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DM - Adversarial or Permissive?

Hussar

Legend
On the group connections issue:

Always, always have a group template. The "random band of strangers" schtick is just asking for trouble. Insist at chargen that every character have at least one meaningful connection to two other characters. That nips all sorts of problems in the bud.

Now as far as the issue at hand is concerned, the thing is, while you might think there are fifteen different options available, never underestimate the obstinancy of the players. :D For example, you've brought up bribing the guards twice. Is that really an option? One, does the character actually have the funds/means to actually accomplish that, and two, how likely is that plan to work rather than just land him in hotter water? Bribing the sherriff off on a rape charge is not the easiest thing in the world, and, quite honestly, would never occur to me personally.

Talking my way out of it? Again, not likely. This isn't a traffic ticket. This is a major crime. A diplomacy check isn't likely to get me out of this IMO. Again, I likely wouldn't even consider it a valid option. And, since the player is new to the setting, he doesn't really know how honest the sheriff is either. After all, he's being arrested despite being a hero on the say so of a local. How likely is it that I'm going to get a fair trial? And, more importantly, does the player actually have any idea on the answer to that question?

This is a pretty heavy handed situation. I'm not going to call it railroading, but, it is very heavy handed. And, because it deals with capturing the PC and it's heavy handed, I can see why the player balked.
 

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Elf Witch

First Post
The only thing I think you did wrong was tell him that if he fled that it would mean a new character. If he just kept going maybe but just fleeing at that moment should not have meant end of character. He could have fled and then went into hiding to investigate the charges. He could have met with the party and pled his innocence.

I know some DMs feel that it is wrong to ever arrested the PCs but I don't. I just had one of my PCs arrested last session. He fit the description of someone going around killing town folks with exotic weapons. He is being framed.

The player stepped out of character to ask me a few questions like what did he know about the clerics of St Cuthbert who handle law and order. Are they known to be trust worthy what is their reputation like. Then he let himself get arrested and waited for see what would happen.

The party came to his aid and on the word of the paladin he was released with stipulation that one of their men joins the party.

This accomplished two things one it brought a new character into the party and moved the one character's backstory some more.

As for making a party have motivations to be together I gave up the model of a bunch of strangers come together a long time ago. I have found that causes more issues then almost any other.

In the game I am running Bahmut called them together except for the newest guy and while they are strangers they serve the same god.

In other games I make them the players work out ahead of time how they know each other. If they are from the same town, family , church what ever something that gives them some reason to trust each other right from the start.
 

Rogue Agent

First Post
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...

Sure. And one of the ways to respond to this situation is "running away". But apparently that completely viable option isn't on your Pre-Approved List of Acceptable Ways to Deal With This Challenge and the penalty for that is "you don't get to play your character any more".

IOW, he's completely accurate when he says that you're forcing him to choose between playing the game and being true to his character.

I feel that by giving the players "hints" like my friend wants, I undermine the nature of the game.
(1) You wouldn't need to give hints about what they're "supposed" to do if you weren't predetermining it. Either stop railroading or let them see the tracks so that they can follow them. (The latter won't necessarily fix your problem if your players don't like being railroaded, but it's the only way railroads work.)

(And don't try to tell me you weren't railroading him. Your response to his proposed course of action was, "You can't do that. You will do what I want you to do or I will do everything in my power to force you to do what I want you to do. And if for some reason I can't force you to do it, then you'll have to roll up a new character any way." If I had to write up a textbook example of what railroading is, this would be the example.)

(2) It seems odd to be so virulently opposed to the idea of "hints" when your initial response was to give him all sorts of hints about the railroad enforcement tools you were going to be using if he didn't get back in line.
 

mwnrnc

First Post
This is a pretty heavy handed situation. I'm not going to call it railroading, but, it is very heavy handed. And, because it deals with capturing the PC and it's heavy handed, I can see why the player balked.

Fair enough, it was a tough situation that I put him in. My aim was to make him feel pressured to go along with them because escape was unlikely and serious injury or death very possible if he tried to fight. My point about the bribes, diplomacy, etc. was to suggest that there were options a clever player or a bit of luck could have exploited. While there were definitely flaws in this scenario, I have to wonder how a good DM presents a player with a situation in which his options are quite limited without it seeming heavy handed. Or is that just bad form - it's just best not to try to arrest PCs?
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
I'll say what others haven't. He's right. You're wrong. You STOPPED the game.

But let's back up.

The DM's role is not binary. You are not either "adversarial" or "permissive". What you should be is "challenging" and "supportive".

Players have two jobs to do: 1) to control their characters in a manner consistent with their perception of the character, and 2) to control their characters in a manner consistent with the nature of the game (which postulates a certain level of group activity & cooperation between the characters).

The DM's job is to present the players with scenarios that don't bring the two into conflict. You didn't do that.

You say he had options " - trying to bribe them, perhaps talking them off with a Diplomacy check, escaping on foot and hiding until he could investigate on his own", but seem reluctant to make the character aware of these before he made a choice. Essentially, you gave him a clear field, and then penalized him for taking a track you didn't forsee. A mercenary newcomer to town is accused of rape by a local citizen, and then approached to be arrested by characters "none of whom were inclined to believe he was innocent"? I would have run too. There are other towns, and the player had no way of knowing that the entire campaign hinged on his (mercenary, brigand) character quietly handing over his weapons and walking to what might be his death.

Frankly, it is railroadish. He deviated from your storyline, and you "killed" his character. I imagine he felt frustrated; that he was supposed to read your mind; and that it wasn't much use making decisions in character, because your storyline overrode his sense of his character.

I think you can put parameters on characters before the game starts*, but when the dice start rolling, the player is in charge of their character. They might make suboptimal choices, but they aren't the "wrong" choice. Your job is to figure out how to work those choices into the storyline. Sometimes the character does die. Sometimes the character does leave the game. But that should be a clear and conscious decision on the part of the player, not the result of choosing to run by horse instead of choosing to run on foot.

So what should you have done? Let him ride. You're the DM, you control the entire world, he gets one lousy character. You can have the horse trip when it jumps a ditch, or the gates close, without forcing him to break character. Maybe a wild boar attacks just then, or the zombie rise up, or a group of children suddenly run out into the street (does the character ride down them down to save his skin, or stop and get captured? Defining moment!).

The goal is for everyone to have fun. Support their character concept. Help them develop it in game. Give them opportunities to shine.

*I have two rules for new characters. No evil characters, and characters must be willing to work in a group with other characters.

Good luck! :)
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
I have to wonder how a good DM presents a player with a situation in which his options are quite limited without it seeming heavy handed.
You tell them before they have to make a choice. Seriously. If you don't want him to ride, then make it clear riding is a bad choice, but do it without breaking character. Telling him the gate is too far and they will close it before he gets there isn't heavy-handed, it's telling him what any experienced mercenary would know.

The real world is full of subtlies that we use to make decisions. We use five senses to constantly evaluate our surroundings. Players in an rpg only know what you tell them; it's an extremely limited viewpoint. You can't present all options as equal unless they seem to be that way, and you can't penalize the players for acting on that information.

Or is that just bad form - it's just best not to try to arrest PCs?
The situation was fine; your response needed work.

Cheers!
 
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mwnrnc

First Post
And don't try to tell me you weren't railroading him. Your response to his proposed course of action was, "You can't do that. You will do what I want you to do or I will do everything in my power to force you to do what I want you to do. And if for some reason I can't force you to do it, then you'll have to roll up a new character any way." If I had to write up a textbook example of what railroading is, this would be the example

Sorry, I just don't see it that way. His proposed choice of action - flee from town after being accused of a major crime - was going to result in him being out of the adventure for the foreseeable future. As I previously mentioned, I polled the party - none of them were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt or try to help him clear his name because they had no connection with him. Had he left the village, he would be unwelcome there, which was bad news because the party was doing its thing in the village. So does he sit out for the rest of the session? Get an NPC to play while his character sits in the woods and sulks?

I'll admit it was heavy handed and perhaps ill-timed given the circumstances of the new game, but I contend it played out in a reasonable, non-railroad way. And then I have to ask, how do you arrest a player? Send one guard at them so they can kill or escape them if they want because hey, I have to make sure every option is open to him? How are the town guards a credible threat if they do that?
 

Thunderfoot

First Post
You've received some great advice on this situation so I'll leave that be.

But I can help you out a bit on assumptions as a DM. I have, unfortunately, a metric butt ton of experience with that.

Rule 1) Never assume your players will do anything, even if they normally do it one way doesn't mean they won't do it differently today.

Rule 2) When going over a situation in your head, always think of the absolute worst case scenario you think your players can put themselves in and then multiply that by 10 and extrapolate.

Rule 3) If you get to a point where you have either painted yourself into a corner or they have gone so far off course that you are beyond lost. Stop the game, admit what happened and if possible take a few minutes to fix it or wrap for the night, give some bonus XP for their ingenuity and drive on next session.

I have three examples of my own play that prove my experience -
1) as a very young DM a player was playing a paladin who (in 1st ed) used his Detect Evil to peg a group of oncoming enemy and helped set up an ambush to even the odds. They used lantern oil and a canopy from a bed (along with the wizard's Burning Hands spell) to create fiery death for a large war party of orcs.

2) An Ogre fighter (2nd ed) pulled the a barn door off of an out building and used it as an arrow shield to move the party from point A to point B while under attack from a large group of archers.

3) A wizard bypassed an entire planned wilderness encounter when he remembered he had a Teleportation scroll in his possession. He concentrated on the party's base, cast the spell and seven days of overland travel were pitched into the garbage (3rd ed)

In every situation, I gave the player's the benefit of the doubt because frankly, every solution was damned clever and well within the character's standard actions. In the first it literally saved their bacon. In the second it gave them a tactical advantage as they were able to get under cover and then take out the archer groups one at a time. In the third it was a mixed blessing, they missed three re-occurring bad guys, but also missed meeting a very helpful NPC. (whom they never did run into.)
 

mwnrnc

First Post
So what should you have done? Let him ride. You're the DM, you control the entire world, he gets one lousy character. You can have the horse trip when it jumps a ditch, or the gates close, without forcing him to break character. Maybe a wild boar attacks just then, or the zombie rise up, or a group of children suddenly run out into the street (does the character ride down them down to save his skin, or stop and get captured? Defining moment!). :)

Thanks, that's honestly the best advice I've had tonight.
 


Nellisir

Adventurer
His proposed choice of action - flee from town after being accused of a major crime - was going to result in him being out of the adventure for the foreseeable future.

Never, ever, count on bringing the characters to the adventure. It's much less stressful to bring the adventure to them.

And yeah, sometimes it is easier to be heavy handed. Prophetic dreams. Bahamut says so. Baphomet says so. What are gods for, anyways, if not to mess around with mortals and make their lives interesting?

You control the entire world; just twist the road a little under their feet...they never need to know.... :devil:


* If a character in my game does something particularly mind-numbingly stupid, a giant flaming haycart falls from the sky and crushes them. If it's REALLY stupid, there are oxen attached to the haycart.**

** OK, that's never really happened. But I like to tell them it could.
 

Thunderfoot

First Post
Never, ever, count on bringing the characters to the adventure. It's much less stressful to bring the adventure to them.

And yeah, sometimes it is easier to be heavy handed. Prophetic dreams. Bahamut says so. Baphomet says so. What are gods for, anyways, if not to mess around with mortals and make their lives interesting?

You control the entire world; just twist the road a little under their feet...they never need to know.... :devil:


* If a character in my game does something particularly mind-numbingly stupid, a giant flaming haycart falls from the sky and crushes them. If it's REALLY stupid, there are oxen attached to the haycart.**

** OK, that's never really happened. But I like to tell them it could.
Under the old rules (1st & 2nd editions) I used to say "You have offended the gods, you are struck by 1 million 1millionth hp lightning bolts. You only take 1 hp of damage but you now have to make 1 million saving throws for each piece of your gear."
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
Thanks, that's honestly the best advice I've had tonight.

A bitter pill (does not escape) goes down easier with sugar (choses to be captured; displays nobility and self-sacrifice). Players should be rewarded for acting in character. (And before someone brings it up, sometimes the reward is a glorious death for the character. That's cool.)

And there is nothing wrong with explaining how the townsfolk will see his actions. You have a much better understanding of the culture and character of the townspeople than he (the player) does. It's your vision. You're allowed to translate.

Edit: Actually, I want to point out an important distinction. You are rewarding the player, not the character. Players generally want fun and attention. I am in no way, shape, or form saying you must shower the characters with gold pieces and magical geegaws.
 
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Ringlerun

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 have some questions about this. Was the player in the game from the start or was he added later on? Was it the players idea to make his character a mercenary/brigand or yours?

Why have the local girl seduce the mercenary/brigand? Why not the ranger or the guard. So the only player with a criminal background is seduced by a local girl and discovered by the father. Then you have the Sheriff and 2 guards (1 being a player) come to talk to him about allegations. Then tell the player if he runs he might as well make a new character?

I declare shenanigans.

From what you described you just railroaded that player into a no win situation.

Why have the Sheriff and 2 guards. Why not just have the player character guard talk to him discretely about the allegations and then as a group they could formulate a plan to exonerate the player of the crime. Or at least the ranger might now of a hidy hole in the woods were the player could hide out until everything gets solved.
 
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Psychotic Jim

First Post
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?"

I don't think this is a case that can be judged as an example of "right" or "wrong" GMing style. Rather, there seems to be a mismatch between what some of your players expect and what you expect. Rather than worrying about placing blame, it will be all of your responsibility to resolve the conflict. On the one hand, the one or two players are saying they don't have the meaningful information they need to make decisions that work. OTOH, you're stating that this particular player has not been trying hard enough to find those solutions. So it seems the mismatch on expectations lies in the difficulty of the in-game decision making context.

Looking at your anecdote, I can see some causes for disagreements. In the player's defense, a few of the contextual clues seem to be mixed. The father was angry, but why did he let the offender get away in the first place? If he was a local hero, the accusations were full of holes, and he had worked with the other PCs to help the town, why would they be obliged not to help him? The player could have seen this as a plot by his enemies to take him out without a fair trial- and the sheriff and his men could be in on the take, for example- especially if they were trying to seem friendly. In a case of immediate arrest for a heinous crime like this- time is of the essence and may not allow for a lot of questions.

OTOH, in your defense, demanding that you give away too much is certainly objectionable. "Hint" is a vague term- it could be an OOC DM warnings like "Are you sure?" or it could mean that he might like more contextual clues. Speak with your players on what exactly they mean by this; perhaps you all have more in common than you think.

Another thing that seems to be going on is that, in your anecdote, you were explicitly on explaining to the players what not to do. The player was told his action would likely fail, and it sounded like you might have spoke for the other players' PCs not being inclined to support him (correct me if I misunderstood you and the players reached this decision themselves). The player may have gotten defensive at having his idea shot down (rather than seeing your efforts to clarify things)- and then perceived that he "had no other choice". In this case, he might have thought he was being proactive only to be arbitrarily shot down. In this case, there might have been a miscommunication of intentions- a perceived context of ideas of what would not work is not always the same as providing them a context of ideas of what could or might work.
 


Rogue Agent

First Post
Sorry, I just don't see it that way.

Then you aren't willing to see or fix the problem.

If you came here expecting a kumbaya celebrating your puissance as a GM, I'm afraid you're not going to get it from me: Your player was right. You were railroading him.

And then I have to ask, how do you arrest a player? Send one guard at them so they can kill or escape them if they want because hey, I have to make sure every option is open to him? How are the town guards a credible threat if they do that?

You don't get to play the "if you do this, then you have to roll up a new character" card and then claim that it's all logical from the perspective of the game world.

You want the guards to be a credible threat? Then make them a credible threat. Backing them up with a metagame threat doesn't make them credible. It just makes the railroading blatant.

Not much else that can be said about this until you're willing to admit you have a problem.
 

Loonook

First Post
Personally from the player standpoint I would have thought that to be a horrid situation to run from... I don't wanna be part of Ye Old Cops Episode when I have the possibility of moving forward and possibly gaining something from the whole escapade... The fun of the trial and making the DM twist on it would be worth it :D.

As a DM? I've had PCs arrested, even had one time when two were executed. Led to a crowning moment of awesome when the executed PC, an evil little piece of work, made an excellent "You all know who I am and what I do" vengeance speech outing the villain he had been working for off-screen in side-sessions... The PCs patron/main villain. That player held out for almost a year pulling shenanigans, and helped to start a war that had ripples through the rest of the campaign... Not a lot of characters who die in the first cycle who make waves into the next 6.

Slainte,

-Loonook.
 

Elf Witch

First Post
You don't get to play the "if you do this, then you have to roll up a new character" card and then claim that it's all logical from the perspective of the game world.

You want the guards to be a credible threat? Then make them a credible threat. Backing them up with a metagame threat doesn't make them credible. It just makes the railroading blatant.

Not much else that can be said about this until you're willing to admit you have a problem.

You are very wrong there are times when a DM can say if you do this, you will have to roll up a new character and it is not railroading.

In my game going evil means handing me your character sheet and rolling up a new one because your PC just became an NPC.

I think the DM was a little heavy handed in his approach but I don't see it as classic railroading. The DM already has said that there were other options like bribery, diplomacy, running off and hiding or allowing himself to be arrested.

What he seemed to be worried about was the PC just taking off and leaving and not coming back which in truth could lead to having to roll up a new character. If the PC is not going to be involved in the adventure because he has run off and the rest of the party don't want to leave then you have an issue. What are you going to do run two different games.
 

Li Shenron

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

I am far from venerable, but here's my 2cp :)

What you did wrong was to have this scenario in your game. Do not try to put a case like arresting an innocent PC (if I understand right, he's being setup and did not commit any crime) in the game unless you're confident that the players will be fine with it.

IMXP there'a lot of people who hate when their PCs become victims of injustice because this unfortunately is one of the most heart-breaking, hope-draining and enraging thing that can happen in real life. Let the evil guys in the story have the exclusive on being unjust, because many players will not just submit to the accusations if they think their PCs are innocent, and some may even attack the guards.

How did you honestly expect the story to continue, had the player played "correctly"? Did you expect him to surrender to the guards, face the accusations, probably go to jail and wait to be saved by his pals? Were you going to put some trial into the story? This may actually be interesting for some gaming groups, but personally I wouldn't like that at all, I would find it boring (I rarely enjoy trials in movies and TV-series). Also for me D&D is actually a game where I want to see the BBEG get caught, killed, and possibly worse, and if the good guys are caught into something like that, I want it to be the evil guys' work (which obviously should then be caught, killed, and possibly worse), not the regular, legitimate law.

I understand that perhaps I am a simpleton. I admit that the game for me is an evasion. I see innocent people being punished in real life for crimes they didn't commit, and I hate it. At least let me have some confort from our fantasy stories. :uhoh:

Oh and one more thing... unless your players are actually your friends and you're sure they're fine with it, avoid any reference to sexual harassment and violence against children in your games. I went even as far as consciously deciding to stop mentioning children and offspring in my campaigns (except of course in harmless situations) to prevent any chance of having to deal with sensitive issues: no baby orcs in my game = no trite paladin dilemmas about what to do with them.

So how would I handle your case now? I would talk the player into not running away and tell him that the guards will believe him and not proceed to arrest, and if the player doesn't want it, I'll scrap the whole incident and pretend it never happened.
 
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