2019-02-26 Episode 20

Podcast Keep prep short. Use every idea right away. Be impartial and be adversarial. Let them struggle.


Running the Game



Hilarious how I find interesting blog posts after the fact and think of all the things I should have said in addition all the stuff I said. Also, I wonder whether me talking about the things one can simply read is actually worth it. I should do follow-up episodes, perhaps. Or collect the blog links before recording the episode. And provide more anecdotes from my games. I think that’s what makes the pontification bearable.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-02-27 07:15 UTC

That a DM should create challenges is to me so axiomatic to DMing, that it barely needs mentioning. I would at any rate go for a different term than ’adversarial’ since “adversarial DMing” has a history of describing dickhead DMs who are playing against the players and actively trying to defeat them (in a partial manner).

Perhaps a phrasing to the effect that challenges should be “consequential” or something similar. IE. the players should know that bad consequences can happen. This is how I phrased it in my upcoming GM guide:

“PLAYERS SHOULD FEEL DANGER IS REAL While players should feel they can try anything, they should also know their choices have consequences. This game is not designed to keep PCs alive at all costs. One reason character generation is so quick is so players can quickly get back in when a character dies! Part of the roleplaying experience is open-ended outcomes. The world is not tailored to the PCs; unwise or reckless choices can have deadly consequences. Knowing your actions can have fatal consequences adds to the drama. And knowing one’s choices make a real difference adds to the sense of accomplishment. In a game where death and loss are real to the players, their victories equally real. And treasure truly earned. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the GM should look to actively kill his players, or set unreasonable challenges for them at every turn. It does mean the GM needn’t go to special lengths to keep them alive, or put up bumper lanes on the world around them.”

Here the focus is on mortality and danger, but I think the general style to remind DMs to avoid, is the feeling that players are going through the world with bumper lanes up.

Another pertinent rule of thumb to me concerning challenges, which also help to maintain some impartiality in how to set them up, is that challenges should, by and large, reflect the rewards. And to create enough information that the players can reasonably acquire for them to make semi-informed decisions about the challenges they undertake.

Anders H 2019-02-27 09:31 UTC

Yeah, I guess “adversarial” might be associated with the wrong kind of DM... I was coming from Patrick Stuart’s post where he starts by looking at the word adventure, ad-venture, which is where I made the bridge to adverse, ad-verse.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-02-27 10:12 UTC

I recently read D&D as Competitice Storytelling:

  • Every player has a story planned for their characters. Maybe they are “meant” to become kings, make their deities proud, or slay an old nemesis.
  • The GM - or the NPCs - have their own story planned out - Strahd destroys his enemies or captures his unwilling bride, etc.
  • Players and GM compete to see which story becomes “real”.

I think I agree because I enjoy stories of adversity and overcoming. I’ve had feel good sessions where all the plans work, all the NPCs agree, all the enemies see the error of their ways, and at the end of the day the accomplishment rang hollow. It still happens at my table, but rarely.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-01 11:32 UTC

Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Note: in order to facilitate peer review and fight vandalism, we will store your IP number for a number of days. See Privacy Policy for more information. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Please say HELLO.