playing god with them...and it eliminates the "May I win now?" mentality.
I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it. #SuperDungeonMasterIITurbo My blog and stuff http://dmingtowin.blogspot.com/ 100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.
insinuate that my friends and family are jerks one more time and I will find a way to punch you through the Internet.

Wasn't sure if you caught it: but I was specifically responding, with a my smiley-face and winky-face, to your statement that you and your group were thick skinned about such things. I was not being serious, merely following your lead.

My apologies if I was not clear about that. 




No, I got the joke. I was hoping you would catch mine. xD

Apparently, my wording was not good enough nor an emoticon. The failure was on my delivery, not yours. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
The DM can't "cheat".


Bull.  I've played 3E.  Ever played for the DM where the main villain somehow ALWAYS makes his save against Save or Die/Save or Lose/Save or Suck spells, especially in the first round or two of combat?  And he carefully rolls behind the DM screen?  Then asks you the difficulty of the save before saying the result? 

DMs most certainly can and do cheat.   And it does destroy player trust.  

So don't just say "DM controls the world, whatever he says happens!"  I'm no simulationist, but the fact of the matter is that when DMs lie about saving throw results it is cheating.  When DMs invent new abilities that allow the villain to escape, it's cheating.  When DMs circumvent PC plans and cause them to fail, it's cheating.   



I do agree that a DM can "cheat". One of the more toxic memes I've seen is "fudging for the benefit of the PCs". When I am playing, if I didn't want a chance to fail I wouldn't be doing something involving dice.

Games go much better when the DM doesn't change stuff, over-rule things and out-right cheat the dice...because the players know they can trust the resolution systems in place. It gives them a tangible system to invest in. It lets them know the DM isn't playing god with them...and it eliminates the "May I win now?" mentality.



That's not cheating. That's really bad damn DMing.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I think a more accurate statement would be that the DM is allowed to cheat. But if he does it too much in a way that the players aren't okay with, it will ruin the game.

One of the more toxic memes I've seen is "fudging for the benefit of the PCs". When I am playing, if I didn't want a chance to fail I wouldn't be doing something involving dice.



There was one encounter where I did this and didn't regret it. But it was because I'd set up the encounter badly. In retrospect, though, the PC's had an easy exit and it was already established that the monsters wouldn't pursue if they ran, so I could have played it straight and made them come up with a different solution that didn't involve direct combat.
I think a more accurate statement would be that the DM is allowed to cheat. But if he does it too much in a way that the players aren't okay with, it will ruin the game.

I'd agree with that. In an ideal situation, every choice the DM makes, including when and whether to obey the rules, increases the enjoyment of the entire group, including the DM. And I believe most DMs that break the rules in annoying ways have what they believe are reasonable intentions. I'm sure some of the calls I make for my group would drive batty a group that didn't know me.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy



That's not cheating. That's really bad damn DMing.



Hey now! ...it can be both :P

I think a more accurate statement would be that the DM is allowed to cheat. But if he does it too much in a way that the players aren't okay with, it will ruin the game.

One of the more toxic memes I've seen is "fudging for the benefit of the PCs". When I am playing, if I didn't want a chance to fail I wouldn't be doing something involving dice.



There was one encounter where I did this and didn't regret it. But it was because I'd set up the encounter badly. In retrospect, though, the PC's had an easy exit and it was already established that the monsters wouldn't pursue if they ran, so I could have played it straight and made them come up with a different solution that didn't involve direct combat.



At that point I'd allow a roll to determine that, tactically, a retreat might be the best option. Honestly though I don't know that I'd ever need to...most of my players are pretty quick to cut & run if they think it will allow them to avoid heavily expending resources and allow them to fight later on their own, better terms.

I won't poo-poo you for what you did, though. It was a heat-of-the-moment decision and it, presumably, ended well enough. It's nice to be able to look back and go "oh wait, I could have done this instead though"...gives us more options for later when we do, inevitably since we're human, make a boo-boo again.
I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it. #SuperDungeonMasterIITurbo My blog and stuff http://dmingtowin.blogspot.com/ 100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.
Yeah, it was a situation where they'd been breezing through every encounter, even Level +3 encounters. They took out what I thought was a strong solo without it getting more than one turn. After it's first turn, on which it was trying to retreat, it had terrain advantage giving them something like a -9 to their attacks, and they still slaughtered it like it was nothing. So I thought, okay, this party is invincible, so just once I'm going to pick Level +3 monsters that have perfect synergy with their powers, and see what a challenging encounter looks like. Turned out, it looked like a total party kill if I didn't nerf some of the damage rolls.
"NPCs that are seeking to betray the players should be shady." This is like playing with babies! Come on people. The most smart and evil of characters know how to smile and blend in.
Just in case I failed to mention; I am playing D&D 3.5e.
Yeah, it was a situation where they'd been breezing through every encounter, even Level +3 encounters. They took out what I thought was a strong solo without it getting more than one turn. After it's first turn, on which it was trying to retreat, it had terrain advantage giving them something like a -9 to their attacks, and they still slaughtered it like it was nothing. So I thought, okay, this party is invincible, so just once I'm going to pick Level +3 monsters that have perfect synergy with their powers, and see what a challenging encounter looks like. Turned out, it looked like a total party kill if I didn't nerf some of the damage rolls.



Reminds me of a DM joke I heard once...

"What's worse than a party that things it's invincible? A DM that thinks a party is invincible"
I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it. #SuperDungeonMasterIITurbo My blog and stuff http://dmingtowin.blogspot.com/ 100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.
"NPCs that are seeking to betray the players should be shady." This is like playing with babies! Come on people. The most smart and evil of characters know how to smile and blend in.



Personally, I have no qualms about having betrayers be perfectly likeable. Of course, it depends on the circumstances of the betrayal, but it can easily run the gamut.

Besides, those are the betrayals that REALLY get a good reaction.
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"NPCs that are seeking to betray the players should be shady." This is like playing with babies! Come on people. The most smart and evil of characters know how to smile and blend in.


Yes, and what happens if the smart and evil character is absolutely indistinguishable from a number of other characters the PCs are interacting with?

Well, the PCs learn they can't trust ANY character.

Not everyone who is shady has to betray the PCs, and not everyone who is honorable or just should be friends with the PCs (in fact honorable allies are more likely to turn on the PCs if they act "dishonorably" than purely mercenary NPCs).  But the PCs should have a reason to suspect the betrayal will occur, or you'll quickly find their interactions with all NPCs turning antagonistic and paranoid.  Perhaps this is "realistic."  But its fun for neither the DM nor the PCs.

Remember, a feature of the "real world" is that people act with their own internal motivation.  They are not driven by the whims of an all-powerful being who can change anything at will.  There is no wondering if that nice person who backstabbed you backstabbed you because this all-powerful being changed their mind about something.

Your players will always wonder "was this betrayal intended, or did the DM just ass pull?" 
"NPCs that are seeking to betray the players should be shady." This is like playing with babies! Come on people. The most smart and evil of characters know how to smile and blend in.


Yes, and what happens if the smart and evil character is absolutely indistinguishable from a number of other characters the PCs are interacting with?

Well, the PCs learn they can't trust ANY character.

Not everyone who is shady has to betray the PCs, and not everyone who is honorable or just should be friends with the PCs (in fact honorable allies are more likely to turn on the PCs if they act "dishonorably" than purely mercenary NPCs).  But the PCs should have a reason to suspect the betrayal will occur, or you'll quickly find their interactions with all NPCs turning antagonistic and paranoid.  Perhaps this is "realistic."  But its fun for neither the DM nor the PCs.

Remember, a feature of the "real world" is that people act with their own internal motivation.  They are not driven by the whims of an all-powerful being who can change anything at will.  There is no wondering if that nice person who backstabbed you backstabbed you because this all-powerful being changed their mind about something.

Your players will always wonder "was this betrayal intended, or did the DM just ass pull?" 



That is why I do not make that decision for NPCs. While it can be influenced by the NPCs alignment and disposition (as it should) through a modifier to the roll, I still would not take it upon myself to decide whether or not a betrayal takes place.

A very recent example I can give is that the PCs had basically press-ganged a group of orcs into working alongside them (killing their leader in a single attack went a long way to making their decision for them!) and, through some trials and tribulations, after a bit they were left with only a pair of orcs...Or'tu and Yaka'po.

Or'tu was big and strong...the strongest of his group...and Yaka'po was smaller, faster and smarter.

Well, the player of the Oruk Barbarian made it quite clear that he wouldn't tolerate them being shady or cowardly and, when the two flubbed a morale check and ran away from a battle with an Ettin, it resulted in Or'tu (who completely botched a Cha check) getting Halz'zorak (the Oruk) quite angry.

Yaka'po concocted a plan afterwards with a good Int check (he'd been looking for ways to ingratiate himself to Halz'zorak) and when near an Orc camp, he made up a little lie, telling Halz'zorak that Or'tu wanted to sell out the party. The party was distrustful of Yaka'po but didn't let him know.

Now, why were they distrustful? Well, I didn't ever tell them he was distrustful...they were just cautious. After all, it WAS an orc, even if it had been helping them (out of fear/respect...mostly fear). So they concocted a plan...but, while alone, Yaka'po worked up the courage (Morale check) to sneak attack Or'tu and killed the poor dumb lug...then ran back and lied again, saying he had stopped Or'tu from running off to betray them all.

Well, as fate had it, it was only a few more battles later that Yaka'po bit the dust...but the party had fought alongside him in some tough fights (his morale had improved) and they had grown attached to him. They buried him with the full honors a party member would receive and Halz'zorak even took a set of dice Yaka'po had as a reminder of the not-so-evil-not-so-dumb orc they had met and fought side by side with.

With the orc out of play and a memory, I later told Halz'zorak's player Walter "Just so you know, cuz I know it's gonna bug you...Yaka'po lied about Or'tu. He killed him to try and get in better with Halz'zorak". Walt's response was "That stupid little S.O.B..." then he laughed and added "Man, what a total orc...smart orc...but a total orc". I just sorta shrugged after laughing as well and said "Orcs are as orcs do" and Walt's response was great after learning about the little bit of betrayal "Well, it doesn't matter to Halz'zorak since he doesn't know...to him, Yaka'po was an exceptional orc. He'll still speak well of him"

Was it a betrayal? Oh heck yeah. Were they suspicious? Yup. At no point did I have to tell them the Orc was shady...he was shady through his actions (being a clever little monkey from time to time as compared to a regular orc) and, well, he was an orc!

However, in the last Star Wars game I ran just over two years ago, a major story point involved the group finding out that a member of the Jedi council that was a part of a player's back story and that had helped them for some time, was only doing so as part of a larger plan to seize a midi-chlorian based super-weapon. They had no reason to suspect his part in it...and they had no idea it was coming. He'd never been anything but upfront and helpful with them (because it served his purpose)...but because he was described as a hard-line, no-nonsense Jedi who believed in the importance of law and order, it made sense that he could fall to the Dark Side because of those traits taken too far...

Ah, Master Vardell Hayz...he was HATED. Absolutely reviled by the players, especially the Jedi whose backstory he was a part of...who found out that his greatest mis-step as a Jedi had been set-up (also a part of the Jedi's backstory) by Hayz to take him "off the board" for a while. When he was cut down with a lightsaber and, while still alive, crushed beneath an avalanche of twisted, rusted metal, one of the players actually jumped up off the couch and fist-pumped with a "Yes!" because the betrayal was so real.

Of course, it didn't help that a bunch of those events had lead to one of the PCs also fall to the dark side (he was already a fairly morally questionable Imperial force user) and help sway the Jedi player's padawan (controlled by ANOTHER player) to the dark side as well. Yup, in one game, two of my players betrayed the group and set off to perpetrate some good old fashioned Dark side-ie stuff. And it was amazing. Absolutely amazing roleplaying hailed (to this day) as "the best game ever" around these parts (though my current D&D game is apparently de-throning it).

TL:DR version...I find betrayal doesn't need to be hinted at up-front if the reasons for it make sense and are logical after-the-fact. At least with mature players anyway.
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The issue is with "Gotcha" betrayal. It pretty well deprotagonizes the PCs by making them look like dupes, which is why they'd rather be completely mistrustful than risk it. It's exactly the kind of thing that destroys any trust that has arisen between the players and the DM.

Don't do "Gotcha" betrayal, unless you have buy in from your players. Then you can at least "Gotcha" their characters.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Don't do "Gotcha" betrayal

Heh... I woulda thought 'Gotcha betrayal' was a redundant term (making non-gotcha betrayal an impossibility).

But I agree: leave big* clues so that the players can still feel clever. And don't commit (i.e. railroad) to keeping the betrayer a secret. Players are less likely to resist if they encounter no resistance themselves. And it's not really a bad thing if the players destroy your plans by investigating clues.

*updated
But I agree: leave big clues so that the players can still feel clever. And don't commit (i.e. railroad) to keeping the betrayer a secret. Players are less likely to resist if they encounter no resistance themselves. And it's not really a bad thing if the players destroy your plans by investigating clues.



It's not a big thing as long as you haven't predetermined the plot or have hinged your whole scenario on "The Big Reveal."

In my opinion, knowing a secret isn't terribly entertaining. Doing something about it is. So from the DM's perspective, he should ask himself before implementation: "Is knowing this thing going to make the game more interesting or less interesting?" If it's the latter, time to revise. Leaving it in at that point may lead you to playing "gotcha" games with the info.

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Don't do "Gotcha" betrayal

Heh... I woulda thought 'Gotcha betrayal' was a redundant term (making non-gotcha betrayal an impossibility).

But I agree: leave big clues so that the players can still feel clever. And don't commit (i.e. railroad) to keeping the betrayer a secret. Players are less likely to resist if they encounter no resistance themselves. And it's not really a bad thing if the players destroy your plans by investigating clues.

It's a knife's edge. It's easy to make clues so big that the players don't feel clever.

Your last line is the key: don't have anything hinge on the secret being kept or on it ever being discovered. Plenty of mysteries stories retain their challenge even when the secret is discovered early, and plenty of them have things to do even if the mystery is never really revealed.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

The issue is with "Gotcha" betrayal. It pretty well deprotagonizes the PCs by making them look like dupes, which is why they'd rather be completely mistrustful than risk it. It's exactly the kind of thing that destroys any trust that has arisen between the players and the DM.

Don't do "Gotcha" betrayal, unless you have buy in from your players. Then you can at least "Gotcha" their characters.



As "protagonize" is not a word, I do not understaned how to DEprotagonize someone.

Could you elaborate what you mean and how this is so?
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protagonize -> protagonist ?
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TL:DR version...I find betrayal doesn't need to be hinted at up-front if the reasons for it make sense and are logical after-the-fact. At least with mature players anyway.



You lay out two examples where the PCs essentially had large clues that the NPCs in question weren't entirely on-the-level.

1) Smart, clever orc.  No one is surprised if they backstab someone to get ahead.  Nature of the beast.  You'd probably be breaking player expectations if the NPC orc was 100% TRUSTWORTHY.  It's like Lichs.  You don't need to say "this lich is probably a self-serving evil sociopath."  Goes with the territory.  

2)  As for the second, it's a Star Wars game.  Jedi who are hard line and 'take no prisoners' are always on the edge of the Dark Side.  The Dark Side is the path of least resistance, the shortest course from you to your goals - and if you're willing to be pragmatic and hard line, you might decide to pragmatically take a course you really shouldn't...  I'd be surprised if you didn't give at least a few hints, mostly from how you like to overexplain and show off - I'd be really, really, really surprised if you didn't go "I'll throw in a bunch of little hints that the players will only see in retrospect to show off how clever I am!"   And in that case, that did work fine (falling to the Dark Side also a big theme of Star Wars - once again it's like evil Lichs and backstabbing orc, goes with the territory).  


So basically, you lay out two cases where you do what I say is a good idea.  And then you go "so that's why you're wrong!"  

What would be bad is if you took a character who was part of the good guys and wasn't a Jedi, just someone you presented as kind and helpful, and then all of a sudden the PCs are kidnapped.  "He betrayed you.  Hmmm... reason, oh they threatened his family, yeah, that'll work."  
 
In the case of the NPC who betrayed the PCs, I'd hope that if they'd gotten a hint something was wrong (or were just paranoid) and went digging into his background thoroughly you wouldn't have had him come up lily white and THEN fall to the dark side.  Rumors of him maybe being a bit "tough" in some situation, maybe talk of how he had a temper as a child, but grew out of it, maybe a discussion of how he had an amazing love affair but then the woman left him and he never got over her (love turns you to the Dark Side, well known Lucas fact).  

The PCs don't get everything handed to them on a silver platter - but they don't get fed scraps and then sent to some "cutscene" where mysterious person X betrays the protagonists and the player suddenly snaps out of the protagonist and goes "wait a minute, the DM was gonna do this no matter what we did and we couldn't change it."

Again, in case I was not 100% clear (which I thought I was, but I guess some people...):  NPCs betraying the PCs is fine.  But there should be hints.  They can be as easy as "he's a hard-line Jedi with very little mercy" or "he's an orc."  They can be more complex - minor betrayals or self-serving actions (perhaps the NPC gives the PCs a hint that helps them... but the PCs realize it also advances the NPC's business interests... then it happens again... once the PCs realize that all the hints are helping the NPCs they'll probably realize eventually one of the hints will help the NPC but NOT the PCs).  But don't just clobber your PCs with "random betrayal X" or they'll mainly learn that the DM is a jerk who betrays them.
I appreciate the indications that I am a jerk DM. Good stuff. Now onto your points.



You lay out two examples where the PCs essentially had large clues that the NPCs in question weren't entirely on-the-level.

1) Smart, clever orc.  No one is surprised if they backstab someone to get ahead.  Nature of the beast.  You'd probably be breaking player expectations if the NPC orc was 100% TRUSTWORTHY.  It's like Lichs.  You don't need to say "this lich is probably a self-serving evil sociopath."  Goes with the territory. 



Or'tu WAS 100% trustworthy. He hero-worshipped Halz'zorak. He would not have betrayed them as he had a fanatic disposition by the time he was killed. It would have had to take effort to "break" him in that regard. So, 100% trustworthy orc. Was it out of a mixture of respect & fear? Yup. But that is irrelevant to the discussion. Also I have non "self-serving evil sociopath liches"...some are evil but not sociopaths, and some are not evil at all. Most? Heck yeah. Additionally, my players don't really have expectations...their characters do and they do a great job of trying to keep those things seperate (or to align them as necessary). Case in point, I was just having a convo earlier with the group paladin who in and out of character has deep mis-givings about securing the release of a recently captured (and sentenced to death) dwarf assassin who they believe can help lead them to a greater evil at work. That is the sort of man vs self conflict that I think is really great in D&D.

2)  As for the second, it's a Star Wars game.  Jedi who are hard line and 'take no prisoners' are always on the edge of the Dark Side.  The Dark Side is the path of least resistance, the shortest course from you to your goals - and if you're willing to be pragmatic and hard line, you might decide to pragmatically take a course you really shouldn't...  I'd be surprised if you didn't give at least a few hints, mostly from how you like to overexplain and show off - I'd be really, really, really surprised if you didn't go "I'll throw in a bunch of little hints that the players will only see in retrospect to show off how clever I am!"   And in that case, that did work fine (falling to the Dark Side also a big theme of Star Wars - once again it's like evil Lichs and backstabbing orc, goes with the territory). 



Nope. That is where you are a bit mistaken (mostly because you want to be right very desperately). Master Hayz was a magnificent b@st@rd (not sure if it's censored on the board so I'll censor it myself) who did not TURN to the Dark Side, he was Dark Side for over two decades before the campaign ever began. And he had a hard-line stance when it came to justice and doing what is "right"...which was in line with one of the PC's Jedi (a Jedi of exceptional character) belief system as they had been friends for quite some time. He was not the gloating lawful evil paladin-jedi ruthlessly stamping down everything around him in the name of JUSTICE! He was merely an implacable advocate of doing the "right" thing like many jedi are. It was ONLY in retrospect that they could see how far down the Dark path this guy had gone. How utterly without morals or scruples he was. They had no way to prepare for it because there were no hints. Truthfully, they didn't look for them...but it was possible for them to uncover things. They just hadn't done any investigation in that direction.

I'll put it this way, when they were confronted by the truth regarding Coruscant senator (the most influential senator alive, the head of the republic military AND secretly the head of a Mandalorian Death Watch cult devoted to the obliteration of the remaining Mandalorians as well as the Jedi, Sith & Empire) Haladin when they spoke to him face-to-face they were talking (OOC) about immediately taking this information to Master Hayz...until he walked into the room since he was allied with Haladin and wanted the party to understand what they were doing and join them. The party gave them a firm "we'll think about it"

As further proof, I just asked my wife who was one of the players in the campaign, "Hey, how likely did you think Master Hayz in the Star Wars game was to betray you? Scale of 1 to 100" and she held up a hand indicating "0"...after making a disgusted, angry face just at the mention of Hayz's name...like I said, the guy was HATED. So, yeah, there were no signs.

So basically, you lay out two cases where you do what I say is a good idea.  And then you go "so that's why you're wrong!"



I don't remember telling someone they were outright wrong. I merely said that based on my experience what they were suggesting was not necessarily always right. Must everything be binary? After all I said "need" and qualified that it is especially not a problem with mature players...that qualifies that exceptions exist.

What would be bad is if you took a character who was part of the good guys and wasn't a Jedi, just someone you presented as kind and helpful, and then all of a sudden the PCs are kidnapped.  "He betrayed you.  Hmmm... reason, oh they threatened his family, yeah, that'll work."



You are indicating here that the reason is made up on the spot. Yup, that is definitely bad DMing. I don't do that. Try again.
 
In the case of the NPC who betrayed the PCs, I'd hope that if they'd gotten a hint something was wrong (or were just paranoid) and went digging into his background thoroughly you wouldn't have had him come up lily white and THEN fall to the dark side.  Rumors of him maybe being a bit "tough" in some situation, maybe talk of how he had a temper as a child, but grew out of it, maybe a discussion of how he had an amazing love affair but then the woman left him and he never got over her (love turns you to the Dark Side, well known Lucas fact). 



As I explained before, there was no "Fall" in the context of the game. Hayz was always bad from the moment I typed his name up on my list of the Jedi council members. Could they have found about his part in certain things? Of course. Unfortunately, the easiest ways would have been to talk to and BELIEVE others that they did not trust (mostly because they were members of the Sith empire). Since they didn't, they didn't. But no, there was no glaring series of "Oh yeah this guy is totally eeevil" moments in Hayz's personal history. At least not on the record.

The PCs don't get everything handed to them on a silver platter - but they don't get fed scraps and then sent to some "cutscene" where mysterious person X betrays the protagonists and the player suddenly snaps out of the protagonist and goes "wait a minute, the DM was gonna do this no matter what we did and we couldn't change it."



Again this assumes that I am somehow making these decisions on the fly. Was Hayz enacting a plan? Yes, of course. That is beyond me. There is no "The DM was gonna do this!"...it was just beyond their ability to see or effect as many things in a world (or galaxy far far away) are. I think the fact that the players still actively hate Hayz (seriously a mention of his name is generally enough to elicit at least a "F that guy!" remark) yet consider the game he was featured in the (now) second best game I've ever run is enough proof in the pudding. I try to present 3-dimensional characters to my players...their decisions, because of that, are understandable and logical to the players.

Again, in case I was not 100% clear (which I thought I was, but I guess some people...):  NPCs betraying the PCs is fine.  But there should be hints.  They can be as easy as "he's a hard-line Jedi with very little mercy" or "he's an orc."  They can be more complex - minor betrayals or self-serving actions (perhaps the NPC gives the PCs a hint that helps them... but the PCs realize it also advances the NPC's business interests... then it happens again... once the PCs realize that all the hints are helping the NPCs they'll probably realize eventually one of the hints will help the NPC but NOT the PCs).  But don't just clobber your PCs with "random betrayal X" or they'll mainly learn that the DM is a jerk who betrays them.



A random betrayal is only random so long as it is actually random. If there is a reason for it, it is not random.

If your players have a hard time seperating "character that is a jerk and betrays them" from "DM who is a jerk and betrays them" I would say you either have MASSIVE issues with player maturity, or a DM who is awful and engaging in pranking their group "for the lulz", as it were.
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@YamagiFire: Well apparently your approach works for you.   Lets just say that a different DM with a different group might have a lot more issues.  I imagine from your other posts that you already have a significant amount of player trust, for whatever reason, and you can use that trust.

We are more talking about a group of players new to the DM, and the DM having to build a rapport with them.  

Your insinuations that the lack of rapport is due to immaturity, rather than a lack of previous experience between the DM and the players is, frankly, stupid and insulting.