Times we have made mistake as DMs and how we would do things differently

TheSword

Legend
With the new DMG coming out and hopefully a lot more inspired budding DMs, I reflected on the best way of learning. For me it’s much better to try and fail and learn from that then try and get it perfect first time round. I also heard a great line that went something like.

Learn from others mistakes, you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

Any basic people management course will tell you about the feedback look.

1 - Have a plan
2 - Have a go
3 - Reflect on what worked and what didn’t
4 - Make some changes… then go back to step 1

In the spirit of humbleness would any other DMs out there like to share a time they tried something and it either didn’t work or only partially worked and reflect on how you would do it differently going forward. This is about the reflection as much as the problem. It doesn’t really matter what didn’t work or why or whose fault. The important thing is that it added to your experience.

Here’s the caveat (and the reason I’ve marked this as +)…

For this to work you need to come from a place of personal experience, not theory.
You can disagree with the best method moving forward but you can’t tell the poster they were wrong for reaching their own conclusion or for making the mistake in the first place.
You need to reflect on what you could do differently not what other people should have done (though communicating better might be reflection. This includes blaming the game. In other words “Don’t look out for the window, look in the mirror”

If you can post one thing and how you would move forward in one post together, and save second issue and how you move forward with that for a separate post. Please feel free to post multiple issues and challenges.

Remember, failing can be both embarrassing and take an emotional toll, but often because we expect to get things right and feel like we aren’t good enough if we fail. Whereas in fact being willing to take a risk even if you might get something wrong is very brave. Failing can also be really funny if you’re with people that laugh with you and not at you.
 

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TheSword

Legend
I’ll start off with something relatively straight forward that I have messed up with many times.

I gave out a magic items and abilities that allowed spell DCs to go to crazy levels. In my Odyssey of the Dragon Lords campaign I think the combination of an extra feat at first level and a slightly more generous point buy (which I did at first level) meant it was really easy to start with 18 casting stat. The player chose the stat increase and very early on got this to 22. I added a magic harp that would increase his save DCs really on because I want to give them an item they would really appreciate and later on there was a town that improved charisma by another 2. All together this meant by mid levels had a spell DC of 21-22. Any non-legendary creature was instantly neutralized unless they rolled high teens and (most often a nat 20).

In the players defense they were doing the sensible thing in the circumstances and you can’t blame them for wanting a high DC. The two magic items were the kicker.

On reflection, prevention is better than cure. I would be very very careful about adding in Items that raise a casting stat above 20, and I probably wouldn’t make it easy to get starting stats above 17 from the get go. I’d also be very careful adding save increasing items (there are quite a few out there in various products) where a caster already has a high save.

I considered upping the difficulty and enemy saving throws and/or using creatures immune to the bards powers but I felt this would be undermining their character and make them feel crappy.

How we resolved it instead (because it was a great campaign) was by having an honest conversation at the start of one of the sessions about how I thought the PCs were a bit more than I could handle and that it was making it really hard to run encounters. All the PCs agreed to slightly modify their characters. The bard swapped the +2 Charisma for the crown to something else. It wasn’t a perfect solution but it did let us carry on the campaign for another 5 or 6 player levels where I otherwise probably would have lost interest in DMing the campaign and quit.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
I once had a player that made a pretty ridiculous and underpowered character. They ignored all advice in character creation, and it wasn't long before they were struggling. I made a note of it and decided to seed some upcoming adventures with magic items that might help them out.

During the next adventure, they started rolling really, really well, constantly getting critical hits and being much more useful. I didn't think much of it at the time, but one of my other players said they thought they saw player A cheating.

I take a dim view of this sort of thing, so I asked player B to keep a close eye on A next session. During the next session, they got into a fight with a female fiend who dominated player A's character. I let them keep playing their character, just told them who to attack. Player A proceeds to go to town on Player C, the strongest character, and took them out with back to back crits!

I ended the session soon after. Player B came up to me and said not only did A cheat, those two crits were completely bogus! I was steamed and decided to teach them a lesson.

During the next session, they encountered some Hobgoblins who used poison. I had said that the Hobgoblins in my game had access to various poisons, and each tribe has a Poison Master who brews insidious concoctions.

After they fight ended, after a minute went by, I told everyone to make a Fortitude save. I didn't care what the other players rolled- the only person I planned on punishing was player A, who flubbed the roll, but not by a lot. I told them they felt feverish, but there were no other effects.

The truth was, they had been hit with a horrifying poison that did Constitution damage, but in a way where without a good Heal check, the victim didn't notice the effects! So they kept adventuring, and I kept track of player A's new, lower, maximum hit point total. Halfway in the fight I told them they dropped to 0 hit points. They squawked, claiming to have X hit points left, but I grinned and told them how much Con they had lost from the earlier poison.

The player was like "Oh, I see." They left quickly after the session ended.

At first I felt vindicated, but then I realized that I had basically taken away all their agency and killed their character as surely as if they'd been struck down by "bolts from the blue". I didn't confront them. I didn't get their side of the story. I gave them no chance to apologize to the group.

I just killed their character. And it didn't matter that I could justify it all in game- I'd still abused my position as a DM.

Now I make my position very clear when I run. If I catch you cheating, I'll tell you to stop it. If I catch you again, you're out of the game. I mean, I get it, sometimes you have bad luck, it starts to wear on you, you feel like you can't catch a break and the game stops being fun. I can overlook the occasional misrepresentation of the numbers. I don't like it, but I understand it.

But if it becomes a habit, then I have to let them go. Because all they are doing is cheapening the experience for the honest players, and if there's one thing I can't stand, is one player ruining the fun of another player.

Also, I'm much more careful about mental domination and "forced" PVP. It just leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth, especially if you have a That Guy in your group who takes a little too much pleasure in being able to attack the other PC"s!
 

TheSword

Legend
I once had a player that made a pretty ridiculous and underpowered character. They ignored all advice in character creation, and it wasn't long before they were struggling. I made a note of it and decided to seed some upcoming adventures with magic items that might help them out.

During the next adventure, they started rolling really, really well, constantly getting critical hits and being much more useful. I didn't think much of it at the time, but one of my other players said they thought they saw player A cheating.

I take a dim view of this sort of thing, so I asked player B to keep a close eye on A next session. During the next session, they got into a fight with a female fiend who dominated player A's character. I let them keep playing their character, just told them who to attack. Player A proceeds to go to town on Player C, the strongest character, and took them out with back to back crits!

I ended the session soon after. Player B came up to me and said not only did A cheat, those two crits were completely bogus! I was steamed and decided to teach them a lesson.

During the next session, they encountered some Hobgoblins who used poison. I had said that the Hobgoblins in my game had access to various poisons, and each tribe has a Poison Master who brews insidious concoctions.

After they fight ended, after a minute went by, I told everyone to make a Fortitude save. I didn't care what the other players rolled- the only person I planned on punishing was player A, who flubbed the roll, but not by a lot. I told them they felt feverish, but there were no other effects.

The truth was, they had been hit with a horrifying poison that did Constitution damage, but in a way where without a good Heal check, the victim didn't notice the effects! So they kept adventuring, and I kept track of player A's new, lower, maximum hit point total. Halfway in the fight I told them they dropped to 0 hit points. They squawked, claiming to have X hit points left, but I grinned and told them how much Con they had lost from the earlier poison.

The player was like "Oh, I see." They left quickly after the session ended.

At first I felt vindicated, but then I realized that I had basically taken away all their agency and killed their character as surely as if they'd been struck down by "bolts from the blue". I didn't confront them. I didn't get their side of the story. I gave them no chance to apologize to the group.

I just killed their character. And it didn't matter that I could justify it all in game- I'd still abused my position as a DM.

Now I make my position very clear when I run. If I catch you cheating, I'll tell you to stop it. If I catch you again, you're out of the game. I mean, I get it, sometimes you have bad luck, it starts to wear on you, you feel like you can't catch a break and the game stops being fun. I can overlook the occasional misrepresentation of the numbers. I don't like it, but I understand it.

But if it becomes a habit, then I have to let them go. Because all they are doing is cheapening the experience for the honest players, and if there's one thing I can't stand, is one player ruining the fun of another player.

Also, I'm much more careful about mental domination and "forced" PVP. It just leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth, especially if you have a That Guy in your group who takes a little too much pleasure in being able to attack the other PC"s!
Awesome experience to share. Did they carry on playing with you? I’m guessing it was face to face. It can be really hard to have that kind of uber-confrontational conversation where there is no real softening it or broadening the message to the whole group to reduce the sting.

It sounds like your position on reflection is spot on.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Awesome experience to share. Did they carry on playing with you? I’m guessing it was face to face. It can be really hard to have that kind of uber-confrontational conversation where there is no real softening it or broadening the message to the whole group to reduce the sting.

It sounds like your position on reflection is spot on.
I asked the group, and they said to give player A another chance, so I allowed them back into the game. At the time, we didn't have a lot of players to choose from. : (

And yeah, I only play face-to-face. Nothing against online gaming if that's the only way a person can play/they really enjoy is, but it's not the same experience for me, and as a GM, I have enough on my plate without having to fiddle around with technology more complicated than my laptop (which is where I keep all my game notes).

I've had similar experiences to yours with regards to letting the players getting too much power too fast- I love magic items, and my AD&D games were lousy with them. 3.5/PF1e tempered that a little bit, since any strange item the party didn't want could be turned into better items eventually, lol, so I needed to be more careful. And giving my players too even of breaks has shot me in the foot in the past (bonus Feats, generous die rolling conventions, and so on).

And I've had players who abused my good will by making min/maxed characters who make game balance pear-shaped. And there isn't a good solution to that other than don't play with people like that.

Like, of course, optimize. It's perfectly logical to do so in and out of universe. But be responsible about it. Ask the GM "hey, are you sure X is a good idea?". If they insist that it is, then sure, go for it. But at least check with them before speeding right into value town!
 

MGibster

Legend
I am the God-Emperor GM and by definition cannot make mistakes. But, you know, if I did ever make mistakes here's what they might be.

On several occasions I should have been more clear with the players about the likely consequences of their character's actions.

Star Wars: I was running the West End Games' version, and the players were on a planet when the Empire's fleet showed up and tie-fighters descended. The players thought to beat a hasty retreat but there was essentially an unending wave of tie-fighters. As their ship was damaged by the Empire, most of the players took the hint that now might be a good time to find someplace on the planet to hide but the pilot was having none of that. He insisted they were getting off planet right until the moment the ship was finally destroyed. What I should have done was spell out the situation to the pilot so he'd try something besides what everyone already knew would fail.

Deadlands many years ago. During our first session one of the PCs decided it was a good idea to go off and do something on his own. In the original Deadlands, you had tokens, poker chips, you could use to do things like re-roll dice, mitigate wounds, etc., etc. This particular PC was fighting some wendigos all by his lonesome and although the other PCs could hear his gunshots it was impossible for them to arrive in time to help. The PC took some damage and was out of the fight.

Me: You've got chips, do you want to spend them?
Player 1: Nah.
Player 2: You're about to be dead.
Player 1: MGibster's not going to kill me on the first adventure.
Me: So you're not going to spend any chips?
Player 1: No.
Me: Okay, so as this hairy, lumbering beasts pounds you into oblivion the world goes dark.

He found out his character was dead when the PCs finally arrived and found his half eaten corpse. I really should have just told the player his character was about to die but I didn't feel I needed to be explicit.
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
When I ran Curse of Strahd, I had the location where the party would have the final confrontation with Strahd decided by the Tarokka deck.

Because of some close calls early in the campaign, the party avoided Castle Ravenloft until they were levels 9 and 10 and had acquired some allies. The party entered the castle through a cliff side window, crashing through the window right into the location where Strahd was located. I had upstated Strahd using a product I bought on DMs Guild that I really like, so there was an interesting, if not particularly threatening to the PCs, battle through the catacombs.

But we played and explored almost none of Castle Ravenloft. As soon as I knew the PCs plans, I knew that this was the likely outcome. But because that was where the card put Strahd, I stuck to it. I generally run things as they are and let the dice fall where they may. I generally dislike quantum ogres, fudging dice rolls, etc. I enjoy the story emerging, rather than trying to force things to go a certain way.

But I really feel that this was one instance where I should have placed Strahd in another area of Castle Ravenloft. I would have been much more interesting and challenged and better end to what was otherwise a great campaign.
 



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