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DM - Adversarial or Permissive?

mwnrnc

First Post
I apologize for this length of this post, but I had an interesting discussion today with one of my players regarding my DM style. First, the situation:

Another of my players is a level 1 former mercenary from a company who occasionally turned to being brigands when times were lean. After joining with the party and helping to save a village from being overrun by Goblins, he is considered a local hero. A local girl seduces him, only for them to be discovered by her father who flies into a rage and throws him out of the house. The next day, he approaches the town watch to arrest the player as, according to the daughter, he forced himself on her. The sheriff and two guardsmen (one of which is a fellow player) set out to bring him in. Here's where it gets tricky.

I describe to the player, who is at the stables seeing to his horse, the following. "The Sheriff and two guardsmen approach you, clad in their armor and with their weapons, though none are drawn. They approach you purposefully, but not aggressively." About 50 feet away, they hailed him and said they they needed him to come with them to answer some allegations. As they closed within 30ft of him, he decided to flee on his horse. I informed him that they might be able to intercept him before he could mount his horse and ride out of the stable, that the main gate might be closed, and that even if he did make it out, it would mean he may as well roll a new character. This was still early in the campaign and the other players were a town guard, a woman, and a religious ranger - none of whom were inclined to believe that he was innocent or try to help him if he escaped. Further, the town would see his flight as an admission of guilt, meaning he would be unwelcome in the town. He angrily responded that he was forced to choose between playing the game and being true to his character. This is not the first time this particular player has leveled this accusation against me, but it was the first time the player I consulted afterwards agreed.

The other player basically said that the scenarios I present in game are somewhat impenetrable and that I am adversarial in presenting information to them so that they can make good, in-character decisions. Further, I expect too much of them when it comes to coming up with "what to do." As he sees it, the DM's job is to facilitate a fun game by providing as much information as possible and giving hints, where necessary, so that players never feel stuck.

The way I see it, a DM's job is to create situations that challenge the players and it is up to them to overcome those challenges with their skills and abilities. In the above encounter, for example, there are multiple ways the player could have handled the confrontation (i.e. bribing the guards, trying to talk them off with charm, try to run and hide) and if he wanted to get more information, he had methods to do that as well (Sense Motive, for example). I do not feel expecting a player who has been playing for two years to know what his skills are and to be able to apply this to situations in game is asking too much, nor do I feel that I should over-describe, telling him things he wouldn't know without rolling or that guards wouldn't be displaying (for example, they wouldn't say "we just want to arrest you without harming you to answer to rape charges"). I expect them to be proactive, coming up with possible solutions to the problems that confront them - rolling knowledge or gather information checks, etc.

I feel that by giving the players "hints" like my friend wants, I undermine the nature of the game. It places undue burden on me to anticipate where they may get stuck without the benefit of feedback in the form of knowledge or gather information rolls to know where they are confused. Further, it makes them more likely to rely on my "hints" than to think creatively and overcome challenges on their own.

Do any venerable DMs or players have any suggestions about how to get past this conflict? Am I "doing it wrong?"
 

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Hussar

Legend
No, you are not doing it wrong.

However, that being said, the "arrest" scenario is a fate worse than death to most players and will almost always draw very strong reactions. For one thing, if the player does go along with it, he's going to be arrested, his weapons taken away (another fate worse than death to most players) and sidelined in the game until such time as he's out of jail.

It is almost worse than death really. The player doesn't know if he will actually be freed or not, so, he might wind up warming the pines during game time for an indeterminate length of time only to discover that it really wasn't worth the wait, he's out of the game anyway. He should have just hung himself with his own belt (or rather his character should have) and he could have spent that time making a new character and getting back into the game.

Taking PC's prisoner is extremely difficult. The fact that he realistically has no choice in what he can do - if he flees, he loses his character, if he fights, he loses his character, if he tries to talk, well, how often does talking to the cop get you out of rape charges? - and the player is going to get antsy in a hurry.

I'd chalk this one up to the scenario. "Take PC prisoner" scenarios have a habit of going pear shaped regardless of how good the DM is. Possibly a solution here would be to stop the game, take a break for a second, pull the player aside and just explain to him, out of character, what's going on. Sure, it's immersion breaking, but, a player having a fit because there is just no way he's going to get brought in is even more immersion breaking. It's the lesser of two evils.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Neither! Piratecat, Chris Perkins, Gary Gygax love child DM of Awesome!!! :D

Oh I see now, that's not what you're asking...

Here's my opinion: Since when do PCs runaway?!? Clearly he was running an NPC cameo who can come back to haunt the campaign later.

mwnrnc said:
This was still early in the campaign and the other players were a town guard, a woman, and a religious ranger - none of whom were inclined to believe that he was innocent or try to help him if he escaped.
Oh I had to point this out... Was the character's defining feature really "woman"? Seems off to me.
 

scourger

Explorer
...the "arrest" scenario is a fate worse than death to most players and will almost always draw very strong reactions...."Take PC prisoner" scenarios have a habit of going pear shaped regardless of how good the DM is...

Yep. You need to have the charges dismissed (or the player found not guilty), unify the party and get on with the game.
 

Piratecat

Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
DMs need to be authoritative and fair. NPCs may be adversarial, or if they like the PCs (or have a vested self-interest) they may be generous and suggest options. It's the DM's job to handle both those points of view.

For instance, picture a guardsman. He's had a crappy day, and now he's been ordered to go arrest some adventurers. "Adventurers" killed his brother, and he's carried a grudge ever since. Pay back time. He grabs his weapons and his armor; they'll damn well obey him, or he'll put them down.

Now picture his partner. He's a coward who just got engaged yesterday. He hates his work but loves the pay, and his daily goal is to get by with a minimum of fuss and danger. Now he's ordered to go arrest adventurers. Screw that. He's going to give them every opportunity to come peacefully, informing them why they're wanted and even making up false promises if that makes his job easier.

The DM can easily vary between these two extremes. Ask yourself, "what's the most fun right now? What would make exciting, cinematic complications?" Then do that.

Also, I'll be honest. Consider avoiding discussions or allegations of rape in your game. If there's ever an iffy topic that's just as easily avoided, for me it's that one.
 
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Piratecat

Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
Also, last time someone arrested my PCs, they left them with weapons and left the cell door unlocked. "Aren't you going to lock this?" they asked. "Will it even slow you down if you want to escape?" asked the jailer. "No," admitted the PCs. "Then why bother?" asked the jailer, and went off down the hall.

Well known PCs are big damn heroes. Easiest to treat them that way.
 

freeAgent

Explorer
I think the main point of the game is to have fun. Can the friend deal with your game and still have fun more often than not? Can you adjust your game so situations where this person is the decision maker are more "obvious" and still have fun yourself? Would you have more fun not adjusting your game at all and playing without your friend? Would your group have more fun if someone else DM'd?

Those are the questions I would ask myself, and act accordingly. It seems like this is just one situation where your friend didn't like the way you presented things. It's not clear whether or not it happens a lot. Since your PCs are still acting alone, maybe things will improve once they're making decisions as a group. I also agree that getting arrested is generally a non-fun situation. Was the idea that he could be arrested but then talk his way out of it? Maybe you could just explain that RPGs are not always about "fight or flight" reactions.
 

Spatula

Explorer
Do any venerable DMs or players have any suggestions about how to get past this conflict? Am I "doing it wrong?"
If your players aren't having fun, you're doing it wrong.

Note that not everyone games in order to overcome challenges and deal with a rough lot in life. Some folks just want to blow off some steam and escape their lives for a few hours.

Also, in addition to hating being locked up, some folks are allergic to being railroaded, which is what your setup amounted to. "You're approached by the town guards, what do you do? Keep in mind that if your answer is not to go quietly with them, you will have to make up a new character" is not an honest choice to present to a player.
 

mwnrnc

First Post
Oh I had to point this out... Was the character's defining feature really "woman"? Seems off to me.

My point was that she was less likely to be sympathetic to someone accused of rape that she did not know, not that that was her sole defining characteristic.

Would your group have more fun if someone else DM'd?

I seem to be the only one in my group that actually enjoys DMing as much (if not more than) playing.

Was the idea that he could be arrested but then talk his way out of it? Maybe you could just explain that RPGs are not always about "fight or flight" reactions.

Yeah, the accuser's story was full of holes and he had the goodwill of the town behind him. I figured he would be quite sure he would beat the charges. In his past interactions with the sheriff, he had been stern, but not bloodthirsty or capricious.

Also, I'll be honest. Consider avoiding discussions or allegations of rape in your game. If there's ever an iffy topic that's just as easily avoided, for me it's that one.

Fair enough, but even if my players aren't the most pro-active, they are fine with adult topics. We don't RP that kind of thing, but they were informed going in that this campaign would have adult content up to an including torture, rape, and brutality. I don't pull any punches and there haven't been any complaints in that regard.
 

mwnrnc

First Post
If your players aren't having fun, you're doing it wrong.

Also, in addition to hating being locked up, some folks are allergic to being railroaded, which is what your setup amounted to. "You're approached by the town guards, what do you do? Keep in mind that if your answer is not to go quietly with them, you will have to make up a new character" is not an honest choice to present to a player.

Point taken about them having fun, but I have to disagree they were railroaded. His actions had reasonable and dramatically interesting consequences. True I put him in a tough spot, but he had options beyond go quietly or roll a new character. Any of the things I suggested - trying to bribe them, perhaps talking them off with a Diplomacy check, escaping on foot and hiding until he could investigate on his own - all would have potentially worked with high enough rolls. All I told him was this his plan to flee the town on horseback was likely to be a bad one. And I consulted the other players, none of whom were willing to fight for his innocence should he flee.
 

Living Legend

First Post
This is a tough one, because I am a fervent defender of DM's that don't baby their players, but challenge them instead... but in this case particular case, as you described it, I think your players had a bit of a point.

The guy is a local hero, so it seems to me like the sheriff might have approached him in a more inquisitive manor. And if this all boils down to the player not understanding all the options available to him, I'm with Hussar: take him aside and walk him through it just a bit. It's not a perfect world and sometimes players don't get it or DM's don't fully translate the ideas in their head to the table. Doing something like that will also earn you some good faith if the players ever make a stupid mistake and you force them to deal with the harsh consequences.

Or just maybe explain to the character why you have written this scenario. Since you had the girl seduce him and then had the guys walk in, then had her claim rape, you obviously had a reason for this, it must serve some purpose in your campaign, so maybe help him understand that this tough situation serves some long term purpose.
 

catsclaw227

First Post
Point taken about them having fun, but I have to disagree they were railroaded. His actions had reasonable and dramatically interesting consequences. True I put him in a tough spot, but he had options beyond go quietly or roll a new character. Any of the things I suggested - trying to bribe them, perhaps talking them off with a Diplomacy check, escaping on foot and hiding until he could investigate on his own - all would have potentially worked with high enough rolls. All I told him was this his plan to flee the town on horseback was likely to be a bad one. And I consulted the other players, none of whom were willing to fight for his innocence should he flee.
I can be a tough DM at times, but I have learned over the years that starting the game out with players that aren't already together as a party just creates too much of a chance for the game to never get off the ground. There will be PLENTY of time to create situations that may cause conflict between ideologies of the different PCs.

But in this case, in your own words, "none of whom were willing to fight for his innocence should he flee." Yet, you presented him with a situation where many players would try to flee.

Also, quick question and I don't mean this in any judgmental way. Buy, why would you tell the player what would likely happen based upon his actions, instead of just letting him take his actions and rolling with it. He might have surprised you with something interesting, maybe leaping off the horse when he saw the gate closing and disappearing into a crowd or something. Unfortunately, you didn't give him the chance, you basically took away his choice.
 

mwnrnc

First Post
I can be a tough DM at times, but I have learned over the years that starting the game out with players that aren't already together as a party just creates too much of a chance for the game to never get off the ground.

I'm beginning to get there. It's too much extra work trying to get them to RP when they have no natural connections and I keep counting on the camaraderie of battle to join them together, but it never seems to work out.


Also, quick question and I don't mean this in any judgmental way. Buy, why would you tell the player what would likely happen based upon his actions, instead of just letting him take his actions and rolling with it. He might have surprised you with something interesting, maybe leaping off the horse when he saw the gate closing and disappearing into a crowd or something. Unfortunately, you didn't give him the chance, you basically took away his choice.

It was more that I wanted him to be aware that if he were successful with his current plan, it would not have positive results. Yes, he would temporarily avoid being imprisoned, but with no allies and outlaw status, I didn't see a way to work him back into the campaign in any kind of timely fashion. Basically it would have resulted in him surviving out in the woods and (according to him) most likely leaving the area while the rest of the party continued on with the quest. If he'd had a vested interest in the town or allies there, I would have certainly been open to him striking out on his own. As it stood, if he escaped, he would have left the campaign.
 

mwnrnc

First Post
The guy is a local hero, so it seems to me like the sheriff might have approached him in a more inquisitive manor.

I felt like I gave this due consideration. I explained that they approached him non-threateningly, spoke to him, and stated their reasons for approaching him. Even if he was a local hero, it was only his first week in town - the sheriff had every reason to be cautious. Maybe (as the player proved) he might try to run, in which case bring a few guys.
 


The Shaman

First Post
Do any venerable DMs or players have any suggestions about how to get past this conflict?
Telling the player that, if his character flees, he may as well roll a new character, is not how I would handle it myself. Let the player make his choice, let the other players make theirs, then assess the outcome.

Other than that, I agree that giving the player hints is not a style of play that I enjoy and I won't do it.
 

Iosue

Adventurer
I think maybe a teeny bit wrong. Or at least sub-optimally.

I see a few problems: one is that you created the "confront the guards or leave the campaign" scenario. You didn't leave the character any outs. Sure, there's stuff he could have done upon confronting the guards, but you've limited his options to just that: deal with the guards without escaping. This might have actually been workable, except for the next problem:

The worst thing you can do in improvisation (which is why RPGs essentially are) is to shut down the idea someone else came up with. In the player's head, he imagined the scenario as one where he could flee on his horse, and you not only shut that down, you shut down the whole concept of fleeing the town, in metagaming fashion. That's frustrating for a player. I would have simply said, "You can try, but it looks dicey." Then, some rolls to see if he succeeded. If he did, then he could find out for himself if the town gate is closed. Then he could try other options from there. You could have created a situation where escape from the town was impossible, but let the player(s) find that out through play, rather than just shutting down their idea.

Also, you don't have to give players information they wouldn't know, but you can give them information beforehand that would help them find their own decision that fits the scenario. In this case, you wanted the character to stay in town, so you have to give him the information that lets him come to that conclusion on his own. You could have said, "The Sheriff and two guardsmen approach you, clad in their armor and with their weapons, though none are drawn. They approach you purposefully, but not aggressively. Your horse looks a bit too far away to get to in time, and you recall seeing the gate closed earlier today. You might be able to run and hide in the crowd, if you want." Now you have the same situation, but the player connects the dots themselves, and feel immersed in the world, rather than shut down by the Dungeon Master.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
I'm beginning to get there. It's too much extra work trying to get them to RP when they have no natural connections and I keep counting on the camaraderie of battle to join them together, but it never seems to work out.
The situation had every reason to go off the reservation and few reasons to come together as you envisioned. I actually tend to go the opposite direction and make sure that my characters already have connections with each other before the game starts.
mwnrnc said:
It was more that I wanted him to be aware that if he were successful with his current plan, it would not have positive results. Yes, he would temporarily avoid being imprisoned, but with no allies and outlaw status, I didn't see a way to work him back into the campaign in any kind of timely fashion. Basically it would have resulted in him surviving out in the woods and (according to him) most likely leaving the area while the rest of the party continued on with the quest. If he'd had a vested interest in the town or allies there, I would have certainly been open to him striking out on his own. As it stood, if he escaped, he would have left the campaign.
Well, maybe then you shouldn't have put the PC in a situation in which a fairly likely result was going to be that he wouldn't be able to play his character. The more you describe the situation, the more I sympathize with his point of view.
 

mwnrnc

First Post
After due consideration, the situation was perhaps sub-optimal. Quite honestly, I hadn't seriously expected he would try to flee. My understanding of his character was that he had been a mercenary and occasional brigand, but I didn't think he would flee under those circumstances.

Also, confronting him at the stables was probably a mistake. I had wanted to have the guards confront him the first place he went in the morning (either alone or with the group) and that was where he went first, alone. There again, had I anticipated that he would flee, I would have reconsidered their approach.
 

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