Setting Expections: Before the campaign, and after issues arise

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What kinds of expectations do you establish for your players before play begins and after problems arise?



I've had trouble lately with people wanting to talk about their crappy life, politics, and other things that I'd rather not have come up at my game sessions.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that I've simply got to tell players that my campaign is really tough and characters will die, otherwise theres incessant whining when a character dies or has any trouble whatsoever (oh woe is me!).

What's the best way to go about addressing this stuff?

jh

Gamer Chiropractor - Hafner Chiropractic 305 S. Kipling st,Suite C-2, Lakewood, Co 80226 hafnerchiropractic.com

This sounds like session zero stuff, but I'll throw in my two cents.

When I am running a table I like to have a 20 minute "buffer" time. If we say that our game is 8, then from 8 to 8:20 is time to crack jokes, talk about the latest movies, eat pizza, grab beers, etc. The official purpose of this time is to do any bench audits or character sheet maintenance, or to confirm any OOC coordination we've made in between sessions. At 8:21 the TV goes off, laptops get put away, and I fire up an itunes playlist that is all instrumentals. The occasional off-color moment after the buffer time is OK, but the general rule is that once the game starts we're in the game until we call the session.

As for the relative mortality rate of your campaign, that's something to cover and agree upon in session zero. There are plenty of other threads and viewpoints around here on how to handle player death, so I will spare you mine.
What kinds of expectations do you establish for your players before play begins and after problems arise?



I've had trouble lately with people wanting to talk about their crappy life, politics, and other things that I'd rather not have come up at my game sessions.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that I've simply got to tell players that my campaign is really tough and characters will die, otherwise theres incessant whining when a character dies or has any trouble whatsoever (oh woe is me!).

What's the best way to go about addressing this stuff?

jh

Primarily it would be handled in Session Zero, which is what we call a pre-game talk about game expectations and plans.

There's little point in killing characters if that's not the kind of challenge your players want to see. Challenge them in other ways. Ask them what kinds of consequences they'd like to see and impose those. Death is not the only way to fail.

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

What kinds of expectations do you establish for your players before play begins and after problems arise?



I've had trouble lately with people wanting to talk about their crappy life, politics, and other things that I'd rather not have come up at my game sessions.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that I've simply got to tell players that my campaign is really tough and characters will die, otherwise theres incessant whining when a character dies or has any trouble whatsoever (oh woe is me!).

What's the best way to go about addressing this stuff?

jh



Kerapalli's suggestion is good. It's what I do. I have games start at a specific time and before that chaos can reign. After that time though, it's game time. Having a set time puts peoples brains into game mode once that time comes up.

There's little point in killing characters if that's not the kind of challenge your players want to see. Challenge them in other ways.



As for this advice from Centauri, I disagree in that as the one providing the game and the challenges of the game it is your right to provide the challenges you see fit and enjoy providing. Does that mean some players will not necessary like that? Sure, but that is the nature of life.

A more important question about lethality in your campaign though is how it is delivered and how that challenge is created. On a game level, "tough" might not be tough...it might be unfair or poorly devised. Can you give some examples of how the challenge is provided? Basically, give me a run down of how you present the game and the challenges in it.


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.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

What's the best way to go about addressing this stuff?

The important thing to keep in mind is that the DM is not the game. The DM is a necessary part of the game, but so are the players. Without players enjoying the game, there is no game. The DM must be enjoying the game as well, but they traditionally have many more options for arranging that than players do.

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

You should generally address this stuff in the character creation session, or what is commonly called session 0. This is before anyone has made a character or invested any time in the game. Here you can lay out house rules. They can be anything from "We use 32 point buy" to "Don't talk about politics here, it just turns the game into an arguement". You can also establish expectations and see what your players are looking for. Things like "There is a ton of magic in this game" "I'd like everyone to somehow work membership into the Order of Tall Dudes into your backstory" and "You will die often, thats expected don't worry about it". 

If you start bringing these sorts of things into play mid game it can lead to conflict. If you didn't have a  session 0, you should have one asap and just let everyone know that it applies from here on out.

During session 0, you should expect to field questions from players about the world, your DMing style, and house rule requests like "Can I play X race, ignore Y requirement".  They may take the opportunity to debate rules with you, and this is good. Debate it now, before the game actually happens instead of mid session. Things like "Do we have to use a crit fumble chart?" are common examples. For many players this is a dealbreaker, and its better for them to bow out before character generation than after the second session.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"



There's little point in killing characters if that's not the kind of challenge your players want to see. Challenge them in other ways.



As for this advice from Centauri, I disagree in that as the one providing the game and the challenges of the game it is your right to provide the challenges you see fit and enjoy providing. Does that mean some players will not necessary like that? Sure, but that is the nature of life.



This is a situation where "I'm the DM, and its my game" can come bite you in the rear. If you have a group of people who invest themselves in their characters, plan for their futures, and whose primary joy is character development, then a high lethality game is going to be endless frustration for them. Eventually, they are going to leave your table as soon as a game that suits their playstyle comes along. The DM is lord and master of his table, only as long as there are players willing to sit at it.

If you clue the players in about lethality during your session zero, hopefully they will clue you in that they want to be able to develop characters rather than potentially needing to create a new one every ten sessions. If you want to keep those players, compromise is in order.

I think if you take away death as a challenge to the charactres there is no chalenge left in the game. Yes?
I think if you take away death as a challenge to the charactres there is no chalenge left in the game. Yes?

No. There are ways to lose other than by dying. Any TV show, book, or movie with an action adventure storyline shows examples of this.

(And anyway, no one advocates completely removing death, just putting in on the players' terms so that they embrace death as a right and proper thing for their character. Many players find random death to be "right and proper," but that's not the only way it can be handled.)

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

I think if you take away death as a challenge to the charactres there is no chalenge left in the game. Yes?



Defeat is defeat. Sometimes that means death, sometimes not. The problem with death is that death is final. I would prefer to give a character a chance to die heroically on their own terms as the end to their life story, rather than have their death rest solely on the roll of the dice.

Death is not the only consequence of failure. Consider that for a while.
I think if you take away death as a challenge to the charactres there is no chalenge left in the game. Yes?


Defeat is defeat. Sometimes that means death, sometimes not. The problem with death is that death is final. I would prefer to give a character a chance to die heroically on their own terms as the end to their life story, rather than have their death rest solely on the roll of the dice.

Death is not the only consequence of failure. Consider that for a while.

And not just capture or retreat, either, which is what people often seem to think is meant by "failure other than death." One key to it is for the monsters to have goals that, while they're probably not healthy for the PCs in the long term, don't require killing the PCs: destroy a target, capture a target, reach a location, perform ritual, etc.

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

I think if you take away death as a challenge to the charactres there is no chalenge left in the game. Yes?



No. Pick your favorite TV show. How often do the characters fail? How often do they die? Probably something along the lines of Often, and Rarely. 

A show that constantly kills characters only to have them ressurected, gets made fun of pretty hard for it. Once that starts happening, you can generally tell a show is going down hill.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

What's still out there for long-term consequences for characters anyways?  I'm just coming back to the D&D game after a hiatus.  We've been playing WFRP where you've got:  mutations, corruption, permanent insanities, madness, permanent injuries (including the prosthetics to fix them), death (of course), disease, garish scars, noble reputation, etc.

When I got back to D&D,  I don't really have those kinds of opportunities to "frighten" a character.  Heck, even level-loss is gone (not that anyone really "liked" that anyways as it didn't really make for a good roleplaying opportunity.

Anyways, when a player isn't ready for the fact that a character can die in a heroic roleplaying game or suffer other consequences, and then steps into a game where it actually happens (like mine), they tend to freak out very very badly ;) 

jh

Gamer Chiropractor - Hafner Chiropractic 305 S. Kipling st,Suite C-2, Lakewood, Co 80226 hafnerchiropractic.com

What's still out there for long-term consequences for characters anyways?  I'm just coming back to the D&D game after a hiatus.  We've been playing WFRP where you've got:  mutations, corruption, permanent insanities, madness, permanent injuries (including the prosthetics to fix them), death (of course), disease, garish scars, noble reputation, etc.



These kinds of things tend to hijack a character. Whatever development was in store for the character gets dereailed while the player tries to rid themselves of whatever ailment they were just shackled with. If that ailment also comes with a crippling disability (and no compensating advantage), the player would usually rather just retire the character than continue to play it.

When I got back to D&D,  I don't really have those kinds of opportunities to "frighten" a character.  Heck, even level-loss is gone (not that anyone really "liked" that anyways as it didn't really make for a good roleplaying opportunity.



That's because they are two different styles of roleplaying. WHFRP is "grim and gritty" where D&D is usually "heroic fantasy." Any permanent disabilities are going to be homebrewed, and not found anywhere in the rules. As such, you are going to have to be upfront about these rules. Don't be surprised if some of your players push back against these things. If you stand firm, expect some of those players to walk.

Anyways, when a player isn't ready for the fact that a character can die in a heroic roleplaying game or suffer other consequences, and then steps into a game where it actually happens (like mine), they tend to freak out very very badly ;) 



Exactly. If you want to avoid this, session zero is an absolute necessity. The players who remain after session zero will be better prepared for for it.

I think if you take away death as a challenge to the charactres there is no chalenge left in the game. Yes?



I would definitely agree that it removes a large portion of the games mechanical challenge as most of those mechanics are designed to mitigate & prevent death.

Whether that is a good or bad thing is neither here nor there because it is a subjective thing so there is no right answer.

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.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

What's still out there for long-term consequences for characters anyways?  I'm just coming back to the D&D game after a hiatus.  We've been playing WFRP where you've got:  mutations, corruption, permanent insanities, madness, permanent injuries (including the prosthetics to fix them), death (of course), disease, garish scars, noble reputation, etc.

When I got back to D&D,  I don't really have those kinds of opportunities to "frighten" a character.  Heck, even level-loss is gone (not that anyone really "liked" that anyways as it didn't really make for a good roleplaying opportunity.

Anyways, when a player isn't ready for the fact that a character can die in a heroic roleplaying game or suffer other consequences, and then steps into a game where it actually happens (like mine), they tend to freak out very very badly ;) 

jh



Long-term consequences can also take the form of in-world consequences like making enemies, breaking alliances, etc.

That's because they are two different styles of roleplaying. WHFRP is "grim and gritty" where D&D is usually "heroic fantasy."



Can't agree with this. Roleplaying is a spectrum phenomenon, not something that can be definitively broken down into "styles"...especially only two.

Exactly. If you want to avoid this, session zero is an absolute necessity. The players who remain after session zero will be better prepared for for it.



This right here is spot on.

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.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.



That's because they are two different styles of roleplaying. WHFRP is "grim and gritty" where D&D is usually "heroic fantasy."



Can't agree with this. Roleplaying is a spectrum phenomenon, not something that can be definitively broken down into "styles"...especially only two.



Never said there were only two styles. These are two points along a line (or, maybe two spokes on a wheel), neither one at the extremes.

The primary conceits of each game support a different style of campaign. The high lethality and darker themes of WFRP favor a gim and gritty campaign. The abundant resources avaiable to characters, as well as the idea that characters are fully fledged adventurers from level one (skipping the "country bumpkin phase" and putting that in the characters' background) of 4E supports heroic fantasy roleplaying. That isn't to say that you can't do heroic fantasy in WFRP or tweak some things to allow 4E to be grim and gritty.

A player who signs on for a grim and gritty campaign has different expectations than one who signs on for a heroic fantasy campaign. The same player could even enjoy both styles, but be blindsided when a campaign that started one way suddenly turns to the other

Kerapalli's suggestion is good. It's what I do. I have games start at a specific time and before that chaos can reign. After that time though, it's game time. Having a set time puts peoples brains into game mode once that time comes up.

While good advice, be careful in making it too official if you have players like some in my group. They are the type of players that I tell we start at 7:30 pm so that we are all there at 8 pm ;)

Still, I do usually use some of my beginning time for discussions about RL which definitely limits it later on. Mind you, sometimes people are not really in the mood for an intense RP session and just want to roll some dice and discuss RL in which case there is little you can do about it. If it happens too often, it can be an identication that the players want something else from the game than they are getting and it is time to have that session 0. Note that I personally have that session a couple times (probably 2 per year, more when I note problems) during the campaign and not just at the start. Things change, and sometimes it helps to discuss stuff especially in campaigns that last for years.

As for lethality, that is all a matter of perspective and gaming style. D&D is best suited for heroic fantasy, meaning death is rare, there are no gruesome consequence (no maiming, no taint, no sanity) and the PCs tend to be victorious more often than not. It is also what most players will expect when they sit down to play a game. Of course, you can change your game relatively easy to cover other story styles relatively easy, but that is definitely something you need to discuss with your players beforehand.


You absolutely can't compare death in tv/movies to death in dnd.

Very typically, tv/movies are modeled closely enough to the real world that if you die it's a pretty permanent thing. In dnd, the rules vary by edition, but after level 9 or so, death is an inconvenience, not the end. 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
You absolutely can't compare death in tv/movies to death in dnd.

You absolutely can.

Very typically, tv/movies are modeled closely enough to the real world that if you die it's a pretty permanent thing. In dnd, the rules vary by edition, but after level 9 or so, death is an inconvenience, not the end.

Sure, unless the players or DM find that to "cheapen" death. Removing or limiting access to Raise Dead is one of the most common house rules. And, as you say it's an inconvenience only after 9th level. I have to wonder how many people tend to play at 9th level.

Yes, death in TV and movies is a pretty permanent thing, but that's exactly why TVs and movies avoid it. Their needs are similar to those of a D&D table, in that it would be somewhat impactful to their show either to have their main characters die permanent deaths at inopportune times, or have them die trivial deaths. Not every show does this well all the time, and somes shows walk that line so much that they regularly cross into "Oh, come on" territory (by over use of deus ex machina or by killing only minor characters), but in lots of shows death for the characters is never really on the table due to real-world considerations like contracts, yet they still lose against their antagonists and the show is still tense.

So, a DM who has any qualms about killing characters of with the players overcoming setbacks with a single ritual, can look to shows and stories for ways to challenge them in real ways, without needing to kill them. Heck, even with a scroll, Raise Dead takes 12 hours to cast, and leaves the target with penalties, so if time is a factor in the larger challenge, or the party needs to be at peak ability to have a good chance of success, death might be much more than an inconvenience.

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

Again, by the default rules in 4e and 3.5, death is a speedbump. So no, you cannot compare it to something where it is permanent.
The OP asked how people handle it, some may handle it by by houseruling away such things as raises and rezzes, and i agree, that in those situations you can compare them to similar stories and media.
But without clairification from the OP, it is best that people that respond assume the game is being run by default rules and not automatically assume it is run by your own houserules.


And again, the rules vary by edition, raise dead in 3.5 takes 10 minutes, not 12 hours. Very few games in either edition can't afford the players a 10 minute rest at some point in a session.
In 4e, you can Solace Bole and perform a raise dead in 1 hour. Ok, that's not as fast as 10 minutes, but again, it's not a huge deal.
 Again, in 4e you just cast it off a scroll and do it in half time, which is 6 hours (not twelve). Certain situations won't allow for a 6-12 hours of pc downtime, so no, not every pc in every situation will bounce right back up again.
Which will lead to some player downtime, which, is the exact point of this thread.
 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Again, by the default rules in 4e and 3.5, death is a speedbump.

After a certain level.

So no, you cannot compare it to something where it is permanent.

The permanence has nothing to do with it. The issue is the inconvenience. If it causes any kind of out-of-game inconvenience for any reason, death is best avoided and non-lethal forms of failure substituted. As in TV shows.

But without clairification from the OP, it is best that people that respond assume the game is being run by default rules and not automatically assume it is run by your own houserules.

They're not my houserules, but they're very common houserules. It's reasonable to guess that something like this is present in this case because otherwise death would just be "speedbump."

In 4e, you can Solace Bole and perform a raise dead in 1 hour. Ok, that's not as fast as 10 minutes, but again, it's not a huge deal.

At least by 12th level it's not, assuming the 500 gp worth of components is on hand. But if they can afford the 5,000 gp for a Paragon tier Raise Dead, I guess another 500 gp doesn't matter.

Again, in 4e you just cast it off a scroll and do it in half time, which is 6 hours (not twelve).

I thought it was 24 hours, which led me to the 12 hour figure. In fact it's 8 hours, which reduces it to 4 hours from a scroll.

Certain situations won't allow for a 6-12 hours of pc downtime, so no, not every pc in every situation will bounce right back up again.
Which will lead to some player downtime, which, is the exact point of this thread.
 

Right. In a TV series, it would lead to downtime for an actor too, and possibly less pay and other issues, so even when it might be more realistic for a character to die they somehow make it, even though they don't always win. So, one way to reduce the risk of player downtime is to take a page from TV shows and use lots of challenges that don't necessarily have death as a failure mode.

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

A heroic tier rez is 500gp for the reagents, and the standard cost for labor is typically 20% of the reagents, which means we are looking at 600 gp.
A level 2 uncommon magic item costs 540gp, a level 5 uncommon magic item costs 1000gp (and sells for 500 gp). Both level 2 and level 5 magic items are expected to be found at first level. In fact, you will statisically find 2 magic items within your very first 4 encounters at level 1 in 4e.

Yes it may suck to sell your new level 5 item, or have to trade your shiny level 2 item in order to get a companion rezzed.
And it will suck to have to carry his corpse to someone that can rez him.
And yes, both of these will be big fat inconveniences.
But the rez is statistically obtainable, at level 1, after 4 encounters.
Level 8 is just when the party is able to do it without having to drag the corpse around. 



Having said all of that, i do agree that death is not the only way to have the pc's fail. Nor am i advocating that dm's should slaughter the pc's and just say "you can get rezed" every 15 minutes. These are generally signs of sloppy dm'ing.
But sometimes a few crits get through and unexpected things happen so you make due.  
 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis