DM Player negotiation and buy in.

Regrettably, I am still unable to comment as frequently as I used to on these boards due to my job change, therefore I will not be able to keep up with this conversation as much as I would like. That said there is an arguement in Courageous Conviction that I think needs its own thread (in fact, I think my first thread on these boards dealt with this subject, I think I called it "I'm opposed to DM Empowerment"). In fact the thread can be found here http://community.wizards.com/content/forum-topic/3325196.

 

I enjoy playing D&D with people. Right now, my favorite DM is probably Plaguescarred. I've participated in many games he has run and I have almost always enjoyed them. Except once. He pulled a classic bait and switch and DM fiated away the party's NPC client. I hated that game. He actually had to ask me to stop commenting on it because he felt I was getting to negative which was not my intent.

 

I bring this up to show how not negotiating with your players can cause problems. I had no fun that series of sessions and my attitude negatively detracted from others experience because communication in this one instance wasn't clear.

 

I was reminded of this by iserith's conversation with kadim and Ramzour. I think its obvious that I side with iserith. 

Then you clearly need to play only in games in which players negotiate things in advance with the DM and are not surprised by anything.

 

Why is this controversial?

What does that even mean, "DM fiated away the party's NPC client"? If you could describe the situation, and the method of DM fiat, that might help me to better understand your point.

The metagame is not the game.

I'm happy to take the discussion from the other thread here so that the Conviction thread isn't further derailed. I will come back to this thread in a few hours. Thanks for starting it.

 

Plaguescarred played in one of my games. He drove an elemental speedboat into a storefront. It was awesome.

That sounds like Plague, he's an awesome player as well and I wish I could get into more games with him playing as well (my attempts to set up games for him to play in being hit or miss due to our respective schedules).

 

*edit to reply to Saelorn*

 

He pulled us through the mists to Ravenloft (If I'd known it was a Ravenloft game, I wouldn't have signed up, I hate that setting, too many poorly run hamfisted situations I've had to put up with in the past). As soon as we were there, he had the NPC patron of the party (I was playing a mercenary who was known for completing his contracts, which in this case, was to bodyguard the client) fall into a pit in the swamp and be pulled away by undercurrents, no chance anyone could save him.

...and?

Ah, I see. Yeah, Ravenloft isn't something you should ever spring on someone unexpectedly. Nor would I really be okay with such a contrived NPC death.

 

I'm not such a huge fan of the pro-active DM style in general, though. (I mostly prefer a sandbox, with just a few hints of things going on at the periphery, where the PCs can choose to investigate if they want to.) It really should all be laid out ahead of time, with the players deciding whether or not to buy into it before they go through the trouble of rolling up characters and setting aside time to play.

 

 

The metagame is not the game.

I like a one shot adventure into Ravenloft with the mists suddenly rising up and then spitting the party out at the end - if they survive!

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I can completely understand having a ravenloft game sprunk on you pissing you off, but a NPC falling into a pit and dying is a issue? Really?

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Imagine a world where the first-time D&D player rolls stats, picks a race, picks a class, picks an alignment, and buys gear to create a character. Imagine if an experienced player, maybe the person helping our theoretical player learn the ropes, could also make a character by rolling ability scores and picking a race, class, feat, skills, class features, spells or powers, and so on. Those two players used different paths to build characters, but the system design allows them to play at the same table. -Mearl

"It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare." - Edmund Burke

Agreed with Sleypy.

 

Not really seeing a problem with the NPC part.  While having a method to interact with/save an NPC is nice, it isn't always essential.  You are put in a scenario, you don't always get the means to determine how you enter it.

 

 

I'd trade it all for a little more! Grognard? Is that French for awesome?

In my opinion, this is the kind of thing that needs to be decided before a campaign begins.

 


Personally, I will not run a campaign where I am expected to get permission from the players before doing things; I expect them to trust me that I am trying to make a campaign that is fun for everyone, and outside of the sessions, feedback is welcome.  It's even more welcome if I'm failing.  However, I also will not run a campaign where any player is unaware of this; it's one of the first things I would tell them about the campaign (if they haven't played with me before), right along with "You are starting at X level with Y starting gear in Z setting".

 

 

For a one-shot, you might forget to include it in the orientation materials, and these things happen.  People make mistakes, and in a one-shot, it's both more likely to happen and less likely to have a serious impact on anything major.  It might ruin a session (or a few if it's a short adventure "one-shot"), but there are worse things.  (And honestly, I am just as likely to have my fun ruined by having a DM ask me as anyone who wants buy-in per event would be to have it ruined when they aren't asked.)

 

 

 

In the particular case of Plague killing off the NPC, I wouldn't normally do it that way, but there are situations where I would.  Particularly if there's a time limit and I think we might need the time that gets wasted, if saving him is extremely unlikely, I might just say he dies in the interest of saving time and skipping 5-15 minutes of the PCs trying to save him helplessly.  That's a good example of a situation where I would expect the players to trust me, and then after the session, they can ask what's up with that, and I can explain that it was to save time since it was so unlikely and we needed the time, and so on.

The difference between madness and genius is determined only by degrees of success.

I am pretty sure this is a "you had to have been there to see why I am annoyed at what happened," moment - where all of us who were not there are just not going to understand the way what happened in the game felt to jonathan while it was happening, no matter how detailed the description might get.

 

That said, I am torn on the idea behind it all - that the DM having a "surprise twist" to spring on the players is inherently bad, and all campaigns that might include "...and then you end up in Ravenloft" need to have a pre-game disclaimer about how that could/will happen.

 

I get that the players might feel some negative feelings because they had certain thoughts or plans that were just made irrelevant or impossible by the "twist"... but I also get that a DM wouldn't want to say "at some point I will be having the characters suddenly transported to Ravenloft," because that would put the players in a particular mindset of no help to the campaign before the moment that they finally find the "twist" they have spent the campaign to that point "looking" for. (or worse, the DM is really wanting the Ravenloft section to feel grim and desperate and maybe actually create a bit of enjoyable horror, and by telling the players that their characters are going to end up in Ravenloft finds the party loaded with silver weapons, vials of holy water, stakes and mallets, and perfectly suited to hunt and destroy all the typical Ravenloft fare without so much as batting an eyelash - so he goes in for classic horror and comes out with action flick that happens to involve monster because then there can be more justifiable gore instead).

 

It's a tough one... even before I get down to having to say this: if you have had bad experiences with Ravenloft, but Plaguescarred wasn't the DM when those happened, then your bad experiences are irrelevant and you are being overly close-minded. It's a pet peeve of mine as a DM/GM/ST/etc. when a player refuses to participate in my game because some other person who isn't even going to be involved did something they didn't like in a game that use the same RPG book.

 

I know the person isn't actually going to read this, but, they know who they are if they do: I know, Rich ran Vampire and you didn't like it, but I've heard the stories about how he ran the game and I guarantee my Vampire game will be nothing at all like that - and it offends me that you won't even give me a single session chance to prove it.

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

I think it comes down to agency.  If a DM says "The NPC dies.  Nothing you can do to save him", then it feels, at best, cheap.  I mean, yeah, it can be considered the DMs perogative to tell a story, but I think it is more accurate to say the DM is presenting situations, and the story derives from the actions taken in response.  Just killing off an NPC "because reasons" rubs me the wrong way.

 

That said, presenting a situation where NPC survival is extremely unlikely is more or less fair game.  Success is never guaranteed; depending on the campaign tone, it is entirely reasonable to have challenges that are beyond the character's ability (you've stumbled onto a dragon's lair!  Better run!).  The only caveat I have to that is that failure to complete these "overly hard" challenges shouldn't short circuit the campaign, and if the players unknowingly stumble into unwinnable situations they should have a means to at least get out/away.

 

As long as players get a chance to try, they are usually okay with failing.

Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging. Roll dice, not cars.

I just don't see any reason why PC should be able to extend to NPC something they can't to PC. If another PC failed a saving throw and fell into a pit they would take damage. I don't see any reason why a NPC who falls into a pit would get treated any different. Now if there was no opportunity to see the trap at all, then I can see having a problem. Based on the details given I just don't see a issue here, and it comes across as expecting a background story to provide a halo of protection from failure.

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Imagine a world where the first-time D&D player rolls stats, picks a race, picks a class, picks an alignment, and buys gear to create a character. Imagine if an experienced player, maybe the person helping our theoretical player learn the ropes, could also make a character by rolling ability scores and picking a race, class, feat, skills, class features, spells or powers, and so on. Those two players used different paths to build characters, but the system design allows them to play at the same table. -Mearl

"It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare." - Edmund Burke

In Plaguescarred's defense, the surprise grab by the mists and the immovable plot is kind of a trope for Ravenloft. If we were playing Ravenloft, I'd definitely want those NPCs you have no power to influence at all, too. If I remember correctly, even some of the modules offered advice on how to railroad the players. (I'm not accusing PS of that, just to be super clear!) In any case, this is an example of a player not offering his buy-in. He played, of course. But a mismatch in expectations resulted in less than a stellar experience for the OP. A little transparency might have helped out in this situation. "Player negotiation" and "buy-in" may sound like you're lawyering up and hashing out every detail, but that's just internet crazy talk.

I can see where OP is coming from springing Ravenloft on someone as a surprise for some can be unpleasant also the character built up a rep for being a successful merc and he was made to fail with no say or roll. I think it was the potential rep hit without the ability to do anything that was the sting not so much the npc's death. Devuls advocate though NPC's unless directly tied to the PC are usually fair game. 

The session was presented as "protect the NPC while he does stuff in this swamp". That was my expectation. First thing that happens is NPC is insta-gibbed, no chance to do anything (with Plague flat out stating that after I had Slade dive in after the patron). He did so he wouldn't have to deal with the NPC during the intended adventure.

 

Here is the link to my feedback thread http://community.wizards.com/content/forum-topic/3727201

 

and here is Plague's thread for the game, note his first post is not the same as it was when the game was being advertised http://community.wizards.com/content/forum-topic/3723551. Post 99 is where I most go into this issue.

 

Of course, the purpose of this thread was to foment discussion on player agency not to turn into a nit pick of my issues with one game that I was using as an example of when I feel that failure to know or understand others issues lessened the fun for everyone.

 

*Edit* and while was dithering about this post iserith says what I want to say so much better.

 

1- Ravenloft

I do agree that changing the setting of a game completely should be discussed with the players, since it can and probably will completely change the tone of the game. If you just say "Oh hey you enter the portal and now you're no longer in Dragonlance, you're all in Dark Sun. From now on we play Dark Sun," that probably wouldn't be cool as I suppose those players set out to play Dragonlance and were excited to do that, not Dark Sun.

 

On the other hand... Is that what he was doing? Or was it just like a 1-shot adventure throught Ravenloft and then back? If so, I really don't see reason to complain. DM's come up with new ideas for adventures every session. Playing with the mists, a little horror and undeads is just one more idea. It can be used in any D&D game, actually, not only Ravenloft. You would be that bothered if the same adventure had occured exactly the same, but you were just never told it was Ravenloft? Just thinking the whole time you were in some part of the same world? I really don't see reason for a scandal here if it wasn't a sudden change of setting but a quick there-and-back-again for 1 adventure. Maybe not your favorite adventure in the campaign, but hey every campaign has its ups and downs through the eyes of each player according to his taste.

 

Maybe you're really thrilled by that one adventure where your party has to hunt down the dragon, but maybe the next player at the table just hates adventures that involve dragons.

No reason for a drama there either.

 

 

2- The NPC Death

Sorry, mate, but NPCs are the province of DMs.

There is no "party NPC". Every NPC is just an NPC and is 100% the DM's.

The DM can make NPCs come and go as he sees fit to develop the story he has surmised.

 

And if you really need a rules-translation as to "Why can't my character do anything about it?"

Just consider as if the NPC had stepped on the pit and failed his Reflex save or whatever. And there you have it, nothing you can do save jump down the pit and try to follow him (might not lead to a happy ending, though).

 

I could have agreed with you if the DM had killed a PLAYER that way. "Oh you just fell into a pit and died." Then it would be really lame.

 

But there is no such thing as players voting and discussing whether an NPC should die or live, should leave or stay.

NPCs belong to the DM.

 

Lady_Auralla wrote:
...also the character built up a rep for being a successful merc and he was made to fail with no say or roll.
That is, as I said early, something we who were not there cannot possibly know.

 

Often in discussions of situations like this we forget that there are two (or more) sides to the events - and that a single side can, and often is even if there is no intent for it, heavily skewed by the emotion of the siutation from that person's perspective.

 

It very well could be a case where the OP feels he had no say and no change to prevent events from spoiling his character's reputation, but the DM was expecting that everyone playing would go into a "super-cautious mode" after being suddenly transported to who knows where, and the NPC only fell prey to the trap because no one was watching out for traps/hazzards and the NPC was allowed to be walking in the wrong place in relation to his bodyguard (I mean, did the bodyguard just happen to get lucky and step past this deadly trap that took out his client, or was it that the bodyguard didn't go "Hey, NPC, don't wander off like that. Stay close to me, this place could be dangerous."

 

There are literally thousands of details we can't know, and thousands of possiblities as to what could have been done that might have prevented this NPC death and PC reputation hit - but we really won't know any of those because I really doubt Plaguescarred is going to come in here on the offensive and list out every possible thing that the OP could have done, but didn't think of (and might even get offended that he was "expected" to have thought of), in order to change the outcome - or worse, just say the NPC was meant to be a "red shirt" the whole time and make it feel even worse that the OP attached the reputation of his character to an NPC in a way that he couldn't possibly maintain that reputation.

 

Me, as a DM, I have seen the very possibility I describe happen countless times - from a character fighting a monster that was supposed to be obviously too powerful to fight because the player didn't understand the numerous indicators of such (oh, a dozen dead soldiers that it is looting/eating? It must have just found them this way since it isn't injured at all) to a character going exactly where literally every NPC he talked to warned him not to because the player mistook the warnings for adventure hooks... which I guess they kind of would be, if he were high enough level (if we go there an ancient red dragon will eat us, you say? sounds like my kind of day trip!), to the most common of a character suffering the consequences of their player not actually specifying what they are doing (okay, we made it to the river... now we cross it! Swim check? Why do I need to do that, I'm not swimming. No, that's not what I meant by we cross the river.)

 

Sometimes the player and the DM forget that they see the situation from extremely differing perspectves, so something that seems obvious to one side (like actively wrangling the NPC because you want to uphold your reputation, and thus ensuring any trap meant to "red shirt" him must go through at least one PC first) is entirely unthinkable from the other side (like the player thinking the NPC that he is body-guarding is already actively doing everything possible to make the PC more likely to succeed at that task, and thus not even believing it possible that some action need be taken to prevent random harm befalling the NPC).

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
I am pretty sure this is a "you had to have been there to see why I am annoyed at what happened," moment - where all of us who were not there are just not going to understand the way what happened in the game felt to jonathan while it was happening, no matter how detailed the description might get.

 

Yeah, and I think that's pretty true of buy-in in general. Some offer it, some don't for reasons that are personal to them and sometimes inscrutable to others. Now we have to imagine the difficulty that presents the DM, who in many approaches is expected to get that buy-in without asking for it and to be a mind-reader.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
That said, I am torn on the idea behind it all - that the DM having a "surprise twist" to spring on the players is inherently bad, and all campaigns that might include "...and then you end up in Ravenloft" need to have a pre-game disclaimer about how that could/will happen.

 

Holding out for that surprise to work is a risk, that's for sure. It might pay off, it might not. As a rule, I try not to risk other people's fun. Approaches like negotiating stakes or asking for buy-in are ways to mitigate that risk.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
I get that the players might feel some negative feelings because they had certain thoughts or plans that were just made irrelevant or impossible by the "twist"

 

There's also the very common phenomenon of the DM blocking player ideas and actions (or banning fun game mechanics) to preserve the surprise. That can be very frustrating.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
... but I also get that a DM wouldn't want to say "at some point I will be having the characters suddenly transported to Ravenloft," because that would put the players in a particular mindset of no help to the campaign before the moment that they finally find the "twist" they have spent the campaign to that point "looking" for.

 

I don't think there's any reason to believe that must be what happens. What's more likely to happen are players that say "Cool, Ravenloft!" or "Meh, Ravenloft..." or "What's Ravenloft?" If you're lucky or if you just ask, you might even get the players to offer suggestions about how their characters might be connected to your Ravenloft scenario to make it go smoother. You give up the mists-gotcha. There'll be more surprises to come that arise from just playing.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
(or worse, the DM is really wanting the Ravenloft section to feel grim and desperate and maybe actually create a bit of enjoyable horror, and by telling the players that their characters are going to end up in Ravenloft finds the party loaded with silver weapons, vials of holy water, stakes and mallets, and perfectly suited to hunt and destroy all the typical Ravenloft fare without so much as batting an eyelash - so he goes in for classic horror and comes out with action flick that happens to involve monster because then there can be more justifiable gore instead).

 

Clearly you're forgetting the enemies with plot immunity. This is Ravenloft, remember? Ravenloft villains stop being scary the moment they roll to attack and miss. Or when the PCs can do anything at all to touch them. See what good all that gear does you when you face the villain without the MacGuffin you need, fool!

I'd be far more annoyed if the DM gave his NPC's script immunity than if they let or have them die. Sometimes things need to happen in a game to advance the game or to present challenges (such as the NPC ranger dies so that you can have the PC's use thier skills to shine. As for changing things against the players expectations, I have no problem with a DM doing that to me. If I know everything that was going on I would become bored. The funny thing is people I have heard say this very thing have no problem doing the same to the GM. I had i player who instisted on being a teifling (even though I was clear there were no such known things. Told him it was a bad idea, but he insisted. So he turns up through a magical portal...... and the party kicked the crap out of this deamon spawn. I am however very clear that my games contain puzzles and twists and if that is a problem then the players should find a more linier game.

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:

 

Me, as a DM, I have seen the very possibility I describe happen countless times - from a character fighting a monster that was supposed to be obviously too powerful to fight because the player didn't understand the numerous indicators of such (oh, a dozen dead soldiers that it is looting/eating? It must have just found them this way since it isn't injured at all) to a character going exactly where literally every NPC he talked to warned him not to because the player mistook the warnings for adventure hooks... which I guess they kind of would be, if he were high enough level (if we go there an ancient red dragon will eat us, you say? sounds like my kind of day trip!), to the most common of a character suffering the consequences of their player not actually specifying what they are doing (okay, we made it to the river... now we cross it! Swim check? Why do I need to do that, I'm not swimming. No, that's not what I meant by we cross the river.)

 

 

 

Ah yes!

 

The old... "If the DM put it there he meant for us to kill it."

 

Has led to many a funny (if tragic) moment in D&D games... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean, really... I saw a player once drink from a radioactive river because he must have thought "Hey, if the DM put a green glowing river there he must mean for me to drink from it. Something cool will happen!"

Rastapopoulos wrote:

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:

 

Me, as a DM, I have seen the very possibility I describe happen countless times - from a character fighting a monster that was supposed to be obviously too powerful to fight because the player didn't understand the numerous indicators of such (oh, a dozen dead soldiers that it is looting/eating? It must have just found them this way since it isn't injured at all) to a character going exactly where literally every NPC he talked to warned him not to because the player mistook the warnings for adventure hooks... which I guess they kind of would be, if he were high enough level (if we go there an ancient red dragon will eat us, you say? sounds like my kind of day trip!), to the most common of a character suffering the consequences of their player not actually specifying what they are doing (okay, we made it to the river... now we cross it! Swim check? Why do I need to do that, I'm not swimming. No, that's not what I meant by we cross the river.)

 

 

 

 

Ah yes!

 

The old... "If the DM put it there he meant for us to kill it."

 

Has led to many a funny (if tragic) moment in D&D games... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean, really... I saw a player once drink from a radioactive river because he must have thought "Hey, if the DM put a green glowing river there he must mean for me to drink from it. Something cool will happen!"

Indeed.  Why else would someone attack such a foul beast as a gazebo?

Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging. Roll dice, not cars.

Rastapopoulos wrote:

Sorry, mate, but NPCs are the province of DMs.

My expectation, when I buy into a game, is that NPCs are just like PCs who happen to be controlled by the DM. As such, the DM is expected to play the NPC as true to the character as possible. You can't just say that something happens, without the NPC having a chance to react.

The metagame is not the game.

If a DM sprung a trip into Ravenloft on me after I'd already joined a game, without listing it as a possibility beforehand, I'd leave the table.  I'm not a fan of Ravenloft in the first place, so it's got to be a good pitch to get me interested.  To just spring it on me after the game started?   **** No!

 

*shudder*  Ravenloft's got too much of that DM vs. Players mentality of the old school dungeon crawls.  It's not so much a campaign setting as a Trap taken to all the extremes DnD magic can produce, and I'm just not interested in that.

Saelorn wrote:

 

Rastapopoulos wrote:

Sorry, mate, but NPCs are the province of DMs.

 

My expectation, when I buy into a game, is that NPCs are just like PCs who happen to be controlled by the DM. As such, the DM is expected to play the NPC as true to the character as possible. You can't just say that something happens, without the NPC having a chance to react.

 

Ok, fine.  There'll be the clatter of dice rolling behind the screen & I'll sqint at the index card some.  Will that please you?

THEN the NPC will suffer whatever fate I'd already chosen.

Sometimes they'll die horrible deaths.  Sometimes they'll live.  Sometimes I'll even apply the dice results to the NPC fairly (happens alot if I don't have anthing specific planned for them)....

 

But that NPC?  Whatever form it takes - be it a bar keep, a quest giving uber-wizard, random orc #23400, your familiar, your loyal & trusted cohort you gained with the leadership feat, your intelligent sword you spent a dragons hoard making/buying, etc etc etc?

In the end it's MINE. 

 

In games I run: You, the player, control exactly 1 character at any given time.  That's the one represented by your Str/Dex/Con/Int/Wis/Char. scores.

Anyone/anything else?  Ultimately I control it.  Yes, even though many times I abdicate & let you roll the dice for it.....  

CCS wrote:
Ok, fine.  There'll be the clatter of dice rolling behind the screen & I'll sqint at the index card some.  Will that please you?

THEN the NPC will suffer whatever fate I'd already chosen.

I'm not terribly insightful, so you can probably fool me if you tried. If I suspect that you're not being honest about the rolls, or not playing the NPC as honestly as anyone else is playing their characters, then that's going to hurt the experience for me. The DM is supposed to be neutral.

The metagame is not the game.

Negotiation is one of those tools that can be undesirable. For me, most of the time it's worth taking the risk of getting it wrong. I said as much in the other thread:

 

I think it lacks subtlety and gives my story away too much and I don't like the idea of players forming an expectation that I will always ask. Those are the weaknesses of that specific strategy and I prefer to use more subtle methods that keep my story as secret as is practical and don't form player expectations along those lines, like not using potentially disruptive story elements unless I'm sure the player in question is going to do something interesting with it. That strategy might lead someone to never using those story elements if they never end up knowing their players that well, like in a random game on the internet so I can see why someone might just come out and ask in that situation.

I must say the module specifically take PCs from elsewhere and brings them "unexpectly" into Ravenloft. If i had advertise the module everyone would have known it was Ravenloft, wich would have gone against the whole plot twist surprise. Its not my style to pull those twist on players, but in this specific one shot session (which ended up taking 3), i though it was legitimate to not be fully transparent upfront as i usually am and only one player expressed a displeasure, others seemed to have enjoyed the adventure. But it was definitly a case where negociation and transparency would have helped things out. Sorry again for that bro.

 

iserith wrote:
Plaguescarred played in one of my games. He drove an elemental speedboat into a storefront. It was awesome.
Oh yeah that was awesome, because prior to crashing the elemental boat, i charge an enemy on top of a bridge, bullrushed him overboard, and then jumped on the elemental boat as it was going under the bridge to catch the BBEG before he would run away with an important suitecase we needed to recuperate! I landed in the boat driving a punch in the enemy's face, this felt high heroic action big times! #007

 

Good Rolls + DM can really make great sessions and make high- octane actions!   

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

Most of these arguments have a basis in rules and what the player or DM thinks is appropriate. So the first discussion the table can have is how rules disputes will be resolved without interupting play at the table. After that the biggest component to any story is giving a chance for the players or characters to react. They may not influence where the DM plans to story to go, but at least they feel included. That leads to the concept of DM fiat or player entitlement, and at a table with everyone playing togeher it is pretty easy to detect either and adjust. But if you are playing a virtual game, you have to tread lightly. Just like these forums, in a virutal game I can almost gaurantee you will misread someones intent.

Saelorn wrote:

 

Rastapopoulos wrote:

Sorry, mate, but NPCs are the province of DMs.

 

My expectation, when I buy into a game, is that NPCs are just like PCs who happen to be controlled by the DM. As such, the DM is expected to play the NPC as true to the character as possible. You can't just say that something happens, without the NPC having a chance to react.

 

There is no way I am going to roll checks for the majority of NPC actions unless those actions directly involve the PCs. If the town guard is fighting a hill giant that is attacking the town, I will describe what is going on. Now if the PCs went over and got involved, then I'd break out the stat sheets for both sides and run a combat. Some instances might involve NPC rolls, for example if they hired someone to do a task for them. But again, that's only because the NPC is involved with the PCs now, even if they aren't physically present. Sometimes, in the case of say rolling for interactions with a merchant the PCs will be expected to deal with repeatedly, I might simply replace some of his social interaction rolls with static DCs. It can occasionally be preferable to have "trying to bluff Alhazar at Alhazar's Alchemy and Sundries" be a task with a constant difficulty.

 

If I want a nearby NPC to fall off a bridge as a plot point, they are going to fall off a bridge. PCs can deal with that how they want, but if I want it to happen and there is no way the actions of the PCs are logically affecting that event, it takes place. I do not roll an acrobatics check. Now, if for whatever reason the PCs decided everyone should tie a rope to each other before crossing a treacherous brdige, the NPC in question will probably still stumble and fall but the rope will easily catch them. Just because I may have wanted him to die at that point doesn't really give me a right to torpedo player actions when they can be reasonably expected to have thwarted the problem.

iserith wrote:
Holding out for that surprise to work is a risk, that's for sure. It might pay off, it might not. As a rule, I try not to risk other people's fun. Approaches like negotiating stakes or asking for buy-in are ways to mitigate that risk.
That is a very good point.

 

iserith wrote:

There's also the very common phenomenon of the DM blocking player ideas and actions (or banning fun game mechanics) to preserve the surprise. That can be very frustrating.
You are right about that - I constantly forget about such things which a DM might do, but I do not, because I am constantly DMing and almost never actually playing.

 

Though I guess I really shouldn't have spaced out that a DM would block certain things to maintain part of the campaign plan, as I have had to block players from investing time and energy in selecting equipment to start with for campaigns in which the PCs begin as slaves, prisoners, ship wreck victims, and the like.

 

iserith wrote:
I don't think there's any reason to believe that must be what happens.
I am more talking about the phenomenon known to most as "meta-gaming" - I see my players constantly struggling to not use any knowledge that they have which their character doesn't to their benefit, and I sometimes see them either unintentionally fail to keep the separation of knowledge intact, and more often than that I see them do something in-character as an overcompensations (like deciding to have their character fall in love with the NPC they realize out of character is actually their enemy in disguise, but they wanted to make sure that they weren't treating the NPC with undue suspicion and thus be meta-gaming).

 

I prefer to keep my players' minds clear of anything that they couldn't know in character, so as to prevent the struggle and overcompensation situations because neither actually make the game more fun for anyone, and both can sometimes detract from the fun - instead, I help the players to find ways to make their out-of-character knowledge into in-character knowledge.

 

 

iserith wrote:
You give up the mists-gotcha. There'll be more surprises to come that arise from just playing.
Ravenloft, in my experience, just doesn't manage to have the right tone to it without the "mists-gotcha" - even having a campaign which is starting within, and staying within, Ravenloft turns out with a more appropriate theme (again, in my experience) if you act as if you are not running a Ravenloft campaign (you cover the "you are starting out in a small village that is struggling under the weight of their oppressive and overtaxing local lord," type of elements, but leave out anything that says the location is in Ravenloft rather than any other setting until play starts.

 

iserith wrote:
Clearly you're forgetting the enemies with plot immunity. This is Ravenloft, remember? Ravenloft villains stop being scary the moment they roll to attack and miss. Or when the PCs can do anything at all to touch them. See what good all that gear does you when you face the villain without the MacGuffin you need, fool!

No, I am not forgetting about the big-bads having MacGuffin only defeat policies - I am talking about players loading out their characters in such a way that the little-bads are no longer "scary" and thus I am forced to either accept the campaign as not "scary" or have the PCs facing off against the local big-bads as the climax of every single adventure in order to invovle anything "scary" - and players don't stay "scared" long when their character is in a "3 down, 9 to go," kind of mindset while smashing through the nastiest adversaries the Domain (of Overly Exaggerated Levels) of Dread has to offer.

 

I much prefer being able to have a horde of zombies rising from a graveyard at night be the objective of a Ravenloft adventure, rather than it have to be the opening scene to an adventure about destroying Strahd (since most other vampires are nowhere near as "we've got Van Richten's suggest vampire slaying kit" proof).

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

kadim wrote:
For me, most of the time it's worth taking the risk of getting it wrong. 

 

That's fair enough.

 

kadim wrote:
I think it lacks subtlety and gives my story away too much

 

It's not the DM's story though unless your game is pure participationism. If you mean plot, that's different and would make more sense. Plot-based design has something of a major pitfall though in my view. It's summed up nicely with this line from this blog: "Plot-based design... is like handing the players a map on which a specific route has been marked with invisible ink… and then requiring them to follow that invisible path."

 

Yeah, I don't do plot-based adventures anymore. I create situations unfolding in locations based upon player goals. Like a dungeon... with a dragon in it... that the characters want to kill and rob.

 

kadim wrote:
and I don't like the idea of players forming an expectation that I will always ask.

 

I like players to have the expectation that I care enough about their fun to ask them periodically about it. I do the same for my regular players and complete strangers both.

 

kadim wrote:
Those are the weaknesses of that specific strategy

 

Have you seen this specific strategy in play or used it yourself? Or are you just making stuff up based on what you assume? Because I've had to fend off lots of assumptions over the last couple days. I realize that's kind of the internet's thing, but still. You're welcome to come sit in one of my online games to check it out.

 

On the matter of surprises, it's easy to surprise the characters with the help of the players who are bought into the surprise they've been told about. (That thought will melt the brains of the anti-metagaming crowd for sure though.) What's more, studies have shown that spoilers actually enhance enjoyment. 

 

I'll give you this though: The likelihood of a planned surprise being used in this method is low. It can be done, but one rarely needs to rely on those kinds of canned surprises in this approach because surprises happen all the time. It's a natural outcome of 6 people collaborating and improvising and dice taking things in new directions. Even as DM, I'm surprised all the time. It's just a matter of letting the collaboration and the game create the story as you play instead of trying to control it.

 

kadim wrote:
and I prefer to use more subtle methods that keep my story as secret as is practical and don't form player expectations along those lines, like not using potentially disruptive story elements unless I'm sure the player in question is going to do something interesting with it. That strategy might lead someone to never using those story elements if they never end up knowing their

players that well, like in a random game on the internet so I can see why someone might just come out and ask in that situation.

 

I use every story element I can. If I'm not sure if it will be fun, I ask. Seems obvious to me. 

Saelorn wrote:

 

Rastapopoulos wrote:

Sorry, mate, but NPCs are the province of DMs.

 

My expectation, when I buy into a game, is that NPCs are just like PCs who happen to be controlled by the DM. As such, the DM is expected to play the NPC as true to the character as possible. You can't just say that something happens, without the NPC having a chance to react.

 

Who says the NPC didn't react?  The DM can rule any action an auto success or failure.  He can even roll ahead of time for his NPCs and just describe the situation.  What happened here was that the DM said that the PCs couldn't do anything to save the NPC. 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
You are right about that - I constantly forget about such things which a DM might do, but I do not, because I am constantly DMing and almost never actually playing.

 

For a healthy dose of reality, I recommend jumping into pick-up groups on Roll20 or just asking to observe a few. You will see every pitfall in the book. You'll occasionally get a good game, too. Occasionally. TwitchTV or YouTube videos of game sessions are also good for that.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
Though I guess I really shouldn't have spaced out that a DM would block certain things to maintain part of the campaign plan, as I have had to block players from investing time and energy in selecting equipment to start with for campaigns in which the PCs begin as slaves, prisoners, ship wreck victims, and the like.

 

I don't know if I would call that a block though. Setting the groundwork for a premise-based scenario like that happens outside of play. Blocking happens inside of play when a player makes an offer and the DM denies it. Blocking in its simplest form is saying "No" or "Yes, but..." (prior to dice determining an outcome). It's about controlling the creation of new information. The term comes from improvisational acting.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
I am more talking about the phenomenon known to most as "meta-gaming" - I see my players constantly struggling to not use any knowledge that they have which their character doesn't to their benefit, and I sometimes see them either unintentionally fail to keep the separation of knowledge intact, and more often than that I see them do something in-character as an overcompensations (like deciding to have their character fall in love with the NPC they realize out of character is actually their enemy in disguise, but they wanted to make sure that they weren't treating the NPC with undue suspicion and thus be meta-gaming).

 

I prefer to keep my players' minds clear of anything that they couldn't know in character, so as to prevent the struggle and overcompensation situations because neither actually make the game more fun for anyone, and both can sometimes detract from the fun - instead, I help the players to find ways to make their out-of-character knowledge into in-character knowledge.

 

I don't do anything to keep the players from metagaming; in fact, I encourage it as long as the players are using it to make the game experience more fun for everyone. That's our agreement when we play. We use metagaming to keep the play more focused on things we enjoy doing.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
Ravenloft, in my experience, just doesn't manage to have the right tone to it without the "mists-gotcha" - even having a campaign which is starting within, and staying within, Ravenloft turns out with a more appropriate theme (again, in my experience) if you act as if you are not running a Ravenloft campaign (you cover the "you are starting out in a small village that is struggling under the weight of their oppressive and overtaxing local lord," type of elements, but leave out anything that says the location is in Ravenloft rather than any other setting until play starts.

 

I don't frankly know why the setting even exists. D&D does a poor job of horror and a pretty bad job of investigation/mystery adventures. Other games do it better, so I'll play those games if I want that kind of stuff. If I want fantasy action/adventure, I'll play D&D. When I run Ravenloft adventures, I do it in a way that highlights the hilarious tropes that come with that setting - the canned plot, the untouchable NPCs, the events outside of the PCs' control until DM says so, the thinly-veiled references to old horror flicks or books, etc. Strahd is about as scary as Count Chocula.

 

AaronOfBarbaria wrote:
No, I am not forgetting about the big-bads having MacGuffin only defeat policies - I am talking about players loading out their characters in such a way that the little-bads are no longer "scary" and thus I am forced to either accept the campaign as not "scary" or have the PCs facing off against the local big-bads as the climax of every single adventure in order to invovle anything "scary" - and players don't stay "scared" long when their character is in a "3 down, 9 to go," kind of mindset while smashing through the nastiest adversaries the Domain (of Overly Exaggerated Levels) of Dread has to offer.

 

I much prefer being able to have a horde of zombies rising from a graveyard at night be the objective of a Ravenloft adventure, rather than it have to be the opening scene to an adventure about destroying Strahd (since most other vampires are nowhere near as "we've got Van Richten's suggest vampire slaying kit" proof).

 

Ravenloft, in my opinion is not scary. It doesn't even try to be. If it is trying, it fails in my view and part of that is because D&D mechanics are lame for supporting horror-themed play. If players are really bought into wanting to be scared though, they'll be scared, just like how you sometimes have to really buy into horror movies to be scared by them. Ravenloft, I find, is too heavy a lift. Now, something like Dread RPG, sure, that can be tense and scary a lot more readily than D&D can.

Saelorn wrote:

 

CCS wrote:
Ok, fine.  There'll be the clatter of dice rolling behind the screen & I'll sqint at the index card some.  Will that please you?

THEN the NPC will suffer whatever fate I'd already chosen.

I'm not terribly insightful, so you can probably fool me if you tried. If I suspect that you're not being honest about the rolls, or not playing the NPC as honestly as anyone else is playing their characters, then that's going to hurt the experience for me. The DM is supposed to be neutral.

 

The DM is supposed to be neutral with respect to the PCs.  The game world exists at the DMs desires to tell the story and interract with the PCs.  There is no expectation of neutrality built into the game that says DMs have to be neutral with respect to the world he controls.  If you have that expectation, that expectation is something that you came up with on your own.

Interesting topic.

 

I think especially for a long campaign the DM should lay down the ground rules for the campaign.  I'm not sure I buy into negotiation in the sense that the Players get the DM to change his compaign significantly.  But a player should not go in blind and should understand basically how the world works.   I think that is necessary because the characters know how the world works at least generally.   Instead of negotiation, I might say that if some players suggested an idea in between campaigns, I might run with it.   

 

For once I agree with Iserith on plots and railroading.  My NPCs are plotters.  They have plans.  The world is a happening place.  The PCs choose to interfere how they wish.  Sometimes that means my NPCs carry their plots out successfully and other times they do not.   I often roll for a NPC to succeed or failed based on the odds of success when the PCs choose a totally different path.   To me the very best feeling I can get as a player when playing D&D is that the world is alive and moving around me.  As a DM I try hard to foster that feel.

 

To use an analogy.  My campaign setting is like an amusement park.  There are many rides to choose from.  They are all running and over time they come and go.  They all hopefully seem enticing.  Players though will choose what appeals to them and run with it.  I'm anti-railroad.  I am not though anti a connected quest if that is the path the players choose to go down.  

 

 

 

 

Emerikol wrote:
For once I agree with Iserith on plots and railroading.

 

Simulationists and narrativists agree on a few things and one of those things is that the game cannot have a preset plot or story because that impinges upon the players' ability to make free choices which is necessary to the agenda's particular form of exploration.

Plaguescarred wrote:
I must say the module specifically take PCs from elsewhere and brings them "unexpectly" into Ravenloft. If i had advertise the module everyone would have known it was Ravenloft, wich would have gone against the whole plot twist surprise. Its not my style to pull those twist on players, but in this specific one shot session (which ended up taking 3), i though it was legitimate to not be fully transparent upfront as i usually am and only one player expressed a displeasure, others seemed to have enjoyed the adventure. But it was definitly a case where negociation and transparency would have helped things out. Sorry again for that bro.

The occasional plot twist, while it may upset the players at the time, is integral when playing with a group for a long time. There is a balance between the regularity and severity, that one must consider when doing so. I don't think what you did should have been too much of a problem, since it's for a single adventure.

 

I ran Legend of the Five Rings for years, and things were getting a bit repetitive. I had an idea for a mini-campaign, but I didn't tell the players any details. I just told them to make whatever type of character they wanted. When the game began, I informed them thet they were all Ronin, rather than the Clan Samurai they thought they were. The howls of protest began immediatly, and it took about an hour or so before we actually started the game. While every single player was furious at the twist, in the end it was one of my better campaigns.

Plaguescarred wrote:
Oh yeah that was awesome, because prior to crashing the elemental boat, i charge an enemy on top of a bridge, bullrushed him overboard, and then jumped on the elemental boat as it was going under the bridge to catch the BBEG before he would run away with an important suitecase we needed to recuperate! I landed in the boat driving a punch in the enemy's face, this felt high heroic action big times! #007

 

Good Rolls + DM can really make great sessions and make high- octane actions!   

 

Somewhat relevant sidenote here: That adventure I prepared and ran for you guys, Gnomefinger, was definitely plot-based, though it was on the cusp of me learning how to build leaner premise-based scenarios with more improvisation. It was 2011, and around that time I realized that the traditional mode wasn't working for me anymore so I was experimenting a lot (though I could probably trace that experimentation back to 2009). Dungeon World was really what spurred the final change. Fast forward to present and it's all premise-based locations and improv with lots of player narrative control.

It's less prep for me and more player engagement. Anyway, you punching Baron Helmet Von Kelprot into the drink was awesome as was everything that followed.

 

I wanted to quote a post that Centauri made on another site with regard to buy-in. I think he sums up what this term means really well:

 

Centauri wrote:
The term "buy-in" is seeing more and more use, but I feel like it's being misunderstood.

 

Take your favorite fantasy or science-fiction movie. Think of the coolest parts of it. Now think of arguments you've read on the Internet about how those parts of the movie (or the whole movie) are completely ridiculous: contrived, fake, redundant, nonsensical. Imagine the arguments you have that shoot down every one of those objections.

 

One popular one is The Lord of the Rings and the "Why didn't they just have the Eagles fly the Ring to Mount Doom and drop it in?" One group thinks it's a glaring hole in the story: even taking into account that such a plan, if successful, would have made for a less epic story, the idea was never even floated by the characters, almost as if that option had slipped the minds of the author (and director) entirely.

 

Another group can come up with dozens and dozens of in-story reasons why such a plan couldn't work and was probably dismissed out-of-hand.

 

The latter group is exhibiting "buy-in." They have a strong personal interest in seeing the story make sense, and be cool, and they are willing to go to great lengths to rationalize apparent oddness or inconsistency. This is common fan behavior.

 

The former group is not "bought in." They don't care if the story is cool and they don't care about the explanations people provide. They might still like the story, but on some level they're removed from it and don't take it very seriously. They are primed to be more critical of other aspects of the story.

 

In short, if you're "bought in" to something, you want it to work and you try to help make it work, first by making it work for you, and then by showing others how it can work for them. If you're not "bought in" to something, it has to work entirely on its own merits without any support or benefit from you.

 

You can see this in roleplaying games. Dragons and faster-than-light travel are impossibilities, yet when they are key aspects of the game we want to play we are bought into their existence and we can easily spout off how they are able to exist, or at least agree that they "need" to exist and stop poking at the issue.

 

Then there's some other aspect of the game that we're NOT bought into, even if it's "allowed by the rules." Monks and psionics in our European fantasy world. Characters that can heal themselves without a spellcaster. Aliens that can reproduce with humans. The fact that some item or technology COULD be used in a way that would introduce sweeping changes to a world yet somehow our character is the first.

 

Whatever it is, we don't look for reasons why that thing is true and makes sense, we demand others to give us an unassailable reason why it is true and makes sense. Since we're dealing with fiction rather than reality, there probably isn't a reason a reason that no one could come up with a valid argument against (remember those Internet arguments about your favorite movie), which means the game is at an impasse. If we were bought in, and had a vested interest in those things being true we might not need any reason at all, but our threshold for what makes a "good" answer would certainly be lower.

 

That's where some of us are coming with buy-in: using our creativity to make things work, rather than keep them from working. That's very powerful - anything can work, if there's buy-in - and that's the reason why it's so important to obtain it.

I feel like my point might have been misrepresented, so I will summarize and reiterate it here:

 

D&D is a cooperative storytelling game. There is no negociation. I highly encourage open communication between the players, each other, and me the DM. I encourage this both IN and OUT of session. I will rarely ignore a player's input. In fact, I frequently use player input to drive the story or to inspire me in my adventure writing.

 

But when we're at the table, the DM is the final arbiter of the rules. And as such, the decisions a DM makes are final. There's no negotiation involved. If a player dislikes a ruling of mine, that's too bad. That's not to say my ruling was inherently right or wrong. I'll fully admit this upfront: I've made bad calls before. It happens to the best DMs from time to time. But the players must have faith in the DM. They must trust that the DM will ultimately craft a fun and engaging game for them. And I just don't think there's much room at the table to stop play and argue about things. Make a decision and keep playing. There is no pause button (except for bio-breaks) and there is no rewind button in the story.

 

I like to joke that players can defeat the toughest monster you throw them up against....but put a single wooden door, unlocked and untrapped, in their way, and they can spend 15 minutes discussing the best strategy for bypassing the door.

 

If my players do this during combat, I have a useful tool to get them back on track. While the players are going on and on about how to best ambush 3 kobolds, I hold my hands up and begin counting down from 10. At 0, the enemies get a free action, possibly skipping the players' turn. I don't do this to punish them, I do it to encourage them to keep the flow going and to not get bogged down with over analyzing the details of every encounter. To me, this is a good example of doing something the players might not necessarily like for the sake of keeping the flow of the game running smoothly. (and after experiencing this a couple times, my players usually see me and go "oh no, he's counting! We better pick our actions." Working as intended.)

 

So to me, it all comes down to trust. The players must trust the DM to be fair and facilitate a fun game. The DM must trust that the players won't meta-game or cheat on dice rolls. Occasionally, I'll get an immature player at the table that can't handle this. If things don't go their way, they complain about it. Or instead of laughing off a miserable streak of bad rolls, they take it personally and get frustrated and take it out on everyone else. In that particular situation, there's no problem with trust or communication. You just have a bad player (or possibly a good player having a bad day). 

Please introduce yourself to the new D&D 5e forums in this very friendly thread started by Pukunui!

 

Make 5e Saving Throws better using Ramzour's Six Ability Save System!

 

Lost Mine of Phandelver: || Problems and Ideas with the adventure ||  Finding the Ghost of Neverwinter Wood ||

Giving classes iconic abilities that don't break the game: Ramzour's Class Defining Ability system.

Rules for a simple non-XP based leveling up system, using the Proficiency Bonus