Wednesday, March 12, 2014

General DMing Style Questions

I was looking at some old e-mails this evening and found the following exchange from this day in 2007. I was getting ready to spin up a new campaign and one of the players (whom I had never played with before) sent me the following questions:

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[Brandon],

How do you handle…

  • Stats
  • Player vs Character stats
  • Player vs Character knowledge
  • Character death
  • XP
  • Alignment
  • Poorly-constructed characters (ie, the combat bard with all cross-class skills)
  • Character goals
  • Player goals
  • Class goals (ie, say I know what class & prestige class I want my character to become)
  • A party with 8 players, when RP is your primary adventure component?


What are your pet peeves?

Other than publishing a new system of character creation, what do you get out of DMing?  What makes it fun/worthwhile for you?
>>

Interestingly, most of my answers from back then are still valid, so for anyone who cares, here is what my self of 7 years ago thought about gaming.

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How do you handle…

Stats
--> I'm a fan of randomness, prefer dynamic characters (my favorite PC I've DM'd for had a Wis of 4 and Cha 18 and was the undisputed party leader despite always making the worst possible decisions), and tend to prefer stronger PCs overall (since I like to make use of my full tactical knowledge and have been known to kill off parties full of 5th level characters with a handful of 1HD goblins)....Thus, I prefer rolled stats...this campaign using 4d6 * 6 (drop lowest die and assign).

Player vs Character stats
--> Firstly, hope the players can play what they roll (but it's hard to play someone wiser, smarter, or more charismatic than yourself -- less should be easy). If the PC has better stats than the player, then I will emphasize ability checks, skill checks, and DM reminders of things the PC should know. In non-combat encounters I tend to assume that PCs will automatically "take 10" on Knowledge checks for their character if they do not think to roll the check themselves.

Player vs Character knowledge
--> This is the players problem first and foremost. I tend to trust first to the players ability to role-play and distance themselves from their real-world experience. Given that, some player knowledge seldom applies in my campaigns (don't expect to know the stats on any monster -- I tweak every NPC and creature to be unique -- all encounters have *at least* rolled abilities, unique feat selections, and unique skill selections).

Character death
--> I allow Raise and Ressurect magic, assuming the PCs can get access to it (particularly since this is a high-magic campaign setting), but prefer Reincarnation personally.  Characters slain by undead may be given the option to play their character with the appropriate template added (unless the party would object and destroy them -- or they have been spawned by a still-living NPC undead creature).  PCs that die without the option of ressurection or undeath are dead -- deal with it.  The player will be given the option of creating a new character (with a fraction of their previous experience -- typically 3/4) before the next session.  If we are playing a long session (greater than 4 hours), the player may be allowed to introduce their new character during that session at the next appropriate opportunity.

XP
--> Assigned silently at the end of each session. I determine experience based on the actions of the character, with experience being gained for all manner of encounters (including non-dangereous ones), as well as "good" role-playing (I know its arbitrary, but I admire players who can really get into their characters). Overall I try to keep the XP balance fair, but if your character never does anything, don't expect him to learn much.

Alignment
--> I generally disregard Alignments, as they have no basis in reality -- or, in situations where they are necessary (such as campaigns allowing Paladins or Holy Warriors), I prefer that players leave the field blank unless it is important for their character concept.  I tend to gauge morality and legality within the game with an understanding of "situational  ethics", and prefer that the PCs feel free to "get into" their character without trying to force themselves into an artificial moral definition (this in no way reflects my real-world definitions of morality).  For many "alignment-focused" features in the game, I will often ignore alignment requirements if it sould be "realistic" to do so:
  Examples:
Exalted Feats -- There is no reason a "Chaotic Evil" character could not take and live up to a Vow of Poverty.
Vile Feats -- Likewise a "Good" character could make a Faustian pact and take the Disciple of Darkness feat, without performing any overt evil acts.
--> Players can portray any alignment they like for their characters, so long as it does not disrupt the fun of everyone else. I've even had paladins and assassins manage to get along before (the paladin having an intelligence and wisdom of less than 10 and thus "too dumb" to detect evil and the assassin careful to kill people when the paladin wasn't watching). Mass evil or chaos is acceptable so long as the whole party is down with that -- DMing evil parties can be fun (though I seem to get a LOT of evil parties when I mention that it is an option).  Heroically Evil is one of my favorites ( i.e. compelled to save the world, but still morally bankrupt).


Poorly-constructed characters (ie, the combat bard with all cross-class skills)
--> No character is poorly constructed. Players should feel free to shatter the archetypes and go against class standards if they wish. That said -- if you die from making a stupid character decision, you are still dead.
  Example:  I had a player play a "Wizard" who cast a total of 5 spells (counting total number of all castings) between levels 1 and 7, who specked out his feats to focus on using his Crossbow...because the character believed in "conservation" of the total amount of magical energy in the world. He died, of course, but did manage to live through 7 levels worth of gaming and made for an interesting PC.

Character goals
--> So long as that goal isn't contrary to the other players having fun, I tend to modify my campaigns to meet as many character goals as possible. Goals that require the PC to leave the party will typically be handled "off-screen" or with a short one-on-one side adventure, so as to not leave other players hanging. If I think a goal is particularly interesting and would make for a good story, I have been known to completely rewrite scenarios to incorporate them.
  Example:  In my last campaign I had a player who wanted to play a "sleeping-beauty" type character who is woken up by the other PCs after 1000+ years in hibernation. I was intrigued by the idea of her facing such culture-shock, so I nixed the major villain in the first set of ruins they explored and replaced that room with the "sleeping" PC. Thereafter the would-be urban campaign twisted into following this character (the last of an Imperial line) in their attempt to restore their kingdom which had been extinct for 1200 years...the other players loved the change, so I kept with that vein.

Player goals
--> Separate from character goals? These can be tricky...I discourage making character decisions based on things outside of character knowledge. The "peasant" system further discourages it by making Feat, Class, and Skill prerequisites based on actions rather than stats (to learn "Impoved Bull Rush" you should attempt to bull rush things, rather than taking Str 13 and Power Attack).  If the "Player Goals" are things related to yourself as a player ( i.e. see if a new idea works, improve your knowledge of spell mechanics, get better at affecting the physical quirks of a character, come up with a funny voice, etc.) go for it.


Class goals (ie, say I know what class & prestige class I want my character to become)
--> I allow any class or prestige class from anything I have a copy of (which means access to 800+ prestige classes and 90+ base classes).  That said, this system is designed to follow "organic" character development based on the characters actual in-game experiences and actions. Your character will gain "access" to classes based on what they learn and what they attempt. Some feats, paths, and traits taken during character creation can help guide your character towards a specific class or category of classes. You could design your starting character with a strong focus towards getting into your class of choice, but you may be well off to just make an interesting "peasant" and see where life takes them.
  Examples:
If you want to be a "Wizard" you should first make sure that the character is Literate, then find a tutor or acquire a spellbook and spend the characters free-time in study and practice. The "Magical Training" feat can give your character a spellbook of their own (containing a few 0th level spells) at 0th level.
If you want to be a "Fighter" you had better be in on the combat (if you sit in the back of the party you'll never learn to fight). The "Militia" or "Apprentice Soldier" feats give your character access to a broader range of weapons and military training than other starting characters.

A party with 8 players, when RP is your primary adventure component?
-->  I prefer to keep parties to 4-6 players and limit sessions to 4 hours (once or twice a week).  In this case we have 11 potential players. If everyone shows up, I may resort to running parallel parties in the same world and town, splitting the group into two or three parties.  This could be interesting as the groups would have to deal with the effects of the other groups actions.  Some interconnectivity between the parties could be interesting also: doubling up for facing a particularly nasty foe, tweaking character combinations to meet specific challenges and allow different players to interact, etc.
  If everyone shows up and prefers to run in one party, we may have to adjust the nature of the game and how long we play (I've DM'd for groups of 12 players before and would-be short 3-4 round battles can turn into 3-4 hour affairs as eveyone figures out what they are doing each round). Role-playing ( i.e. "conversational") encounters can of course be even more dragging.



What are your pet peeves?

--> Badly conceived characters for party miscibility (i.e. someone wanting to play a "live-off the land, loner" Druid with a panther companion and a hatred of orcs in an established urban campaign with half the party composed of half-orcs). Characters doomed to die for personality flaws (rather than stat problems) are just annoying...and will die (I also have no problem with player vs. player conflict).



Other than publishing a new system of character creation, what do you get out of DMing?  What makes it fun/worthwhile for you?

--> I'm an addict! It's been 3 weeks since I've gamed and I'm already getting shaky. I started playing when I was 5 and I haven't gone more that a month without D&D since I was in 5th grade.
As for DMing, it is what encouraged me to get my degree in Urban Planning. I've always enjoyed the creation of cities, regions, and worlds (figuring out the demographics, monster food chains, city layout, businesses, personal interactions, political complexities, economics, etc.). I also like having the writing outlet that adventure-creation allows.

  I also like to see the PCs win...it's kind of disappointing when everyone dies on the third adventure when I wrote the campaign out to 19 or 20 of them.