On Incliment Weather and a Plea for Death Traps

Since it looks like I'll be stuck at work again this weekend and won't have internet access, I'll post a bit from the document I'm working on releasing next week.
Concerned that save or die is too rough? Convinced that there would be some way to avoid automatic death from the ceiling crushing the players? Don’t want anything bad to happen to you players? Like to fudge those dice?
If it is not possible to die or miss treasure or lose - if the only path is the one to victory, then there is no victory at all. When you cheat and lie by mis-reporting the results on the dice, then you are cheating the players of their free will and any sense of accomplishment they may gain.
Without consequences, there can be no meaning or value to decisions made. If nothing bad can happen then nothing the players do matters. As the Dungeon Master you are responsible for not ruining their fun in this way.
The key here is player choice and empowerment. Go ahead and give a death trap or two a try (along with appropriately rich rewards in other places) and see how much more engaged your players become when they realize the choices they make matter. Then watch how much fun they have to strive with the honest possibility of loss and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
I've heard arguments from Dungeon Master's who fudge the dice to "help the players out" or "make sure they have fun". It's equally idiotic to eat ice cream and cheese cake constantly to lose weight. When what you do has the opposite effect of why you're say you're doing it, then you either don't understand what you're doing, or you're disconnected from reality.

When you "help the player's out" by removing consequences then they won't ever learn to become better players. When you "make sure they have fun" by removing their agency and the value of their choices, the end result isn't someone feeling like they are awesome.

I want to be clear about what I'm saying. This isn't to say when it's 11pm at night and people have to leave that you can't hand wave getting camp set up. It doesn't mean that you forget that you're a person sitting in a room with other people. It just means that there are no save points or take backs. Always allowing players to redo their choice when they discover that it has consequences (setting off a trap, or, uh, aaaahhhhchoodrawing an attack of opportunity).

I post this because it's about having a good time. You are playing a game with people. If they always win, and there's no downside to any game, then they will not have as good a time. This isn't about being mean, or berating players or anything. They should make informed choices, where they know the consequences (or they should know that they don't know what the consequences will be). They should just be held accountable for those choices, and the results. If they stand firm to hold off the bugbears, then they might die. If you don't kill them then that will devalue the choice they made to hold off the bugbears.

If they win, then the glory is real.

4 comments:

  1. I once had a friend who, when DMing, would fudge rolls in our favor on occasion. The roll would be hidden, but his expression and tone of voice would always make it clear when he fudged. I eventually asked him to hide it better. Knowing he was fudging in my favor just sucked all the fun out of it for me.

    (Maybe I should've asked him to stop fudging, but I guess that crosses a line of telling someone else how to DM that I tend to not want to cross.)

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  2. I agree with this, but it ends up depending on your perspective. Dice create a tradeoff between investment and the potential for loss. You can come up with a fantastic plan that goes poorly because of a bad roll - and that ends up making players care less about making good plans, since a bad one can still be plausible with a good roll.

    I agree that death is part of the game and dice shouldn't be fudged, but I can also understand why it happens. It's intrinsically connected to the "die roll determines everything" mode of play, and if skill established more of a baseline (such as "agility + d10" or something) I think it could deal with that - allowing some variability, but still making room for player input.

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  3. @J. Shea

    I think we are talking about vastly different things.

    Whether a plan is good or bad is determined by the amount of influence luck and statistics can have on it. The odds (and stacking them in your favor)*are* part of the goodness or badness of a plan. Saying "because the odds should actually represent consequences that one will care less about planning" is hyperbole.

    Fudging happens because people are afraid of having negative consequences (e.g. they don't want their friends to be sad, they are conflict averse, they don't want to be the bearer of bad news) - and the result of that is that people, overall, enjoy the game less because their choices matter less.

    Nowhere in the above am I suggesting that the "Die roll determine everything". It is bad play to roll a die if the result is only going to be one you choose anyway. If you are using the dice, then the random result should be what the die shows - even if it is one you do not like. Otherwise you should not have rolled the die.

    The comment that "having more of a baseline" doesn't parse to me, because any roll has a baseline and a set variability. It's completely open information. Anyone can *calculate* that. The issue is that calculations - especially around low variability numbers, don't make for good choices, which makes for bad play.

    Granted, calculation in the abstract (the tabula rasa) can be an entertaining exercise in character optimization where the focus of play is on your build, instead of your skill as a player, but this is an old school blog and that type of game isn't really championed here.

    The Alexandrian has several articles that cover these topics and more in depth, and can be found in my sidebar.

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  4. No GM should ever fudge dice rolls. If they aren't prepared to accept the result, they need to just declare what happens and not even roll to begin with. I think that addresses the "good plan" concept too... if the plan really is awesome, there will be no need for random chance to come into play. If you're rolling dice, the plan might not have been as great as you thought it was.

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