Is there a DM Obligation for PC Abilities?

What is the DM's obligation to the forgetful player who doesn't remember the PC's abilities?

  • 1. DM should remind the player when the ability is useful during the game.

    Votes: 12 13.3%
  • 2. DM can hint, but not tell the player, during the game.

    Votes: 4 4.4%
  • 3. DM should remind the player between sessions, but not during the game.

    Votes: 4 4.4%
  • 4. DM has no obligation to remind the player.

    Votes: 34 37.8%
  • 5. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.

    Votes: 12 13.3%
  • 6. A DM can try anything, but only the player can listen.

    Votes: 24 26.7%

  • Total voters
    90
  • Poll closed .
I don’t mind prompting players to use abilities they may be overlooking. Mostly I let the other players help out with that, but I do it from time to time, too.

If it’s chronic though, I address it through relentless sarcasm and mockery.
 
The answer to this question is highly dependant on the type of game. In a classic Arnesian dungeon crawl the DM would not, ideally coach the players. In Dungeon World the question is almost mechanically meaningless. In a fairly story-focused game like my 4e-likes the focus is on how the PC's abilities drive or explicate the fiction. In this game the GM might well point out the chance to do that. He also might not...
 

Harzel

Adventurer
Yeah, completely dependent on the situation - particularly the players, but also things like general table atmosphere (casual or intense), and frequency of play. But in general speaking of an 'obligation' I think misses what, for me, is the crux of the matter. Just as in a good D&D game, in life you get to make choices that have consequences. If a player is not using all their PCs capabilities, you can decide if you want that to change or not, and, if so, more particularly what you want the outcome to be. Feelings about being obliged, or, on the other end, some feeling that you 'shouldn't have to' help the player are, if not totally irrelevant, at least way down the priority list, IMO.

A more interesting question is, if you do want to help the player, what is the most effective way to do it? One thing it is probably good to keep in mind in general is an important rule of thumb for giving advice: always give advice just before it is needed. In the case of D&D PCs, one could interpret that as prompting during play at the point when a player should declare the use of a PC capability. My instinct, though, is that the best time in general would be a short time before a session. The reason is that the behavior you are trying to promote is not just the player using the PC's capabilities, but rather the player thinking to use the capabilities. If the player knows the PC's features, but is just forgetting to use them, I do it just before the session. If they need to brush up on the features, then maybe the day before the session.

Prompting during play is really more modeling the behavior for the player than enabling/helping them to do it themselves. I would only use modeling as a starting point for very inexperienced players, younger kids, etc.

A corollary, by the way, is that one of the less effective approaches is talking to the player right after a session. It might work, but there's a greater chance that the player will just feel bad (even if you are nice about it) and/or the memory will fade than if you give them the advice closer to the point that they can use it.

My 2 c.p.
 
@Harzel Yes, I think your answer is good for more 'classic' types of game, where fundamentally the model is that the DM puts the PCs in danger and the players try to figure out how to get them out, manage resources to achieve some longer-term aim, etc.
I play a much more 'story-oriented' type of game where PC's powers are a reflection of how they work within the story. The Sorcerer is channeling Elemental Chaos and trying to both use it to achieve some character goals and not to blow up. The player is unlikely to forget what her character can do when fundamentally the logic of doing anything at all is so closely tied into the character's nature. Because the process is one of 'play to find out what happens to this explosive Sorcerer' the 'splody powers are gonna feature a lot there. Now, it is still possible a player could miss a cue so to speak. Maybe the Sorcerer player forgets she has 'Burning Flame' and doesn't realize that would be the perfect move here in order to drive things forward. Usually though players in this type of game are highly aware of their PCs capabilities and how they play to their character concept.
Of course this type of play might not appeal to all types either, so there are bound to be players who will just sort of 'fall flat' there, but I'm not sure it will be because they can't remember to use Power X, it will be more because they just don't find the story interesting or compelling, etc.
 

Harzel

Adventurer
@Harzel Yes, I think your answer is good for more 'classic' types of game, where fundamentally the model is that the DM puts the PCs in danger
Well, actually my players do a good enough job of that themselves. ;)

and the players try to figure out how to get them out, manage resources to achieve some longer-term aim, etc.
I play a much more 'story-oriented' type of game where PC's powers are a reflection of how they work within the story. The Sorcerer is channeling Elemental Chaos and trying to both use it to achieve some character goals and not to blow up. The player is unlikely to forget what her character can do when fundamentally the logic of doing anything at all is so closely tied into the character's nature. Because the process is one of 'play to find out what happens to this explosive Sorcerer' the 'splody powers are gonna feature a lot there. Now, it is still possible a player could miss a cue so to speak. Maybe the Sorcerer player forgets she has 'Burning Flame' and doesn't realize that would be the perfect move here in order to drive things forward. Usually though players in this type of game are highly aware of their PCs capabilities and how they play to their character concept.
Of course this type of play might not appeal to all types either, so there are bound to be players who will just sort of 'fall flat' there, but I'm not sure it will be because they can't remember to use Power X, it will be more because they just don't find the story interesting or compelling, etc.
Ok, you have drawn a distinction between game styles, but I'm not sure what you think the consequence is for how a DM can/should coach players w.r.t. their characters capabilities. I might be missing an inference since I am less familiar with the kind of game your are describing. Can you be more explicit about how you think coaching for your type of game should be different from what I described?
 

Harzel

Adventurer
So, addendum: I chose option #4, but with the caveat that if a player is not using their PC's capabilities fully and you think it would improve the game if they did, then you can either sit and admire the problem, or you can do something about it. Obviously, I recommend the latter.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
To me, the GMs obligation is to run a fair and enjoyable game. For some, that might mean reminding them. Others not.

For me, I go st the gameplay from the CHARACTER perspective much less that player system mastery. So, on occasion, I will carefully remind them of abilities and take into account certain known strengths in descriptive. Often it's just a matter of asking and phrasing the typical exchanges in a certain way rather than an explicit "are you going to?"

"I attack the burly orc with my axe."
"Ok, roll your first swing of two, if you want to make the second here"
 
Well, actually my players do a good enough job of that themselves. ;)



Ok, you have drawn a distinction between game styles, but I'm not sure what you think the consequence is for how a DM can/should coach players w.r.t. their characters capabilities. I might be missing an inference since I am less familiar with the kind of game your are describing. Can you be more explicit about how you think coaching for your type of game should be different from what I described?
Mostly I just think that typically a game, and players, that are really focused on that type of play will be very motivated to engage with their PC's capabilities, since it is their main story-telling 'handle'.
I think 4e sort of halfway did that sort of thing, but most people didn't play it that way. 5e is definitely more of a 2e-esque kind of split-brain game that sort of wants to be about story, but can't stop trying to be a dungeon crawl at the same time. So it probably depends a lot on how it is approached.
Anyway, in a game like my hack of 4e, things are bit more like something like FATE where you leverage the PCs different attributes (by which I mean anything on their sheet really) to explain how you're changing the narrative. The ranger uses his amazing archery to shoot a line to the tree instead of plunging off the cliff, that sort of thing. Yeah, you might forget you got a +1 in some oddball situation, maybe, but there is also a bunch less of that than in most D&D games.
 

Dausuul

Legend
A DM has absolutely no obligation to coach players on their abilities. I do it when I notice somebody is forgetting something that could help them significantly--but I'm not going to go out of my way to keep track, and when I'm on the player side of the table, I don't think the DM has any duty to help me.

I do think there is an obligation for the entire table to help newbies learn the ropes, but that's a specific case, and IMO the responsibility should fall as much or more on the other players than the DM (who already has plenty to do).
 

Hussar

Legend
Yeah, I don't see it as an obligation to mention character stuff. Honestly, I rarely have enough grasp of the nitty gritty of the classes that I would notice unless it was REALLY blatant (how come you've never cast a spell above 1st level, we are 10th level now :D) . But, no, I don't see it as an obligation.

And, I might even take it a step further. We're doing Ghosts of Saltmarsh, and the Abbey Island module. Which, in the preamble to the module, the characters are told that the beach of the island is guarded by a horde of skeletons.

Not one of the players bothered to buy a blunt weapon. :/

And then one of the players complained about the grind. Which, honestly, does grind my gears a bit since I made it pretty clear that there was a horde of skeletons there. If the players make no effort to act on the information I DO give them, then, well, I don't really feel any obligation to remind them of anything.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I would say no. The exception is where player knowledge knowledge is inferior to PC knowledge; for example where the party encounters something the players are utterly unfamiliar with (generally due to setting), but some or all their PCs would immediately understand.
 

Kurotowa

Adventurer
So let's sketch a hypothetical. The party leveled up two weeks ago and Joe's PC got a new ability that's a little specialized and hasn't come up in play yet. Then the situation where it applies arrives and Joe doesn't recall he's got an answer for it, but I do. What do I do?

If I'm a player at the table, you can better believe I'll say to Joe "Hey, didn't you get a new ability to use for this?" We're friends, I want Joe to get his moment to shine, and forgetting about a new and unused ability can happen to any of us. Saying nothing would be a dick move.

Now with that established let's turn it around. If I'm the DM instead of a fellow player, do I have a reason NOT to say that to Joe? Well... maybe I do. As the DM I'm supposed to pose challenges to the players and let them come up with the solutions. If I offer up the solutions to them I'm cheating them out of the fun of the game. So maybe I don't offer the reminder immediately. If they do something else right away, fine. If they don't, then I can ask Joe for a DC 5 Int check to win a reminder that he just learned a new trick. Making him roll for it means it feels less like the DM coaching the players and more like the character recovering from a moment of forgetfulness. And of course, as others have said, if Joe's a new player he gets a lot more free reminders about how the game works.
 
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cmad1977

Adventurer
So let's sketch a hypothetical. The party leveled up two weeks ago and Joe's PC got a new ability that's a little specialized and hasn't come up in play yet. Then the situation where it applies arrives and Joe doesn't recall he's got an answer for it, but I do. What do I do?

If I'm a player at the table, you can better believe I'll say to Joe "Hey, didn't you get a new ability to use for this?" We're friends, I want Joe to get his moment to shine, and forgetting about a new and unused ability can happen to any of us. Saying nothing would be a dick move.

Now with that established let's turn it around. If I'm the DM instead of a fellow player, do I have a reason NOT to say that to Joe? Well... maybe I do. As the DM I'm supposed to pose challenges to the players and let them come up with the solutions. If I offer up the solutions to them I'm cheating them out of the fun of the game. So maybe I don't offer the reminder immediately. If they do something else right away, fine. If they don't, then I can ask Joe for a DC 5 Int check to win a reminder that he just learned a new trick. Making him roll for it means it feels less like the DM coaching the players and more like the character recovering from a moment of forgetfulness. And of course, as others have said, if Joe's a new player he gets a lot more free reminders about how the game works.
As a DM I absolutely remind the player of things that their CHARACTER WOULD ABSOLUTELY KNOW!

A couple times anyways, then it’s not on me and I have other things to worry about.
 

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