When the DM just won't go along with the "clever player solution"

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So a few times in our current adventure we've tried planning for really difficult encounters in creative ways, trying to avoid as much danger as actually possible. But it seems the DM won't budge in keeping encounters in the box he prepared them in.


Example.
1)
We were to fight a hydra locked in a large room in a sewer with gated doors.
We were going to attempt to break just a bit of the door and draw the hydra to the gate and safely shoot it at will while it struggled against the baracade.
It was essentially taking the fight into another area that didn't have all the hazards and hiding places for the hydra.
---It wasn't until we were all inside the hazard room with the gate locking itself behind us that we could actually start the encounter, no matter if we had managed to shoot it and damage it from the other side once. It was going to just wait no matter what until we got in.

2)
We had to carry out an assassination. (None in the party are stealthy at all) So we played up our bluff and political angle to gain access to the place during an important meeting and then set off alchemical demolitions.
---Well, before we could even get to the day of the event we were snuck into the castle and ended up having to fight through the encounter we were planning on ending in one single explosion.


--
Now, I've been a DM myself. And I've been on both sides of the situation.
I've had player action negate encounters/material I had prepared as well as player inaction forcing me to create new, unplanned material.

I'm okay with a little bit of railroading, but I like to think that player creativity should be rewarded and if an alternative solution can be found, it should be allowed, rather than forcing the one-way-only solution. Now, I've also been guilty myself of that in a few situations, but I like to think they were only in climactic events.


So how does one handle this when you don't want to completely negate what your DM has prepared but at the same time you want to feel like your actions actually matter beyond which attack power you used this round.
 
So how does one handle this when you don't want to completely negate what your DM has prepared but at the same time you want to feel like your actions actually matter beyond which attack power you used this round.

In a word: trust.

I'll expand on this, from a DM's perspective.

Lots of DMs put extensive time and effort into encounters, designing the monsters, terrain, traps, etc. They want to show off their efforts and they don't want their time to have been wasted, or even to have the value of it diminished. In the two examples you provided, I could see a lot of work going to waste.

The terrain and other advantages in the hydra's room would not come into play and the DM probably didn't consider how to use any of the terrain in the PCs' preferred environment, so that work was wasted. The DM probably had built up the terrain specifically to challenge the PCs to give the monster a bit more defense and offense, so now the encounter would be less challenging.

From a DM's point of view, whether or not you wanted to completely negate what the DM prepared, you basically did. This can rock many DMs back on their heels and remove all incentive to let the players' plan work.

I had a similar encounter in which the monsters were supposed to enter a room, but the PCs placed their goliath fighter in the doorway, and the monsters were unable to bull rush him out of the way or damage him appreciably. It was extremely disheartening. I think the players could tell, and they relented, after I gave them an in-game excuse. But otherwise, there's no reason to fight on the DM's terms.

The other example is similar. The DM had planned a setpiece fight, probably with cool power combinations and maybe some other surprises, and the group planned to negate all of those. That's the DM's time wasted.

I don't plan encounters anymore, basically for this reason. I'll work with my players, pretty much on the spot, to come up with the kind of scenario and encounter they want to have. They can still be creative, but their creativity tends not to negate encounters because they'd just be negating their own creation. And if they do negate it, I haven't really lost very much time or effort.

I mentioned trust. I can trust my players not to negate encounters, because I know they want to engage in the encounters almost exactly as designed. They can trust me not to force them into encounters that they aren't interested in engaging.

If my players did what your group did, I would assume they didn't trust me to make fun encounters for them. Not a mean, petty distrust but a general feeling, at least in the case of these encounters, that the DM's idea of the intended approach would not be a fun use of the players' time. In the case of the hydra, you mention wanting to get it away from its homefield hazards and hiding places. You ended up having to face the fight as intended so: was it fun? If you were faced with that situation again, would you walk in or would you still try to negate the encounter?

In the second case, you mention that the party had low stealth, so you opted for an approach that wouldn't challenge your stealthiness. It seems like maybe the DM had expected a stealthy approach and expected it to fail so he could pull of his setpiece encounter. Did the encounter wind up being fun, or would you still have preferred to avoid it?

Last session, my players were at the bottom of a mountain that, in my mind, would be challenging to ascend, with giants and undead to face and either fight, trick, or negotiate with. I asked them if they wanted to have any encounters or challenges as they ascended or just wanted to get to the peak for an encounter there. They opted for just getting to the peak. For whatever reason, they weren't interested in any other encounters we might have come up with for scaling the mountain. They might have still enjoyed them if I'd forced them to face them, and they probably would have gone along if I'd expressed any disappointment in their desire to avoid prepared encounters (assuming I'd prepared any).

So, when I say trust, what I mean is that the players have to trust that what the DM has planned will be fun as-is. The DM has to trust that what the players have planned will be fun for him (since it's presumably going to be fun for them or they wouldn't have proposed it).  Once that situation maintains, player ideas tend not to be the kind that completely negate scenarios and DMs are more willing to help make them work.

But, of couse, you can't implement that unilaterally, you can only implement your side of it, by coming up with plans that don't negate the DM's work. I think you'll agree that there's a range of cool ideas, and that not all of them have to negate the idea. In fact, maybe you'll agree that standing off and shooting a melee-based monster is not as adventurous and interesting as other approaches might be, and that a little more coolness might be worth a little risk, especially if it gets the DM on your side. Once the DM has gotten some of what he wants, he's likely to be more amenable to plans. I would bet that he's even designed the encounter to account for some cleverness, so he'll be even MORE on your side.

The DM can be doing a lot to earn your trust, but you can't make him earn your trust, and as this is a player forum I won't get into detail. At best you can hope that if you meet the DM halfway on his planned encounters that he'll start to meet you part way on your cleverness. I highly recommend an open conversation about this, to set expectations on both sides, and maintaining that openness. Ideally, the DM knows exactly what the players want to do and prepares that for them. (Though even more ideally, the players help prepare what they and the DM both want.) What if the DM had said, "I want to make a cool fight with a hydra in its cave, where there are hazards and hiding places for it." Would you have said "Yeah, cool, let's do that!" or would you have demurred? If the DM asked you "What's a cool, risky, challenging encounter that your character would dive headlong into, instead of mitigating, avoiding or negating?" what would your answer be?

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





I guess here we still have our old players intsincts of "play smart" and "you could die at any turn".
That second one doesn't really happen.

Now, if we had all been upfront frmo the beginning that we were going to end up fighting that thing on its own turf, I might have been all for it. It was a rather cool setup for a solo lurker.

The sour taste came from the extended period of time we spent working up the plan to play it safer (as if that encoutner was really going to be a killer threat) and then all that planning time and creative energy went to waste. There was no middle ground either it seems.
Heck, the part of the map where we planned on taking the encounter wasn't even on the battle grid.

I think the problem stems from us not acting like the superheroes 4e characters are supposed to be. And our DM occasionally tosses us the unbeatable NPC to keep us in line when we do. (Abuse of power and all that). So then if we as a party can't take on a single goliath bodyguard to a merchant then we (I think) start acting less like invincible heroes and more like the D&D PCs of days gone by where you could step on a trap and insta-die.

In a previous encounter, we came across a set of traps (auto-firing statues) that would practically couldn't deal with. We lack a rouge type character in the party and brute force didn't solve the situation. Heck, we almost got TPK in the most spectacularly anti-climactic ways possible. And it was only through very an elaborate ploy (using a stone door as a shield) did we manage to get past the traps.

So I guess in this case our DM doesn't yet trust us not to go all GTA around the NPCs; Perhaps we're still not as trusting of him to provide fair encounters, even if most have been.
 
I guess here we still have our old players intsincts of "play smart" and "you could die at any turn".
That second one doesn't really happen.

Those are hard habits to break, and almost impossible to break without the DM's help.

Now, if we had all been upfront frmo the beginning that we were going to end up fighting that thing on its own turf, I might have been all for it. It was a rather cool setup for a solo lurker.

That was my guess. Thinking back, did you have concerns about fighting on its own turf? Or maybe there were just too many unknowns and so you thought it would be better to play it safe? You say "you could die at any turn" "doesn't really happen," but does the potential loss of your character feed in to your wish to play things safe?

The sour taste came from the extended period of time we spent working up the plan to play it safer (as if that encoutner was really going to be a killer threat) and then all that planning time and creative energy went to waste. There was no middle ground either it seems.
Heck, the part of the map where we planned on taking the encounter wasn't even on the battle grid.

It's funny how much this is like the opposite of the example I gave, with the monsters stuck off the battle map.

Yes, if the DM had no intention of your idea working, he should not have let you waste time on it. But, maybe he is open to ideas but not the one you finally came up with. I know that I used to listen to ideas so I could figure out how to adjudicate them, but also so I could figure out how to subvert them and let my encounter still provide challenge.

Flip it around and you can probably imagine the sour taste in the DM's mouth that came from the extended period of time he spend working up the plan to challenge your characters, and then all that planning time and creative energy went to waste. I don't know any way to avoid that, other than collaboration with each other. Conflict, with one side trying to create situations and the other side trying to minimize them, will continually lead to sour tastes on both sides.

I think the problem stems from us not acting like the superheroes 4e characters are supposed to be. And our DM occasionally tosses us the unbeatable NPC to keep us in line when we do. (Abuse of power and all that). So then if we as a party can't take on a single goliath bodyguard to a merchant then we (I think) start acting less like invincible heroes and more like the D&D PCs of days gone by where you could step on a trap and insta-die.

I can understand that. I think you really need to talk to your DM and level set. It seems like he wants things to go a certain way, but only uses the game itself to bring that about. That's blunt tool for such sensitive work. If you talk as a group about what expectations are and why certain things happen, I think it will make a lot more sense to everyone and a lot of issues will be avoided.

In a previous encounter, we came across a set of traps (auto-firing statues) that would practically couldn't deal with. We lack a rouge type character in the party and brute force didn't solve the situation. Heck, we almost got TPK in the most spectacularly anti-climactic ways possible. And it was only through very an elaborate ploy (using a stone door as a shield) did we manage to get past the traps.

An upfront conversation might have avoided what sounds like a boring time for the players. I imagine it didn't go how the DM intended either.

So I guess in this case our DM doesn't yet trust us not to go all GTA around the NPCs; Perhaps we're still not as trusting of him to provide fair encounters, even if most have been.

I assumed he's not all bad if you're willing to play with him. So, this probably isn't a hopeless situation. Get together for some food or a lighter game and just talk about everyone's expectations.

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

Centauri's advice here is pretty awesome. I've read it a couple of times already to take it all in.

In addition, here are some tricks you can do as a player that are both very fun and makes it easier on the DM (and other players when you apply it to them, actually):


  • When you are presented with a challenge, try to figure a way into it and out of it - not around it.

  • When offered an opportunity, come up with a good reason to take it rather than avoid it.

  • When an idea is suggested, say "yes," then add onto it with your own idea in a way that doesn't negate the original idea.


When you do those things, you are creating fiction and driving the game forward. When you do not do those things, you are adding nothing, shutting down your fellow players, and breaking the game's pacing. (That's why we call them dungeon crawls...)

It's easy to imagine why not to do something risky - it's risky! It's harder, but more rewarding to you and to the game experience, to imagine why you should do something risky. That justification represents the creation of new fiction which adds to the game and character development. Just make sure that you keep the tone of your justification in keeping with the tone of the game (i.e. be serious in a serious game).

Oh, and all that advice applies to the DM, too. 

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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It's funny, as a DM when presenting encounters/situations to the players I've started announcing "I do not have a solution for this" just to emphasize there is no "right" way to deal with an encounter. It is something that has been kinda programmed into players, and DMs too for that matter.

I think a lot of it does involve talking outside of the game and before the game is played. Let the DM know s/he doesn't have to design every little aspect of an encounter, and understand what kind of game is being played, how dangerous or deadly, how "real" you want the game to be. That should head off alot of those in-game stumbles.
There's several gems in here worthy of being sent off to print.

 

  • When you are presented with a challenge, try to figure a way into it and out of it - not around it.

  • When offered an opportunity, come up with a good reason to take it rather than avoid it.

  • When an idea is suggested, say "yes," then add onto it with your own idea in a way that doesn't negate the original idea.




I'm going to hold onto these as well.

@merb101, very interesting idea. I think I'll be trying that out next time I get behind the DM screen. 
It's funny, as a DM when presenting encounters/situations to the players I've started announcing "I do not have a solution for this" just to emphasize there is no "right" way to deal with an encounter. It is something that has been kinda programmed into players, and DMs too for that matter.



I do the same for players that are new to our games. "I present problems, not solutions." I also add that "all plans are judged by the dice, not by the DM." In other words, I'm interested in how you solve the problem, but I'm not going to change the DCs or number of successes required in any way, so don't debate for half an hour trying to come up with a plan most likely to please the DM. Sometimes great plans fail and stupid plans succeed. That's truly playing to find out what happens. Naturally, I mention that "all failures will be interesting, fun, and lead to further adventure."

Knowing this, the players never argue of plans or how to mitigate failure anymore. They come up with some fun solution that they enact and we test it with dice. They want to succeed, but they also aren't afraid to fail. And the game always keeps moving forward at a great pace.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  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  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I guess here we still have our old players intsincts of "play smart" and "you could die at any turn".
That second one doesn't really happen.

Those are hard habits to break, and almost impossible to break without the DM's help.

Now, if we had all been upfront frmo the beginning that we were going to end up fighting that thing on its own turf, I might have been all for it. It was a rather cool setup for a solo lurker.

That was my guess. Thinking back, did you have concerns about fighting on its own turf? Or maybe there were just too many unknowns and so you thought it would be better to play it safe? You say "you could die at any turn" "doesn't really happen," but does the potential loss of your character feed in to your wish to play things safe?

The sour taste came from the extended period of time we spent working up the plan to play it safer (as if that encoutner was really going to be a killer threat) and then all that planning time and creative energy went to waste. There was no middle ground either it seems.
Heck, the part of the map where we planned on taking the encounter wasn't even on the battle grid.

It's funny how much this is like the opposite of the example I gave, with the monsters stuck off the battle map.

Yes, if the DM had no intention of your idea working, he should not have let you waste time on it. But, maybe he is open to ideas but not the one you finally came up with. I know that I used to listen to ideas so I could figure out how to adjudicate them, but also so I could figure out how to subvert them and let my encounter still provide challenge.

Flip it around and you can probably imagine the sour taste in the DM's mouth that came from the extended period of time he spend working up the plan to challenge your characters, and then all that planning time and creative energy went to waste. I don't know any way to avoid that, other than collaboration with each other. Conflict, with one side trying to create situations and the other side trying to minimize them, will continually lead to sour tastes on both sides.

I think the problem stems from us not acting like the superheroes 4e characters are supposed to be. And our DM occasionally tosses us the unbeatable NPC to keep us in line when we do. (Abuse of power and all that). So then if we as a party can't take on a single goliath bodyguard to a merchant then we (I think) start acting less like invincible heroes and more like the D&D PCs of days gone by where you could step on a trap and insta-die.

I can understand that. I think you really need to talk to your DM and level set. It seems like he wants things to go a certain way, but only uses the game itself to bring that about. That's blunt tool for such sensitive work. If you talk as a group about what expectations are and why certain things happen, I think it will make a lot more sense to everyone and a lot of issues will be avoided.

In a previous encounter, we came across a set of traps (auto-firing statues) that would practically couldn't deal with. We lack a rouge type character in the party and brute force didn't solve the situation. Heck, we almost got TPK in the most spectacularly anti-climactic ways possible. And it was only through very an elaborate ploy (using a stone door as a shield) did we manage to get past the traps.

An upfront conversation might have avoided what sounds like a boring time for the players. I imagine it didn't go how the DM intended either.

So I guess in this case our DM doesn't yet trust us not to go all GTA around the NPCs; Perhaps we're still not as trusting of him to provide fair encounters, even if most have been.

I assumed he's not all bad if you're willing to play with him. So, this probably isn't a hopeless situation. Get together for some food or a lighter game and just talk about everyone's expectations.



May 29, 2013 -- 11:57AM, PrimeSonic wrote:

I guess here we still have our old players intsincts of "play smart" and "you could die at any turn".
That second one doesn't really happen.




Those are hard habits to break, and almost impossible to break without the DM's help.

--

I'm not sure why anyone would see playing smart as a bad thing. Especially when the alternative is to play dumb.

In the hydra situation, I think it's pretty good role-playing not to want to fight a big multi-headed beast in a room full of sewage... ain't nobody got time for that.

In a role-playing game, the idea of a single stealthy assassin is nowhere near as exciting as your plan to have the whole party involved in a nice little political intrigue. But that would require the DM to play up some NPC personalities, throw in a few quick-thinking moments as the party gathers information as casually as possible in trying to find the best time to strike without interference from the scullery maid sneaking downstairs to have a tryst with the stable boy, the overly-inquisitive old maid who nobody ever talks to, the mark's small children idolizing one of the characters and asking stupid questions and sneaking in to your chambers via secret door to see what's in your spell books, and so on.

Keep playing smart... maybe it will rub off on your DM. DM's like a challenge, too...."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
I try to respect the fact that a dm may have spent lot of preparation. You can usually tell right off the bat when the adventure starts how much prep the dm did. So I as a player, I enthusiastically jump right into any situation the dm creates. I dont require much nudging. Im there to adventure after all. If I dont want to jump right in, perhaps explore other options I cut to the chase and ask the dm up front.. do I have other options I can explore? Does it seem possible for us to draw out the hydra from his lair? The dm usually give straight up answer. Yes you have options, what do you have in mind? Then I put my kniving mind to work. No itappears not really. Alrighty then...lets go get this shiit done and I jump right in. :p.
I find it easier for everyone involved to be straight up and to the point lol
I find it easier for everyone involved to be straight up and to the point lol

Agreed. It's when DMs say they are open to ideas but really aren't that issues arise. If people know that they are expected to be clever or to just follow along, they can choose to do that or spend time with other people. Railroading isn't bad, expecting one experience and being handed another is bad.

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

 It's when DMs say they are open to ideas but really aren't that issues arise. If people know that they are expected to be clever or to just follow along, they can choose to do that or spend time with other people. Railroading isn't bad, expecting one experience and being handed another is bad.

I think that's the most ellegant way I've ever seen the sensitive topic of railroading handled. Nicely done.
Agreed. It's when DMs say they are open to ideas but really aren't that issues arise. If people know that they are expected to be clever or to just follow along, they can choose to do that or spend time with other people. Railroading isn't bad, expecting one experience and being handed another is bad.



I was observing a game the other night that a friend was playing in. Plot-based clearly but the DM was presenting it as a "do whatever you want" type of game. After doing some investigating in a town (of course), the PCs settled upon going somewhere that wasn't on the tracks. The DM, speaking as the DMPC that's been shadowing the party, protests and suggests a different idea.

My friend, picking up on the fact that there's a badly hidden rail, says to the group, "Yeah, let's go with [NPC] here. I think she's onto something." The other players protest because they want to go to this other place which the DM clearly doesn't have prepared. My friend adds, out-of-character, "Guys, I'm pretty sure after 20 years of gaming that when the DM's NPC says to go this way, you go this way."

"Oh no," objects the DM. "You can do whatever you want." Riiiiight. So they went with the NPC and got on with the adventure after a considerable amount of hemming and hawing. 

The moral of the story is that if you're going to have a plot that curtails choices, the DM needs to say so ("The adventure is on this path and not anywhere else...") and ask if the players are interested in that ("Are you okay with following this rail? It'll be cool."). And the players, if they've given their buy-in, need to take the obvious hook/bait, follow the obvious clues, and take out the obvious bad guys. They should not knowingly choose to go off the rail and if they're not sure where to go next, they should tell the DM they need more direction. That's how you run a proper plot-based adventure. Anything else is two groups of people engaging in the worst form of D&D - guessing what the other wants in a weird form of illusionism, going around in circles pretending there is real choice, and accomplishing nothing. (This is why the PCs burn down towns, by the way.)

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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Players: Players 101  |  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  |  Game Transcripts

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(This is why the PCs burn down towns, by the way.)

I think I'll write an adventure in which the unspoken expectation is that the PCs will burn down the town.

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

I think I'll write an adventure in which the unspoken expectation is that the PCs will burn down the town.



Count me in.

So here's my question (to everybody): What I described above is a very common way of playing D&D. I see it all the time. (I have the luxury of seeing a lot of games played.) In fact, I dare say it may be the most common way people play based on what I see.

Why? Why would I sit down for a session of D&D like that and come back for the next one?

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  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  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Sadly Isetith I think a lot of people stay at these games by lack of options being presented. I know in my town it took us a long time to get together a group to play. I in fact am currently sitting at what I consider the worst game of DnD that has ever been played; full of drama and sour feeligns.

Why do I stay? Sadly it is because it is the only time and place that I can dedicate to a sit down game (I play 2 and run 1 on roll20) with a real life friend and the random group we got together; yes me and my friend have spoken several times of just quiting because of the drama, but something about having a real game keeps us coming back each week. I know its self-abusive and highly illogical but there you go. (Guess we are gluttons for punishment)

All in all though I think Centauri has hit the nail with the hammer here; the best way to overcome "problems" is simply sit down and have a mature conversation with your DM about what you expect and what is expected from you. 


PS: Burning things down in DnD is fun, but in my experences it always backfires lol, burning down the DMs map sadly dosn't earn you bonus experence

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/1.jpg)

Sadly Isetith I think a lot of people stay at these games by lack of options being presented. I know in my town it took us a long time to get together a group to play. I in fact am currently sitting at what I consider the worst game of DnD that has ever been played; full of drama and sour feeligns.

Why do I stay? Sadly it is because it is the only time and place that I can dedicate to a sit down game (I play 2 and run 1 on roll20) with a real life friend and the random group we got together; yes me and my friend have spoken several times of just quiting because of the drama, but something about having a real game keeps us coming back each week. I know its self-abusive and highly illogical but there you go. (Guess we are gluttons for punishment)

All in all though I think Centauri has hit the nail with the hammer here; the best way to overcome "problems" is simply sit down and have a mature conversation with your DM about what you expect and what is expected from you. 


PS: Burning things down in DnD is fun, but in my experences it always backfires lol, burning down the DMs map sadly dosn't earn you bonus experence




I would just run solo games between you and your friend, or branch off with any of the other gamers if you get along with them
Centuari: Yet another perfect response!


Maybe your playing group - and DM have different ideas of a good game, and what kind of preferences each has? I would ask the DM to hold a Session Zero at the begining or end of the next game, to discuss everyones ideas.  This will let you ask questions like "Is this a game of us-versus-you looking for the "only thing that works"? and "What type of encounters do you enjoy running?" The goal, is to get the players and DM on one page. This gives you a chance to talk about the encounters you want; maybe let him know you want less stealth activities, or keep it in a transitionary role in between places, rather than being the premise?


I have seen many times, a DM will think he knows his players and he doesn't; and players will think they know their DM but they both have "role image perceptions" which cause expectations of "role as DM" (and thus, God) versus the "role as player" (the victim of the evil DM) to cause over-paranoid players who "check every square for a trap, advancing as a party one square per turn" and DM's who are afraid of how their PC's might avoid the entire adventure.


The real solution is to get everyone on one page. Once this happens, your DM will really know what you want him to put in the game and leave out; and the players will know that the DM knows how the players feel about character death, failure, gameplay styles and everything else. I cannot suggest this enough!

Lastly, I would rather play with 1-2 players that I can trust to enjoy a fun expenditure of time with than 5 people who give me migraines who probably don't like me much more than I like them.

Within; Without.

 It's when DMs say they are open to ideas but really aren't that issues arise. If people know that they are expected to be clever or to just follow along, they can choose to do that or spend time with other people. Railroading isn't bad, expecting one experience and being handed another is bad.

I think that's the most ellegant way I've ever seen the sensitive topic of railroading handled. Nicely done.

It is a darn fine point.

If the DM has a railroad that leads to adventure-town, magnanimous players will likely jump on... going along to get along... a few tweaks and you can justify how your character became embroiled in just about anything, especially if everyone is willing to be flexible and has the goal of getting the session started as quickly as possible in a situation of give-and-take. But if the DM's railroad doesn't just drive to adventure-town but refuses to stop once it gets there... it's the players who are going to jump off that train. Nobody wants to be led by the nose.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Agreed. It's when DMs say they are open to ideas but really aren't that issues arise. If people know that they are expected to be clever or to just follow along, they can choose to do that or spend time with other people. Railroading isn't bad, expecting one experience and being handed another is bad.



I was observing a game the other night that a friend was playing in. Plot-based clearly but the DM was presenting it as a "do whatever you want" type of game. After doing some investigating in a town (of course), the PCs settled upon going somewhere that wasn't on the tracks. The DM, speaking as the DMPC that's been shadowing the party, protests and suggests a different idea.

My friend, picking up on the fact that there's a badly hidden rail, says to the group, "Yeah, let's go with [NPC] here. I think she's onto something." The other players protest because they want to go to this other place which the DM clearly doesn't have prepared. My friend adds, out-of-character, "Guys, I'm pretty sure after 20 years of gaming that when the DM's NPC says to go this way, you go this way."

"Oh no," objects the DM. "You can do whatever you want." Riiiiight. So they went with the NPC and got on with the adventure after a considerable amount of hemming and hawing. 

The moral of the story is that if you're going to have a plot that curtails choices, the DM needs to say so ("The adventure is on this path and not anywhere else...") and ask if the players are interested in that ("Are you okay with following this rail? It'll be cool."). And the players, if they've given their buy-in, need to take the obvious hook/bait, follow the obvious clues, and take out the obvious bad guys. They should not knowingly choose to go off the rail and if they're not sure where to go next, they should tell the DM they need more direction. That's how you run a proper plot-based adventure. Anything else is two groups of people engaging in the worst form of D&D - guessing what the other wants in a weird form of illusionism, going around in circles pretending there is real choice, and accomplishing nothing. (This is why the PCs burn down towns, by the way.)

While I understand your friend's concern, it sounds like he (and you) automatically assumed the DM was misleading/lying when the DM said the players can do whatever they want.

Also, having a plot-based adventure doesn't require a railroad, although I've definitely seen some godawful railroading when the DM has managed to not only create plots for the NPC's but somehow also managed to chain himself to his own runaway train.

Moral of the story, DMs... don't marry your plot. Instead, create NPCs that are vibrant enough to react when 'those pesky kids' spoil their best-laid plans. If you can't be spontaneous about it, at least prepare for the very likely scenario that the plot might indeed be foiled by some heroic protagonists who have plans of their own.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Sounds like the DM just needs some more practice to feel comfortable going along with clever ideas from the PCs.  Don't get discouraged
The original Matrix movie is a perfect example of railroading that would likely fail if presented in game:

DM: "Follow the White Rabbit."
Player: "Okay"
DM: "You see a woman with a White Rabbit tattoo."
P: "I shoot her."
or
"No! It's obviously a trap!"


DM: "Choose the blue pill and you wake up in bed and go on with your life. Take the red pill and I will show you the truth."
P: "I take the blue pill."
or
"I take both pills. What happens?"
or
"I shoot him."

The original Matrix movie is a perfect example of railroading that would likely fail if presented in game:

DM: "Follow the White Rabbit."
Player: "Okay"
DM: "You see a woman with a White Rabbit tattoo."
P: "I shoot her."
or
"No! It's obviously a trap!"


DM: "Choose the blue pill and you wake up in bed and go on with your life. Take the red pill and I will show you the truth."
P: "I take the blue pill."
or
"I take both pills. What happens?"
or
"I shoot him."


Some strange dude I've never met wants me to take pills in some seedy-looking apartment? Umm... where you going with this, DM?
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
I have a situation where I need the PCs to go a certain way.  I've set up a random encounter where they meet the enemy at an intersection on the way there that has information on the way they originally wanted to go.  The enounter is just barely starting (it's a PbP campaign) so I won't know the final result yet but there's at least three possible outcomes of this encounter.  One, the PCs find out going the main route will not work and the enemy goes on without knowing that the PCs are heading to their lair.  Two, after talking, combat takes place and by capturing one of the enemy, they find out the information they need to make a new decision.  Three, combat takes place and they kill all of the enemies without finding out the information I want them to have and then continue going on with their planned route.

As you can see, I've tried to set it up so that the railroading is not obvious, but still give the PCs the option of going with their original plans.  What the PCs do is still up to them, but with consequences of they continue their planned course of action (e.g. at least one more random encounter, then finding that the door to the citadel is made of solid iron and barred from the inside where the bar requires two creatures to lift [or one if an ogre or a troll]).  This would force them to waste time they could have spent going the back-door route.

You have the free will to agree or disagree.
You have the ability to act freely on the above choice regardless of the consequences.

I'm sure it's easy to see where the source of this begins: Needing the PCs to go a certain way to begin with.

My approach, if I found myself in such a spot in the first place, would be to cop to it and ask the players how they would envision making the ideal choice (the one I need them to make) in an interesting way. Then we could have the scene or narration be about something other than making that particular choice.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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The original Matrix movie is a perfect example of railroading that would likely fail if presented in game:


DM: "Choose the blue pill and you wake up in bed and go on with your life. Take the red pill and I will show you the truth."



P: "I take the red pill"

DM: "You wake up in a cold bath with your liver missing"

Its a shorter story but ...
DM:  The mayor greets you.
Player 1:  I make a called shot to shoot him in the head.
DM:  ...
Player 2:  While he is doing that, can I search his pockets with sleight of hand?


DM:  The celestial asks if you will release him from his Abyssal Shackles and protect him while he channels to counter the ritual.
Player: I want to kill the celestial and take the shackles.

DM:  You find 1,000 gold in the chest.
Player 1: Cool, lets split the gold!
Player 2: I want to make a reflex or quickness check to take all the gold while he is saying that.

DM:  Ahead lies an eerie ruin a collapsed tower with...
Player: I attack it. Natural 20.

DM:  Characters?
Player 1: I have a male elf.
Player 2: My male dwarf is gay and attracted to player 1. What kind of check to seduce him?

And


Player: I will ask the mayor if he has any information.
DM: Make a gather information check! 8? Har har! he has you arrested thinking you are a spy!


Player: I release the celestial from it's Abyssal Shackles and ask it to help me stop the ritual.
DM: The celestial reads your aura. You are true neutral. It casts a spell to make you become Lawful Good and gives you a Geas with Permanency to spend the rest of your life serving Pelor!


Player 1: 1,000 gold? Great, lets split the reward, Player 2!
Player 2: Okay, we split it 50/50.
DM: The coins are cursed! You can't drop them and they weigh 2 pounds per coin. You are both immobilized for carrying so much weight! Har har!


Player:  An eerie tower? I will approach carefully. Is there any danger?
DM:  Make a spot check. 6? Nope, no danger. -evil grin-
Player:  I approach and ask "Is anybody here?"
DM:  HA!! You take 12 damage from the bear trap!!
Player: What?
DM:  There was a bear trap on the ground and you didn't see it. Your foot is cut off!!


Player 1: I have a female elf paladin.
Player 2:  Cool, I have a dwarf cleric!
DM: Elf, roll your chest size. And make a cramp check. Let me see your items. HAR HAR your legs are a mess!! Oh, and dwarf. You are transgendered and shaved your beard to solidify your identity.

Within; Without.

I know we are drifting off topic, but I once had a game where the players chose to go through a portal to pursue a demon.

Me: "So you step through the portal and are now in Hell."

Player: "I cast detect evil."
I had a player, who was mayor of a viking-ish city, and to "impress his citizens", he held a festival, gathered all the citizens to Town Square to give a speech, then had a great idea to show them his might.

He opened a Hellgate in the middle of the stage and demanded the Pit Fiend Armada to come out and fight him!



Edit: The point is, sometimes, it isn't easy to "go along" with the players idea. I mean, how do I justify not having the fiends come out and slaughter the city? Why should his citizens perform any other action than declare him the worst leader of all time, and rebel? There should be severe consequences for something like this.

In this case, I sent out a Hell Lord to take his offer; who summoned his army and battle ensued. His unarmed populace grabbed everything they could, his soldiers armed up and he sent astral messengers to the other players, also mayors. He suffered heavy casualties, and the other players made their way to the rescue; after battle, the players decided to jump into the hellgate and invade hell with their combined armies. Made a great adventure with death around all corners.


What are some situations that the rest of you have seen, where the player had an idea that was tough for you? How did you resolve them?

Within; Without.

What are some situations that the rest of you have seen, where the player had an idea that was tough for you? How did you resolve them?

I always turn it around on the player. I ask them how they see the idea going, what they expect to happen. I approach it from the point of view of wanting it to work, realism and setting and plot be blasted, and I enlist the player to help me with that, since it's in their interest. Usually the other players want it to work too (at least after they see that I want it to work), and also offer ideas.

There never have to be negative consequences for an action. I don't know how your PC summoned the Hellgate or what he wanted to have happen, but that could have played out a number of ways. I mean, you said "Yes" to his idea, but you turned it in a way that I assume he didn't want. He wanted to fight someone, but did he want the town ravaged? You didn't have to do that.

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

The players themselves suggested the Pit Fiend Armada should storm the town and kill everyone - I chose a more sane option that allowed the player to overcome the circumstance. That was long before I developed different ideas of evil, and my evil enemies were literally demons, devils, abyssals; they were all mindless and genocidal.

If I could go back, the hell lord would have responded through the gate "Come to my arena, mortal." and they would agree to a "Soul-Binding Contract" to "allow all citizens safe passage" to and from hell.

He opened a hellgate because he was a psychic warrior level 35, and had hired a level 24 wizard who could open it (and a group of NPC's he made sheets for). All of his NPC's survived and he felt rewarded for "hiring elites" and designing them.  I could have done a lot of things differently.

Within; Without.

The players themselves suggested the Pit Fiend Armada should storm the town and kill everyone - I chose a more sane option that allowed the player to overcome the circumstance. That was long before I developed different ideas of evil, and my evil enemies were literally demons, devils, abyssals; they were all mindless and genocidal.

If I could go back, the hell lord would have responded through the gate "Come to my arena, mortal." and they would agree to a "Soul-Binding Contract" to "allow all citizens safe passage" to and from hell.

He opened a hellgate because he was a psychic warrior level 35, and had hired a level 24 wizard who could open it (and a group of NPC's he made sheets for). All of his NPC's survived and he felt rewarded for "hiring elites" and designing them.  I could have done a lot of things differently.



I think in situations like that, where a player throws a GM a curveball, there is no harm in pausing the game and everyone saying "Okay, where are we going with this?"

Same thing as a player, I don't think there is anything with saying to the GM "Hang on a second, I'm not sure what we are doing or where we are going."

Better to ask for expectations than to flounder while trying to guess them.

And that gets back into the issue of DM's being afraid to let players know they are stumped. Once I got over that, and began communicating with my players, I learned the power of player creativity. Most players just know "What I would do if I were DM right now" and asking them could make the difference between "Lag" and "Awesome" (especially those players who were just frankly better strategists or number crunchers than me).

I also hope other DM's who don't know all these things make their way into threads like this and get some valuable information. 

Within; Without.

The whole thing sounds like a DM who does to much planning in my view.

When I DM, I go by two rules:
- No plan survives encounter with the players intact.
- I present problems, the players will need to find the solutions.

I might work out NPCs and monsters in detail, especially their motivations and abilities.
Everything else is usually a waste of time to prepare in advance.

It sounds like your DM is too married to the encounters and solutions he designed in advance.
DMPCs are usually another strong sign of that.

5e should strongly stay away from "I don't like it, so you can't have it either."

 

I once asked the question (in D&D 3.5) "Does a Druid4/Wizard3/ArcaneHierophant1 have Wildshape?". Jesse Decker and Andy Collins: Yes and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Rich Redman and Ed Stark: No and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Skip Williams: Lol, it's worded ambiguously and entirely not how I intended it. (Cust. Serv. Reference# 050815-000323)

The whole thing sounds like a DM who does to much planning in my view.

When I DM, I go by two rules:
- No plan survives encounter with the players intact.
- I present problems, the players will need to find the solutions.

I might work out NPCs and monsters in detail, especially their motivations and abilities.
Everything else is usually a waste of time to prepare in advance.

It sounds like your DM is too married to the encounters and solutions he designed in advance.
DMPCs are usually another strong sign of that.



DMPC: TOOOOOT TOOOOOOOOOOT!!!!   All aboard....

Within; Without.

I had a player, who was mayor of a viking-ish city, and to "impress his citizens", he held a festival, gathered all the citizens to Town Square to give a speech, then had a great idea to show them his might.

He opened a Hellgate in the middle of the stage and demanded the Pit Fiend Armada to come out and fight him!



Edit: The point is, sometimes, it isn't easy to "go along" with the players idea. I mean, how do I justify not having the fiends come out and slaughter the city? Why should his citizens perform any other action than declare him the worst leader of all time, and rebel? There should be severe consequences for something like this.

In this case, I sent out a Hell Lord to take his offer; who summoned his army and battle ensued. His unarmed populace grabbed everything they could, his soldiers armed up and he sent astral messengers to the other players, also mayors. He suffered heavy casualties, and the other players made their way to the rescue; after battle, the players decided to jump into the hellgate and invade hell with their combined armies. Made a great adventure with death around all corners.


What are some situations that the rest of you have seen, where the player had an idea that was tough for you? How did you resolve them?


Once a player I was DMing for did the same thing as your player above. He fought and killed the Pit Fiend. His citizens were impressed.

How do you justify him not sending out 1000 minions? 1) Devils are lawful 2) The devil doesn't want to/need to bring along a horde of minions to deal with a single enemy 3) Perhaps the devil is cunning enough to use the viking-mayor's pride to serve the devil's long term goals... killing the mayor and his followers will not serve that purpose; since the devil will not be on his own plane, he isn't really in danger.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Once a player I was DMing for did the same thing as your player above. He fought and killed the Pit Fiend. His citizens were impressed.

How do you justify him not sending out 1000 minions? 1) Devils are lawful 2) The devil doesn't want to/need to bring along a horde of minions to deal with a single enemy 3) Perhaps the devil is cunning enough to use the viking-mayor's pride to serve the devil's long term goals... killing the mayor and his followers will not serve that purpose; since the devil will not be on his own plane, he isn't really in danger.



I am 33, and I was 20 at the time this game happened. I only still talk about these mistakes because other DM's might learn from them.

1)  He didn't have 1,000 minions, he had about 200 elite guards and 500 town watchmen.
(At the time it made sense that a group of "evil, must kill all demons" would go genocide).
2)  Irrelevant. Demons are chaotic. These weren't devils, they were demons.
(Demons and Devils had an alliance against Celestia, so the issues between them were set aside).
3)  The player didn't open a random gate to a random location in hell; he opened a gate to the lair of Asmodeus.
(And, they had a storyline feud with Asmodeus.)
4)  Don't ever, EVER let your players play their normal PC's campaign on a "Drunken Night". 
(This was a very drunken night between a group of 20 year old drunks.)

Within; Without.

I know we are drifting off topic, but I once had a game where the players chose to go through a portal to pursue a demon.

Me: "So you step through the portal and are now in Hell."

Player: "I cast detect evil."

classic
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
So allow me to provide a followup to how we resolved things in our playgroup.

A bit of talk over the session's dinner break was had about this some time ago. I brought to the off-game chat a lot of the really good ideas discussed here and in other threads.

 I explicitly brought up the issue of not completely invalidating the prep-work done by the DM in crafting challenging encounters. I brought that the players dial back a bit of the survival-mode and feel a bit more safe to jump into danger. Everyone seemed to be on-board with it all to make the game more fun for everyone.

It's all been running smoothly ever since. At least as far as this aspect of the game goes. :P 
So allow me to provide a followup to how we resolved things in our playgroup.

A bit of talk over the session's dinner break was had about this some time ago. I brought to the off-game chat a lot of the really good ideas discussed here and in other threads.

 I explicitly brought up the issue of not completely invalidating the prep-work done by the DM in crafting challenging encounters. I brought that the players dial back a bit of the survival-mode and feel a bit more safe to jump into danger. Everyone seemed to be on-board with it all to make the game more fun for everyone.

It's all been running smoothly ever since. At least as far as this aspect of the game goes. :P 



That is great hear Hope the game goes smoothly from here on out, and if there is a bump, having an out-of-game conversation is a great way to smooth things out.
Awesome job! Glad to see things worked out.

Within; Without.

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