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2009-06-16 Adversity Spilling Out Of The Game

I try to run a challenging game because I think this is exciting. Some of the fights or some of the situations are meant to be tough. I also don’t like to micromanage combat. Perhaps that leads to situations where players feel like I’m cheating on them. They react by quoting the rules back at me, and correcting me.

I also need to root for my monsters sometimes because I need some positive things happening on my side of the screen as well. That’s why you’ll hear the occasional happy “Hah!” or “Sweet critical threat!” from me.

I guess what I’m aiming for is a certain taunting and challenging of my players while they’re in a tight spot. I thought it adds to the excitement and provides a sense of achievement afterwards.

Insulting body language Unfortunately, it seems to have the side-effect of inviting rules discussions in tight spots, which is exactly the opposite of what I’m looking for, followed by “Hah!” or “Take that!” when players win rule arguments. Recently I’ve also gotten some disturbing body language at the table. I’m not enjoying this sort adversity.

I’m not sure where to take it from here. What do you think, RPG Bloggers?

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I tend to channel my evil enthusiasm through the Monsters/NPCs. If an Orc scores a crit he lets out a warwoop, and the Mind Flayer will taunt from afar. That keeps me (the supposedly impartial GM) at the right side of the fence and encourage the players to channel their frustration/anger out on the monsters themselves, rather than at me.

In one scenario a while back (3.5e rules), Shane’s dwarven cleric was critically hit by a goblin of all things. The poor gobber was so stunned he missed a turn while staring in astonishment at his crude axe. He was soon killed by the enraged dwarf, but the other goblins retrieved his weapon and the Dwarfscar Axe became a constant source of embarrassment for that poor dwarf for a handful of scenarios afterward.

greywulf 2009-06-16 11:16 UTC


Yeah, the monsters and NPCs can taunt players/PCs. The DM should not. And in the end, that makes taking down those monsters all the more satisfying. This seems like a thin distinction, but I think it makes a difference from the players’ perspectives.

I stay quiet when my monsters succeed or fail. I don’t design monsters to, I design them to die memorably :) Keeping things challenging is a tough one, however. A table full of players will almost always do things that you, as one person, cannot anticipate or prepare for. That is part of the fun. For most encounters, if the players demolish the opposition, that is ok. I make a mental note about what worked and what didn’t, and file it away for a similar situation in the future. In big, climactic battles, however, I feel I owe the players a challenging experience, so I will fudge if it is clear I underestimated the players or get some unlucky rolls. Usually that means having the boss monster ignore the first failed save they roll against some save-or-suck effect (actually not a bad BBEG ability), or I will throw in reinforcements or, as you said, more ninjas.

– Adrian 2009-06-16 13:17 UTC


For the record, I’ll say that I’ve played rules-light and rules-heavy editions of D&D and there weren’t really fewer arguments then or now. The nature of the arguments change with different rules-sets; rules-heavy provokes arguments about the rules, rules-light provokes arguments about what would realistically happen in a situation.

In fact, the level of arguments you are likely to experience in your game are much more dependant on what kind of players you have than what kind of rules you are using, and your relationship with said players. Switching rules may only bring disappointment if argument-reduction is your goal. First and foremost, try to defuse the confrontational atmosphere that seems to be developing. Talk with them and tell them how you feel. You describe their body language recently as a bit worrying - is this a reflection of your own?

I think Greywulf’s comment on channelling your adversarial side through your monsters is sound advice.

I have certain players in my group who are very argumentative at times, and I know that it’s so deep a part of their psyche that there’s no way I’m going to be able to change that - I just have to fight each battle with them as it comes. But they do add something to the group - good roleplay and passionate commitment to the story. So that balances out the bad, and it’s the reason, frankly, that I like having them in the group despite them being a pain in the arse on occasions!

lurkinggherkin 2009-06-16 14:43 UTC


I will admit that as an evil DM, I went through a phase where I rooted for my monsters to win. Within the structure of the game it’s easy to give in to the me versus them attitude. In fact, I would say that this is a healthy phase of being a dungeon master. But, I think it’s just that a phase. One should stop and reflect on this: Do I want my monsters to win or do I want to tell a good story? When you feel that you ready to tell a good story then it becomes easier to root for your monsters but know ultimately that they will be defeated. The fun thing is making your players feel pressure even though you know they will win. This is a thin line to walk. I mean just watch movies today. You go into a die hard movie, you know that John McClane is going to kill all those bad guys. The fun is having the story make you actually worry about McClane. Will he or won’t he? What will he succeed at and fail at? Our jobs as DM’s is primarily as storytellers. Learn to enjoy your monsters success, but also your player’s success. You are on their side as well. When they roll a 20, take part in the celebration. Don’t allow the us vs. them mentality to continue. When the players sit to talk strategy, take part and remind them about facts that their characters would know. Jump in with a “You know you might remember something that guy said, roll an int check” or something to show that your part of their team just as much as they are. The key here is that the group is working to tell a good story. If you promote that attitude then you should defuse some of the tension in your group outside of the game. That way you can have tense in game situations that are fun for everyone, DM & Player alike.

– Alexis Perez 2009-06-16 15:15 UTC


The system I use has a mechanic in place to help deal with this (or at least the timing slow down). Modifiers, penalties, special rules and the like only apply if you remember them. Its something most groups do, but its explicitly stated. Once the roll is made you can’t add or remove modifiers to it, or use a different rule. This also has to work both ways though I find. If a player suggests a simple comparative strength check to grapple because you can’t remember the grapple rules right now, you’d have to give sway, even if he knows the correct grapple rules and brings them up when you try and grapple him later. After all, if it was really that important to your tactical plans, you’d have known the rule in the first place.

That is just my solution and experience. Its based on rules debates being mostly about not remembering the rules, and a bad thing because it slowed down the game to look them up.

Side note: I cheer for the monsters, and the players know it. But I run sandbox games with open rolling, so the players trust me I didn’t set anything up where they had to fail.

Zzarchov 2009-06-16 15:28 UTC


Thank you all for your suggestions. I still find it hard to believe that some of my players feel that I’m gloating or otherwise mocking them, but it sounds like the most plausible explanation for the behaviour I’m seeing. Hopefully I’ll still manage to have fun running the opposition. Let’s see whether that changes the dynamics at the table.

The warning regarding the discussions with rules-light systems is appreciated. I guess I would have set myself up for disappointment exactly as described.

AlexSchroeder 2009-06-17 10:01 UTC

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