Technical play skill + setting/situation + narrative + player dissatisfaction

Longspeak

Adventurer
And it has gotten me thinking about what sorts of things a GM might do in a similar fashion to likewise disempower a player or party in such a way that leads to the same kind of dissatisfaction.
Here is my instant reply. I'll read the thread and expand if needed:

My son is an avid computer gamer who also role-plays (where as I am an avid role-player who also plays computer games). He's very into the theory and intent of game design, and spend a good amount of time practicing to explore the boundaries of the box each games puts a player into. We have had discussions of this a lot so many times.

He hates the artificial means of making something harder... cut-scene defeats, spawning nuisance sub enemies, just making a foe immune to hard won skills the game made you develop. Changing the rules, changing the box. Lazy programming for the cheap illusion of difficulty.

If he hadn't already decided EA was not worth his time or hard-earned money, he would have done exactly what you did. When the programmer doesn't respect his audience and pull the rug out like that... it's shoddy work and doesn't deserve his respect or attention or dollars. A few times, he's just quit a game. If he wasn't invested in the story, he'd just stop; not interested enough in the outcome to even bother finishing.

Sidebar 1: He's super into indie games and the ways new devs and smaller teams work, and he's much more lenient with them than with supposed "Triple A" Studios.

Sidebar 2: He loves a good Souls-like, and we've talked a lot about on of his real pet peeves. Invincibility Frames. These are the mechanic that makes you dodge roll work. Certain frames in the animation, you're just immune to the attack. Specific vary, of course. But... bosses that ignore your i-frames, or who have more i-frames than you for the same moves... oh... you will set him off... It's lazy and lame and he hates it.

Now... I relate all of this through my own experience and framework, so we'll start (okay, I'll start) talking about similar issues I've seen (or done; I'm not perfect) in RPGs. And even once or twice in his own role-playing. Recently, he saw one built into a module he was running The boss fight seems too hard... and he realized it was because the encounter programmed in spawns to help the boss. No new tactics. Just... more enemies out of nowhere.

He's especially not fond of D&D's Legendary Actions and Legendary Resistances for the same reason. argue they can have merit if they're not abused, and he argues using them IS abusing them. But that's a deign element for the framework of the game, one that helps offset the built in GMing limitation that the GM is only one brain tracking everything and the players are 3 to 6 brains tracking only their own stuff, so he accepts the GM needs help occasionally. We move on.

But when he (and me, after learning to appreciate his viewpoint) sees a GM relying on these, and on the same (I like your word) disempowering tactics he hates so much in vidya games, he think it's either lazy, or a lack of experience, and he will try to call it out, but politely. He's stopped playing Video games for it. He's stopped playing with certain people in his circle of friends they they GM something.

I am almost exclusively a GM. So naturally, I take these discussions and apply them to my own games and try to evaluate... and I have done it. Most often, I do it in reverse: The safety net. It's just as disempowering when some deus ex machina resolves a situation in spite of poor choices and/or poor rolls as when you kill a situation despite good choices and good rolls. And... hell I caught myself doing it earlier this evening (last night?).

I really need to learn to let the players fail when they do failworthy stuff. Sure sometimes it might make sense. But sometimes, failure might well be an option so I need to take my thumb off the scale.

A couple years ago, I had a player who is a long time friend come to me (after the session!) and say "I get you were trying to up the ante with mounting time pressure, but making me roll with disadvantage just because I failed the first attempt seems overly punitive. And he was right (and got annoyed when I agreed; he was all set to argue. "Well, I can't be mad if you're going to be reasonable!")

Anyway, if there's a point to thins and I'm not just living my name, it's... we all do / have done it. Be patients with the noobs, pay attention to yourself, and learn from it... or don't if everyone is still having fun. I did it earlier and the players liked the interaction it created, so I'll let that one go.

Wow. This got Long. I'll post it and see what needs to be added...
 
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Longspeak

Adventurer
Okay, can't seem to use quotes in an edit, so...

Cheater's remorse. Only us non-sociopaths get it.
I understand this... But when the programmer cheats first, none of us should get the remorse.

Simply put: It's hard to make a good high power/high level fight. To do so take a huge amount of skill, plus lots of time and effort. And very few DMs have the skill.
Does this excuse it? Or should we work harder? Or level cap ourselves? I will admit there's a threshold of prep time/effort beyond which I just don't wanna anymore.

I for one loved the sniper GEP gun in Deus Ex. If there are no survivors, does an explosion make a sound?
Okay, this was darned rude of you. Saying something so hilarious at three in the morning, making me wake up my daughter with laughing. Be more considerate next time.

:ROFLMAO:
 
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kenada

Legend
Supporter
Sidebar 2: He loves a good Souls-like, and we've talked a lot about on of his real pet peeves. Invincibility Frames. These are the mechanic that makes you dodge roll work. Certain frames in the animation, you're just immune to the attack. Specific vary, of course. But... bosses that ignore your i-frames, or who have more i-frames than you for the same moves... oh... you will set him off... It's lazy and lame and he hates it.
I’m reminded of a reaction I got when I ran Lost Mines of Phandelver for my group back around 5e’s release. There’s a fight in town with some ruffians. They attack twice with a dagger. One of my players was like: is this guy a lot higher level than us? No. He’s just designed that way. I don’t believe that was well-received.

I am almost exclusively a GM. So naturally, I take these discussions and apply them to my own games and try to evaluate... and I have done it. Most often, I do it in reverse: The safety net. It's just as disempowering when some deus ex machina resolves a situation in spite of poor choices and/or poor rolls as when you kill a situation despite good choices and good rolls. And... hell I caught myself doing it earlier this evening (last night?).

I really need to learn to let the players fail when they do failworthy stuff. Sure sometimes it might make sense. But sometimes, failure might well be an option so I need to take my thumb off the scale.

A couple years ago, I had a player who is a long time friend come to me (after the session!) and say "I get you were trying to up the ante with mounting time pressure, but making me roll with disadvantage just because I failed the first attempt seems overly punitive. And he was right (and got annoyed when I agreed; he was all set to argue. "Well, I can't be mad if you're going to be reasonable!")
This is an aspect of adjudication I’ve never particularly liked doing as a GM. While it can make sense to impose this or that particular outcome or penalty after a roll, it can sometimes feel unfair (like the situation in your last paragraph). Avoiding that kind of feeling is one of the reasons the check mechanics in my homebrew system are designed the way they are. Making sure consequences are foregrounded (and success results are protected) lets the player reason about and make an informed decision about whether and how to proceed. After the roll, they can even resist consequences as well if they really don’t want them (though only to a limited extent).
 


mamba

Legend
But even readily acknowledging that I am not the most skilled player, this boss fight ultimately felt like I was being cheated of my hard work. This was a case where I had spent 45+ hours carefully curating force powers and saber stances to play the game in a way that appealed to me. And all of that was tossed out the window.

I made two attempts at the final boss battle at the "Jedi Padawan" difficulty, and was thoroughly beaten both times.

And you know what my immediate reaction was?

"Screw it."
Had something like that in another game, the final boss battle turned out to be me aiming a ballista mounted on a tower at an approaching dragon, hitting it a few times in like 30 seconds to kill it.

None of my char’s accumulated skills and gear, or any of the fighting skills I might have gained as a player mattered at all. This was the first and last time of aiming a ballista. Tried it a few times and never managed enough hits in the time limit. Soured the whole game for me.

Still not sure what the devs were thinking, having the BBEG fight being completely disconnected from the rest of the game that nothing you did up to this point mattered, apart from getting you here.

As to translating this to D&D, I guess the equivalent is denying agency in some form, hard, like placing the boss in an anti-magic zone that cannot be overcome.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
The biggest example here for me is the tendency for some GMs to always try to think of excuses why your allies could not help in a given situation and who treat coalition building as a degenerate strategy. I mean I kind of see why this happens - in most games having NPCs involved makes things take way longer. Still there is often the sense that rather than making relationships with the PCs and the broader setting more interesting many GMs seem to want to make it PCs vs Everbody. This is particularly concerning in games where you spend build points on allies or followers.
 


Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
If the rules and the dice say the players easily beat their enemies, then I let the enemies get beaten. Good for the players. They worked for that.

All day, every day. We often confuse challenging encounters with those that drain resources. A fight where the fighter gets down to 10 hp of 50hp isn't a challenge unless that was a result of mediocre play. Likewise, soundly overcoming something is not evidence that it was not challenging.
 

Does this excuse it? Or should me work harder? Or level cap ourselves? I mean, I will admits there's a threshold of prep time/effort beyong which I just don't wanna anymore.
It's not an excuse, but it is a reason. If you don't have the skill or ability to do something: you should not do it. It is simple enough.

Though it is always open for someone to learn or improve a skill or ability if they wish to do so.
 

innerdude

Legend
I'm somewhat relieved by the fact that I'm not alone in my opinion of the final boss battle in Jedi Survivor.

And the main culprit seems to be exactly what I described. Multiple instances where the boss gets to perform attack chains with dodge mechanics that the player has no recourse against. That, along with the problem that I noted earlier; you can't dodge out of an in-progress attack animation.

Long time Elden Ring players basically agreeing with my premises about why the fight sucks.


 

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