D&D General How much control do DMs need?

hawkeyefan

Legend
Sometimes. Not necessarily always, I don't think; and this applies to when things are too easy for the PCs as well as too hard.

No it doesn’t. Things being too easy for the characters is a very different thing.

As far as I know from the "media coverage" lo these many years, the party were utterly and completely outgunned. What I don't know are the specific details as to just how much warning they had - whether for example they saw from a distance the demons standing on the front steps and still tried to sneak past them into the tower. I also don't know how much demon knowledge the players/PCs had - this was early days and they were as yet not at a level where demons would be expected, so it's possible they didn't recognize the demons (either in or out of character) for what they were. I'm fairly sure they had no idea there was a lich in the tower (but could be wrong on that) though the lich's name was, I believe, already familiar to them kind of in a mentor's mentor's mentor way.

Yeah, there are too many unknowns to say for sure… but the gist I’m getting is that this would be problematic at my table.

And yes, the demons were rather casual about how they dealt with these annoying little PCs. I mean, they only killed three... :)

Who says they even need to kill any at all?

The demons were already in place as door guards.

So what? Was there a reaction roll? Anything else that was used? Again, we don’t know all the details but it sounds like the DM gave the players incomplete information and then punished them for not knowing more.

In my case, I see it as part of what the players signed up for - that fiction and character takes precedence over table concerns; and that what happens in character stays in character.

But it’s not a matter of what’s in character. It’s a question of whether a game is fair or not. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be things that are beyond the characters’ abilities to deal with… but when that’s the case, it should be communicated in a way that’s lends more context than “it’s dangerous”.

Situationally dependent. If for example at least some of the PCs were determined to take on these demons no matter what (which, knowing some of the players, might well have been the case), then what?

That’s when they’ll have made a more informed decision and so the results are on them instead of the DM.


To me this whole scenario is a fine example of character-side trial-and-error adventuring; and had I been the DM I don't think I'd have done anything differently in a broad sense (can't speak to fine-tuned specifics).

Not really… it sounds more like player side trial and error, at least for the players who lost their characters. Now they know, as players, to never know what to expect. Seems like a crappy lesson to learn, and it also seems to shatter your typical views on metagaming.

Why? If "dangerous" is all they happen to have heard then sorry, in the moment they decide to wander over there that's all the information they get. If they're not careful they'll find out by trial and error what "dangerous" means in this context when they get there.

What’s the first question when someone hears a place is dangerous?

“Why?”

Dangerous is typically an invitation for characters in D&D. It’s not enough context to matter.

Welcome to the sandbox. :)

Seems more like a litter-box to me.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If you've let them know it's "a dangerous tower", why stop there? In what situation would they have learned that it was dangerous, but not why?
The very situation we're discussing here: while travelling, the PCs happen to see a tower in the distance and ask each other what they know of it. All they can come up with on their own is having heard rumours of it being dangerous.
And even if there is some reason for that, why not then use the opportunity to introduce something more useful as you've suggested? Why just play it out as harshly as possible?
Heh - "as harshly as possible" would not leave any survivors.

Also, it's a matter of honouring the setting. If the prep says there's a lich's tower there, that tower isn't about to get up and move somewhere else just because some know-nothing PCs wander by. Nor is it about to become all nicey-nice for them.

And, in an odd twist, the party didn't know it at the time (and nor did the demon door guards) but the reason they were travelling by there in the first place was in a roundabout way as a service for that very same lich!
There just seems so many opportunities that the DM is passing by in order to punish the players.
If it was punishment, then why do those players* still tell - and laugh at - that story all these years later?

* - those I still see, anyway. Havne't seen some of 'em since about 1982.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
We don't know the whole story, but to me it sounds worse.

The players are told that they see a tower in the distance, and only know that the tower is dangerous. Keep in mind "dangerous" is adventurer speak for interesting and profitable.
That's not the DM's problem. "Dangerous" also means what it says on the tin.
Presumably, they don't have any pressing business or more interesting hooks, so decide to check it out, as adventures do - when presented with something interesting.
This is an odd one, in that they were on a sub-mission they didn't really know about (they had in their possession an item that certain people wanted to see arrive at a certain place, and the PCs were likely to go there) and as far as I know thought they were simply on their way from one place to another between adventures.
We're told that the group didn't do their due diligence in scouting the place, but that's a second hand account. We don't know what they actually did/didn't do or what the DM signposted, if anything.
Yes, and with apologies I can't give any deeper detail on that as I don't have it. All I have to go on is a very brief game log and memory of the stories I've been told (many times).
We do know that they tried to sneak in, met with something and the ones that didn't immediately flee, immediately died.
Pretty much - they didn't even get in the front door, the demons met them on the steps. I'm not sure if the PCs attacked the demons (though knowing some of the players, it wouldn't be any surprise if they did), but I do know the PCs tried and failed to sneak around them.
That to me seems a waste of an interesting adventuring opportunity. Especially if it was a new group where the PLAYERS didn't realize they were in over their heads.

Now, again, maybe the DM flat looked at the group and said: this place seems evil and truly, truly deadly you feel dread just stepping into the grounds something EPICALLY bad dwells here - just so you know. And the group moved on anyway - in which case, well ok. But somehow I doubt it.

And even still, this is the perfect opportunity for the DM, thrown a bit of a curve ball, as opposed to the one usually throwing them, to have a different type of scenario entirely. One where the big bad throws the group for a big loop and recruits/blackmails or otherwise conscripts them Or something to that effect.
In hindsight, all of this is probably valid. At the time, with someone still relatively new to DMing, I'd still stand behind what actually happened even without knowing all the details.
Wiping them out is just a bit too obvious and short sighed for the litch.
Indeed, but they weren't wiped out: there were three survivors.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But it’s not a matter of what’s in character. It’s a question of whether a game is fair or not. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be things that are beyond the characters’ abilities to deal with… but when that’s the case, it should be communicated in a way that’s lends more context than “it’s dangerous”.
I disagree. "It's dangerous" should be all it takes to either get them going toward it (if the characters are either naive or unwise) or get them asking about it (if they're wise).
Not really… it sounds more like player side trial and error, at least for the players who lost their characters. Now they know, as players, to never know what to expect. Seems like a crappy lesson to learn, and it also seems to shatter your typical views on metagaming.
It's character-side trial and error. The survivors know not to go back there and can warn their new recruits; and have also (one would think) learned that info-gathering might be wiser than just wandering into places.

As players, if they think they know what to expect then I'm probably doing it wrong.
What’s the first question when someone hears a place is dangerous?

“Why?”
And if they're in a position to ask that and do, odds are very high they'll get answers. Maybe lots of answers. And some of them might even be true. :)
Seems more like a litter-box to me.
Hmmm...insult intended?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I disagree. "It's dangerous" should be all it takes to either get them going toward it (if the characters are either naive or unwise) or get them asking about it (if they're wise).

It's character-side trial and error. The survivors know not to go back there and can warn their new recruits; and have also (one would think) learned that info-gathering might be wiser than just wandering into places.

As players, if they think they know what to expect then I'm probably doing it wrong.

And if they're in a position to ask that and do, odds are very high they'll get answers. Maybe lots of answers. And some of them might even be true. :)

Hmmm...insult intended?

You weren’t the GM so I didn’t think it’d be an insult. It was a joke.

Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea at all. The players seem to be in the dark about all manner of things. The game seems to be more about the DM’s secrets than about anything else.

I feel like the point largely seems to be to wait until something wipes the party out and then laugh at them and explain all the reasons they didn’t know about which made it happen. It’d rub me the wrong way, for sure.
 

Aldarc

Legend
We don't know the whole story, but to me it sounds worse.

The players are told that they see a tower in the distance, and only know that the tower is dangerous. Keep in mind "dangerous" is adventurer speak for interesting and profitable.

Presumably, they don't have any pressing business or more interesting hooks, so decide to check it out, as adventures do - when presented with something interesting.
Another point that I would add is that people often talk about the social contract of play, particularly in GM-curated games, that often involves the tacit idea that players should bite at the hooks that the GM gives you since they likely put in a lot of work into prepping for that.

Why? If "dangerous" is all they happen to have heard then sorry, in the moment they decide to wander over there that's all the information they get. If they're not careful they'll find out by trial and error what "dangerous" means in this context when they get there.

Welcome to the sandbox. :)
Sandboxes require, IMHO, players being able to make informed decisions, which requires good GM-framing of the fiction and the world. Simply signposting a place as "dangerous" sounds neither helpful nor informative to those ends. I'm surprised that you are defending this sort of play since it honestly sounds like how an inexperienced GM would run a sandbox.
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
That to me seems a waste of an interesting adventuring opportunity. Especially if it was a new group where the PLAYERS didn't realize they were in over their heads.
Notwithstanding how the tower was set up, it need not be a waste to show a dangerous location that might be revisited later. A deferred adventuring opportunity.

I'm curious to know if the surviving PCs might have returned to that tower later? Anyway, for me it shouldn't always be see the thing, resolve the thing. Immediate gratification. You're not saying that, right?

The players are told that they see a tower in the distance, and only know that the tower is dangerous. Keep in mind "dangerous" is adventurer speak for interesting and profitable.
I wouldn't make that assumption, although it might have applied in the example to hand.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You weren’t the GM so I didn’t think it’d be an insult. It was a joke.
I took it badly as I run my games much the same way, which should come as no surprise given that this is the person who largely taught me how to DM. :)
Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea at all. The players seem to be in the dark about all manner of things. The game seems to be more about the DM’s secrets than about anything else.
That's kinda been the case all the way along, and I don't mind - there's a lot of solve-the-mysterious-backstory elements baked into that campaign and always have been.
I feel like the point largely seems to be to wait until something wipes the party out and then laugh at them and explain all the reasons they didn’t know about which made it happen. It’d rub me the wrong way, for sure.
You keep referring to "wiping the party out", so perhaps I'd best mention here that in 42 years this DM has never yet run a TPK.

Come close a few times, mind you, but never wiped out a whole party. And that's despite the best efforts of some pretty gonzo players over the years... :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Notwithstanding how the tower was set up, it need not be a waste to show a dangerous location that might be revisited later. A deferred adventuring opportunity.

I'm curious to know if the surviving PCs might have returned to that tower later?
I know various characters and parties in that campaign have since had (very) occasional directly interactions with the lich who lives there, but I don't remember if any of those interactions were in her tower and also don't remember if any of those characters were from that ill-fated early group. I'm pretty sure I-as-player haven't ever had a character go there, but I've not been in every party in that game.
Anyway, for me it shouldn't always be see the thing, resolve the thing. Immediate gratification.
Same here.
I wouldn't make that assumption, although it might have applied in the example to hand.
It's entirely possible the DM says dangerous meaning one thing and the players/PCs take it to mean something else. Which could reflect the characters' thought processes as well: they hear some random NPC talk about something dangerous* so off they go to investigate it, where in fact "dangerous" really means stay the hell clear of the place unless you kill gods in your spare time.

(for a nastier twist, a "dangerous" rumour about a place could be a lure or plant to get the PCs to go there, and thus stand them into extreme danger and-or distract them from something going on elsewhere)
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Notwithstanding how the tower was set up, it need not be a waste to show a dangerous location that might be revisited later. A deferred adventuring opportunity.

I'm curious to know if the surviving PCs might have returned to that tower later? Anyway, for me it shouldn't always be see the thing, resolve the thing. Immediate gratification. You're not saying that, right?
Didn't at all sound like that to me. Instead, it sounded like, "this could have still been an adventure of harrowing hide-and-seek then flee to return another day," rather than "and now most/all of you just die."

I wouldn't make that assumption, although it might have applied in the example to hand.
As noted, this assumption is literally as old as the hobby. So even if you wouldn't, a lot of people would have. If DMs are going to lay claim to such great power, it comes with several responsibilities, and one of those is to not leave important things vague or ambiguous. "Dangerous" is both, and expecting "dangerous" alone to prompt painstakingly meticulous research is silly. As I said before, this isn't to say that the players have no responsibility here, they surely do. But the DM's responsibility is both prior and greater, the way this situation has been presented.

That's kinda been the case all the way along, and I don't mind - there's a lot of solve-the-mysterious-backstory elements baked into that campaign and always have been.
I guess I just don't get how this differs from "read the DM's mind." Nothing is told unless you ask the right questions, so how do you even know what questions to ask or even when to ask them? And if you just constantly ask questions about every tiny detail because you never know what is the one and only vague and cryptic clue you'll get before the hammer falls, how does the game ever go anywhere?

You keep referring to "wiping the party out", so perhaps I'd best mention here that in 42 years this DM has never yet run a TPK.

Come close a few times, mind you, but never wiped out a whole party. And that's despite the best efforts of some pretty gonzo players over the years... :)
It's not really that different if only 1-2 people survived. Doubly so if, after the second or third run, no one of the original crew is still around.

You can extol the virtues of the group self as much as you like, but it won't make me feel more invested when everyone I've befriended has died in six months or less and I'm on my third character that probably won't get any more character development than any of the previous ones did.
 
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