Increasing Challenge by Revealing More Information

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A recent post about how much information a GM should reveal to his players got me wondering what, exactly, we have to gain by hiding information from our players. After some thought, I believe hiding information actually runs contrary to our goal of creating a challenging, engaging game for our players.

This stems from 3 core beliefs:

  1. Challenge is a measure of how engaged players are with solving a problem.

  2. The more interesting choices the players make about a problem, the more engaged they are.

  3. Making interesting choices requires enough information to guess the odds & potential results for each choice.

Hiding information makes things more difficult, not challenging, which usually leads to frustration. As an extreme example, take the problem of solving a murder without any clues. It is certainly difficult (if nigh-impossible), but it isn't challenging, because the best you can do is pick a random suspect.

"But no GM worth his salt would ever throw that situation at a player and expect it to be entertaining!" No, but how often have GMs given PCs a choice of 3 levers to pull without any clues about what they do? Or sprung a trap on them in a non-descript hallway? How are they conceptually different from the clueless mystery? They either encourage random guessing ("Let's just pull the left lever and see what happens") or treating everything the same ("I don't care if it looks ordinary, tap everything with the 10' pole just to be sure"). That's real challenging, a fine example of the players putting their critical thinking to use...

You can argue there are situations where revealing everything about it would make it too easy, such as "You'll trigger the trap if you step here, here, or here" or "Fiznik works for the Big Bad and will betray you at the first opportunity." However, there are many situations where you can know everything about the problem yet still struggle to make a decision: "The fire trap has a 50% chance of hitting you for 4d8+16 damage, but there's a potion of vitality on the other side. Do you risk it?" Even situations where the PCs have enough info to make easy decisions can lead to interesting choices: "If we know which tiles are trapped, can we lure the monsters onto them?" "If Fiznik will betray us, why don't we feed him false info to screw up his boss?" That's why I prefer giving the players too much info as opposed to too little.

The largest offenses of "too little info" I see are on the battlefield, specifically information on the monsters. GMs love to keep their cards close to their chest for combats. How much info do many GMs hold from their players? Let's make a list:


  • Enemy HP totals

  • Enemy defenses

  • Enemy attack bonuses

  • Enemy powers

  • Which enemy powers recharge

  • When enemy powers recharge

  • Enemy resistances

  • Enemy vulnerabilities


Now... what do we gain from this? What do we honestly gain from this? A few cheap attacks on the party for swarming an elite they didn't know had a close burst power? A laugh at a player cursing because a monster teleported out of his daily attack? A longer battle because a player didn't know those minions were immune to the fire aura he set up to kill them? Is it worth the players getting frustrated when they waste a power? Is it worth longer battles because the players spend the first turn or two trying to figure out their battle plan against an enemy they know nothing about?

We can give the players complete information on the monsters, to the point of opening up the Monster Manual and showing their stat blocks, and still make challenging encounters with them. Most games already do this; take a look at just about any board or video game and almost all of the time, you're fighting against enemies you know everything about. You know their powers, you know their patterns, you know their tactics, yet they still manage to be challenging. The players can know everything about them and still have interesting choices to make. I'd argue that knowing everything about them increases the number of interesting choices they make, as it lets them skip the learning phase (aka try random stuff, see what works) and immediately start concocting plans to take them down.

(Sidenote: Should make a post later on when introducing a new monster and letting the players figure it out works. My opinion in short: it's like pepper, a bit of it spices up the meal but dumping a whole bottle on it ruins it. May also get into opinions on tutorials.)

Here's some things to consider:


  • Can you make a challenging encounter using only monsters the PCs have fought before?

  • Can you add a clue about every monster, trap, and NPC that doesn't require a skill check to notice?

  • In what cases does raising the difficulty of an encounter (how hard it is to succeed) not raise the challenge of an encounter (how engaging it is to complete, how many interesting choices are involved)?

  • What if you rolled to recharge a monster's powers at the end of its turn instead of the start, and publicly announced recharged powers to the players? "The dragon's nostrils smoke and it shoots small gouts of flame; looks like he'll be able to use his breath weapon again next turn." How would that affect PC tactics? Would PCs save debuffing powers to counter it? Would they have to choose between getting in another attack and getting out of the blast radius? Would it lead to more interesting choices, and thus more challenging battles?

Everybody remembers the computer game Monkey Island, right? Some people will also remember Grim Fandango; for those that don't, all that matters is that it's a later game in the same vein.

I loved Monkey Island, and didn't really enjoy Grim Fandango. Why? Because solving a puzzle in MI, whether it took minutes or weeks, usually gave me an "Oh, of course!" moment where I realised I'd had all the information I needed all along and it was perfectly possible to put it together, but I hadn't thought of it in the right way. I felt a blend of achievement at figuring it out, and shame at not figuring it out sooner - both of these were  important elements of my enjoyment.

In contrast, the puzzles in GF (for me) were too often arbitrary. "Oh, right, I just had to click on that tiny bit of the screen. Well, great."
Duck.

There are, I think, a fair number of DMs who are heavily invested into the save-or-die, guess-right-or-die, no-proactive-players-allowed-in-my-game style of DMing.

Making things difficult on the players (rather than the characters) buys these DMs some time, keeps the players helpless, and otherwise puts the DM into direct control of the life and death of the PCs, and into direct control of the players' access to choices that can effectively impact the game setting. 

Suggestions that take that control away pose a threat to a gaming style those DMs are heavily invested in emotionally, and are not going to be taken lightly
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
YronimosW, your reply veers too absurdly towards villification to be taken very seriously and definitely too much to be constructive.

This is not a bad thread tho. I'll be giving this a big post when I'm at a pc. Nice, Jeff.

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.

Duck.

There are, I think, a fair number of DMs who are heavily invested into the save-or-die, guess-right-or-die, no-proactive-players-allowed-in-my-game style of DMing.

Making things difficult on the players (rather than the characters) buys these DMs some time, keeps the players helpless, and otherwise puts the DM into direct control of the life and death of the PCs, and into direct control of the players' access to choices that can effectively impact the game setting. 

Suggestions that take that control away pose a threat to a gaming style those DMs are heavily invested in emotionally, and are not going to be taken lightly

Ultimately, it's a selfish playstyle because it attempts to reserve most of the "fun" for the DM at the cost of the rest of the group being able to have more fun.  Learning to let go of that level of control can be difficult because ... trust.

I'm a fan of erring on the too-much information side of things.  Metagame knowledge does indeed engage the players more; I've seen it many times.  Though I also try to be sure to describe the metagame info from the POV of the PCs too, blending the meta info into the description ... that's another level of engagement. 

OD&D, 1E and 2E challenged the player. 3E challenged the character, not the player. Now 4E takes it a step further by challenging a GROUP OF PLAYERS to work together as a TEAM. That's why I love 4E.

"Your ability to summon a horde of celestial superbeings at will is making my ... BMX skills look a bit redundant."

"People treat their lack of imagination as if it's the measure of what's silly. Which is silly." - Noon

"Challenge" is overrated.  "Immersion" is usually just a more pretentious way of saying "having fun playing D&D."

"Falling down is how you grow.  Staying down is how you die.  It's not what happens to you, it's what you do after it happens.”

Now... what do we gain from this? What do we honestly gain from this? A few cheap attacks on the party for swarming an elite they didn't know had a close burst power? A laugh at a player cursing because a monster teleported out of his daily attack? A longer battle because a player didn't know those minions were immune to the fire aura he set up to kill them? Is it worth the players getting frustrated when they waste a power? Is it worth longer battles because the players spend the first turn or two trying to figure out their battle plan against an enemy they know nothing about?



Some (not me) might suggest that by hiding this information, you "maintain immersion."

Others (not me) might say the game has mechanics for determining that information (e.g. Knowledge checks) and that by sharing information freely, you're negating some of the value of that mechanic.

We can give the players complete information on the monsters, to the point of opening up the Monster Manual and showing their stat blocks, and still make challenging encounters with them. Most games already do this; take a look at just about any board or video game and almost all of the time, you're fighting against enemies you know everything about. You know their powers, you know their patterns, you know their tactics, yet they still manage to be challenging. The players can know everything about them and still have interesting choices to make. I'd argue that knowing everything about them increases the number of interesting choices they make, as it lets them skip the learning phase (aka try random stuff, see what works) and immediately start concocting plans to take them down.



I don't play many video games, but as far as sharing stat blocks, I agree. In fact, I've done this, in a manner of speaking because plenty of players are keen to play my one-shot scenarios multiple times. I've even given them my DM notes. Still challenging, still fun, outcome still different every time, story produced as a byproduct of play different every time.

That's because we're playing the game. It has all these lovely mechanics that, when they interact, create a fun challenge. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but a lot of DMs focus their game on playing the DM. That's the "challenge" in this type of game: Figure out the "One True Solution" he has in mind for a presented challenge. Or figure out how to sell and lobby "properly" so that he'll say "Yes" to your idea (finally). Or figure out the "right" questions to ask that the DM will finally give you answers you need to get on with it already. The "challenge" is getting your DM to acquiesce and stop blocking you.

Can you make a challenging encounter using only monsters the PCs have fought before?



Yes, as above.

Can you add a clue about every monster, trap, and NPC that doesn't require a skill check to notice?



Yes. Plenty. While some may argue not getting information can lead to interesting failure, this isn't my approach. "Not knowing/noticing something" may have consequences down the line, but I prefer every roll to have interesting failure attached to it right now. This creates more change and drama in the scene which we value in our games.

In what cases does raising the difficulty of an encounter (how hard it is to succeed) not raise the challenge of an encounter (how engaging it is to complete, how many interesting choices are involved)?



When you're playing the DM instead of the game, for one.

What if you rolled to recharge a monster's powers at the end of its turn instead of the start, and publicly announced recharged powers to the players? "The dragon's nostrils smoke and it shoots small gouts of flame; looks like he'll be able to use his breath weapon again next turn." How would that affect PC tactics? Would PCs save debuffing powers to counter it? Would they have to choose between getting in another attack and getting out of the blast radius? Would it lead to more interesting choices, and thus more challenging battles?



Yes to all, most likely. In a game like Dungeon World, the description you give about the dragon getting ready to breathe is a "soft move." Its purpose, other than create tension and drama, is to give the PCs something to react to which naturally spirals into action. Ignore it or flinch in the face of it and suffer the "hard move" that soft move becomes. Due to the game mechanics, the transaction in D&D is a little different, but the principle remains the same: Information allows the players to choose meaningfully.

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

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What you say makes a lot of sense, but I think there is a counterpoint. Your argument (I think) rests on the idea that hiding information is mainly about increasing the challenge/difficulty, but that's not the only way to look at it.  It also stimulates curiousity and the urge to explore.

Another cross-media analogy: the film Alien; you see the alien in glimpses, snapshots - it's mysterious, it's scary, you want to find out more. It's "flashing an ankle", letting you know there's more out there than you know. You show the alien clearly and understand what it can do, and the magic fades. It's just a bug to be ripped apart by sentry cannons. Until you realise the next thing about it...

 
Another cross-media analogy: the film Alien; you see the alien in glimpses, snapshots - it's mysterious, it's scary, you want to find out more. It's "flashing an ankle", letting you know there's more out there than you know. You show the alien clearly and understand what it can do, and the magic fades. It's just a bug to be ripped apart by sentry cannons. Until you realise the next thing about it...

I've never found that approach to work reliably, even in movies. It takes buy-in, often in the form of suspension of disbelief, or willing genre-blindness, to find tricks like that "magical." In a game, it takes players who are willing to accept that it will be more fun if they aren't able to take off and nuke the location, at least not before going through the grinder.

And in a game, if you've got that acceptance, it's a shame not to use it to help augment the game even further with player input.

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

Now... what do we gain from this? What do we honestly gain from this? A few cheap attacks on the party for swarming an elite they didn't know had a close burst power? A laugh at a player cursing because a monster teleported out of his daily attack? A longer battle because a player didn't know those minions were immune to the fire aura he set up to kill them? Is it worth the players getting frustrated when they waste a power? Is it worth longer battles because the players spend the first turn or two trying to figure out their battle plan against an enemy they know nothing about?



Some (not me) might suggest that by hiding this information, you "maintain immersion."

Others (not me) might say the game has mechanics for determining that information (e.g. Knowledge checks) and that by sharing information freely, you're negating some of the value of that mechanic.



I'd argue that many GMs don't give their players complete information even when they succeed on a Hard Knowledge check, and such actions are a more common devaluation of the mechanic. If you're worried about devaluing the Knowledge mechanic, then give them full info on a Hard success, plenty of info on a Medium success, and 1-2 relevant clues on an Easy success.

And if you've used the excuse of "you can only tell he's an eladrin caster, not what spells he has" or "no one's ever seen this type of creature before, so you have no idea what it does", why not come up with excuses for how the PC could figure out something about it instead? The eladrin could have a coven symbol on his robes which hints at what spells he specializes in. The mage could tell the unknown creature stinks of petrification magic and has slightly glowing eyes, so it probably has a petrifying gaze, while the ranger notices its stinger is similar to a giant scorpion's and thus carries a powerful venom. It empowers the players, encourages them to use Knowledge skills, and makes them feel awesome.

What if you rolled to recharge a monster's powers at the end of its turn instead of the start, and publicly announced recharged powers to the players? "The dragon's nostrils smoke and it shoots small gouts of flame; looks like he'll be able to use his breath weapon again next turn." How would that affect PC tactics? Would PCs save debuffing powers to counter it? Would they have to choose between getting in another attack and getting out of the blast radius? Would it lead to more interesting choices, and thus more challenging battles?



Yes to all, most likely. In a game like Dungeon World, the description you give about the dragon getting ready to breathe is a "soft move." Its purpose, other than create tension and drama, is to give the PCs something to react to which naturally spirals into action. Ignore it or flinch in the face of it and suffer the "hard move" that soft move becomes. Due to the game mechanics, the transaction in D&D is a little different, but the principle remains the same: Information allows the players to choose meaningfully.



I want to see someone implement this. It's a minor change that introduces tells (indications an enemy is about to use a certain type of attack) into D&D. Tells give the players another thing to react to, which increases the number of interesting choices, which increases the challenge.

Granted, it also makes the encounter less difficult, but if you have to choose between more difficulty & more interesting choices, I would always lean towards more interesting choices.
The largest offenses of "too little info" I see are on the battlefield, specifically information on the monsters. GMs love to keep their cards close to their chest for combats. How much info do many GMs hold from their players? Let's make a list:


  • Enemy HP totals

  • Enemy defenses

  • Enemy attack bonuses

  • Enemy powers

  • Which enemy powers recharge

  • When enemy powers recharge

  • Enemy resistances

  • Enemy vulnerabilities


Now... what do we gain from this? What do we honestly gain from this?



Not a terribly important factor in the groups I play with.  Most of the players are well experienced and take turns DMing as well as playing.  So, as we all know the basic info on the monsters etc., these things don't need to be stated.
And if we're fighting some non-standard version?  That'll become apparent soon enough.  THEN we'll start using skills/spells/etc to analyze it.

For the new players in our groups?  (we have 1 guys son now playing in our PF campaigns & a few completely-new-to-these-games people in the shops 1e game)
NO.  We vets - DMs or players - aren't just telling them the stats on whatever they meet.  We're letting them discover this stuff (sometimes even intentionally to our own characters detriment!) "in-game".  And they're learning how to gauge ACs, attack bonuses, etc by all the dice rolls made during a round.  
The new players seem to be having a great time discovering what the various monsters do right alongside their characters.
And if any of them are frustrated?  Then they've got odd ways of expressing that - high enthusiam, creativity, on time for each session, even buying books.  
What you say makes a lot of sense, but I think there is a counterpoint. Your argument (I think) rests on the idea that hiding information is mainly about increasing the challenge/difficulty, but that's not the only way to look at it.  It also stimulates curiousity and the urge to explore.

Another cross-media analogy: the film Alien; you see the alien in glimpses, snapshots - it's mysterious, it's scary, you want to find out more. It's "flashing an ankle", letting you know there's more out there than you know. You show the alien clearly and understand what it can do, and the magic fades. It's just a bug to be ripped apart by sentry cannons. Until you realise the next thing about it...



Hence my comment about making another post in the future about when and where being confronted with the unknown works. Curiosity & exploration are important, but the players usually aren't focusing on that in battle, when they're simply trying to survive. Two counterpoints I would make to your counterpoint:



  • Alien is a horror film. Fear of the unknown is an instrinsic part of horror. D&D is a heroic fantasy game. Springing something unknown on the PCs they're not sure how to handle is actually detrimental to the spirit of heroic fantasy, which is "go into the unknown & unexplored and conquer". Although this does bring up an important exception: I would not advocate revealing lots of information in a game like Call of Cthulhu, which is a horror game and thus keeping the PCs in the dark and scared is an important part of it.

  • The "party" in Alien also suffered a near-TPK because they had no way of figuring out the alien instead of, well, trying things and dying grusomely as a result. You might not want to use that as an example of fostering curiousity & discovery in D&D with unknown creatures, unless you want to end the campaign or have your players throw dice at you (or both).

I'd argue that many GMs don't give their players complete information even when they succeed on a Hard Knowledge check, and such actions are a more common devaluation of the mechanic. If you're worried about devaluing the Knowledge mechanic, then give them full info on a Hard success, plenty of info on a Medium success, and 1-2 relevant clues on an Easy success.



The 4e rules are pretty clear on what to share for a given roll, if you're using that mechanic. Perhaps those DMs are not following the rule exactly even if they profess to be using RAW. I know I don't use RAW (and my players know this) because I don't think rolling to know or not know something is very interesting. I just give them all the information this mechanic would otherwise impart simply by asking. Then inquiring as to how they might know that. The justification is the creation of new fiction about the monster, the world, or the character.

And if you've used the excuse of "you can only tell he's an eladrin caster, not what spells he has" or "no one's ever seen this type of creature before, so you have no idea what it does", why not come up with excuses for how the PC could figure out something about it instead? The eladrin could have a coven symbol on his robes which hints at what spells he specializes in. The mage could tell the unknown creature stinks of petrification magic and has slightly glowing eyes, so it probably has a petrifying gaze, while the ranger notices its stinger is similar to a giant scorpion's and thus carries a powerful venom. It empowers the players, encourages them to use Knowledge skills, and makes them feel awesome.



Or, as above, let the players determine the how's and why's of something they know. DM establishes that they know it while the players establish how and why.

I want to see someone implement this. It's a minor change that introduces tells (indications an enemy is about to use a certain type of attack) into D&D. Tells give the players another thing to react to, which increases the number of interesting choices, which increases the challenge.

Granted, it also makes the encounter less difficult, but if you have to choose between more difficulty & more interesting choices, I would always lean towards more interesting choices.



Funnily enough, I was thinking about doing recharges at the end of the monster's turn recently. I don't recall the context of why I was pondering it, but I was.

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 want to see someone implement this. It's a minor change that introduces tells (indications an enemy is about to use a certain type of attack) into D&D. Tells give the players another thing to react to, which increases the number of interesting choices, which increases the challenge.

Granted, it also makes the encounter less difficult, but if you have to choose between more difficulty & more interesting choices, I would always lean towards more interesting choices.




I use to have a player who cared if he "swung overhand or underhand" and turned battles into "combat theory" wanting imposed bonuses/penalties for that. I let it happen for a while, but we spent a lot of time with him creating these Crouching Tiger scenes trying to get as much damage/attack as though he used a special ability, and eventually he wasn't even using his special abilities.

Just for him, I created a list of martial manuvers he seemed to enjoy and made a monk varient. He loved it.

That said, he taught me something. Once in a while, but not all the time, I will dictate the stance of the enemy, or use a big overhand strike and the player will naturally "I roll out of the way!" or "Can I try to clash weapons?"  Oh, yeah. "Yup. And...".

Within; Without.

Not a terribly important factor in the groups I play with.  Most of the players are well experienced and take turns DMing as well as playing.  So, as we all know the basic info on the monsters etc., these things don't need to be stated.
And if we're fighting some non-standard version?  That'll become apparent soon enough.  THEN we'll start using skills/spells/etc to analyze it.

For the new players in our groups?  (we have 1 guys son now playing in our PF campaigns & a few completely-new-to-these-games people in the shops 1e game)
NO.  We vets - DMs or players - aren't just telling them the stats on whatever they meet.  We're letting them discover this stuff (sometimes even intentionally to our own characters detriment!) "in-game".  And they're learning how to gauge ACs, attack bonuses, etc by all the dice rolls made during a round.  
The new players seem to be having a great time discovering what the various monsters do right alongside their characters.
And if any of them are frustrated?  Then they've got odd ways of expressing that - high enthusiam, creativity, on time for each session, even buying books.



Hmm, that's a good exception. Here's my rough guess as to how that could fit in to my argument.

You mention 1st edition AD&D and Pathfinder. I believe the choice of systems here is important. I'm only vaguely familiar with the two from my time with 2E, 3E, and Hackmaster, but here goes...

My guess is that in 1E and Pathfinder, the monsters have more limits to what they can do, which makes it easier to figure them out. For example, most humanoids have the same basic combat stats: an orc might have slightly different stats than a hobgoblin, but it's not like 4E where two different races can have drastically different encounter powers that really change how they act. I believe weapons also do the same damage if their wielders are the same size. An orc wielding a greatsword does the same damage as a hobgoblin wielding one, whereas in 4E their weapons are fluff and their actual damage is determined by their level.

Powerful monsters in 1E and Pathfinder tend to either have character class levels, feats, or cast spells from the same list of spells the PCs have access to. Since they're drawing from the PCs' own tricks, that makes it easier for PCs to know ahead of time what monsters are capable of and make preventative measures. In 4E, many monster powers have no PC equivalent and their effects can vary wildly.

There's also many more variants of 4E monsters to factor in. I bet there's at least 10 different builds for melee orcs, and each favors certain tactics. One build might be best taken down by surrounding him & beating him down, while another might have a whirlwind attack that makes surrounding him unwise. Both builds might use axes, and you can toss in reskinned variants of other races to increase the sheer number of potential melee orcs PCs might engage, which makes it much harder for them to figure out what a monster can do.

Monsters in 1E and Pathfinder probably have less "gotcha" powers than 4E as well, where they completely negate a person's action with a previously unrevealed power. There's also fewer "insta-buff" spells PCs can use to turn a miss into a hit, like 4E's Heroic Effort (add +4 to a roll you just made). Most 4E players' frustrations with hidden AC seems to stem from the GM refusing to tell them whether using an "insta-buff" will turn a miss into a hit... or still miss.

Some questions to help analyze further:


  • What level are these campaigns?

  • How often do you spring new monsters/abilities on the PCs, compared to giving them the same monsters they've fought before?

  • How stressful are the fights where you introduce new monsters/abilities? Can the players usually hold out long enough to poke and prod at it until they figure out what works? Or do they need to figure out the monsters in 1-2 rounds or else they're hosed?

  • What's the fatality rate of these campaigns? How many of those fatalities result from poking/prodding the unknown?

Some questions to help analyze further:


  • What level are these campaigns?

  • How often do you spring new monsters/abilities on the PCs, compared to giving them the same monsters they've fought before?

  • How stressful are the fights where you introduce new monsters/abilities? Can the players usually hold out long enough to poke and prod at it until they figure out what works? Or do they need to figure out the monsters in 1-2 rounds or else they're hosed?

  • What's the fatality rate of these campaigns? How many of those fatalities result from poking/prodding the unknown?



Are these questions directed at CCS solely or open to the floor?

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

Some questions to help analyze further:


  • What level are these campaigns?

  • How often do you spring new monsters/abilities on the PCs, compared to giving them the same monsters they've fought before?

  • How stressful are the fights where you introduce new monsters/abilities? Can the players usually hold out long enough to poke and prod at it until they figure out what works? Or do they need to figure out the monsters in 1-2 rounds or else they're hosed?

  • What's the fatality rate of these campaigns? How many of those fatalities result from poking/prodding the unknown?



Are these questions directed at CCS solely or open to the floor?



They were originally directed solely at CCS, on the basis that how much information-hiding the players accept depends a lot on the game's style: how often new stuff is tossed at them, how stressful dealing with the new stuff is, how often they can make correct assumptions based on previous experience and its description, etc.

However, if other GMs can add to the conversation by answering those questions, have at it. It'll be more material for my future post on using new & unknown stuff well.

Elaboration: My theory is the sheer number of monsters & monster variants in 4E (as I mentioned, probably 10+ different types of orcs alone...) encourages GMs to "make the game more interesting" by tossing a few new monsters at the PCs each encounter and then never using them again. As a result, the players have to start from Square 1 of the learning process each combat, and since the monsters are never reused they don't get the reap the benefits of past experience. It would be good to know if my assumption that "95% of 4E encounters have a new type of monster and only 5% of them are ever reused" is normal for most 4E games or just a quirk of the groups I play in.
Some questions to help analyze further:


  • What level are these campaigns?

  • How often do you spring new monsters/abilities on the PCs, compared to giving them the same monsters they've fought before?

  • How stressful are the fights where you introduce new monsters/abilities? Can the players usually hold out long enough to poke and prod at it until they figure out what works? Or do they need to figure out the monsters in 1-2 rounds or else they're hosed?

  • What's the fatality rate of these campaigns? How many of those fatalities result from poking/prodding the unknown?



Are these questions directed at CCS solely or open to the floor?



They were originally directed solely at CCS, on the basis that how much information-hiding the players accept depends a lot on the game's style: how often new stuff is tossed at them, how stressful dealing with the new stuff is, how often they can make correct assumptions based on previous experience and its description, etc.

However, if other GMs can add to the conversation by answering those questions, have at it. It'll be more material for my future post on using new & unknown stuff well.

Elaboration: My theory is the sheer number of monsters & monster variants in 4E (as I mentioned, probably 10+ different types of orcs alone...) encourages GMs to "make the game more interesting" by tossing a few new monsters at the PCs each encounter and then never using them again. As a result, the players have to start from Square 1 of the learning process each combat, and since the monsters are never reused they don't get the reap the benefits of past experience. It would be good to know if my assumption that "95% of 4E encounters have a new type of monster and only 5% of them are ever reused" is normal for most 4E games or just a quirk of the groups I play in.



#1 the campaign I am running is a 3.5e with some house rules, current PC level 6 with seven players whose characters are always present even if the player is not available.
#2 The last three sessions were "undead themed" (town overrun by undead) so I used the same monsters over and over (doing some research I found only three EL appropriate undead monsters so I used them in varying numbers to increase or decrease the challenge).  Other than that, every encounter has been different.
#3 not very.  I use the RAW Knowledge skill check system and even if the entire party rolls poorly, I use monster abilities very quickly so the players know what to do expect.  There was only one instance (the very first encounter at the restart of this campaign) where I basically nerfed the monsters' abilities because I realized VERY quickly that the party was overmatched and I did not want a TPK.
#4 No fatalities so far, but many close calls.  More now that I am not rolling dice behind a screen and fudging those dice.  As for the risk of the unknown, some player characters have taken an early beating because of unknown monster abilities, but again no fatalities.

#1 the campaign I am playing in is  also 3.5e but more RAW oriented, current PC level of 13-15 with seven players where if the player is not present then neither is the character.
#2 it seems like every encounter there are new monsters to face.  That being said, the whole campaign is themed fairly consistently so we the players have come to expect certain things like resistances and immunities, AOE abilities, etc.
#3 they can be quite stressful.  The DM uses knowledge skill checks to see what the party knows.  Knowing this we have invested heavily in Arcana, Religion, The Planes, and Nature knowledge skills.  That being said, we still fail from time to time and we have to learn monster abilities the hard way.
#4 only two characters have died in the 18 months of sessions and in both cases they were raised.  Neither fatality was the result of poking and prodding into the unknown - more lucky rolling on the part of the DM (lots of crits )

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
I have taken to revealing basically all "metagame" information: defenses, hit points, auras, special traits, etc.  Giving the PCs this information has freed me to make more elaborate, creative, strategic (and hopefully, fun) battles.  

As way of example, you could have two monsters who are linked to each other: you have to take them down at the same time, or bad things happen.  This would be a grossly unfair mechanic if it was a secret, only being revealed once it was triggered.  Instead, just reveal it to them at the start of the battle, and leave them to strategize how to manage it.  Obviously lead with the fiction when making the reveal ("Shiain, you sense that these two creatures have some kind of arcane link") before describing the mechanics of this link, but being willing to reveal this kind of information can be incredibly liberating as a DM.
PC's are smart. I wonder if they KNOW when you fudge rolls, or suspect a certain probability.

If they assume a certain probability, they are more likely to be careless, knowing the "Plot Armor" will save them in the end. They feel less risk invested into each choice because of course, the DM won't destroy his own world.

I recently read Winning D&D | The Angry DM - and to quote:

"A single crit, a bad combat in which your character spent the entire fight stuck in a pit unable to make an Athletics check, these things are things of enjoyment and quickly get forgotten. I can’t sugarcoat this: sometimes, being a DM is emotionally hard and not everyone can handle that. And I think that is part of the reason why some DMs secretly fudge and adjust and decide to take some of the risk away. But, ultimately, being willing to hurt your players’ enjoyment once in a while contributes to a game that is immersive and satisfying, one which the players really care about and feel challenged by."

This makes too much sense to me. Maybe DM's fudge rolls because they are not afraid of pointing the gun and pulling the trigger, but then they just can't let the bullet strike the heart. I am of the stance that overcoming vulnerabilities and pain is what defines a character; not their super powers or their +60 to Jump Checks. I don't care about the player who jumps across an 18 foot wide pit; I care about the player who fell in, and is bleeding to death. That character will have a story to tell, if he makes it out alive, and the other PC's will have a story to tell if they didn't.

Sometimes, failure is more interesting than success and tragedy can develop you far more than "another win". I am guilty of being vague about things. I will roll the dice; all of them, in the open but I won't tell you the devil in the box; the modifiers or final DC.  After reading this, I will be more open in my next 3 games about what the DC's, and AC's are. (Normally, I tell the players after about the fourth hit what the AC is).

Hopefully if the PC's don't see me as a "saving hand in the end", but instead as perfectly willing to watch them bleed to death in the pit, the tension of drama will increase and the game will improve. Well, it is already good, but always room for improvement.

Within; Without.

I dunno, I'm all for transaprency, but I do like a certain veil of mystery as well. I dunno, I like working out a defenses based on the fact that a 13 missed but a 16 hit, and making educated guesses about the monsters like "Okay, that's a close burst that dazes at level 10, probably an encounter / recharge power."  Though I'm all for things like the DM being like "The enemies don't seem particularly afraid of the flames emanating from you," or "You see three dudes skulking around all minion-like" or "You see the dragon inhale, like it's getting ready for something."

I guess to use your metaphor I don't want a clueless mystery, but I also don't want "That guy did it." 

Of the stats you listed



  • Enemy HP totals

  • Which enemy powers recharge*

  • When enemy powers recharge*

  • Enemy resistances

  • Enemy vulnerabilities


 Would be things I'd like to know, * being ones I'm on the fences about.

Zammm = Batman.

It's my sig in a box
58280208 wrote:
Everything is better when you read it in Bane's voice.
192334281 wrote:
Your human antics and desire to continue living have moved me. Just kidding. You cannot move me physically or emotionally. Wall humor.
57092228 wrote:
Copy effects work like a photocopy machine: you get a copy of the 'naked' card, NOT of what's on it.
56995928 wrote:
Funny story: InQuest Magazine (I think it was InQuest) had an oversized Chaos Orb which I totally rooked someone into allowing into a (non-sanctioned) game. I had a proxy card that was a Mountain with "Chaos Orb" written on it. When I played it, my opponent cried foul: Him: "WTF? a Proxy? no-one said anything about Proxies. Do you even own an actual Chaos Orb?" Me: "Yes, but I thought it would be better to use a Proxy." Him: "No way. If you're going to put a Chaos Orb in your deck you have to use your actual Chaos Orb." Me: "*Sigh*. Okay." I pulled out this huge Chaos Orb and placed it on the table. He tried to cry foul again but everyone else said he insisted I use my actual Chaos Orb and that was my actual Chaos Orb. I used it, flipped it and wiped most of his board. Unsurprisingly, that only worked once and only because everyone present thought it was hilarious.
My DM on Battleminds:
no, see i can kill defenders, but 8 consecutive crits on a battlemind, eh walk it off.
144543765 wrote:
195392035 wrote:
Hi guys! So, I'm a sort of returning player to Magic. I say sort of because as a child I had two main TCG's I liked. Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokemon. Some of my friends branched off in to Magic, and I bought two pre-made decks just to kind of fit in. Like I said, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon were what I really knew how to play. I have a extensive knowledge of deck building in those two TCG's. However, as far as Magic is concerned, I only ever used those two pre made decks. I know how the game is played, and I know general things, but now I want to get in the game for real. I want to begin playing it as a regular. My question is, are all cards ever released from the time of the inception of this game until present day fair game in a deck? Or are there special rules? Are some cards forbidden or restricted? Thanks guys, and I will gladly accept ANY help lol.
I have the same problem with women.
117639611 wrote:
198869283 wrote:
Oh I have a standing rule. If someone plays a Planeswalker I concede the game. I refuse to play with or against people who play Planeswalkers. They really did ruin the game.
A turn two Tibalt win?! Wicked... Betcha don't see that everyday.

The Pony Co. 

Is this my new ego sig? Yes it is, other Barry
57461258 wrote:
And that's why you should never, ever call RP Jesus on being a troll, because then everyone else playing along gets outed, too, and the thread goes back to being boring.
57461258 wrote:
See, this is why RPJesus should be in charge of the storyline. The novel line would never have been cancelled if he had been running the show. Specifically the Slobad and Geth's Head talkshow he just described.
57461258 wrote:
Not only was that an obligatory joke, it was an on-topic post that still managed to be off-topic due to thread derailment. RP Jesus does it again folks.
92481331 wrote:
I think I'm gonna' start praying to Jesus... That's right, RPJesus, I'm gonna' be praying to you, right now. O' Jesus Please continue to make my time here on the forums fun and cause me to chuckle. Amen.
92481331 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
It was wonderful. Us Johnnies had a field day. That Timmy with the Grizzly bears would actually have to think about swinging into your Mogg Fanatic, giving you time to set up your silly combo. Nowadays it's all DERPSWING! with thier blue jeans and their MP3 players and their EM EM OH AR PEE JEES and their "Dewmocracy" and their children's card games and their Jersey Shores and their Tattooed Tenaged Vampire Hunters from Beverly Hills
Seriously, that was amazing. I laughed my *ss off. Made my day, and I just woke up.
[quote=ArtVenn You're still one of my favorite people... just sayin'.[/quote]
56756068 wrote:
56786788 wrote:
.....would it be a bit blasphemous if I said, "PRAYSE RPJAYSUS!" like an Evangelical preacher?
Perhaps, but who doesn't like to blaspheme every now and again? Especially when Mr. RPJesus is completely right.
56756068 wrote:
I don't say this often, but ... LOL
57526128 wrote:
You... You... Evil something... I actualy made the damn char once I saw the poster... Now you made me see it again and I gained resolve to put it into my campaign. Shell be high standing oficial of Cyrix order. Uterly mad and only slightly evil. And it'll be bad. Evil even. And ill blame you and Lizard for it :P.
57042968 wrote:
111809331 wrote:
I'm trying to work out if you're being sarcastic here. ...
Am going to stop you right there... it's RPJesus... he's always sarcastic
58335208 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
112114441 wrote:
we can only hope it gets the jace treatment...it could have at least been legendary
So that even the decks that don't run it run it to deal with it? Isn't that like the definition of format warping?
I lol'd.
56287226 wrote:
98088088 wrote:
Uktabi Orangutan What the heck's going on with those monkeys?
The most common answer is that they are what RPJesus would call "[Debutantes avert your eyes]ing."
56965458 wrote:
Show
57461258 wrote:
116498949 wrote:
I’ve removed content from this thread because off-topic discussions are a violation of the Code of Conduct. You can review the Code here: www.wizards.com/Company/About.aspx?x=wz_... Please keep your posts polite, on-topic, and refrain from making personal attacks. You are welcome to disagree with one another but please do so respectfully and constructively. If you wish to report a post for Code of Conduct violation, click on the “Report Post” button above the post and this will submit your report to the moderators on duty.
...Am I the only one that thinks this is reaching the point of downright Kafkaesque insanity?
I condone the use of the word Kafkaesque. However, I'm presentely ambivalent. I mean, that can't be serious, right? We're April 1st, right? They didn't mod RPJesus for off-topic discussion when the WHOLE THREAD IS OFF-TOPIC, right? Right.
57545908 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
Save or die. If you disagree with this, you're wrong (Not because of any points or arguements that have been made, but I just rolled a d20 for you and got a 1, so you lose).
58397368 wrote:
58222628 wrote:
This just won the argument, AFAIC.
That's just awesome.
57471038 wrote:
57718868 wrote:
HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THE BEAR PRODUCING WORDS OF WILDING?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
That's what RPJesus tends to do. That's why I don't think he's a real person, but some Magic Card Archive Server sort of machine, that is programmed to react to other posters' comments with obscure cards that do in fact exist, but somehow missed by even the most experienced Magic players. And then come up with strange combos with said cards. All of that is impossible for a normal human to do given the amount of time he does it and how often he does it. He/It got me with Light of Sanction, which prompted me to go to RQ&A to try and find if it was even possible to do combat damage to a creature I control (in light that Mark of Asylum exists).
71235715 wrote:
+10
100176878 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
57078538 wrote:
heaven or hell.
Round 1. Lets rock.
GG quotes! RPJesus just made this thread win!
56906968 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
143359585 wrote:
Blue players get all the overpowerered cards like JTMS. I think it's time that wizards gave something to people who remember what magic is really about: creatures.
Initially yes, Wizards was married to blue. However, about a decade ago they had a nasty divorce, and a few years after that they began courting the attention of Green. Then in Worldwake they had a nasty affair with their ex, but as of Innistrad, things seem to have gotten back on track, and Wizards has even proposed.
You are my favorite. Yes you. And moments like this make it so. Thank you RPJesus for just being you.
On what flavor text fits me:
57307308 wrote:
Surely RPJesus gets Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius?
56874518 wrote:
First: I STILL can't take you seriously with that avatar. And I can take RPJesus seriously, so that's saying something.
121689989 wrote:
I'd offer you a cookie for making me laugh but it has an Upkeep Cost that has been known to cause people to quit eating.
56267956 wrote:
I <3 you loads
57400888 wrote:
56957928 wrote:
"AINT NO LAWS IN THE SKY MOTHER****." - Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran
10/10. Amazing.
I guess to use your metaphor I don't want a clueless mystery, but I also don't want "That guy did it."

There's another layer, in which the players are clued in, but the characters are not. They have to choose that layer themselves, but many players will because it finds the middle ground in which the game is fun and engaging, but not trivial.

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

PC's are smart. I wonder if they KNOW when you fudge rolls, or suspect a certain probability.

If they assume a certain probability, they are more likely to be careless, knowing the "Plot Armor" will save them in the end. They feel less risk invested into each choice because of course, the DM won't destroy his own world.

I recently read Winning D&D | The Angry DM - and to quote:

"A single crit, a bad combat in which your character spent the entire fight stuck in a pit unable to make an Athletics check, these things are things of enjoyment and quickly get forgotten. I can’t sugarcoat this: sometimes, being a DM is emotionally hard and not everyone can handle that. And I think that is part of the reason why some DMs secretly fudge and adjust and decide to take some of the risk away. But, ultimately, being willing to hurt your players’ enjoyment once in a while contributes to a game that is immersive and satisfying, one which the players really care about and feel challenged by."

This makes too much sense to me. Maybe DM's fudge rolls because they are not afraid of pointing the gun and pulling the trigger, but then they just can't let the bullet strike the heart. I am of the stance that overcoming vulnerabilities and pain is what defines a character; not their super powers or their +60 to Jump Checks. I don't care about the player who jumps across an 18 foot wide pit; I care about the player who fell in, and is bleeding to death. That character will have a story to tell, if he makes it out alive, and the other PC's will have a story to tell if they didn't.

Sometimes, failure is more interesting than success and tragedy can develop you far more than "another win". I am guilty of being vague about things. I will roll the dice; all of them, in the open but I won't tell you the devil in the box; the modifiers or final DC.  After reading this, I will be more open in my next 3 games about what the DC's, and AC's are. (Normally, I tell the players after about the fourth hit what the AC is).

Hopefully if the PC's don't see me as a "saving hand in the end", but instead as perfectly willing to watch them bleed to death in the pit, the tension of drama will increase and the game will improve. Well, it is already good, but always room for improvement.



To be fair, personally, I only fudge rolls when the end outcome is already a given.  Like the situation described above, a player reduces the last monster to less than 5 HP and the rest of the group is going to get a turn before the monster can go again.  If it's his turn soon and he has the potential to knock a player out, I won't fudge the roll.  I don't fudge to pull punches, just to let the inevitable happen faster.  Again, that's just me, not all DMs, but that's what I do.
Good post. I'm going to reply by dissecting it in bite-sized pieces.

A recent post about how much information a GM should reveal to his players got me wondering what, exactly, we have to gain by hiding information from our players. After some thought, I believe hiding information actually runs contrary to our goal of creating a challenging, engaging game for our players.



I think "hiding" is a misuse of the term. Hiding implies intent. Just pointing that out. Also I do not believe my goal is to create a challenging, engaging game for my players. I believe that all I need do is create a world and my players will seek out challenges within that world and engage within it. Does this mean the world has to be varied and worth exploring? Absolutely. However, again, it's a matter of intent. Semantics. Moving on.

This stems from 3 core beliefs:

1. Challengeis a measure of how engaged players are with solving a problem.

Your core beliefs have their heart in the right place but they're wrong in a couple ways. Challenge is a poor word choice to measure how engaged players are with a problem. A Challenge is nothing but an obstacle. It can be engaging or it can not be engaging. Engagement with an obstacle can even have nothing to do with the challenge itself but rather with what might lay beyond the obstacle. It is a minor but important distinction.


2. The more interesting choices the players make about a problem, the more engaged they are.


As for interesting choices. That core belief is flat wrong. Here's why...a lot of good, engaging obstacles have only one interesting choice to make. In fact, there are games that are nothing but series of single challenges with a single interesting choice attached. Engagement is not linked to number of choices. In fact, too many interesting choices can create a lack of engagement. This is the "paralysis of choice" so often experienced with the glut of character options in editions like 3rd. There are SO MANY interesting choices that the person is overwhelmed and they become focused on "not picking the suboptimal" instead of "picking the optimal". Take for example Hand Command/Rock-Paper-Scissor. This is a game with very few choices but that are potentially very interesting. The engagement comes from exploiting your opponent and understanding them to win. After all, what if I posit a puzzle with two switches...or a puzzle with 400 switches? Either way there is a specific order the levers need to be pulled in. Which is more engaging? Either could be.


The other danger of this rationale is that it can lead to a myriad of false choices masquerading as "interesting" when really they aren't. This is where strategy comes in and optimal tactics emerge. For instance, combat in D&D or a customizable card game might have near-infinite options for strategy...but if only one option is dominantly powerful, those other strategies and options may as well not exist. People gravitate towards optimal solutions when faced with a challenge...it is human nature. Often it is difficult to tell when creating choices in a situation how valid those choices might end up being, especially when faced with the uncertainties of a game involving dice and other people. What may seem like a range of good options might be either too many to be useful or completely confounding.


3. Making interesting choices requires enough information to guess the odds & potential results for each choice.


It is actually important to clarify that "guessing the odds" is not as important as reducing those odds. An ideal decision eliminates all need for chance...because chance is the enemy.


Hiding information makes things more difficult, not challenging, which usually leads to frustration. As an extreme example, take the problem of solving a murder without any clues. It is certainly difficult (if nigh-impossible), but it isn't challenging, because the best you can do is pick a random suspect.



If a person is making a random guess they have not engaged in discovery regarding a given situation.

"But no GM worth his salt would ever throw that situation at a player and expect it to be entertaining!" No, but how often have GMs given PCs a choice of 3 levers to pull without any clues about what they do? Or sprung a trap on them in a non-descript hallway? How are they conceptually different from the clueless mystery? They either encourage random guessing ("Let's just pull the left lever and see what happens") or treating everything the same ("I don't care if it looks ordinary, tap everything with the 10' pole just to be sure"). That's real challenging, a fine example of the players putting their critical thinking to use...



These definitely describe flaws in presentation. A trap that is not presented to the players in such a way that part of it's nature is revealed in the description to the players is not revealing information in a fair manner. This is bad. Agreed.

You can argue there are situations where revealing everything about it would make it too easy, such as "You'll trigger the trap if you step here, here, or here" or "Fiznik works for the Big Bad and will betray you at the first opportunity." However, there are many situations where you can know everything about the problem yet still struggle to make a decision: "The fire trap has a 50% chance of hitting you for 4d8+16 damage, but there's a potion of vitality on the other side. Do you risk it?"



That is not a trap situation. That is a coin-flip in your example. That is not interesting in any way. There is no discovery involved. There is no challenge to mitigate. The fire trap needs to be presented in such a way that it can be uncovered through simple process of discovery. There needs to be clues to it's existence and these need to be non-subtle and upfront when revealed to the players.

Even situations where the PCs have enough info to make easy decisions can lead to interesting choices: "If we know which tiles are trapped, can we lure the monsters onto them?" "If Fiznik will betray us, why don't we feed him false info to screw up his boss?" That's why I prefer giving the players too much info as opposed to too little.



Horse before the cart. These are all equally possible when discovery has been performed.

The largest offenses of "too little info" I see are on the battlefield, specifically information on the monsters. GMs love to keep their cards close to their chest for combats. How much info do many GMs hold from their players? Let's make a list:


  • Enemy HP totals

  • Enemy defenses

  • Enemy attack bonuses

  • Enemy powers

  • Which enemy powers recharge

  • When enemy powers recharge

  • Enemy resistances

  • Enemy vulnerabilities


Now... what do we gain from this? What do we honestly gain from this? A few cheap attacks on the party for swarming an elite they didn't know had a close burst power? A laugh at a player cursing because a monster teleported out of his daily attack? A longer battle because a player didn't know those minions were immune to the fire aura he set up to kill them? Is it worth the players getting frustrated when they waste a power? Is it worth longer battles because the players spend the first turn or two trying to figure out their battle plan against an enemy they know nothing about?



We? We gain nothing. At least, I gain nothing. There is nothing to be gained. I would suggest avoiding assuming malicious intent by a DM in a given situation. Also, again, you are underestimating the power of discovery...the importance of it to players. Discovery is the process by which challenges are lessened...by which the chess player determines the best move. These situations allow the player to gain much. They gain the joy of discovery. This ties into the joy of having properly used discovery to overcome a challenge. This is one of the most important parts any given game. It validates effort.

We can give the players complete information on the monsters, to the point of opening up the Monster Manual and showing their stat blocks, and still make challenging encounters with them. Most games already do this; take a look at just about any board or video game and almost all of the time, you're fighting against enemies you know everything about. You know their powers, you know their patterns, you know their tactics, yet they still manage to be challenging. The players can know everything about them and still have interesting choices to make. I'd argue that knowing everything about them increases the number of interesting choices they make, as it lets them skip the learning phase (aka try random stuff, see what works) and immediately start concocting plans to take them down.



The problem with comparing a video game to a game of D&D is that video games still employ levels of dexterity & skill. When discovery is skipped in D&D it is the equivalent of the chess player being told ahead of time the moves the opposing player can make. This is an imperfect example, but it is along the same lines. Always making the right choice is an unfulfilling process. Imagine this...

"Your foes are immune to lightning. They will try to charge in the first round. They are susceptible to fire damage. What do you do?"

In effect you have reduced the number of potential choices the player can make. You are framing a situation to the players that undermines the importance of their decisions because they have already been presented with seeming optimal solutions.

(Sidenote: Should make a post later on when introducing a new monster and letting the players figure it out works. My opinion in short: it's like pepper, a bit of it spices up the meal but dumping a whole bottle on it ruins it. May also get into opinions on tutorials.)

Here's some things to consider:


  • Can you make a challenging encounter using only monsters the PCs have fought before?

  • Can you add a clue about every monster, trap, and NPC that doesn't require a skill check to notice?

  • In what cases does raising the difficulty of an encounter (how hard it is to succeed) not raise the challenge of an encounter (how engaging it is to complete, how many interesting choices are involved)?

  • What if you rolled to recharge a monster's powers at the end of its turn instead of the start, and publicly announced recharged powers to the players? "The dragon's nostrils smoke and it shoots small gouts of flame; looks like he'll be able to use his breath weapon again next turn." How would that affect PC tactics? Would PCs save debuffing powers to counter it? Would they have to choose between getting in another attack and getting out of the blast radius? Would it lead to more interesting choices, and thus more challenging battles?




1. Challenge arises through a situation. I do not worry about challenging the players. That is a futile effort because of the amazing range of difficulty that can present itself. Much better to allow players to approach situations as they choose. Challenge arises in the course of discovery and action.

2. Skill checks to notice clues? Idiotic. A DM using skill checks to notice things like that is already failing to be fair.

3. Impossible to determine. Challenge is determined in the doing...before-hand the challenge can be reduced or increased (mitigation etc)...engagement and difficulty/challenge are often seperate concepts in a game where execution is not skill-based.

4. This is actually a great way to do things and is how I do them.

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.

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