D&D General The Best DM Advice Was Writren in 1981.

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Well, see the rest of the thread, I personally think it's absurd to worship only some selected sentences of the books and totally ignore the others, even though it's the same author(s) explaining their game.

Yeah, but most of use have now been playing the game far longer than he had when writing those words. The advice was written in 1981 - a mere seven years after D&D was first published. It is now just about 2022 - about 47 years after the game was first published. Indeed, 5e alone is now running on seven years.

The author was explaining their intent with their game, but many (indeed, probably most) of us now have more experience with his game, and games in general, than he did - we have our 20, 30, or 40 years of gaming to his 7 or so.

Which doesn't make what he wrote bad advice, but it questions the authority behind accepting that advice at face value. Maybe that advice needs to stand on its own, now, no matter who wrote it, or when it was written. And maybe people who aren't following that advice know something that he didn't really understand yet at the time of writing.
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
Yeah, but most of use have now been playing the game far longer than he had when writing those words. The advice was written in 1981 - a mere seven years after D&D was first published. It is now just about 2022 - about 47 years after the game was first published. Indeed, 5e alone is now running on seven years.

The author was explaining their intent with their game, but many (indeed, probably most) of us now have more experience with his game, and games in general, than he did - we have our 20, 30, or 40 years of gaming to his 7 or so.

Which doesn't make what he wrote bad advice, but it questions the authority behind accepting that advice at face value. Maybe that advice needs to stand on its own, now, no matter who wrote it, or when it was written. And maybe people who aren't following that advice know something that he didn't really understand yet at the time of writing.

Or maybe some people took previous editions like 3e and 4e way too seriously in terms of rules, because what I find interesting in that advice is that it exactly mirrors what 5e is telling us again: "To play D&D, and to play it well, you don’t need to read all the rules, memorize every detail of the game, or master the fine art of rolling funny looking dice. None of those things have any bearing on what’s best about the game."

So not only does it not stand on its own, but it's mirrored in what is, by far, the most successful edition of the game. I'm not condemning anyone for playing differently, buy maybe those people who think they understand something new (and actually rendered somewhat obsolete now) should actually read the books completely and maybe THEY could rediscover something too.

Because 5e was not created to be played only RAW, the rules are incomplete on purpose, by design: "The DM is key. Many unexpected things can happen in a D&D campaign, and no set of rules could reasonably account for every contingency. If the rules tried to do so, the game would become unplayable. An alternative would be for the rules to severely limit what characters can do, which would be counter to the open-endedness of D&D. The direction we chose for the current edition was to lay a foundation of rules that a DM could build on, and we embraced the DM’s role as the bridge between the things the rules address and the things they don’t."

From reading what they usually say about it, people playing RAW actually supplement it by many layers of house rules and personal interpretations which are actually totally debatable, see in particular stealth and vision. Maybe this, coupled with both age-old advice and very new shiny advice might incite them to consider that playing "RAW" is not some sort of badge of honor...
 

Is this good advice? Down this path lies railroaded dragonlance modules
Using that advice to take the path of railroading is somehow … creative. Anyway that advice on how to use the dice is giving again in the 5ed DM guide, so you will conclude that DnD still encourage railroading!
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Using that advice to take the path of railroading is somehow … creative. Anyway that advice on how to use the dice is giving again in the 5ed DM guide, so you will conclude that DnD still encourage railroading!

Exactly, although more detailed, the section on the "Role of Dice" is very interesting and quite in line with that advice. As for railroading, published adventures - which are quite popular - always include some level of railroading and actually the parts that don't (STK is (in)famous for this) sometimes lose the players, even experienced one. Too much of something is always bad, including railroading, but the level of tolerance (or expectation) of it varies table by table, and it does not make one play style superior to another.
 


Oofta

Legend
...

As an aside, The Red Hand of Shargaas is underconned in 5e. For a CR 3 they can easily take on an entire CR4 party, which is what happened with a little help from two Orc meat shields.

I hit the same thing, what was supposed to be a medium encounter against level 8(?) PCs was going really sideways until I suggested the PC with a driftglobe make an intelligence check to know that it's daylight spell feature could counter the darkness (it's a 2nd level spell, daylight is 3rd). If it wasn't for that I think a handful of CR 3 monsters would have taken them out.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Well, see the rest of the thread, I personally think it's absurd to worship only some selected sentences of the books and totally ignore the others, even though it's the same author(s) explaining their game. Understanding the intent is actually often more important than the words themselves. Missing that, and you might end up trying to dry your cat in a microwave, for example. :p
I was re-reading one of my favorite adventure modules, came across some pretty great advice, and decided to share it. (shrug) I don't know where you got "worship" from, perhaps your methods of worship differ from my own. As for the "selected sentences" part, I promise: I read the whole thing, all 32 pages of it.

Also, remember when writers only needed 32 pages to write an epic adventure? and could still include 16 new monsters, 15 maps, 6 NPCs, 6 alternate scenarios, and the outline of an entire campaign setting within that page count? That's also something that I think a lot of today's DMs have forgotten.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
I don't really understand this association of RAW and old school, or "the dice fall where they may" with OSR (and grognards). The RAW phenomena seems more...middle school? Arising mainly during later TSR days and/or early WotC (3E). It seems aligned with an "anti-railroad" movement, and player empowerment, no matter the cost to the narrative.

I mean, I get that people look back at olden tymes and think Tomb of Horrors. But that was one module, designed for a specific effect. It didn't represent all D&D played in the 70s and 80s. Having grown up in the 80s, we always played fast and loose, and DMs were always empowered to keep things behind the screen.

The key was preserving the illusion that dice always determined outcomes. And, for the most part (like 95-99%) of the time, they did. But there were occasions that DMs (including myself) fudged or ignored dice. It is quite simple, actually: the DM's judgment trumps random chance. Rule zero, and all that.

But what about abusive DMs? Well, that's a different problem. That sort of person is going to find a way to be abusive, no matter what. RAW can't protect players from a maleficent DM who, if they really want to, can kill off a party at any time.

And what about railroading? Again, different problem. I can see how frequent dice-fudging can lead to railroading, but let's be honest: it isn't railroading if the player's don't realize they're being railroaded. I'm not saying that DM's should control the narrative towards whatever outcome they ultimately desire, but I am saying that there's absolutely nothing wrong with nudging things along, and again, as long as the players feel like they have choice, that's all that really matters to the actual play experience. And as long as the DM feels good about what they're doing, then its all good.

Now some DMs might be "chance purists" and detest fudging. That's fine, too. But that's their own choice and there's no need to advocate that as the "right way to do things" (aka One True Wayism). I mean, it is sort of like washing your hands every time you come inside. Fine if you want to do it, but no reason to criticize others for not caring. They may simply have other priorities like, I dunno, optimizing enjoyment for everyone at the table?

And that's the bottom line: the DM orchestrates the game table, and thus is the person most responsible for the enjoyment of all. They're not the only one responsible, but they certain have the largest share of responsibility. A DM should always have this question in the back of their mind, imo: What is the most enjoyable outcome? That isn't always, "You find a vorpal sword." Generally delayed gratification leads to greater overall enjoyment, which is why Monty Hallism tends to lead to diminished enjoyment (that is, less is more - but too little can also be bland). Nor is it always, "You win!" Sometimes loss and failure lead to greater enjoyment. I mean, there are always hills and valleys and the hills don't stand out unless there are valleys.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
I don't really understand this association of RAW and old school, or "the dice fall where they may" with OSR (and grognards). The RAW phenomena seems more...middle school? Arising mainly during later TSR days and/or early WotC (3E). It seems aligned with an "anti-railroad" movement, and player empowerment, no matter the cost to the narrative.

I agree, I have the same feeling, which is why I reminded that the old school was more about the adventure than the rules, just as 5e is. 3e started a trend of "player empowerment" which had good intents at the core, but which, in my opinion, is detrimental from the spirit of the gamer, which has always needed a DM to be in control.

I mean, I get that people look back at olden tymes and think Tomb of Horrors. But that was one module, designed for a specific effect. It didn't represent all D&D played in the 70s and 80s. Having grown up in the 80s, we always played fast and loose, and DMs were always empowered to keep things behind the screen.

Indeed.

The key was preserving the illusion that dice always determined outcomes. And, for the most part (like 95-99%) of the time, they did. But there were occasions that DMs (including myself) fudged or ignored dice. It is quite simple, actually: the DM's judgment trumps random chance. Rule zero, and all that.

Exactly, and the basic principle was that the players trusted their DMs, and actually were part of that illusion too.

But what about abusive DMs? Well, that's a different problem. That sort of person is going to find a way to be abusive, no matter what. RAW can't protect players from a maleficent DM who, if they really want to, can kill off a party at any time.

Again, I fully agree, especially since I never met any abusive DM. Lots of things are said based on things which are, to me, mostly urban legends and odd exceptions.

And what about railroading? Again, different problem. I can see how frequent dice-fudging can lead to railroading, but let's be honest: it isn't railroading if the player's don't realize they're being railroaded.

Or if, being mature about what fantasy is about and in particular fantasy roleplaying, they agree on being railroaded now and then, and actually play along because they know it's one of the ways to really epic adventures.

I'm not saying that DM's should control the narrative towards whatever outcome they ultimately desire, but I am saying that there's absolutely nothing wrong with nudging things along, and again, as long as the players feel like they have choice, that's all that really matters to the actual play experience. And as long as the DM feels good about what they're doing, then its all good.

And even beyond that, there is nothing wrong about the DM controlling the narrative, full stop. For Christ's sake, all the published adventures - which are very popular - are built that way with some sort of railroading in there, if only to start the adventure, and follow the chapters. After that, you can have adventures that are extremely linear and that people still love, for example WD-DH (I personally hate it, but some people really love it and place it first in the published adventure). It all depends on what the table expects and about maintaining that collective spirit between the players and the DM. If the DM railroads a bit, why is that against the players ? It is on the contrary probable that he is doing that FOR the players, so that the adventure can be properly epic, because sandboxes are very nice, but they are rarely epic, this requires at least some sort of storyline.

Now some DMs might be "chance purists" and detest fudging. That's fine, too. But that's their own choice. I mean, it is sort of like washing your hands every time you come inside. Fine if you want to do it, but no reason to criticize others for not caring.
Exactly. This comes from the more competitive side of gaming which came with 3e and player empowerment, leading in turn to more of a players vs. DM perspective. As you point out above, the previous competitive side demonstrated by modules such as Tomb of Horrors was really a very small fraction of gaming at the time. But with 3e, it took on a completely different tone, in particular with whole groups where a DM had to show that he was playing by the rules, using the RAW and rolling dices in the open, to show that he was not "cheating" against the players. And for me this culminated with 4e, with a very precise ruleset and the idea that the DM was really mostly the referee in a competitive sport, setting up situations to test his players in a completely fair process that could not be discussed.

I'm not saying that it's not a valid way to play the game, there are so many of these, but it has created a community of elitist DMs and players who sort of look down on people not being part of that "competition". And that is detrimental to the spirit of the game, which for me has always been that of the most collaborative game ever, with all players including the DM just sitting together as friends to tell a really epic story.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Or maybe some people took previous editions like 3e and 4e way too seriously in terms of rules, because what I find interesting in that advice is that it exactly mirrors what 5e is telling us again: "To play D&D, and to play it well, you don’t need to read all the rules, memorize every detail of the game, or master the fine art of rolling funny looking dice. None of those things have any bearing on what’s best about the game."

As if you know what's best about the game... for everyone, on the entire planet, for all time?

One True Wayism gets so tired.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Note the language and tone that the authors used, in the examples that I shared.
It is always "the DM can" or "the DM should."
It's never "the DM must" or "the DM will."

Moldvay and Cook weren't delivering edicts from on high when they wrote this, and they weren't mandating (or even advocating) for a certain way that the game must be played. They were simply trying to give new DMs some helpful advice for running their games, to help keep the game fun and exciting. This advice shouldn't be equated with rules (or religious zeal.)

Also, this is kinda fun:

In the "Original Games Reincarnated: The Isle of Dread" by Goodman Games, Zeb Cook writes at length about how he and Tom created The Isle of Dread. "We didn't set out to create a classic," he writes on page 5. "I'm not sure you can ever intentionally do that, and for Tom and me, that thought didn't even cross our minds. We were focused on the mundane business of filling up a box. The Basic Set had an adventure therefore we needed one in the Expert Set. More importantly we needed an adventure that could teach novice DMs how to create and run a wilderness game. Something self-contained (an island) with lots to explore (hexes!) filled with random encounters (tables!) and a simply storyline that could work with almost any campaign (dinosaurs and lost worlds!). Plus, we needed to write it fast."

He goes on to mention that "in hindsight the design should never have worked, what with two hands and brains creating one adventure at their typewriters at the same time. Since we were still creating our jobs while we were doing them, nobody told us you shouldn't design an adventure that way, so we did. And we got it done in time."

"Most of all, we didn't know that we were sowing the seeds for the whole of Mystara. The island needed to be somewhere and we had to show DMs what a simple world setting looked like. Tom mined places and bits from his shared campaign and we forged that into the proto-Known World."

Yup, my favorite adventure module and favorite campaign setting of all time were accidents.
 
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We seem to have issues understanding each other sometimes I think. :unsure:
Not uncommon. We do what we can, and if misunderstandings happen, we try to work around it.

I am not saying characters can't do what they want (I've had to scrap entire adventures due to player choices...), but the rules (even in 5E) are the DM calls for the rolls. If something is impossible, it is impossible and there is no point in asking for a roll. If something is so simple as to be automatic, no roll is needed. It is a waste of time.
I think, here, the problem is you're using "fudging" to refer to a vastly greater scope of things than I ever would.

To me, "fudging" requires two key things: (1) you must give the appearance of engaging the rules, and (2) you must both avoid telling the players and ensure they don't find out. If either one of those is absent, it's not fudging. I think we agree that if you appear to be using the rules because you really are using the rules, that's trivially not fudging. It's the second point that you seem to consider optional and I consider essential (and one of the two essential flaws of "fudging" as I use the term).

But even if I mean turning a hit into a miss because I need the bad guy to get away for a later scene is perfectly valid. The bad guy flees, the players still cheer, and the adventure can move on to the next chapter.
I adamantly refuse to do anything like this, and I think it is a substantial disservice to the players and to yourself to do this. The players earned that victory. Taking it away from them because you think you know better than they do what they actually want is terribly condescending, not to mention denying them the opportunity to actually play a game and not "DM-orchestrated theater."

So, I am not talking about "Always fudge whenever you feel like it", but when it furthers the story and makes the game more enjoyable it is good advice. Allowing the dice to rule the table instead of the DM is BAD advice.
"When it furthers the story"--but only when you believe it furthers the story. Because you wouldn't tell the players if you'd done it, would you? Because it would upset them if you told them. "When it makes the game more enjoyable"--but only when you believe it makes the game more enjoyable. The players thus must learn, not how to play the game, but how to play your emotions and intuitions. And thus, it happens whenever you feel like it; because obviously if you didn't feel it would "further the story [or] make the game more enjoyable," you wouldn't do it, nobody would.
 


DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Not uncommon. We do what we can, and if misunderstandings happen, we try to work around it.
Yep.

I adamantly refuse to do anything like this, and I think it is a substantial disservice to the players and to yourself to do this. The players earned that victory. Taking it away from them because you think you know better than they do what they actually want is terribly condescending, not to mention denying them the opportunity to actually play a game and not "DM-orchestrated theater."
Fine, but then you are allowing the dice to run the game IMO and not the DM. 🤷‍♂️ Different strokes, I suppose, is all I can say...

Part of it in such situation is even though the die roll indicates a hit, I can still alter the outcome to fit the story (remember that, part of what the game is about?) in other ways. If I don't want a hit to kill the bad guy, I give him more HP. The players don't know, they don't know how many HP he has left, they don't know what magic he has or other protections or features that could turn that "final hit" into a miss, and they don't know his AC.

Victory is still victory, and the story goes on.

D&D is DM-orchestrated theater because the DM is the storyteller and referee.

"When it furthers the story"--but only when you believe it furthers the story. Because you wouldn't tell the players if you'd done it, would you? Because it would upset them if you told them. "When it makes the game more enjoyable"--but only when you believe it makes the game more enjoyable. The players thus must learn, not how to play the game, but how to play your emotions and intuitions. And thus, it happens whenever you feel like it; because obviously if you didn't feel it would "further the story [or] make the game more enjoyable," you wouldn't do it, nobody would.
(bold added)

I disagree. It is not when I believe it furthers the story, it is when I know it does. The adventure for the players goes through is written, and if a later part requires the survival of the bad guy so he can show up again to foil the PCs' efforts or whatever, but a series of lucky die rolls prevent that, it is my prerogative as DM to change the narrative so the story can go on.

This is no different than a DM who rolls damage that would kill a PC, through no fault of the player and just dumb bad luck, and decides to lessen the damage so the PC survives, even if unconscious. Killing a PC "just because" generally is not fun for the players. Some are ok with it, but IME most are not. (Now, if the player does something and so is at fault...that's a different story. ;) )

Only in complete sandbox settings would I think otherwise--and personally I have never encountered one of those. You might allow the bad guy to die, sure, but then you need to compensate for that later on for the story to continue. I find it easy to give the players the victory but allow the tension with the re-occurring enemy to continue.

And, different strokes...
 

Fine, but then you are allowing the dice to run the game IMO and not the DM. 🤷‍♂️ Different strokes, I suppose, is all I can say...
Not at all. If I have invoked the dice and am truly convinced that I was a fool to do so, I will just tell my players that. No need for subterfuge. "Hey guys, I think I screwed up here, this isn't the cool thing it should be." Or, alternatively, I actually make the modification something real, tangible, existing in the world, and identifiable by the players. "You landed that swipe, you KNOW you did, he SHOULD be dead...but somehow he's not. A strange purple light exudes from his wound, and he laughs, but it sounds...different. Wrong." Suddenly there's now some new thing in the world--something the players can come to know, understand...and most importantly either prevent or exploit.

Neither of these things is fudging. The first is not, because it openly declares the rules in abeyance due to review. The latter because, while the rules have changed, it equips the players to know that the rules have changed, and adjust accordingly. And even then, I'd only use that latter option with EXTREME caution, as in, I haven't ever actually used it in the game I run, in over three years of play. I have openly admitted to my own failure as DM before though. My players have expressly told me that they appreciate my candor and that I neither leave the game beholden to chance, nor secretly pull them along by puppet-strings.

Part of it in such situation is even though the die roll indicates a hit, I can still alter the outcome to fit the story (remember that, part of what the game is about?) in other ways. If I don't want a hit to kill the bad guy, I give him more HP.
You have described two completely equivalent things. Fudging a die roll that reduces a target's HP such that it would kill, preventing that damage, is exactly equivalent to increasing the target's HP--in both cases, you have made it so that the damage dealt is retroactively meaningless, secretly modifying the world to produce a different outcome.

The players don't know, they don't know how many HP he has left, they don't know what magic he has or other protections or features that could turn that "final hit" into a miss, and they don't know his AC.
So what? You've changed the world without them being able to ever know it. You've presented them with things, leading them to believe those things are persistent and durable in the fictional space, and then turned that presentation into a deception.

This is like saying that because the players don't know for sure that their extremely good evidence that the Countess killed the Baron is reliable, you can always just decide that all the evidence they've found up to this point was fake, even though literally the week before you gave it to them because it wasn't.

Victory is still victory, and the story goes on.
As I understand it, no, it's not. You have interrupted victory, and made it into a puppet show with yourself pulling the strings. The events that occur--success or failure, victory or defeat, vanquishing or being vanquished--occur only because you let them, not because they are the consequence of the players' choices.

D&D is DM-orchestrated theater because the DM is the storyteller and referee.
Again, I disagree. I'm not a puppetmaster pulling my players' strings. I'm a facilitator. I enable them to make choices, and those choices have actual consequences, even if I don't like those consequences, even if I think those consequences are disappointing. I only intervene--and even then, only do so very rarely--by either expressly telling my players that something has gone wrong, or immediately informing them that the situation has changed in an unexpected (and perhaps even unexpectable) way.

(bold added)

I disagree. It is not when I believe it furthers the story, it is when I know it does. The adventure for the players goes through is written, and if a later part requires the survival of the bad guy so he can show up again to foil the PCs' efforts or whatever, but a series of lucky die rolls prevent that, it is my prerogative as DM to change the narrative so the story can go on.
First question: How do you "know"? Whence does this certainty come? You clearly have some kind of ability to objectively determine the quality of a play-experience, so this would be incredibly useful information. Unless, of course, you're basing this "knowledge" on your perceptions and intuitions--aka, your feelings, because it's a subjective evaluation.

I don't trust myself to have superior subjective evaluations than my players. So I don't make them. I let the players evaluate for themselves what is worthy and what is not. Thus far, I have received only one complaint, and that was when using a supplement that we have (mostly) finished our interactions with, so that specific problem is unlikely to ever come up again. (But I did take it to heart; essentially, the player argued that all stakes drained away when he realized that, because every room was randomly generated just before entering it, it didn't matter whether they went north or south or whatever. They'd run into the rooms they'd run into either way, no matter what.)

This is no different than a DM who rolls damage that would kill a PC, through no fault of the player and just dumb bad luck, and decides to lessen the damage so the PC survives, even if unconscious. Killing a PC "just because" generally is not fun for the players. Some are ok with it, but IME most are not. (Now, if the player does something and so is at fault...that's a different story. ;) )
If permanent death is so uninteresting, why would you even allow that to be an option in the first place? Every death is an opportunity for some insanely good story. Some of my best roleplaying experiences came about during the process of finding a way to bring a character (in one case, my own character) back to life. And you can pair it with so many incredibly interesting possibilities by giving the dead character an adventure of their own while they're dead!

Only in complete sandbox settings would I think otherwise--and personally I have never encountered one of those. You might allow the bad guy to die, sure, but then you need to compensate for that later on for the story to continue. I find it easy to give the players the victory but allow the tension with the re-occurring enemy to continue.

And, different strokes...
Or you make it so defeating that enemy isn't enough. DM lesson learned: don't make linchpins you can't afford to lose.

Like, this isn't hard. Who cares if you take out the current leader of the assassin-cult? The cult still exists! It's not like its terrorist-style cells will suddenly vanish just because one important person died! The cult will need time to recover, of course, but the threat is far from over. Or if you knock down the queenpin of a vast criminal empire--suddenly, all the unsavory forces she had kept in check are free to do as they please, and the prize if they can win is fabulous wealth and power. Boom: threat ended, but now an almost worse threat arises almost immediately in its place.

And, sometimes? Sometimes it's more satisfying for the players to have a "disappointing" conclusion that proves their mettle. I had had a huge boss-fight planned for an area the party went to, an underground druid school in the marshy headwaters of a major river that had been burned by a third party's attack. A molten obsidian golem with mythril spider-automaton-leg claws, an unholy and accidental amalgam of twisted druids' exploitation of life forces and zealous assassins' shadow-magic. The party instead lured the creature back to a water-logged pit trap, tricked it into walking into the trap...and just shattered it when its molten-obsidian body solidified on contact with the water. They still, every now and then, talk about how cool it was that they outsmarted me and blasted through that thing like it was nothing, even though by comparison to the pitched battle I had planned, it was a trivial two-minute affair with zero fanfare or tension or excitement. Because sometimes having that contrast--seeing that yes, they truly can outsmart the DM, and truly win an unexpected or derailing victory--really is worth it.

So I never bring those preconceptions. I have honestly told my players that if they decided that all the stuff we've built up over time didn't matter, and they wanted to go sail off into the sunset, they could. I've told them I would be very disappointed (mostly in myself, for having failed to fill their characters' lives with adventure), but I would absolutely roll with it. They have, most graciously, said that there was never any fear of such a thing happening, but that they appreciate that I would do that if that's what they wanted.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Not at all. If I have invoked the dice and am truly convinced that I was a fool to do so, I will just tell my players that. No need for subterfuge. "Hey guys, I think I screwed up here, this isn't the cool thing it should be." Or, alternatively, I actually make the modification something real, tangible, existing in the world, and identifiable by the players. "You landed that swipe, you KNOW you did, he SHOULD be dead...but somehow he's not. A strange purple light exudes from his wound, and he laughs, but it sounds...different. Wrong." Suddenly there's now some new thing in the world--something the players can come to know, understand...and most importantly either prevent or exploit.

Neither of these things is fudging. The first is not, because it openly declares the rules in abeyance due to review. The latter because, while the rules have changed, it equips the players to know that the rules have changed, and adjust accordingly. And even then, I'd only use that latter option with EXTREME caution, as in, I haven't ever actually used it in the game I run, in over three years of play. I have openly admitted to my own failure as DM before though. My players have expressly told me that they appreciate my candor and that I neither leave the game beholden to chance, nor secretly pull them along by puppet-strings.


You have described two completely equivalent things. Fudging a die roll that reduces a target's HP such that it would kill, preventing that damage, is exactly equivalent to increasing the target's HP--in both cases, you have made it so that the damage dealt is retroactively meaningless, secretly modifying the world to produce a different outcome.


So what? You've changed the world without them being able to ever know it. You've presented them with things, leading them to believe those things are persistent and durable in the fictional space, and then turned that presentation into a deception.

This is like saying that because the players don't know for sure that their extremely good evidence that the Countess killed the Baron is reliable, you can always just decide that all the evidence they've found up to this point was fake, even though literally the week before you gave it to them because it wasn't.


As I understand it, no, it's not. You have interrupted victory, and made it into a puppet show with yourself pulling the strings. The events that occur--success or failure, victory or defeat, vanquishing or being vanquished--occur only because you let them, not because they are the consequence of the players' choices.


Again, I disagree. I'm not a puppetmaster pulling my players' strings. I'm a facilitator. I enable them to make choices, and those choices have actual consequences, even if I don't like those consequences, even if I think those consequences are disappointing. I only intervene--and even then, only do so very rarely--by either expressly telling my players that something has gone wrong, or immediately informing them that the situation has changed in an unexpected (and perhaps even unexpectable) way.


First question: How do you "know"? Whence does this certainty come? You clearly have some kind of ability to objectively determine the quality of a play-experience, so this would be incredibly useful information. Unless, of course, you're basing this "knowledge" on your perceptions and intuitions--aka, your feelings, because it's a subjective evaluation.

I don't trust myself to have superior subjective evaluations than my players. So I don't make them. I let the players evaluate for themselves what is worthy and what is not. Thus far, I have received only one complaint, and that was when using a supplement that we have (mostly) finished our interactions with, so that specific problem is unlikely to ever come up again. (But I did take it to heart; essentially, the player argued that all stakes drained away when he realized that, because every room was randomly generated just before entering it, it didn't matter whether they went north or south or whatever. They'd run into the rooms they'd run into either way, no matter what.)


If permanent death is so uninteresting, why would you even allow that to be an option in the first place? Every death is an opportunity for some insanely good story. Some of my best roleplaying experiences came about during the process of finding a way to bring a character (in one case, my own character) back to life. And you can pair it with so many incredibly interesting possibilities by giving the dead character an adventure of their own while they're dead!


Or you make it so defeating that enemy isn't enough. DM lesson learned: don't make linchpins you can't afford to lose.

Like, this isn't hard. Who cares if you take out the current leader of the assassin-cult? The cult still exists! It's not like its terrorist-style cells will suddenly vanish just because one important person died! The cult will need time to recover, of course, but the threat is far from over. Or if you knock down the queenpin of a vast criminal empire--suddenly, all the unsavory forces she had kept in check are free to do as they please, and the prize if they can win is fabulous wealth and power. Boom: threat ended, but now an almost worse threat arises almost immediately in its place.

And, sometimes? Sometimes it's more satisfying for the players to have a "disappointing" conclusion that proves their mettle. I had had a huge boss-fight planned for an area the party went to, an underground druid school in the marshy headwaters of a major river that had been burned by a third party's attack. A molten obsidian golem with mythril spider-automaton-leg claws, an unholy and accidental amalgam of twisted druids' exploitation of life forces and zealous assassins' shadow-magic. The party instead lured the creature back to a water-logged pit trap, tricked it into walking into the trap...and just shattered it when its molten-obsidian body solidified on contact with the water. They still, every now and then, talk about how cool it was that they outsmarted me and blasted through that thing like it was nothing, even though by comparison to the pitched battle I had planned, it was a trivial two-minute affair with zero fanfare or tension or excitement. Because sometimes having that contrast--seeing that yes, they truly can outsmart the DM, and truly win an unexpected or derailing victory--really is worth it.

So I never bring those preconceptions. I have honestly told my players that if they decided that all the stuff we've built up over time didn't matter, and they wanted to go sail off into the sunset, they could. I've told them I would be very disappointed (mostly in myself, for having failed to fill their characters' lives with adventure), but I would absolutely roll with it. They have, most graciously, said that there was never any fear of such a thing happening, but that they appreciate that I would do that if that's what they wanted.
I am going to keep this brief, simply because your response is way too much and if you feel that strongly, I know we will NEVER agree on it. So, here you go, again:
I am not saying characters can't do what they want (I've had to scrap entire adventures due to player choices...)
That is it. We obviously have very different styles and different experiences, so let's leave it at that and both enjoy our games as we want to play them.

Cheers. :)
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
That rule appeared before 1981, in the DMG in 1979 on page 110. The DMG also stated things like ignoring wandering monsters if it took away from the expected game expectations of the players.

The original DMG is riddled with advice about how you don't have to follow dice results if it ruins fun, or how you can ignore rules if it takes away from the fun experience, give the players the benefit of the doubt if they are trying their best (even preventing PC death!) and how trying to capture realism in D&D is a fool's errand. It repeats a common theme: use the rules when possible, but never forget the game is supposed to be about having fun.

And yet, so many self proclaimed grognards seem to keep forgetting those parts.
To be fair, I see a lot of self proclaimed anti-grognards forgetting those parts too and claiming the old school rules were more absolutist in nature than they were.
 

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