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Kendal
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The big takeaway should be it's really important to think about if you should be fudging dicerolls in an encounter and if you haven't thought about it you probably should. 

 

Incidentally, I don't get 'fixing' a fight if it didn't play out like you intended. If you are on track for an accidental TPK, you can just take the party prisoner (also, play a system where the encounter design guidelines help you not make that mistake). If the players are clowning on the fight, give them kudos! I've had the party totally slam dunk a boss into the ground before, and while I was like 'man, that was a damp squib of a fight' they were super pumped as their preparation and tactics paid off. 

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That's a troubling way to think, because it assumes knowledge. It assumes that the DM is running something as written in the books, which one should never assume. I don't think I've met a single DM that doesn't make changes to monsters or just create new ones entirely while slapping a familiar skin on them. Just because you run into an orc doesn't mean it's going to be that CR 1/2 orc that's been listed in the Monster Manual. It might be half-starved and suffering from exhaustion, so I adjust its stats and CR downward. Maybe those ogres that you fought just before the group you're fighting now were the weaklings of the tribe, and these guys are their real bruisers so even though they were described the same they're much tougher than the first set. Maybe that dryad isn't actually a dryad, but a living embodiment of the soul of the forest, something that's basically a demigod, and it only appears to be a dryad because it acts identically to them in almost everything it does.

 

If I throw a pack of wolves at the party and describe one of them as being larger than the others, maybe that big one is just the pack alpha and just like any other wolf in the pack, maybe it's a Worg, and maybe it's a werewolf in wolf form. Maybe the whole pack is werewolves in wolf form, and I'm using the less dangerous wolf attack stats for the majority of them because they're showing restraint and not trying to kill the party but rather trying to chase them away because they just want to be left alone. If the players don't run away after finding themselves unable to damage the wolves without magic, maybe they'll stop pulling their punches and suddenly start hitting on an 11 instead of a 13 because they're now using full werewolf stats. As a DM I'm perfectly allowed to do that. For a player to assume that they know exactly what the DM is throwing at them at all times is foolish, and to then suggest that the player call the DM a cheater because it turns out that it wasn't what the player expected is just wrong.

 

After all, what you hear as "white dragon" may in fact be "wight dragon." Sure, maybe the DM should have said "dragon wight" but that sort of ambiguity is exactly what's needed in a game where practically everyone knows "white dragon" means "prepare for cold spells." When suddenly that frost breath turns out to be acid because the dragon was originally a black dragon, and the dragon's claws start literally draining life from the fighter, it creates the sort of memorable encounter that becomes a group legend.(Story stolen from the Dragon Talk podcast)

 

 

Noooooooooope.  No way, no how, no.

 

In your werewolf example, you are straight up substituting monster stats mid-fight, and you're not even giving the PCs the courtesy of a werewolf transformation (which generally takes some time, whether you want to cite fiction or specific game rules) to make them aware that things are not what they thought or to indicate that something has gone awry.  Do you also refuse to state when the opposition is using Power Attack, Expertise, Fighting Defensively, or casting a spell?  With your white/wight dragon example, when the GM says "a white/wight dragon appears" do they just sit there and chortle when one of the PCs takes an action that's clearly rooted in a misunderstanding of what's going on?  "Hur hur hur, they're casting Protection from Cold."

 

I don't remember where, but I once read that the PCs view the world you've created as they would with a flashlight in the dark, possibly through a dirty window.  There's a lot of relevant information they're going to miss out on if they don't specifically think to ask (shine the flashlight) on it.  And a lot of this information should be given freely and unprompted by the GM, as it would be obvious to a person standing in the scene.  Similarly, a lot of actions that change game mechanical states have keywords or descriptions or something to indicate that something is happening.  You don't just say this guy quickly moves up to attack you, and I'm giving him a +2 to hit.  You say he charges and the players have a better sense of what is actually going on.  They now have a good mental picture of what happened, and they're not sitting there going, "How did he get that bonus?  I would like +2 on my attack; that would be a useful bonus to have. I should inquire about that."

 

Basically, don't try to obfuscate things to the players through use of wordplay, homonyms/homophones, or deliberate omission of relevant contextual information.  When in doubt, you should probably aim to err on the side of giving the PCs too much information.  There may be unreliable narrators in the game (stupid, mistaken, malevolent, whatever) but the GM shouldn't be one of them.

 

"How did we miss that thing?  We searched the room!  I rolled a Nat 20!"

"Ahh, you didn't say you were searching the chamberpot."

<_<

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That's a troubling way to think, because it assumes knowledge. It assumes that the DM is running something as written in the books, which one should never assume. I don't think I've met a single DM that doesn't make changes to monsters or just create new ones entirely while slapping a familiar skin on them. Just because you run into an orc doesn't mean it's going to be that CR 1/2 orc that's been listed in the Monster Manual. It might be half-starved and suffering from exhaustion, so I adjust its stats and CR downward. Maybe those ogres that you fought just before the group you're fighting now were the weaklings of the tribe, and these guys are their real bruisers so even though they were described the same they're much tougher than the first set. Maybe that dryad isn't actually a dryad, but a living embodiment of the soul of the forest, something that's basically a demigod, and it only appears to be a dryad because it acts identically to them in almost everything it does.

 

If I throw a pack of wolves at the party and describe one of them as being larger than the others, maybe that big one is just the pack alpha and just like any other wolf in the pack, maybe it's a Worg, and maybe it's a werewolf in wolf form. Maybe the whole pack is werewolves in wolf form, and I'm using the less dangerous wolf attack stats for the majority of them because they're showing restraint and not trying to kill the party but rather trying to chase them away because they just want to be left alone. If the players don't run away after finding themselves unable to damage the wolves without magic, maybe they'll stop pulling their punches and suddenly start hitting on an 11 instead of a 13 because they're now using full werewolf stats. As a DM I'm perfectly allowed to do that. For a player to assume that they know exactly what the DM is throwing at them at all times is foolish, and to then suggest that the player call the DM a cheater because it turns out that it wasn't what the player expected is just wrong.

 

After all, what you hear as "white dragon" may in fact be "wight dragon." Sure, maybe the DM should have said "dragon wight" but that sort of ambiguity is exactly what's needed in a game where practically everyone knows "white dragon" means "prepare for cold spells." When suddenly that frost breath turns out to be acid because the dragon was originally a black dragon, and the dragon's claws start literally draining life from the fighter, it creates the sort of memorable encounter that becomes a group legend.(Story stolen from the Dragon Talk podcast)

Noooooooooope. No way, no how, no.

 

In your werewolf example, you are straight up substituting monster stats mid-fight, and you're not even giving the PCs the courtesy of a werewolf transformation (which generally takes some time, whether you want to cite fiction or specific game rules) to make them aware that things are not what they thought or to indicate that something has gone awry. Do you also refuse to state when the opposition is using Power Attack, Expertise, Fighting Defensively, or casting a spell? With your white/wight dragon example, when the GM says "a white/wight dragon appears" do they just sit there and chortle when one of the PCs takes an action that's clearly rooted in a misunderstanding of what's going on? "Hur hur hur, they're casting Protection from Cold."

 

I don't remember where, but I once read that the PCs view the world you've created as they would with a flashlight in the dark, possibly through a dirty window. There's a lot of relevant information they're going to miss out on if they don't specifically think to ask (shine the flashlight) on it. And a lot of this information should be given freely and unprompted by the GM, as it would be obvious to a person standing in the scene. Similarly, a lot of actions that change game mechanical states have keywords or descriptions or something to indicate that something is happening. You don't just say this guy quickly moves up to attack you, and I'm giving him a +2 to hit. You say he charges and the players have a better sense of what is actually going on. They now have a good mental picture of what happened, and they're not sitting there going, "How did he get that bonus? I would like +2 on my attack; that would be a useful bonus to have. I should inquire about that."

 

Basically, don't try to obfuscate things to the players through use of wordplay, homonyms/homophones, or deliberate omission of relevant contextual information. When in doubt, you should probably aim to err on the side of giving the PCs too much information. There may be unreliable narrators in the game (stupid, mistaken, malevolent, whatever) but the GM shouldn't be one of them.

 

"How did we miss that thing? We searched the room! I rolled a Nat 20!"

"Ahh, you didn't say you were searching the chamberpot."

<_<

Werewolves, by the rules in 5e, use the same stat block in all forms, with the exception being replacing their bite/claw attacks with a weapon in human form. So there's literally no transformation required. If the players ignore the information they're given and run straight into a werewolf den that they're woefully outmatched in and I give them the opportunity to run by making the werewolves attacks weaker, but keeping their natural immunity to non-silver weapons in order to signify that these are most definitely not normal wolves, and the players still ignore that? Yea, I'll swap the werewolves attacks back to normal in order to really get the message across, because they're both obviously willing to throw their characters away and the werewolves aren't going keep holding back if you don't want to run away when they've already made it apparent that you're outmatched. I may say at the start that the wolves seem to be careful and measured in their attacks, like they're holding back, and then when I switch it up I may say that they're now attacking ferociously. It's not going to be an out of left field "oh, these wolves no suddenly grow to 8 feet tall, tear into you with the strength of a fire giant, and you suddenly can't even hit them, let alone damage them anymore" like you're implying.

 

And no, I don't tell my players "he's using power attack." They don't need to know that he's got that or that he's using it. They just need to know that his hits hurt, so I'll say that "he's swinging for the fences," which let's them know that his hits are going to hurt when they land but they may be being made recklessly. Same for spells. I'll say "he casts a spell and a bright explosion of colored light bursts from his hands" but I won't just come out and say "He's casts Color Spray" unless when I say he casts the spell someone decides to roll Arcana(or Religion for divine spells) to identify it and succeeds. Players don't need to know exactly what's being used against them, because unless their character knows, they shouldn't know. That's called metagaming, and that's frowned upon by just about everyone except the power gamers that get upset when the creature I describe as "a hulking, ogrish creature with two heads and what looks to be glistening blue scale mail" isn't actually an ettin wearing scale mail like they automatically assumed, but a half blue dragon ettin with class levels and a breath weapon that toasts him because he charged in like an idiot since he "knew it was an ettin and I could totally take an ettin. It's bull that it wasn't an ettin. You're a jerk and a terrible DM!" I actually had one of my players get mad at me last week when I flat out said "The priest casts Sanctuary" and then explained what Sanctuary does when another player asked. And it's because at our table we like having some ambiguity and mystery.

 

In the wight dragon example, if I remember correctly they had been actually told by an NPC that it was a wight dragon. They made the assumption of it being a white dragon, didn't ask any more questions, and started prepping for that. Then they got there, discovered that it was actually a black dragon wight, and had to try to escape a really ticked off undead dragon. And there's nothing wrong with that at all. From what I remember the guy telling the story said everyone in the party facepalmed and felt like idiots because they'd all assumed the same thing rather than trying to better research the situation.

 

So yea, we apparently have very different play styles. From what you've said you seem to want everything spelled out exactly as it is at all times, leaving no room for interpretation. I like to leave some things ambiguous so that players can actually be surprised.

 

I also like to know player's stats and will make rolls like perception for them at times, like when they're going through a part of a dungeon with traps, so I can pop in with either a "you step onto a plate in the floor and it sinks beneath your feet, roll a Dex save" or an "As you're walking through the corridor you notice that one of the tiles of the floor is offset a bit, sticking out from the rest." That's actually made easier now with 5e's passive perception scores, so I don't have to roll and potentially give away that there's a trap until they either spot it or stumble onto it. I can't tell you how many times I rolled for something randomly, regardless of what it was, and, if I've used a trap any time in the campaign at all, as soon as my dice hit the table the whole party is screaming "I roll to check for traps!"

Edited by Unruly
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The fudging of rolls or rules bending (Rule Zero) is always a touchy subject because it's never always black and white. My goal is to make the adventure enjoyable and memorable.

 

Last time I DMed a campaign, I rolled openly. Not so much because I wanted everyone to see how fair I was, but because if I had a DM screen up, I couldn't see the battle map properly. The players also enjoyed the fact that I horrendously for two years, even while frequently swapping dice, and the very rare times I rolled successive high results were devastating.

 

Still, I did have to modify some results on the fly to keep things interesting or avoid a TPK:

- Like the fight against the boss ogre mage who rolled a x3 critical on a two handed swing on the halfling that would've killed him outright on the first round if I had played it exactly by the book (roll three times damage dice, instead of single roll of damage x3 which in this case happened to be minimum damage that still dropped the halfling from max HPs in the high 60s to 3).

- Or far later in the game, the players were so overpowered (adventure path designed for 4 characters, played with 6 with way above average stats, and higher levels because of the ever increasing CRs) that at first I had to max out all the enemies HPs to give them any sort of challenge, then I had to keep boosting the monsters, up to doubling the max HPs of boss monsters that still got curb stomped by lucky rolls (seriously, boss monsters with 400+ HPs should not die in a single round against three PCs). Heck, of a five man BBEG team, two surrendered and one changed allegiance, something absolutely not expected in the adventure. Yet within the context of the adventure, made perfect sense.

- Heroes against a horde of zombies. Literally over a hundred zombies. Downside of zombies is that they can either move or attack. If they moved near PCs, the characters were strong enough to instakill them, even with larger animal mount zombies. By this point, sending wave after wave of zombies became pointless as they were taking minimal damage while racking up huge amounts of XPs. Normally, allies come in when they're weakened, which was nowhere near happening. So the reinforcements came in earlier than expected to finish up the horde in their stead.

- During a martial arts tournament, PC monk had to run around and karate chop break various materials bare handed. Some DRs were simply out of reach of the character's maximum damage. But because of his monk archetype "exploit weakness" ability and duelist "precise strike", I ruled that t two abilities would combine for breaking inanimate stuff in way that isn't supported by the rules, but made sense for the character concept. Result in happy fun.

- Or how lamia sisters, defined as being Large sized, managed to crawl through 2ft holes. Basically because they're elongated snake bodies, a two foot hole is no problem, even if they do occupy 10'x10' space during combat.

 

Mistakes have happened. Lessons were learned. Some fudging went according to plan and improved everyone's enjoyment of the game, others made me question my sanity (Giant Masterwork Haggis).

Edited by Cranky Dog
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Werewolves, by the rules in 5e, use the same stat block in all forms, with the exception being replacing their bite/claw attacks with a weapon in human form. So there's literally no transformation required. If the players ignore the information they're given and run straight into a werewolf den that they're woefully outmatched in and I give them the opportunity to run by making the werewolves attacks weaker, but keeping their natural immunity to non-silver weapons in order to signify that these are most definitely not normal wolves, and the players still ignore that? Yea, I'll swap the werewolves attacks back to normal in order to really get the message across, because they're both obviously willing to throw their characters away and the werewolves aren't going keep holding back if you don't want to run away when they've already made it apparent that you're outmatched. I may say at the start that the wolves seem to be careful and measured in their attacks, like they're holding back, and then when I switch it up I may say that they're now attacking ferociously. It's not going to be an out of left field "oh, these wolves no suddenly grow to 8 feet tall, tear into you with the strength of a fire giant, and you suddenly can't even hit them, let alone damage them anymore" like you're implying.

 

So, what I'm hearing here is that you sandbag your players.  Why do you even have a werewolf den for the players to stumble upon if it's something they are unequipped to handle?  I get that the world has things in it that are too powerful for the PCs at a given moment, but it's usually poor form to just slap players in the face with them at random.  The players saying, "We go looking for this werewolf den we've heard about, despite being ill-equipped for werewolves." is a different thing from the GM putting a pack of werewolves in the path of PCs that can't handle them.  And that's different again from having werewolves the PCs can't handle when they think they're out hunting regular wolves.  Does that make sense? 

 

 

And no, I don't tell my players "he's using power attack." They don't need to know that he's got that or that he's using it. They just need to know that his hits hurt, so I'll say that "he's swinging for the fences," which let's them know that his hits are going to hurt when they land but they may be being made recklessly. Same for spells. I'll say "he casts a spell and a bright explosion of colored light bursts from his hands" but I won't just come out and say "He's casts Color Spray" unless when I say he casts the spell someone decides to roll Arcana(or Religion for divine spells) to identify it and succeeds. Players don't need to know exactly what's being used against them, because unless their character knows, they shouldn't know. That's called metagaming, and that's frowned upon by just about everyone except the power gamers that get upset when the creature I describe as "a hulking, ogrish creature with two heads and what looks to be glistening blue scale mail" isn't actually an ettin wearing scale mail like they automatically assumed, but a half blue dragon ettin with class levels and a breath weapon that toasts him because he charged in like an idiot since he "knew it was an ettin and I could totally take an ettin. It's bull that it wasn't an ettin. You're a jerk and a terrible DM!" I actually had one of my players get mad at me last week when I flat out said "The priest casts Sanctuary" and then explained what Sanctuary does when another player asked. And it's because at our table we like having some ambiguity and mystery.

This is what I was talking about with giving players more information than is probably necessary.  "Swinging for the fences" could just be irrelevant flavor text that you're using to describe the attacks of some hulking brute, and some people may interpret it as such.  Hell, that's descriptive text that I've personally used when everyone's seen I just rolled a 20, rolled max damage, or rolled a natural 1 (Swings for the fences...and a whiff).  If you're actually trying to convey information to your players, you should just do that; rather than hide it behind some obfuscation where only the players who happen to read your mind at the moment will know what you're getting at. Again, there's a lot of extra information that the players should have that is going to be left out of any two-sentence description that you throw out there.  Statements about things like using Power Attack or fighting Defensively give the players more texture for the fight and let them make choices based on those things.

 

"Hey, he's using Power Attack and threatening the wizard.  On my turn, I'm going to leap in there and try to tempt him to use his AoOs, which are more likely to miss me, so the wizard can cast freely or move to safety."

 

Regarding the metagaming aspect, I apologize for forgetting that I am in the minority with this viewpoint.  But we long ago decided to abandon that concept entirely as a result of a Vampire LARP.  Go ahead and memorize stats, powers, monsters, magic items, or whatever.  The special snowflake character no longer gets to lie (read: cheat) about what their powers do or how they work because nobody knows WTF a Kiasyd is; anybody can look that stuff up. If you overhear the Tremere planning world domination at Denny's, go ahead and run with that information.  Lose lips sink ships and all that, I guess someone heard them.  Once we did that, it made our LARP games tremendously better (A lot of arguments and whining had been about who knew what, when, and how.  Now, if you wanted to keep a secret, you actually needed to work with your co-conspirators to do so.  People didn't need to try and find convoluted ways to IC justify knowing about whatever they overheard people talking openly about in the Student Union, or about what Elder level Dominate could do.) and it eventually carried over to our table top games.  

 

Granted, none of us were in the habit of running modules straight as written, and many GMs loved templating monsters, so it wasn't a big deal if someone went out and read up about the Barrier Peaks or Sunless Citadel, or if you could quote Manticore stats verbatim.  But stuff like the fighter's player knowing how Color Spray worked so they could just roll with it if they failed their save and track their own rounds being out of action?  Or having some idea of what a ghostly Storm Giant could do, the threat it posed, and how it could interact with you?  Or that normal Gnolls couldn't hit you with their attacks except on natural 20, so them hitting you on a 15 gave you immediate information?  Or that you had enough ranks in Spellcraft +INT mod to automatically identify any spell of 8th level or lower without rolling?  Knowing what was a normal range for attacks, damage, and saves for creatures around your level so you could better pick up on outliers?  Being able to break down a creature's +14 attack bonus to get an idea of how many hp it might have, or what it's saves might be, or what magical effects it might be under?  (Ok, so it got +2 from flanking, we know it's using a magical sword  thanks to detect magic so that's at least +1, and it's got a strength of at least 18, so this thing's BAB is probably around +6 to +8, so we should do...) That stuff was great and we did it all the time.

 

This also had the benefit of eliminating math errors on the GM's side.  "Uhhh, he's got a +18 to his save?" "D'oh!  My bad, that's supposed to be a +12.  It's late."

 

So, yeah, I come from a pretty power-gamery tradition.

 

In the wight dragon example, if I remember correctly they had been actually told by an NPC that it was a wight dragon. They made the assumption of it being a white dragon, didn't ask any more questions, and started prepping for that. Then they got there, discovered that it was actually a black dragon wight, and had to try to escape a really ticked off undead dragon. And there's nothing wrong with that at all. From what I remember the guy telling the story said everyone in the party facepalmed and felt like idiots because they'd all assumed the same thing rather than trying to better research the situation.

Yeah, that's the sort of thing that I personally would have just clarified as the GM once I saw they were gearing up to fight a specific chromatic dragon instead of an undead horror.  Especially because I'd have felt like I was being deliberately obtuse with the particular phrasing involved.  Different strokes for different folks though.

 

So yea, we apparently have very different play styles. From what you've said you seem to want everything spelled out exactly as it is at all times, leaving no room for interpretation. I like to leave some things ambiguous so that players can actually be surprised.

 

I also like to know player's stats and will make rolls like perception for them at times, like when they're going through a part of a dungeon with traps, so I can pop in with either a "you step onto a plate in the floor and it sinks beneath your feet, roll a Dex save" or an "As you're walking through the corridor you notice that one of the tiles of the floor is offset a bit, sticking out from the rest." That's actually made easier now with 5e's passive perception scores, so I don't have to roll and potentially give away that there's a trap until they either spot it or stumble onto it. I can't tell you how many times I rolled for something randomly, regardless of what it was, and, if I've used a trap any time in the campaign at all, as soon as my dice hit the table the whole party is screaming "I roll to check for traps!"

I don't mind telling people to roll Perception and then having them be cagey because they rolled a 4.  I just chalk it up to the feeling you sometimes get when you know something is off, but can't quite put your finger on it.  Besides, I rarely use Perception checks to gate actually relevant information.  I do actually tell people now that I hardly ever use traps and, when I do, it'll generally be obvious if I don't tell you outright.  Door to the treasure vault?  Probably trapped.  You will never encounter a random hallway or broom closet door trap--only a madman traps his bathroom--except potentially in the lair of Mad Ludwig the Antisocial Trapsmith.  And you can choose to pass on that adventure entirely if trap shenanigans annoy you.

Edited by VitM
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I make my rolls out in the open too, but the players don't know what the modifiers are most of the time, so there is still room for GM fiat. But I recognize not everyone likes that play style, so you do you. There's room for every purpose under the sun and all that.

 

Are your players incapable of math::o:  :poke:  ::P:

 

 

It's pretty easy to conceal what the real modifiers (and AC, and HP, and caster level, and...) are for several rounds, which is usually enough to determine whether you need to ... adjust the numbers to match the group on the day. It's also trivially easy to send in a second wave or not send in a planned second wave if either is required. Fudging doesn't require any changes to the dice in most cases.

 

 

yes  I am a non-dice fudger.  monster tactics are incredibly fluid.  and If the monster has a few more or less hp than is written down thats no one elses buisness. 

especially if it makes a better story.  I am generally a soft DM and will only kill PCs when stupidity and bad luck combine. 

still if your wizard gets wounded, then decides to provoke from a Landshark.  Don't be surprised when it tears you into two equal sized pieces. 

 

I prefer to play 13th Age, which like 4e allows you to build monsters from a chart.  I still need to do the prepwork - is this a save ends effect or attack or one round,   do they have a death reaction  ?  are the encounter numbers generally going to work out? 

 

By the end of my DMing 3.5 I was using some approximation tables of hp, ac, damage  and save DCs rather than calculating all that out. 

I would pick some default low level protective spells for casters, usually assuming they were in place, and then the top few levels to cast offensively.  Nothing annoys me more than an NPC wizard casting mage armor in combat, or forgetting his healing potion when he was invisible. 

Edited by Evilhalfling
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Werewolves, by the rules in 5e, use the same stat block in all forms, with the exception being replacing their bite/claw attacks with a weapon in human form. So there's literally no transformation required. If the players ignore the information they're given and run straight into a werewolf den that they're woefully outmatched in and I give them the opportunity to run by making the werewolves attacks weaker, but keeping their natural immunity to non-silver weapons in order to signify that these are most definitely not normal wolves, and the players still ignore that? Yea, I'll swap the werewolves attacks back to normal in order to really get the message across, because they're both obviously willing to throw their characters away and the werewolves aren't going keep holding back if you don't want to run away when they've already made it apparent that you're outmatched. I may say at the start that the wolves seem to be careful and measured in their attacks, like they're holding back, and then when I switch it up I may say that they're now attacking ferociously. It's not going to be an out of left field "oh, these wolves no suddenly grow to 8 feet tall, tear into you with the strength of a fire giant, and you suddenly can't even hit them, let alone damage them anymore" like you're implying.

 

So, what I'm hearing here is that you sandbag your players.  Why do you even have a werewolf den for the players to stumble upon if it's something they are unequipped to handle?  I get that the world has things in it that are too powerful for the PCs at a given moment, but it's usually poor form to just slap players in the face with them at random.  The players saying, "We go looking for this werewolf den we've heard about, despite being ill-equipped for werewolves." is a different thing from the GM putting a pack of werewolves in the path of PCs that can't handle them.  And that's different again from having werewolves the PCs can't handle when they think they're out hunting regular wolves.  Does that make sense?

 

It makes sense. Except I don't slap them in the face at random. If I'm homebrewing stuff, I tell them at the very start that this is going to be a world where things aren't going to be tailored to their level at all times. There will be the possibility that they take a wrong turn somewhere and stumble onto something that they can't face and have to run away from. Even if I'm running something that's preprinted I'll keep bits and pieces secret. If you're hunting wolves in the Darkmoon Vale area of the official Pathfinder campaign setting you should expect to run into werewolves too because werewolves are a big part of that area, and I'll tell you that. What I won't tell you unless you do some more digging about the werewolves is that there's a small number of werewolves known as the Silverbloods, who have undergone some kind of ritual that renders them resistant to silver weapons as well, and they earned their name because their blood looks like mercury(aka quicksilver). The reason I won't tell them that is because while the Silverbloods are known, they're thought to all be dead. They showed up once, about 10 years ago, when they attacked one of the larger cities in the area in numbers, and while they almost succeeded it was ultimately a massacre for them. The ones who survived were found dead or dying over the next couple months, because the ritual that made them stronger proved to be what was ultimately a slow and painful death. So everyone, including groups dedicated to hunting werewolves, all think that the Silverbloods are dead. Except not all of them died, some of them, for some reason, survived and have been working to figure out why they survived when everyone else didn't and how to improve survival rates for that ritual.

 

The players don't need to know that detail. Not even the NPCs of the region will know that unless they're a werewolf with ties to the Silverbloods, because the NPCs all believe the Silverbloods were a one-time thing and that they're all dead. So when they go out and find werewolves, and one of those werewolves proves to be extremely hard to kill and bleeds quicksilver, it creates a plot hook. It means one of the players who hails from Andoran suddenly has a flashback to the Night of the Silver Blood and remembers watching his father be eviscerated by one of them and is suddenly stricken with fear. Then the party has to warn someone that the Silverbloods are still out there, and they've got to prove it because everyone scoffs at them since no one has seen hide nor hair of one in a decade. So unless they brought the body back, they're going to have a hard time doing that.

 

 

And no, I don't tell my players "he's using power attack." They don't need to know that he's got that or that he's using it. They just need to know that his hits hurt, so I'll say that "he's swinging for the fences," which let's them know that his hits are going to hurt when they land but they may be being made recklessly. Same for spells. I'll say "he casts a spell and a bright explosion of colored light bursts from his hands" but I won't just come out and say "He's casts Color Spray" unless when I say he casts the spell someone decides to roll Arcana(or Religion for divine spells) to identify it and succeeds. Players don't need to know exactly what's being used against them, because unless their character knows, they shouldn't know. That's called metagaming, and that's frowned upon by just about everyone except the power gamers that get upset when the creature I describe as "a hulking, ogrish creature with two heads and what looks to be glistening blue scale mail" isn't actually an ettin wearing scale mail like they automatically assumed, but a half blue dragon ettin with class levels and a breath weapon that toasts him because he charged in like an idiot since he "knew it was an ettin and I could totally take an ettin. It's bull that it wasn't an ettin. You're a jerk and a terrible DM!" I actually had one of my players get mad at me last week when I flat out said "The priest casts Sanctuary" and then explained what Sanctuary does when another player asked. And it's because at our table we like having some ambiguity and mystery.

This is what I was talking about with giving players more information than is probably necessary.  "Swinging for the fences" could just be irrelevant flavor text that you're using to describe the attacks of some hulking brute, and some people may interpret it as such.  Hell, that's descriptive text that I've personally used when everyone's seen I just rolled a 20, rolled max damage, or rolled a natural 1 (Swings for the fences...and a whiff).  If you're actually trying to convey information to your players, you should just do that; rather than hide it behind some obfuscation where only the players who happen to read your mind at the moment will know what you're getting at. Again, there's a lot of extra information that the players should have that is going to be left out of any two-sentence description that you throw out there.  Statements about things like using Power Attack or fighting Defensively give the players more texture for the fight and let them make choices based on those things.

 

"Hey, he's using Power Attack and threatening the wizard.  On my turn, I'm going to leap in there and try to tempt him to use his AoOs, which are more likely to miss me, so the wizard can cast freely or move to safety."

 

...SNIP...

 

Granted, none of us were in the habit of running modules straight as written, and many GMs loved templating monsters, so it wasn't a big deal if someone went out and read up about the Barrier Peaks or Sunless Citadel, or if you could quote Manticore stats verbatim.  But stuff like the fighter's player knowing how Color Spray worked so they could just roll with it if they failed their save and track their own rounds being out of action?  Or having some idea of what a ghostly Storm Giant could do, the threat it posed, and how it could interact with you?  Or that normal Gnolls couldn't hit you with their attacks except on natural 20, so them hitting you on a 15 gave you immediate information?  Or that you had enough ranks in Spellcraft +INT mod to automatically identify any spell of 8th level or lower without rolling?  Knowing what was a normal range for attacks, damage, and saves for creatures around your level so you could better pick up on outliers?  Being able to break down a creature's +14 attack bonus to get an idea of how many hp it might have, or what it's saves might be, or what magical effects it might be under?  (Ok, so it got +2 from flanking, we know it's using a magical sword  thanks to detect magic so that's at least +1, and it's got a strength of at least 18, so this thing's BAB is probably around +6 to +8, so we should do...) That stuff was great and we did it all the time.

 

This also had the benefit of eliminating math errors on the GM's side.  "Uhhh, he's got a +18 to his save?" "D'oh!  My bad, that's supposed to be a +12.  It's late."

 

So, yeah, I come from a pretty power-gamery tradition.

 

 

See, my friends and I might try to optimize the heck out of our own characters, and we might expect any of us to do the same for enemies if we're DMing, but we also don't try to figure out exactly what's what on an enemy we're fighting. We just go "Ok, this guy hits like a truck, but he's missing a lot(hah, he's you in the SCA, DM!). I'm betting he's got a bucket of HP too. Let's actually leave him mostly alone, just try to keep him away from the squishies, and clear out these other guys that seem to be hitting us much more often for less damage, and we'll get back to him at the end." We don't need to know the exact numbers in order to figure this kind of stuff out, we just make informed guesses based on how we know the game as a whole works. Then we get surprised when that big guy who's been hitting hard but missing a lot suddenly casts a spell on himself, his weapon starts to glow, and he starts hitting more often because he's not just a fighter like we'd assumed, he's a paladin and he just used his Sacred Weapon class feature.

 

It creates that "Oh crap!" moment, and that's something that's extremely fleeting when you can sit there and go "Ok, this guy is hitting on X, for Y damage with his weapon, which means he's Z class using Feature 1" for everything you're fighting because the DM straight tells you "This guy has an AC of 15, a BAB of 9, and 105hp. He's using Power Attack on all his attacks, and he's a Great Weapon Master so he rerolls all his damage dice if they're 1 or 2."

 

 

In the wight dragon example, if I remember correctly they had been actually told by an NPC that it was a wight dragon. They made the assumption of it being a white dragon, didn't ask any more questions, and started prepping for that. Then they got there, discovered that it was actually a black dragon wight, and had to try to escape a really ticked off undead dragon. And there's nothing wrong with that at all. From what I remember the guy telling the story said everyone in the party facepalmed and felt like idiots because they'd all assumed the same thing rather than trying to better research the situation.

Yeah, that's the sort of thing that I personally would have just clarified as the GM once I saw they were gearing up to fight a specific chromatic dragon instead of an undead horror.  Especially because I'd have felt like I was being deliberately obtuse with the particular phrasing involved.  Different strokes for different folks though.

 

Yea, see, we've got very, very different styles of play. My group these days would have rolled with it much the same way as the party in the story did. Like I said, one of them even got mad at me for explaining what a spell was and did before the players interacted with the guy who cast it. We'd just rather not know everything right away and have to figure things out as we go. I mean, before last week we were actually playing in a campaign where our characters didn't even have an understanding of how magic in the world worked, and we loved it because we had to figure out things as we went.

 

 

So yea, we apparently have very different play styles. From what you've said you seem to want everything spelled out exactly as it is at all times, leaving no room for interpretation. I like to leave some things ambiguous so that players can actually be surprised.

 

I also like to know player's stats and will make rolls like perception for them at times, like when they're going through a part of a dungeon with traps, so I can pop in with either a "you step onto a plate in the floor and it sinks beneath your feet, roll a Dex save" or an "As you're walking through the corridor you notice that one of the tiles of the floor is offset a bit, sticking out from the rest." That's actually made easier now with 5e's passive perception scores, so I don't have to roll and potentially give away that there's a trap until they either spot it or stumble onto it. I can't tell you how many times I rolled for something randomly, regardless of what it was, and, if I've used a trap any time in the campaign at all, as soon as my dice hit the table the whole party is screaming "I roll to check for traps!"

I don't mind telling people to roll Perception and then having them be cagey because they rolled a 4.  I just chalk it up to the feeling you sometimes get when you know something is off, but can't quite put your finger on it.  Besides, I rarely use Perception checks to gate actually relevant information.  I do actually tell people now that I hardly ever use traps and, when I do, it'll generally be obvious if I don't tell you outright.  Door to the treasure vault?  Probably trapped.  You will never encounter a random hallway or broom closet door trap--only a madman traps his bathroom--except potentially in the lair of Mad Ludwig the Antisocial Trapsmith.  And you can choose to pass on that adventure entirely if trap shenanigans annoy you.

 

See, I like traps, but they have to fit the area. If you're in a kobold den you had better expect there to be traps all over the place. That's the kobold's shtick. They set traps up, they have ways they can get around their own traps, and if the players are kobold-sized they can get through those secret passageways that avoid the traps. If you're in a beholder's lair, you'd better expect there to be traps that things walking will fall right into but that something flying 10ft off the ground will totally avoid. If you're raiding a tomb in the middle of the jungle, you'd better be prepared for it to turn into something similar to the opening from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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One thing I've been struck about is how the expectation that the characters shouldn't know much about the monsters, as it would be metagaming.

 

I'm pretty sure if you rounded up a bunch of military professionals and asked them about the capabilities of the enemy, you'd get a lot of information.

 

As the PCs are usually pretty much professional monster slayers, I've always thought you they should know a fair bit about monsters. It's one of the big problems with 3.5/4/5 - the class that is presented as professional soldiers is terrible at doing the things you'd expect professional soldiers to do - know about who they fight against. 

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One thing I've been struck about is how the expectation that the characters shouldn't know much about the monsters, as it would be metagaming.

 

I'm pretty sure if you rounded up a bunch of military professionals and asked them about the capabilities of the enemy, you'd get a lot of information.

 

As the PCs are usually pretty much professional monster slayers, I've always thought you they should know a fair bit about monsters. It's one of the big problems with 3.5/4/5 - the class that is presented as professional soldiers is terrible at doing the things you'd expect professional soldiers to do - know about who they fight against. 

 

In a world where every military is similarly equipped and populated by basically identical people, yes, you can ask a soldier "what weapons do the Russians use?" and they could tell you "They're most likely using some variant of the AK, an RPG variant that's likely the RPG-7D, and a PKP. They're comparable in performance to our own M4, M3 MAAWS, and M240B." But because loadouts are variable between missions, they probably won't know exactly what the enemy is actually equipped with in every situation. So they couldn't tell you that they've got 3 soldiers with underslung grenade launchers on their AKs over there, and that other group over there has a designated marksman in a building with a Dragunov. They won't know more than the gist of things until they actually make contact or do more extensive recon.

 

Just like a party of adventurers will know that if they're facing hobgoblins they're probably highly disciplined fighters, that use a mix of melee and ranged tactics, aren't likely to retreat, and will probably have at least one spellcaster in their camp. But they won't know what that spellcaster's spell list is, they won't know what level those hobgoblins are, and they probably won't know that the hobgoblin warlord is an Eldritch Knight wearing a ring of protection and a cloak of resistance. If they have witnesses from previous skirmishes they may learn that the warlord is able to strike with the power of lightning and that the caster threw a fireball from the wall, but they won't learn that the caster can fly unless he uses fly in their presence.

 

Then you get into how a lot of enemies are actually more along the lines of "armies" in the vein of the Viet Cong or the Mujaheddin. They're equipped with whatever they can get their hands on, or how you've got all sorts of magical and fantastical beasts that aren't supposed to be exactly common.

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FWIW, if I want details of my enemies' abilities, I'll play a game like Frostgrave, where the intent is more skirmish game and less RPG. I like those games quite a bit; this isn't intended as a slam on them.

 

But in RPG games I run and play in, surprises happen. As a player, I'll do what I can to figure out my opponents' abilities, but if a goblin suddenly casts fireball, well, I guess he must have been some sort of arcane caster. And with goblins, he might actually be wearing armor and need to make that a casting roll, because goblin, duh. 8-)

 

I don't see anything wrong with playing RPGs either as purely tactical games or as deeply mysterious. But it's probably a good idea for players and GM to all be aware of the social contract before the start of the game.

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I think that.I have mentioned that there are two decent tacticians in the kids game...

 

Last night, while those two were planning out how to handle a tricky situation, the other kids rebelled, in what I can only call a Leeeroooy Jeeenkins! moment.....

 

The party survived, but blew through hit points, spells, and healing potions in the process.

 

A good time was had by all. ::P:

 

And they can now call themselves Dragonslayers. (Eight party members, averaging level 4, against a CR 8 Young Green Dragon. The Wizard used his last spell to cast Web - preventing the beast from running away.)

 

They had just found the dragon's lair when I called it for the night - there are a few minor combats to go, and then they get their greedy little mitts on a dragon's hoard.

 

The party is spellcaster light - one wizard, one bard, and one cleric. The bard has been making a big difference - yeah, it is only a +1 bonus, but when you have eight players....

 

Most damage dealt was one of the rangers and the fighter - the fighter also takes the honor of having been missed by the dragon more often than any other character. (Even so, he also took more hits than any other character - the tank was tanking. ::): ) The Rogue had a harder time - she got tail thumped, repeatedly. (A claw, a claw, and a bite on the fighter, and a tail thump for the rogue! On the average, the dragon got in one hit on the fighter each round, and two every three rounds on the rogue.) The battle was long enough that the dragon got to use its breath weapon three times - with the first being the most effective. (He got the whole party with that one.)

 

The wizard went into negatives, twice. The bard went into negatives once - but also was the one that healed the cleric when she went into negatives on the round after.

 

A hard battle, with lots of chaos.

 

The Auld Grump *EDIT* While the rogue took a lot of damage, she also had a lot of healing potions - she's been hoarding them. So she never went into negative HP.

Edited by TheAuldGrump
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One thing I've been struck about is how the expectation that the characters shouldn't know much about the monsters, as it would be metagaming.

 

I'm pretty sure if you rounded up a bunch of military professionals and asked them about the capabilities of the enemy, you'd get a lot of information.

 

As the PCs are usually pretty much professional monster slayers, I've always thought you they should know a fair bit about monsters. It's one of the big problems with 3.5/4/5 - the class that is presented as professional soldiers is terrible at doing the things you'd expect professional soldiers to do - know about who they fight against. 

 

In a world where every military is similarly equipped and populated by basically identical people, yes, you can ask a soldier "what weapons do the Russians use?" and they could tell you "They're most likely using some variant of the AK, an RPG variant that's likely the RPG-7D, and a PKP. They're comparable in performance to our own M4, M3 MAAWS, and M240B." But because loadouts are variable between missions, they probably won't know exactly what the enemy is actually equipped with in every situation. So they couldn't tell you that they've got 3 soldiers with underslung grenade launchers on their AKs over there, and that other group over there has a designated marksman in a building with a Dragunov. They won't know more than the gist of things until they actually make contact or do more extensive recon.

 

Just like a party of adventurers will know that if they're facing hobgoblins they're probably highly disciplined fighters, that use a mix of melee and ranged tactics, aren't likely to retreat, and will probably have at least one spellcaster in their camp. But they won't know what that spellcaster's spell list is, they won't know what level those hobgoblins are, and they probably won't know that the hobgoblin warlord is an Eldritch Knight wearing a ring of protection and a cloak of resistance. If they have witnesses from previous skirmishes they may learn that the warlord is able to strike with the power of lightning and that the caster threw a fireball from the wall, but they won't learn that the caster can fly unless he uses fly in their presence.

 

Then you get into how a lot of enemies are actually more along the lines of "armies" in the vein of the Viet Cong or the Mujaheddin. They're equipped with whatever they can get their hands on, or how you've got all sorts of magical and fantastical beasts that aren't supposed to be exactly common.

 

 

Yeah - but lots of bad guys have significant characteristics cannot be changed. Red Dragons are immune to fire and vulnerable to cold and it's hard to change that. You need magic weapons to fight a ghost. Devils generally have a fixed spell list. However, as written in the game a fighter knows NONE of this because they cannot pass the knowledge checks. (Also, soldiers will typically know a lot about expected loadouts because they've seen the ToE - if you know you're coming up against the 82nd Airborne, you've got a good idea of what they can do. In WW2, you knew if that a large scale soviet maneuver would be supported by 88mm ZiS-3 fire even if they hadn't fired yet because it was absolutely inevitable). 

 

Actual vancian casters are mutable, but most monsters in the monster manual are not flexible casters but have proscribed spell lists: 

 

Monsters (A)

A fighter should plausibly know what these guys all do, but is going to know none of it because they cannot pass the knowledge check. 

Edited by CthulhuDreams
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Some of those spell lists are only typically prepared spells - the Solar and Planetar in particular are treated as being full blown clerics. The lists provided are just for the convenience of a GM cribbing from the bestiary. (This was true in 3.0 and 3.5 as well as Pathfinder.)

 

Likewise, dragons are often treated as sorcerers, and can swap out some of their spells.

 

Just because the bestiary lists certain spells does not mean that the beastie is constrained to those spells.

 

The Auld Grump

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One thing I've been struck about is how the expectation that the characters shouldn't know much about the monsters, as it would be metagaming.

 

I'm pretty sure if you rounded up a bunch of military professionals and asked them about the capabilities of the enemy, you'd get a lot of information.

 

As the PCs are usually pretty much professional monster slayers, I've always thought you they should know a fair bit about monsters. It's one of the big problems with 3.5/4/5 - the class that is presented as professional soldiers is terrible at doing the things you'd expect professional soldiers to do - know about who they fight against. 

 

In a world where every military is similarly equipped and populated by basically identical people, yes, you can ask a soldier "what weapons do the Russians use?" and they could tell you "They're most likely using some variant of the AK, an RPG variant that's likely the RPG-7D, and a PKP. They're comparable in performance to our own M4, M3 MAAWS, and M240B." But because loadouts are variable between missions, they probably won't know exactly what the enemy is actually equipped with in every situation. So they couldn't tell you that they've got 3 soldiers with underslung grenade launchers on their AKs over there, and that other group over there has a designated marksman in a building with a Dragunov. They won't know more than the gist of things until they actually make contact or do more extensive recon.

 

Just like a party of adventurers will know that if they're facing hobgoblins they're probably highly disciplined fighters, that use a mix of melee and ranged tactics, aren't likely to retreat, and will probably have at least one spellcaster in their camp. But they won't know what that spellcaster's spell list is, they won't know what level those hobgoblins are, and they probably won't know that the hobgoblin warlord is an Eldritch Knight wearing a ring of protection and a cloak of resistance. If they have witnesses from previous skirmishes they may learn that the warlord is able to strike with the power of lightning and that the caster threw a fireball from the wall, but they won't learn that the caster can fly unless he uses fly in their presence.

 

Then you get into how a lot of enemies are actually more along the lines of "armies" in the vein of the Viet Cong or the Mujaheddin. They're equipped with whatever they can get their hands on, or how you've got all sorts of magical and fantastical beasts that aren't supposed to be exactly common.

 

 

Yeah - but lots of bad guys have significant characteristics cannot be changed. Red Dragons are immune to fire and vulnerable to cold and it's hard to change that. You need magic weapons to fight a ghost. Devils generally have a fixed spell list. However, as written in the game a fighter knows NONE of this because they cannot pass the knowledge checks. (Also, soldiers will typically know a lot about expected loadouts because they've seen the ToE - if you know you're coming up against the 82nd Airborne, you've got a good idea of what they can do. In WW2, you knew if that a large scale soviet maneuver would be supported by 88mm ZiS-3 fire even if they hadn't fired yet because it was absolutely inevitable). 

 

Actual vancian casters are mutable, but most monsters in the monster manual are not flexible casters but have proscribed spell lists: 

 

Monsters (A)

A fighter should plausibly know what these guys all do, but is going to know none of it because they cannot pass the knowledge check. 

 

 

Why would the fighter plausibly know what these guys all do?

 

You're using real world soldiers to compare but the comparison falls down once you start looking at why real world soldiers have the info they have.  One thing that isn't widely acknowledged is that the armed forces are extremely good at knowledge management (no surprise when you consider that, for them, knowledge management is literally a matter of life or death).  They have intelligence sources who are out gathering info and collating that into useful intel.  They pioneered the use of AARs to capture info around what they can and should be doing better.  That info is available to commanders who can access a lot of info just by searching their systems and who can then use that info to prepare their troops prior to an engagement (worth mentioning that even highly trained soldiers in real life don't have all that info memorized and rely on their KM systems to bring up the info when preparing for a mission).  Similarly, although specific weapon loadouts may or may not be known, the person wielding the weapon is still a human being with all the "abilities" that you can expect a human being to have.

 

Contrast that to a high fantasy world like D&D where they don't have access to KM systems and probably don't have any of those KM processes beyond just talking to each other.

 

A trained soldier in a city/village (or wherever they are from) doesn't have a database to pull up info from.  All he has is the occasional travelling bard (or maybe a traveling mercenary) to tell him about fantastical creatures they might have encountered.  And at that point, the trained soldier not only has to remember that info but then consider whether the source of that info was exaggerating (and we all know soldiers never exaggerate about their accomplishments when discussing it over an ale right?).  

 

Just take a look at the monster manual and consider how many monsters there are - is the fighter really supposed to have personally either come across every monster himself or have met someone who has come across that monster?  Even if he did, is he really expected to remember ALL of that info?  Even the best DMs in the world can't remember all that info!

 

Granted you could get around this by coming up with an in-game "Volo's guide to the Realms!".  Wow - that just brought up so many fond memories of Baldur's Gate - but even Volo's guide that tended to focus on creatures you were likely to encounter in the area and wasn't an exhaustive list of every creature in the area.

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