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A question about DM-ing styles


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Is this guy running you through old-school, quasi old-school, or OSR modules? Because many of the modules from the late 70's, early 80's were MURDEROUS and there's a bit of a revival of that style gong on.


Actually, as far as I can tell, the DM is running a complete homebrew world with all original-ish adventures.


I read Buglips' posting and it seemed like he was there watching our game.... way over-developed world, NPCs doing things no PC could dream of, PC actions seem incapable of affecting the game world, every hamlet/town/city had the same characters who seemed to delight in being way smarter than the PCs....


Yeah, I had agonized over ending this relationship. We have played together with me as the DM for the past 4-5 years and I hate to see those good times come to an end....but for me, I guess the good times have taken a beating.


THANKS! for everyone who responded, I appreciate your points of view.

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I play old school D&D - because I'm old. Thus, the game is supposed to be a challenge, and all encounters are potentially lethal - but, that isn't to say impossible. This type of gaming requires the players to think - tactically and strategically. Stupid mistakes will almost always get you killed and one has to understand the Golden Rule that sometimes the best way to deal with an encounter is to run away from it. I've found that the "story telling" type of games where there are no serious threats to a PC to be very unsatisfying.


The Egg

Edited by Egg of Coot
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Dude that sucks about your dm.


Afew nights ago I got back into the dm seat and with in 10 mins my girlfriend walked out the house in tears. Worst game ever.


Me and a buddy play a "dream" campaign on the side of our normal campaign (who has another dm) I dm and play my char and he plays his. It works out fine. My girl decided she wanted to play in this game (plays the normal campaign). We had been drinking, first mistake. She enters and I start a polite conversation with my char asking her name where she's from etc she said she was a Druid and this is her pet wolf pup nabob. I thought that was fine. I asked if she wanted to continue into the dungeon with us and she said no... Next minute old buddy of mine char grabs the dog and drags it into the dungeon and rolls a 20. I should of some how stopped it there. But I thought maybe that would encourage her to follow. She whistled to call the dog back and rolled the dice..2. Sigh I say the dog escapes his grasp with the sound of its master (i thought no roll needed) My friend was not impressed he argued he rolled a 20 and she rolled a 2. My character is making remarks on which way the party should go. "Buddy" then attacks the escaping dog with a daily power and before I know it, is rolling the dice .. 16 +12 and says something horrible about doing something with the dogs skull.. Something unpleasant.. That was the final straw. She got up and left .


.. I look at him "wtf dude ?" Thankfully his girl was at the front door coming in and intervened chatted with her and all was well. Turned on a snowboarding movie and we were friends again and that's how my gf never played dnd again..

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The biggest problem I have experienced with DM's is the power-player-turned-GM. That is to say, a friend of mine is the min-max king. When he DM's, his entire monster groups are min-maxed, and he (by default) expects us to also min-max our characters (as opposed to taking skills/abilities for story development).


This leads to TPK, and is generally no fun (unless you're my rogue, and successfully escape with the hot halfling mage...).


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Buglips's comments are spot on, especially about conservation of effort.


A few tricks I like to use:


1) Foreshadowing is great. But you don't necessarily need to know exactly what it is that you're foreshadowing when it happens. If there's a mysterious cloaked stranger in town in the first episode, it might be Aragorn, or Saruman, or Jack the Ripper, or the king in disguise. And you don't have to decide which until you have a reason to make him a focus NPC. We're not working with a 105 minute movie here. Sometimes Chekov's gun can stay on the mantelpiece for a very long time.


2) I absolutely agree about NPC reactions. It costs nothing for the wife of the peasant that your party rescued at level one to come back a few levels later and publicly thank the party as they walk down the street. Or for the people in the village they rescued from the horrible orc invasion to make sure they never have to pay for drinks in that town again. Or for the baron to mention that he heard about their heroism and support the group when they're falsely accused by nasty enemies five levels later.


3) If you want the PCs to hang out on the edge, it can be useful to set up climactic encounters so that enemy reinforcements arrive after the start of the fight. If the PCs are waltzing through the encounter you thought might be really challenging, the second wave can be a useful corrective. And if the party is close to death, it's not actually necessary for that second wave to arrive at all. Whatever you do, though, don't start with overwhelming NPC forces and then send in a rescue force that is clearly superior to the PCs. That devalues the contributions of the protagonists of the piece and isn't fun for anyone.


4) Exception to 3: If you've previously established that it isn't the PCs' job to beat the bad guys but rather to delay them just long enough for the cavalry to arrive, it won't feel like they're being rescued, but rather that they've achieved a great victory. McPherson's Ridge is a fine heroic scenario, but it has to be foreshadowed or it will feel cheap.


5) You don't need to map out every peasant's house, or tavern, or cathedral. You've probably seen houses and taverns and cathedrals, at least in movies, so just make it up. If you're going to use the place later, take notes of what you said, but when you're narrating, it really doesn't matter whether the inn has two or three private dining rooms or that the stables in the courtyard has a bed in the tack room for the ostler.


6) While you're making up details, make up smells and sounds and feels. The drip of water off the Spanish Moss, the smell of decaying vegetation, and the air so thick that it's work to breathe as the PCs track the serpent folk through the swamp will be more memorable than any extensive boxed text. You've been (or again, seen in movies) lots of places. Use what you've seen to add verisimilitude and depth. Small details can evoke a complex set of reactions in players.


7) For most groups and games, it's not worth the effort to track coppers or ounces of encumbrance. Hand wave the tedious stuff. Sure, if every coin has been stolen, it can be interesting to have the PCs scrambling for a while, but when they're flush, you can assume that they have enough pocket change to handle the odd round of drinks. Leave the minute accounting to times when you're being paid to do accounting. It's not an interesting hobby for most players.

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The last one is interesting I found in my group they asked for a round of drinks I replied 5 gp they then did a history check on what is the normal rate because it sound expensive I replied 2 gold pieces a very interesting story arc was made finding why the beer was so expensive!


Great points Doug. This thread is nothing but helpful !

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While,I seldom Dm, I love world building, and have one on the go, that I would love to one day run a game or two in. I have lots of details on things, maps and the like, but the players don't need to know half of it. Don't bog them down with details. if the player asks, give them the answer, if it is something their character should know, but the player doesn't, tell them "krognar, being a dwarf, recognizes the shape of these buildings, as having been laid out in a way reminscent of his people" works. it gives a little bi of depth to the world, but let's things carry on as they go.

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Playing against the players works in a few formats, but in general is a bad idea, I really dont want any PCs to die in a game. I have found that character death is a real pain in the elf for both the players and the GM. It eats up a lot of game time to either wait for players to generate new characters or resurrect a character who was killed. It can also derail an entire champaign if the character who died was important to the story, or had an item that was important when they were eaten by a dragon. Now when it comes to NPCs I pretty much send them to the meat grinder. I see that as just getting them out of the way, so the game can center on the player characters. NPCs are like security officers on Star Trek.

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I play old school D&D - because I'm old. Thus, the game is supposed to be a challenge, and all encounters are potentially lethal - but, that isn't to say impossible. This type of gaming requires the players to think - tactically and strategically. Stupid mistakes will almost always get you killed and one has to understand the Golden Rule that sometimes the best best way to with an encounter is to run away from it. I've found that the "story telling" type of games where there are no serious threats to a PC to be very unsatisfying.


The Egg



The best campaign is both. I'm big on story, but I also get comments like "sometimes I think Buglips forgets we're only level one".


*pfft* If you can't handle some giant man-eating spiders you should have been a farmer.


Story is what makes it roleplaying. Challenge and random chance is what makes it a game.

Edited by buglips*the*goblin
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Okay, I'll chime in with some of my own experiences, both as a GM of two different campaigns (1 of which failed miserably), and as a player in a very well-run campaign.


I'd been playing in various campaigns for a few years, most of them very well-run, and thought I could handle running my own campaign. I picked up the first module in the Kingmaker story, thinking that it would be easier for me to start with a framework. This was my first mistake, though I didn't figure that out until much much later. Me, the module, and the players just weren't compatible, and they kept doing things that the module simply didn't cover/address, leaving me scrambling to explain things or redact something I'd said earlier because it ended up conflicting with something later on in the module. The second thing that went wrong was, out of the 4 players, 2 played as Chaotic Neutral (though their character sheets said otherwise), 1 player didn't speak up much, and 1 (my husband) just wanted everyone to have a good time.


I wasn't familiar with the world, since I didn't build it, and the NPCs were, for the most part, fairly two-dimensional. I didn't have the experience to reign in the two CN players while encouraging the shyer player, and had difficulty adapting to the fact that Players Do Weird And Unexpected Things. I had the best of intentions, I tried to make it fun for people, but I ended up drained, frustrated, and occasionally in tears afterwards. I'd like to think everyone had fun, but I certainly didn't, and I think it started showing toward the end.


My second attempt at GMing (over Skype) went up in flames because the (different group) players, a) found the module boring, and b) got tired of my inexperience (the death knell was when I heard someone playing Legend of Zelda in the background while I was talking :down: ); I'd decided to make my second try with a group of experienced players since I figured things would go more smoothly.


I haven't tried since.


However! I have been in a long-running campaign run by my husband that has taught me a lot about what a game SHOULD be (my personal bias aside, his campaign has all of the elements buglips mentioned). It's got action and danger and important NPCs that the group actually cares about, and a TPK because we were, frankly, stupid. Also, and most importantly, we're all heroes, especially to the village where we started out. The story has a long, overarching story, but it also has had several mini story arcs underneath it all. Stupid actions have consequences (if you put on a cursed mask, bad things will happen). If you choose to pick a fight with an ancient red dragon, you WILL get killed. Innovation gets rewarded, and doing nice things brings good consequences.


And above all, everybody is having fun. Including the GM. He knows all of the mysteries, the plotlines, the NPC backstories, and he gives us just enough to make some intelligent guesses, some of which turn out to be right (like how an NPC, which ended up joining our group, turned out to be a vampire. The group was fairly certain that she was, but we weren't entirely sure until she actually told us). He also gives us opportunities to be epic, and has actively woven elements of everyone's backstories into the game, which again goes to making it more real, and helping players care more about the exposition stuffs.


I guess what I'm trying to say in all my rambling is that buglips has it exactly right; those are the elements that make up a good story, and leads to everyone having fun, which is the real goal. :)



--OneBoot :D


P.S. - As a last note, in my personal experience, drinking and gaming do not go well together. The last (and only) group I was in that had alcohol involved, everyone but me and Husband (who was GMing) drank heavily. The campaign ended abruptly one night when something happened that one of the players didn't like (we'd killed a bunch of goblins, and one of them had some nice armor. I was the only Small character in the group, so I was the one who got it), leading him to swear at everyone, cuss me out rather extensively, and accuse my husband of cheating/favoritism (which was not the case; we'd been hired to clear a bunch of goblins out of a mine, so there were only goblins there). He then proceeded to burn his character sheet in front of us and stomp out of the room. :unsure:

Edited by OneBoot
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Holy cow Oneboot, that guy from your last story sounds awful!

There has only been one time I've left a gaming table in tears, and it was something that built-up for a long time. We were playing 3.5. and I was playing a Sorceress, everyone else was playing a melee or non-magic character.
This meant that during combat, when it was my turn the other players would shout spells at me and tell me that to cast because during their turn they didn't have any decisions past 'attack' or 'move.' It was frustrating, because I'd also spend time before sessions cooking and it felt like they just wanted me there for my food, not for my company or participation.
I talked with my players about it after that and it got better, we also started playing 4th ed. which was great because it meant that from then-on even people playing melee characters got nifty powers and abilities past 'I hit this with my weapon.'

One thing I love about D&D is the character and World building, I don't think I could enjoy a campaign where the DM was actively trying to kill my character, I've always found that the best DMs cater campaigns and sessions to the players' personalities and what they find enjoyable.

One of my friends DMs a lot of our games and he knows that some players in our game like strategy and knows that I like role-playing and character development, and hes always very happy to cater content to our preferences. It makes for very fun and in-depth play for all of us.

Edited by Cassu
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I think I'm getting a reputation among my players as a killer DM. There hasn't been an encounter yet this campaign in which at least one of them hasn't been knocked out. Last night, one of them even exclaimed "I think you want us to die!" I do have to keep reminding them that if I wanted them dead, they'd be dead, and thus far none of them have even come close to actually dying. Every encounter is a challenge, but not inappropriately so. Of course, this is a little concerning, given that all the encounters have been at the low end of level-appropriate, and there are some much more difficult encounters ahead.


Also, I might be guilty of Buglips' "overdeveloped world." I'm using a homebrew world of my own creation, and am actively and constantly fleshing out parts of it that may or may not ever be relevant to the players. In my defense, however, I just quietly write this stuff up and put it on the campaign wiki, where my players can look at it or not, as they see fit. I don't ever give them tons of exposition about anything, really, but least of all things that don't matter to them. In addition, I do focus on the things that are relevant to the PCs. I'm also pretty terrible at improv, though I'm getting better, so having lots of notes is very helpful to me, and I also just really enjoy worldbuilding.


My current dilemma is what sort of DM I want to be when the heroes decide to slit the throat of an unarmed, prostrate, and cooperative goblin.

Edited by Slendertroll
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Buglips makes me jealous. Only I am allowed to be insightful, incisive, and other clever pronouns beginning with "in" on this board. However, I can add a little to what he's said. However, first I will rattle on about how one does NOT gamemaster effectively.

1. I'm thinking of a guy I knew that I played under for a while. Eventually, no one would play in his world any more, which he found frustrating. Me? I quit because he'd beat the crap out of us mercilessly, and in a manner that felt unfair. Enemies and monsters ALWAYS made saving throws, critical hits against the PCs were many and vicious, treasure was skimpy and apt to vanish suddenly, and magic items were rarer than hen's teeth.

He felt we were being unfair. "What's the fun if you just get whatever you want without having to work and suffer for it a little?"

"Well, there is some truth to that. However, when the first party member to get a magic item is FIFTH LEVEL, and the item in question is a +1 dagger, and that's the only magic item in a hoard..."

"Hey, I rolled it on the treasure tables. That's what it came out. Don't blame me."

"Yes, but based on the averages, we should all be richer and more powerful by now. Yet, you tell us you're not fudging the treasure rolls. Or the monsters' saving throws. Or their critical hits. And over the past year, you've convinced all of us that you're a lying jerk, and that you think it's fun to kick us around, rather than for things to be fun for everyone."

"Aw, you people are just a bunch of whiners."

And so ended his campaign.

What did I learn? DM'ing is not fiat. Gaming is an interactive experience. It's give and take. It's input and output. Every so often, bad things happen; that is the nature of drama and dramatic tension. But if your players want to suffer greatly for small rewards, well, the real world is full of situations where they can do just that, and get paid in real money, too.

2. I'm thinking of a guy I knew that I played under for a while. He had this city all planned up and laid out, and the campaign happened in and around the city. This is good. However, the city had a political situation that we were supposed to get involved in, and it soon became clear that NOT becoming involved in the political situation was not an option. He'd paid good money for this game supplement, and simply picking pockets and hunting sewer monsters and raiding orc lairs in the nearby countryside was just not acceptable. No, our job was to gather the resistance, build a rebellion, and overthrow the despotic overlord in favor of a younger son of the King, putting him in charge and ushering in a new golden age for the populace!

The party thief in particular did not much care for this, being a neutral sort who was much more interested in picking pockets, cheating at dice, and working as backup in dungeon crawls. He couldn't have cared less about politics, and in particular was unclear on how experience points were to be gained for having spooky meetings in back rooms of inns; the DM never answered this particular question, making level ascension somewhat difficult. This was irrelevant to the DM, who had a plot wagon to drive, durnit, and get with the program if you want to play!

...and so the campaign ended, well before anyone even made fourth level. "Aw, you guys just can't handle political intrigue and real roleplaying."

What did I learn? Well, again, the DM is not fiat. There has to be give and take. And more importantly, as Buglips so aptly put it, "The world is just where they hang out." If I'm going to play a game, I am going to stick within the rules... but aside from that, I want to do WHAT I WANT TO DO, as opposed to simply being a character in someone else's story. If I want to read a script and have no free will, I'll go be in community theatre.

3. I'm thinking of a guy I knew that I played under for a while (yeah, we didn't have a lot of female gamemasters in my neck of the woods). He was much more relaxed about letting players do what they wanted to do, and the rewards for dungeon crawling were much more in line with what one would expect... but for one player.

He was VERY insistent that HE was going to do what HE wanted to do, and the party agenda suffered for it. If he wanted to go tavern hopping in town, well, the rest of the party could come with him, or they could wait for him to finish. The DM tried to steer things back to the whole group, but this player was something of a jerk about it, and would loudly complain that he was not being permitted freedom to play his character if he could not monopolize the DM for his own private little story. And, so the campaign ended, before anyone even made it to second level. "Aw, you guys are just repressing my ability to do what I want to do!"

What did I learn? That when a player is being a jerk, quash him. D&D is a group activity, and all it takes is one jerk to ruin everyone's game. Kick him the hell out and get on with the game. Admittedly, this is a bit harsh; one should strive for some consensus and compromise, and explain that monopolizing the game is not acceptable, but if the guy insists on being a jerk, treat him like one.

These are oversimplifications, but they are real incidents, and very much shaped my style of gamemastering. The players want to be heroes -- or at the very least, the stars of the show. Give them the opportunity. Make sure there are buckles to swash and chandeliers to swing from. True, the dragon may be smarter than the smartest guy in the party, but he's not omniscient, nor does he have knowledge of what the party may be planning.

If I want to fight and claw against my friends for every point, that's what Monopoly or Poker are for. RPGs are about being someone else in another world, and having crazy fun doing it. Make sure the opportunities are there for them to do so. Know what they want, and make sure they can do it and get it, perhaps with a little effort or risk.

And if you send them after pig livers, then, durnit, every pig had BETTER have a &%$#@ liver!

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