Comments on 2012-03-20 Not Smart Enough

Yep, being a gm is kind of schizophrenic. When you write down the adventure and choose monsters you are the referee. But during fights you are not the referee. You goal must be to try to kill the players with what carefully chosen and hopefully balanced opposition you have. It’s hart but to have tactically challenging fights that’s what you need to do. And if you don’t wanna have them you power gamer player might become pretty bored over time. At least I would and I’m the chess guy, too.

Jan 2012-03-21 07:38 UTC


Absolutely! I’ve also had players ask “That was it!? Where are the real enemies??”

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-21 10:15 UTC


As a player, I enjoy encountering opponents whose actions feel “real” and not like in a bad computer game. Is outwitting your players the same as letting your NPCs act “naturally” within the boundaries of what they can know?

If you roll morale checks during combat, you have to decide on the chance of the monsters fleeing. The antagonist makes this decision. Only then can the referee roll the dice.

– Stefan 2012-03-24 21:46 UTC


Actually, in old school D&D, the referee doesn’t decide that. The monster manual has a morale score for all the monsters listed. I find this really helps me get into the mindset of a referee.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-24 23:38 UTC


But you still have to pick the monsters and design the encounter. Or is that process too far removed from the game at the table because it happens when you prepare the adventure?

– Stefan 2012-03-25 09:56 UTC


I’ve never seen itself as a conscious decision to disassociate myself from the setting, but I think this is exactly what happens. For the sandbox, I pick some broad ideas (”here be dragons”, “darves fight giants over here” and so on) and place those on the map in remote locations. Closer to the starting base, I pick smaller themes (”vampires in a barrow hill”, “lizard men warring on kobolds”), and finally, I write a few random encounter tables with monsters that make sense (”2d6 soldiers, 1d6 merchant and guards, lizard men 2d6, 2d6 kobolds, 1d6 dwarves” and maybe something exotic or very dangerous like a giant or a dragon). I will also place their lairs where it makes sense and have a rough idea of how many there are. When the party gets to a lair and actually starts hostilities, I can still figure that there will be 5d6 kobolds or something like that. This gives me the structure where I can roll some dice at the table (1 in 6 of an encounter per day and per night) without having to pick the exact opposition.

At the same time I will place One Page Dungeons on the map and pick some adventure modules, or write up one or two of my own, and place them on the map. These are often “appropriate” for the current party level in that they are either for low level characters or if they are large dungeons or megadungeons (hundreds of locations) they will at least start out with locations appropriate for low level characters. It is then up to the players to decide where they want to push further in, looking for greater rewards.

All of this, I think, supports the notion that it is not I who directly picks the challenges my players will face but it is the players that will pick the average challenge level based on the risks they are willing to take. They can do this because they can get some information before getting involved (”there be dragons” or “travel is no longer safe because the lizards are on a war path”).

This is getting pretty far from the original question of “I’m too stupid to play a tactical game against my players” but it’s the same idea. Just as I try to avoid having to pick the tactics the opposition will use I will try to avoid picking the opposition itself. Instead, I rely on tables and the roll of dice in order to not feel responsible for the results and I limit myself to being a referee.

At least that’s the current old school ideal I’m striving for. The same does not apply for my Solar System RPG or Pendragon games. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-25 10:27 UTC


I was thinking of adventure path-like adventures with a story to be told while it seems you had a sandbox in mind. In my view, there is a fundamentally different design process behind these two. But this really leads too far away from the original topic.

– Stefan 2012-03-25 13:18 UTC


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