Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Unwritten Rules of D&D Reaction

I read this yesterday on a short break between bouts of work.

The 4 Unwritten Rules No Dungeon Master Should Break

Points 1-3 are fair to me. I think those are good rules. I think #2 is a bit overdone, since you can just ask the players what their characters do. You don't have to assume for them, nor punish them for not stating things. You can ask, and hold them to what they say. That's fair.

Overall, 1-3? They're fair enough.

4, eh, maybe not. It's very situational, isn't it?

I would agree that you shouldn't overly contrive situations. But what if I have a situation you can avoid, but if you can't, you lose your stuff? I can't do that?

"None of this applies to today’s game. Never take the character’s hard-won gear. They will resent the loss."

Really? Why? I disagree strongly with that.

I've refereed games where people lost their paper man entirely. Gone. Dead. Irrevocably. Do they resent it?

No, it's a game. And it happened fairly, by the first three rules and two of mine - don't gloat, and remember it's their game, too.

I've have people lose their stuff. Remember Vryce had Gram? He literally carried one of the most storied blades in human history. He lost that along with a bunch of stuff once when he got killed.

I don't think his player did much more than sigh and move on. It's stuff a paper man owns. It's not any more real than the paper man. You're at best a secondary user of it - you have an imaginary guy, who has imaginary stuff. Sometimes that stuff will go away.

I'd say a better rule 4 would be, don't take away the agency of the players to suit your plot. Don't force things to come to a result. This bit encapsulates it well:

"Save your escape-from-the-dungeon scenario for a time when players ignore warning signs, make bad choices, suffer setbacks, and ignore any chance to run. Those times happen—trust me. Then, instead of rolling new characters, have the old characters wake in chains. The players will feel grateful for a second chance."

I agree there. Just let your players make decisions within the confines of the game world and the events of that world and the capabilities of their PCs. And let stuff happen. Don't force it. If their stuff goes away, it goes away - and it's a result of their dumb decisions. It's why my players don't gripe about getting TPK'd by a beholder or losing their stuff to Mungo the Troll or that time Dave tried to end-run around a Black Reaver for loot. They made those choices and bad stuff happened. It's not the stuff, or their backstory dependents, that are the issue. It's that it's their decision or not.


  1. I think #2 applies when the player states their action, and based on their choice you have a reasonable apprehension that they may have misunderstood (or you may have miscommunicated) the situation.

    I also think players should be able to state a Standard Operating Procedure, and not, for example, have to state that they travel with blade drawn every time they start to walk. That works against them, too, if they encounter a phenomenon that makes them drop anything they are holding.

    And some things should be assumed. Really, you think I forgot to don my armor before I entered the dungeon because I didn't mention it? I've had a DM like that, and pixel-bitching your actions and keeping a checklist to make sure you aren't running around naked with no equipment is not a game I like to play in.

    1. I've never yet played with a GM who required you to tell them you put on your clothes. I'm not saying they don't exist, just that I don't really plan around them.

      That said, I'm not a fan of "SOP" statements. My experience with those has been largely negative. It's something players angrily point to as proof that they're ready for anything, even when logic would determine that no one is in a perfect ready state at all times. Instead, I just periodically ask, "What does everyone have out?" or "What are you all doing?" and then resolve actions and situations based on that. Once got into that habit, and players realized it's not "gotcha!" but rather just a situation check, I've had zero issues with people arguing or saying, "I would have done (thus and so)."

      With SOPs all too often I've gotten the situation where someone claims to be Waiting, while checking the floors, ceilings, and walls carefully, checking their six, with a sword out, shield out covering their face from traps (but not blocking vision, unless it's a medusa), while opening a door, but not by touching anything, but quietly.

      The sole issue I've had is players who want both a reasonable assumption on their behalf, but don't picture what their actions would require. Basically, folks who want to open said door but also have their sword ready, and just don't look with their mind's eye and say, to open a door I'd need a free hand, I'd probably do it this way . . . and describe it that way and accept the ups and downs of that situation. For those, an SOP isn't helpful, it's just better to ask each time, IME.

  2. "Really? Why?"

    In my experience these type of rulings come from "It happened to me and I didn't like it one bit!"

    But yeah, I agree with your assessments. Communicate with the Players, this includes "What are you doing", "How do yo think you're doing that", as well as communicating upcoming dangers. I mean if the Players get down to level 9 and they know there are TPK level threats lurking, yeah, at that point it's on them if they blunder into a TPK level ambush and die before even being able to have an action. I might feel slightly bad that their paper mans didn't make it, but new paper men are cheap.

    1. ""It happened to me and I didn't like it one bit!""

      You're probably spot on there.

      I'd be bummed if Hillbilly lost everything - especially Hoopslayer, his knife. But then I'd just restart collecting things. It's just stuff.

      And yeah, it's one thing to jump the PCs with a demon lord on a deeper level, and it's something else entirely to jump them with a demon lord on level 2. That's pretty low. Heh.

    2. "And yeah, it's one thing to jump the PCs with a demon lord on a deeper level, and it's something else entirely to jump them with a demon lord on level 2. That's pretty low. Heh."

      To be fair Vryce was holding his own... if they'd have had a full party and knowledge they had going into the last fight with him, they could have taken The Lord of Spite. Also, Durak didn't kill Galen or Dryst while Vryce hid, so... fair play on your part,

    3. It's only fair play in that I designed "Durak, the Uncaring" as lacking, say, Bloodlust. Had they fallen to orcs they'd have been taken prisoner. Had they fallen to gnolls or trolls they'd have been killed or eaten. It's just that the demon lord I deployed to wander the shallow levels of Felltower doesn't finish downed foes from what they've learned, heard, and experienced. It feels generous to call that fair, but thanks either way.

    4. Sure, but now that they're in his house (so to speak) would he be so negligent in finishing of "not dead yet" foes if the tide turns hard and the last few standing decide to run?

      Like, you're actions with Durak have been fair based on how he's written, but did you write to be fair? I mean he doesn't look like he's written to be a gotcha "level 9 Demon Lord on up level 2" monster, but rather a "and you hear him coming (OH LORD HE A COMIN!), and if he downs half the party up on level two he won't be a dick and kill off anyone left behind that's still barely alive when the rest of the party flees".

      Like, I don't know if you designed him that way deliberately, but he's a good "OH NOES" type of 'big bad' to toss at weaker groups to keep them on their toes, but not an automatic TPK. But if you go to beard him in his own den, well now, that's a different story.


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