D&D General The Timing of Creation

So one of our local DMs got married and "quit D&D for now". So he handed his campaign off to me so I could finish it for the players.

So the DM left some vague "framing notes", but it's mostly a player lead improv game. The players do stuff at random, and the DM just improvs stuff right in front of the characters. Some times each player will half remember their "backstory quest" and mention it. Mostly they are five strangers not even pretending to be a group and each of them just does what they want on a whim. And they "discuss" things in "arguments" at lot, and step on each others toes.

So the "player plot" is all the characters are looking for two orc brothers that did their families wrong. That is the old DM wove all five backstories of all five PCs together to make the two orc brothers the bad guys for each story. So the idea is the "group" is together to find the two orc brothers.

Currently they are in the Orc Swamp lands, randomly attacking every orc they see and asking "is this orc one of the brothers?" So it's a fun improv mindless combat game.

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So of the five players, two are potential good players and the other three helped make this post. So...the problem is...."when can a DM create or change" anything in the game? This question is for complex rules games, like D&D, not the lite games where a GM can just say "orc AC 11 HP12 AT2 DM6" in one breath and be done.

The three endlessly complain that I, as the DM, am "creating and changing things wrong". When I asked for some clarification it was mostly "you are not like our old DM". I tell them this is true, as I'm not your old DM. They get mad and say things. I try to stick to "well, ok, what exactly do you want me to do it make you happy?" And they don't have an answer exactly. So I was hopping the Internet could help out. As when a DM can create and/or change things is an old topic.

So, they don't have much problem at first with the DM making up stuff before the game. They think that is "ok". At least until they nitpick(see below).

And they Love it when the DM just improvs things on the spot. They think the game is at it's best when the DM just 'pops' stuff into the game on the spot. What does the DM put in the Frame of the Cave Encounter: ten orcs with clubs! Raaaahhh, the players have their characters attack!

The problem comes a couple of rounds later when I say "the wounded orc in the back drinks a potion of healing". The three players go wild with the accusation that "just gave" that orc a potion of healing because they were wounded and I wanted that orc to live a bit longer. My response is I only "improved" this orc into existence a couple of minutes ago, so they are still in the creation time. They respond with the DM can only create/improv for that one second, then everything is set and carved in stone. I asked for how this "player rule" would work: could they spell it out in words. Of course, they could not.

So by the Player Logic: at 6PM the DM "improv creates" an Orc Warrior. For that one second the DM is free to give the orc anything, b"by the rules". But after that one second the orc is locked: the DM can never add or change anything.

I ask the obvious questions of:

Well, how do the players police what the DM creates? Even I make the orc with a potion of healing in his sack, I'm never going to say "The orc is in hide armor with a culb...oh, and somehow you know the orc has a potion of healing in his sack".

If I do improv that the orc has a potion of healing, how do I prove it? Write it down? Make a note of the date and time? Tell all the players OOC?

Are you saying you want to stop the game every time any foe is introduced so you players can be given a list of the foes class abilities, equipment, weapons, spells and anything else they might have?

Is your "player rule" that the DM must write down all the detail of each foe?

Will all the players be writing down the detail of each foe in each Game Pause too?

Of course the players let slip part of their real Exploit Plan here: they said the DM MUST pause the game and give the players the full details of each foe AND the DM must write them all down. And this cam with the sneaky snicker of "well, if you just use the By-The-Book foes, then you don't have to do all that!" So it's basically a not so sneaky way to stop the DM from adding anything to the game.

I said I'd never agree to that. But I know other games do "random sandboxy improv", so how do you do it?
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I don’t think improv is really the problem here. Players mostly just don’t like it when enemies heal themselves, but they’ll tolerate it if the enemy has something written down in their stat block that says they can.

It’s hard to give good advice without hearing this story from the players’ perspective, but I’d say if the players are unhappy with monsters being adjusted on the fly, but you’re not willing to use only monsters from published sources, the best compromise would be to design some stock monsters of your own. Basically have “Bloodtide’s Monster Manual,” so you can point to the stat blocks you wrote ahead of time and say “this is what the monster is and has always been capable of,” even if it isn’t from a published source.
 

Stormonu

Legend
For one, don't let them know you're improving. It's all in your notes, and no they can't see the DM's notes. In the past, I have changed monster HP (up or down), created environmental effects, spells, attacks and whatnot that are not in my notes and at the spur of the moment because they created an interesting moment. Overall, I do it rarely. I just don't tell or hint to the players that I did this, and I never try to do it in a malicious way. D&D cannot account for everything, and sometimes as a DM you have a last minute moment of inspiration or realization that something needs to be tweaked to fit the situation - as apparently you did with the potion.

If they complain, just remind them that when you created that orc from scratch, you didn't specify their treasure. After the 3rd encounter or so where they don't get any treasure because you didn't specify it beforehand, they'll get the hint.

In the end, the primary thing is that the players want to feel the DM is being impartial, and that their choices matter. This seems to be a case that they don't trust you and believe you are changing things (for dramatic effect) at a whim. You are clearly inventing things as you go, hopefully to create a better game experience, but you have to do it in a subtle manner or the players are likely to think you are being arbitrary and their choices/actions are being subsumed because you'll just "fix it", even if that isn't your intent.

In the case of the orc, you could have simply given the orc more HP instead of having him quaff a potion, to the same effect. They probably didn't trust that action because if the orc had died or not otherwise used the potion, it's unlikely the party would have found said potion on the orc's body if they looted it - as it was a spur of the moment creation, and it did not favor the players in its use or as treasure they could not have possibly received later.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Just a hunch, but I think your players want to understand the parameters of a challenge at the outset, when it’s being presented, and that a later reveal that the difficulty of the challenge was not as it seemed (even if only by a few hit points apparently) seems like a bad play to them. I’d suggest giving them as much information when you first describe the opposition as seems reasonable, with an eye towards presenting them with an intuitive and gameable play environment.
 

TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
First off, I'm intrigued by your local gaming structure. Your gaming circle has a stable of DMs such that the responsibility for a particular table can be passed around like covering a work shift? Fascinating.

As someone whose primary DMing mode is improv-heavy sandboxy games, I would say the primary requisite of such play is trust. Point blank, I don't DM for groups that don't trust me. For all the tables I've DMed, I've built trust by

a) being a conscientious, fun player for several years before I took a turn DMing
b) showing mastery of the ruleset
c) being fair and generous in my ruling when I DM.

Even with a group that trusts you, you should use enemies with healing sparingly. Healing potions on a mercenary squad of bounty hunters, totally fine. Random orc raiders I would telegraph after the fact that they had probably raided someone else to steal the potions, or display that the orc camp has someone with alchemical talents.
 

aco175

Legend
I would likely start a new campaign with new PCs so everyone knows it is your game/campaign. The other players can play with the way you DM or one of them can DM if they want. Taking over another DMs campaign with a bunch of things floating around and players wanting you to DM his way feels odd. Sounds like they should be more understanding.
 

jgsugden

Legend
As a first: When I take over a game that someone else started, my goal immediately is to find a way to bring it to a great conclusion that satisfies the players. That usually means trying to emulate the style of the prior DM and looking for a way to wrap the campaign up quickly so that we can start something new.

Why? As a DM, I don't enjoy trying to run a game like another DM, but I appreciate how continuity and consistency enhance a campaign. To that end, I make a sacrifice and try to give the players more of what they've liked - but I balance that by moving it towards a completion ASAP so that I am not burdened forever. I recommend this approach to other DMs when they take over a game.

As a second: In my experience, the ideal time to create is not during the session. When things are going well, I don't have to make anything off the cuff. I either have something very specific prepared, or I have a bunch of 'just in case' materials I can call upon to use during the session.

Once I create something in my game, it is part of the Living Game. I have a DM calendar and I know (from a high level) where and when every NPC is going to do something meaningful if the PCs do not get in the way of it. The world lives around them when they are not there. So I am careful about where and what I introduce. Once introduced however, I aim for continuity, even when it comes to things the PCs do not know. Once I write down that a sorcerer is arachnophobic, that sorcerer is scared of spiders - I won't change it to a fear of snakes just because the PC druid turns into a snake. If I put down that a gaint has a potion of gaseous form, it will have that potion unless it uses it. Most of this creation takes place between games when I have time to build.

However, sometimes your PCs go someplace you did not expect and interact in unexpected ways. Every DM needs to improvise. The key, for me, is to improvise as little as possible. I have hundreds of encounters set up and ready to go. I used random generators to aid in building them. They each feature: Foes, a goal for the enemies, personalities for leaders (either an emotion, a famous character to badly pretend to apply to the foe as a personality, or a habit), elements of the location (slippery, climbing surfaces, water, etc...) and treasure. I can quickly thumb through these encounters, pull one that makes sense and adapt it to create a combat scenario. Then I take a picture once I have assembled the battlemap and boom - it is now a permanent feature of my setting.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Groups are nuanced as they form and I don't think there is some magic internet solution to many of the problems that can arise. You should be having this discussion with them off the table. If its not a good fit just disband.
 

dave2008

Legend
So one of our local DMs got married and "quit D&D for now". So he handed his campaign off to me so I could finish it for the players.

So the DM left some vague "framing notes", but it's mostly a player lead improv game.
Stop. @bloodtide this is not the group for you. From reading a bunch of your posts over the past year this game will likely be a disaster. Do yourself and the group a service and let someone else DM it. Be the better person and say: I can't do this.
 
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Stop. @bloodtide this is not the group for you. From reading a bunch of your posts over the past year this game will likely be a disaster. Do yourself and the group a service and let someone else DM it. Be the better person and say: I can't do this.
Well, like I said this is not "my" group. Their DM left.

It’s hard to give good advice without hearing this story from the players’ perspective, but I’d say if the players are unhappy with monsters being adjusted on the fly, but you’re not willing to use only monsters from published sources, the best compromise would be to design some stock monsters of your own. Basically have “Bloodtide’s Monster Manual,” so you can point to the stat blocks you wrote ahead of time and say “this is what the monster is and has always been capable of,” even if it isn’t from a published source.
I'm a pre written DM for my normal games. Not that I think that would work here though....
 

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