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Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, off to a good start

Elon Tusk

Villager
Is hurting enemies and destroying traps in a house by setting it on fire from the outside so different than disarming traps and killing monsters that are restrained by Hold Monster? It's a different method. It could harm innocents inside or destroy items or clues, but using a fireball in combat often has collateral damage. Is burning a house different than shooting a fireball into a cave?

If creatures inside the house aren't killed, they will likely take damage. They might even flee the house to keep from taking more damage in which case the PCs could have readied action to attack them.

Burning down a house is not the usual method of tackling the problem; I'm not sure how you could say its not more inventive than the normal way of going room by room and fighting what's there. I don't see how a sandbox campaign would automatically consider burning down a house a failure.

The thing with burning down the house is that as with any particular course of action the players consider, they are well-served to pass it through the filter of the goals of play. The game defines those goals as the DM and the players creating an exciting, memorable story of bold adventurers who confront deadly perils and having a good time doing it.

So the question the players could stand to ask themselves in my view - separate and apart from whether the DM will grant them XP or make gathering the treasure time-consuming or whether there will be unforeseen consequences - is whether burning down the house is going to achieve the goals of play. It might. But then again it might not. To me, it's worth thinking about before proceeding.
I'm trying to find where the game defines the goals of play you list: the goals have to include bold adventurers? The adventurers have to have a good time?

From RAW, it seems like gaining levels is the mechanic for goals which can either be gained by experience points from overcoming challenges (most often combat), milestones, session-based advancement, or story-based for accomplishing campaign goals.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I'm trying to find where the game defines the goals of play you list: the goals have to include bold adventurers? The adventurers have to have a good time?
Basic Rules, page 3, in the paragraph about "winning and losing" in D&D. The "win" conditions are as I specified. This is the section of the rules that tell us what the game is supposed to be about (even if people don't play it that way sometimes). It does not say that the adventurers have to have a good time - it's the players this is referring to. The adventurers could be torn to bits, after all, and the players could still have fun.

From RAW, it seems like gaining levels is the mechanic for goals which can either be gained by experience points from overcoming challenges (most often combat), milestones, session-based advancement, or story-based for accomplishing campaign goals.
That is the incentive for the PCs pursuing goals, yes, but the overall goal for DM and players is to have a good time together and create an exciting, memorable story as a result of play. Each group individually would have to decide if burning down the house achieves that goal.
 
1. Sounds more inventive and less dangerous than the alternative...I don't punish players for doing the unexpected.
I think this sums up my whole point in this thread: it's neither inventive, creative, or unexpected. It's almost the first thing that a group of players think of every single time. It comes up all the time. It's probably the least creative solution that PC's could possibly try to apply, and in most cases it is a non-solution.

The only time I got took off guard by it was the time I mentioned before hand, and really I only got taken off guard by it because it was such an incredibly stupid plan that if I'd been any more a railroad-y DM I would have just told the PC, "Do you realize how stupid it is to burn down a place you were only planning to enter because you needed to find clues?". "Let's burn the place down" is a childish impulse that players give way to sometimes when they lose track of what they are trying to accomplish and invariably don't think through the consequences of their action. As it was, it was a huge setback for the party and it forced me to try to come up with alternative paths to allow the players to succeed. Honestly, I could have fairly punished them with just getting stuck and having disaster happen (everyone in the city would have died including quite probably the PCs), had I not felt bad for punishing all six players for the dumb dunderheaded decision one player had unilaterally decided on with a game ending TPK that none of them would have been in a position to do anything about. It would have been a "Rocks fall, you die!" moment had I not worked around it.

As it is, I told the players I needed a time out to think through the consequences (one of the few times that happened in the campaign), and after about 10 minutes of reading through the notes I settled on an aftermath concept. The sum total of the results of the PC's actions were: he destroyed all the clues that were needed to stop the city from being destroyed. He destroyed the treasure and magic items that would have advanced the player's cause. A young unwed pregnant mother and her infant child died in the fire (they were in the basement asleep when it broke out). And three volunteer fire brigade workers died when an undead polar bear, broke through the front window on fire, and proceeded to attack them. And I decided that since the young mother died a violent horrible death in a necromantically tainted area, that the odds were very high that she'd become undead herself, so the arsonist has been thereafter haunted by Barb the Ghost - who is occasionally weaponized by the Shaman PC in the party, often with results that backfire spectacularly (Barb induces a spectacularly high DC Fear save, and has a corrupting gaze that causes things she views to spontaneously combust) and/or result in the death and suffering of nearby innocents. And, the NPC necromancer that the PC was trying to kill not only survived, he's still around. Whereas, had they just taken the whole party in, they probably would have killed him.

So yeah, it's not creative. It's not inventive. It's usually not unexpected. And it tends to not actually solve the problem the player was originally trying to solve.
 

MonsterEnvy

Explorer
Is hurting enemies and destroying traps in a house by setting it on fire from the outside so different than disarming traps and killing monsters that are restrained by Hold Monster? It's a different method. It could harm innocents inside or destroy items or clues, but using a fireball in combat often has collateral damage. Is burning a house different than shooting a fireball into a cave?

If creatures inside the house aren't killed, they will likely take damage. They might even flee the house to keep from taking more damage in which case the PCs could have readied action to attack them.

Burning down a house is not the usual method of tackling the problem; I'm not sure how you could say its not more inventive than the normal way of going room by room and fighting what's there. I don't see how a sandbox campaign would automatically consider burning down a house a failure.



I'm trying to find where the game defines the goals of play you list: the goals have to include bold adventurers? The adventurers have to have a good time?

From RAW, it seems like gaining levels is the mechanic for goals which can either be gained by experience points from overcoming challenges (most often combat), milestones, session-based advancement, or story-based for accomplishing campaign goals.
No enemies are going to be hurt by the fire. There is a non burnable cave below the house. The only creatures that would flee out the front door are rats and stuff, and the PC's just standing outside the burning house ready to attack whoever comes out are going to look stupid.

The reason burning down the house is a failure, is because along with destroying everything of value. It means they are not going to find out anything. Which is the task they are hired for. Burning down the house fails every single goal in the adventure.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
So, I definitely would give players XP for solving problems that are actually solved by burning down the house. Conversely, I give zero XP for unnecessary encounters. "Poke some orcs in the nose" might represent a challenging encounter... but if there's no reason for the PCs to do it, I don't give out XP, no matter how dangerous it is.

A good example from popular fiction:
(SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 7)
[SBLOCK]
When the Khals are trying to decide the fate of Danaerys, she defeats them by burning down the entire building they are in, which works splendidly because she's immune to fire.

I would give her full XP for defeating the Khals using unconventional means, even though, as a combat encounter, they would have been beyond deadly.

(Obviously it's not a perfect example because GoT doesn't follow the rules of D&D and is part of a slightly different genre.)
[/SBLOCK]

And I definitely want the PCs to face the consequences for this action. It's kind of a stupid action. I guess the bigger issue is:

How do I make the consequences for a stupid action FUN, while not encouraging stupid actions?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
And I definitely want the PCs to face the consequences for this action. It's kind of a stupid action. I guess the bigger issue is:

How do I make the consequences for a stupid action FUN, while not encouraging stupid actions?
Man, I don't know if I'd want to live in a world where as DM I'm not encouraging stupid actions.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
How do I make the consequences for a stupid action FUN, while not encouraging stupid actions?
Broadly - have it result in action in which the PCs are at a clear disadvantage, but no so much of a disadvantage that they automatically lose.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Man, I don't know if I'd want to live in a world where as DM I'm not encouraging stupid actions.
LOL, I don't want to discourage stupid actions, either. ;)

So much of the advice on this thread sounds really punitive to me. "Deny them XP! Give them a bad reputation! Let them know they've screwed up the adventure and now the town will be destroyed! Nyaaaah!" This is boring to me. I seek a world in which every player decision, smart or stupid, leads to ever more interesting decisions...
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
LOL, I don't want to discourage stupid actions, either. ;)

So much of the advice on this thread sounds really punitive to me. "Deny them XP! Give them a bad reputation! Let them know they've screwed up the adventure and now the town will be destroyed! Nyaaaah!" This is boring to me. I seek a world in which every player decision, smart or stupid, leads to ever more interesting decisions...
I think that's definitely a good attitude to have and it helps if the players are onboard with purposefully putting their characters in bad situations sometimes, trusting that the outcome will be fun for them even if it's bad for the characters. That's certainly the spirit of the game as outlined in the rules in any case.

At the same time, as a player, I also want to honor the DM's prep knowing that he or she put in at least some amount of effort into it and that it's something of a shame for it not to see the light of day. And that's my position even if the DM is the sort who doesn't mind shelving it. Avoiding or, in this case, destroying content instead of experiencing it sometimes doesn't do the players any good, even if it makes perfect sense for the characters. But that's something they'll have to judge for themselves with an eye toward the goals of play.

Ultimately, as with many things, this is a good conversation to have with the players outside the context of the game to get on the same page if you haven't done so already.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So much of the advice on this thread sounds really punitive to me. "Deny them XP! Give them a bad reputation!
Well, if you don't do anything towards the goals, or even take on challenging issues, you don't get XP. Burning down a house is something anyone can do, and takes no special effort - oil, toches, whoomph! Done. Why should they get a reward for that? You aren't *entitled* to XP - calling this punitive is kind of like saying that, if you don't work, your employer is being "punitive" for not paying you. No. You simply didn't earn the paycheck, so you don't get it.

Give them a reputation hit? That's making their lives complicated - a disadvantage that doesn't stop them, but makes it clear that actions have consequences. Kind of like I said upthread. They will have to make some interesting choices to get the same things done...

Let them know they've screwed up the adventure and now the town will be destroyed! Nyaaaah!"
Yeah. That's boring.
 

Raunalyn

Explorer
Watch out, you might get what you're after
Cool, babies! Strange but not a stranger
I'm an ordinary guy
Burning down the house
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm trying to find where the game defines the goals of play you list:
The goals of play can be found with the following question - why are the *players* bothering to play. The mechanics are there to help the players attain the goals of play.

For some, really interesting tactical wargaming may be a goal for play. For another, it may be emotional social roleplaying, and so on. Everyone has their reasons to sit at the table.

From RAW, it seems like gaining levels is the mechanic for goals...
XP, in and of themselves, are not usually a reason for players to sit at the table. They aren't playing Pac Man, where gaining the high score of points is itself a thing you want to do. XP are merely a means to the ends of attaining rising action, character development, and tactical complexity, among a few other things.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Well, if you don't do anything towards the goals, or even take on challenging issues, you don't get XP. Burning down a house is something anyone can do, and takes no special effort - oil, toches, whoomph! Done. Why should they get a reward for that?
IF burning down the house doesn't do anything towards the goals, then there's no XP to get, and no XP to "lose." So I agree with that part.

My point was that, if the house is full of dangerous enemies, then burning it down definitely DOES do something towards the goals. It does a lot. Awarding or withholding XP based on the PC's method of achieving the goals turns one of the primary decisions the players get to make into a meta-game decision. Rather than "How should we overcome this challenge?" it becomes "How does the DM want us to overcome this challenge?"

IF burning down the house doesn't do anything towards the goals, then why did the players decide do it? My players are not stupid people. If that really seems like the best course of action, maybe I've miscommunicated somehow?

I agree with [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION] that the players do bear some responsibility for making "fun" decisions instead of purely pragmatic ones. For example, for most PCs, the purely pragmatic decision is to sell most of your starting gear and become a farmer. ;) My group of PCs literally met at a bar (location 8, the Empty Net) and decided to adventure together for purely meta-game reasons.

One thing I'm considering is giving characters a Wisdom (Insight) check to get "hunches" about the consequences of major actions. Like, "maybe you'll miss important clues if you burn the house down." This would really just be an excuse for me to tell them things at a meta-game level, without breaking immersion. I'm hesitant though, because for some people doing that would break immersion even worse.
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
Last time I designed a haunted house adventure, the players did just that.

In G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chieftain, a considerable portion of the 8 pages of original text is devoted to just why the PC's can't successfully burn down the dungeon, and what unpleasant things will happen if they try to do so.

So, in general, my advice is have a plan for what happens if the PC's turn arsonist right from the start.
In G1, our spellcaster flew to the roof of the main building, cut a small hole in the ceiling, and proceeded to fireball the hall below repeatedly. As the surviving giants fled out the front door of the hall while on fire, the rest of the party easily took them down.

Our DM was fine with it. He thought it was awesome in fact. Made that adventure finish a bit faster. I think we melted some scrolls, but you, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
 

Elon Tusk

Villager
IF burning down the house doesn't do anything towards the goals, then there's no XP to get, and no XP to "lose." So I agree with that part.

My point was that, if the house is full of dangerous enemies, then burning it down definitely DOES do something towards the goals. It does a lot. Awarding or withholding XP based on the PC's method of achieving the goals turns one of the primary decisions the players get to make into a meta-game decision. Rather than "How should we overcome this challenge?" it becomes "How does the DM want us to overcome this challenge?"

IF burning down the house doesn't do anything towards the goals, then why did the players decide do it? My players are not stupid people. If that really seems like the best course of action, maybe I've miscommunicated somehow?

I agree with [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION] that the players do bear some responsibility for making "fun" decisions instead of purely pragmatic ones. For example, for most PCs, the purely pragmatic decision is to sell most of your starting gear and become a farmer. ;) My group of PCs literally met at a bar (location 8, the Empty Net) and decided to adventure together for purely meta-game reasons.

One thing I'm considering is giving characters a Wisdom (Insight) check to get "hunches" about the consequences of major actions. Like, "maybe you'll miss important clues if you burn the house down." This would really just be an excuse for me to tell them things at a meta-game level, without breaking immersion. I'm hesitant though, because for some people doing that would break immersion even worse.
I agree. A lot the responses seem punitive and a bit railroaded. The players should do things a certain way. If they don't, all these other subjective factors kick in: the town responding negatively, all the enemies escaping unharmed to the caves, all the clues being destroyed.

If your players have burned down every house in their way, yes, I think it would be fine to add in more negative consequences. But if this is the first time, it's just as likely burning down the house is more memorable than going through just another building.

Like the hunches you mention, I sometimes ask players for Intelligence checks to see if they might logical think through some possible consequences.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
One thing I'm considering is giving characters a Wisdom (Insight) check to get "hunches" about the consequences of major actions. Like, "maybe you'll miss important clues if you burn the house down." This would really just be an excuse for me to tell them things at a meta-game level, without breaking immersion. I'm hesitant though, because for some people doing that would break immersion even worse.
Me personally, I don't really care about "immersion." But I would care as a player if I'm asked to make a check without declaring an action. So as DM I would just honestly remind the players that they have X, Y, and Z as quests and that (if this is truly a sandbox game) they aren't required to complete them, but that taking actions A, B, or C would definitely result in those quests being unfulfilled and what rewards they may be leaving on the table as a result. Maybe they care, maybe they don't. At least that way everyone's on the same page with the outcome and they can make an informed choice.
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
My point was that, if the house is full of dangerous enemies, then burning it down definitely DOES do something towards the goals.
I think people are trying to avoid spoilers, but the those who know the adventure know the house is not full of dangerous enemies. The are a few scattered vermin and a dangerous enemy somewhere that would not be affected by any fire. What the house does contain is information that could lead the players to uncover a genuine threat.
 
I seek a world in which every player decision, smart or stupid, leads to ever more interesting decisions...
That's impossible. In fact, it's self-contradictory. By definition, if the player decision - whether smart or stupid - always leads to ever more interesting decisions, then those decisions are not interesting. If regardless of what I choose, I'm going to get an interesting result, then the decision itself is not meaningful. I could roll the dice or flip a coin for every choice. What does it matter?

I've heard this sort of thing before, but it always seems to exist in theory and never in practice. In practice, some decisions don't lead to immediately interesting things. You can pursue the players with a story, but you can't make them have one. Heck, I've even ran a game for 5 year olds using a system of my own devising where serious failure consequences were basically non-existent and could always be fixed by "Mom" at the end of the session, and fully prepared to have adventure spring up around them whatever they do, but truth is, you can't make every choice interesting. Turns out 5 year olds will often actively flee anything that implies risk. It's a rational choice, but it's not an interesting one. And I'm not just picking on 5 year olds. I have had the same problem on occasion with adult players, which eventually led to a rule that you could not play a character who primary motivation was to be uninvolved, isolated, and uncooperative. You had to play some sort of character that had a motivation to get involved in risky danger filled activity. You couldn't for example play a character whose response to danger was to go home and hide and then complain that the other players weren't doing a good enough job convincing an uncooperative stranger to help them and that you were bored because you were successfully hiding. Yes, that was an adult, not the 5 year old.

Fundamentally, an RPG is a cooperative endeavor that requires a certain sort of active participation by all parties. If the players make interesting choices, you can always have interesting consequences. But there are some sorts of choices you can't give interesting consequences and still have choice be meaningful. Excessively stupid, excessively short-sighted, excessively risk adverse, or excessively passive play must result in logically less interesting consequences if it is persisted in, or else none of the choices matter. There is only so much the GM can do to put in what the players are leaving out.

If the player's burn down the house, I can continue the adventure. Things will be different. There will now be rubble where the house was, and the surviving vermin in the house will perhaps come to reinhabit the rubble. The smuggling will continue. Eventually things will happen. But as much as I will try to continue the adventure I can not promise that the decision to burn down the house will be as interesting as the decision to enter it, nor can I promise that the end results will necessarily be as satisfying, nor can I in fact force the players to make some new interesting choice rather than making choice that attempt to evade risk and interest. For example, I can't stop the party from deciding to go fishing. I can in fact arrange for them to have an interesting encounter if they do, but then I can't make the party decide not to flee that encounter rather than interact with it. I can keep chasing the players with the fun, but I can't stop them from choosing passive and evasive behavior. I can try to keep the story moving, but I can't promise that it doesn't end with, "Heavily armed Sahuaghin invade town, surprising inhabits.", while the still 1st level characters who have evaded all interaction evade this interaction, fleeing the consequences of all their choices and perhaps complaining about how unfair it is that they were expected to stop a huge Sahuaghin army.

The PC's are still alive. They are still in some sense, "Failing forward." I may be desperately seeking something that they care enough about to make a stand on. I can present them with all sorts of interesting problems. But I cannot guarantee that their choices are interesting, and if I could then in doing so I would have guaranteed that none of their choices are interesting.

The only choices that are interesting are choices that have interesting consequences, and to be interesting the consequences must logically follow from the choice so that you can own it otherwise you aren't a participant, and some of the possibilities have to be defeat otherwise there is nothing at risk.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
That's impossible. In fact, it's self-contradictory. By definition, if the player decision - whether smart or stupid - always leads to ever more interesting decisions, then those decisions are not interesting. If regardless of what I choose, I'm going to get an interesting result, then the decision itself is not meaningful. I could roll the dice or flip a coin for every choice. What does it matter?
It matters because the interesting consequences could be very different. Both interesting, but different.

Also, it's not impossible. In Apocalypse World, for example, boring outcomes are explicitly against the rules; it's actually easier to obtain interesting outcomes for any group that has more creativity than a lump of lead. The difficulty for me is that D&D is much more preparation-based, which makes this a bit harder to pull off. (I am starting to think that [MENTION=6775477]Shiroiken[/MENTION]'s advice of "take a 15 minute break" is probably the best thing on this thread.)

Fundamentally, an RPG is a cooperative endeavor that requires a certain sort of active participation by all parties. If the players make interesting choices, you can always have interesting consequences. But there are some sorts of choices you can't give interesting consequences and still have choice be meaningful.
...
There is only so much the GM can do to put in what the players are leaving out.
This part, I definitely agree with. The players bear equal responsibility for making the game FUN. "Let's just burn down the adventure" is probably the most recognizable example of a decision that, in a D&D adventure, puts a lot of burden on the DM to very suddenly come up with a bunch of interesting stuff to replace all the stuff that just got burned down...
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
I agree. A lot the responses seem punitive and a bit railroaded. The players should do things a certain way. If they don't, all these other subjective factors kick in: the town responding negatively, all the enemies escaping unharmed to the caves, all the clues being destroyed.
It's not railroading if the world responds realistically to the players' actions*.

Railroading would be if, having burned down the house, they stumbled over a clue directing them to the next adventure location anyway.


* This is where it helps to "know what you are talking about (TM)". Those people who have actually read the adventure know that the consequences of burning down the house would be counterproductive ON THIS PATICULAR OCCASSION. It's not a case of "punishing the players", on some adventures burning down the house might be helpful, just not this one.
 

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