Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Natural 20, lol!

20th post! Told you.

I know we were in the middle of a series here, but not posting this old comic as post #20 would be like tvtropes without people being jackasses over trivial matters like the use of the word "I" or this blog without a hypocritical whiny snide remark at someone out of nowhere.

This is one of the older ones I did, from a campaign a looong time ago. Technically the first game I DMed and the only campaign I ever ran to completion (my changing university timetable tends to screw games over eventually), and a bit of a mess sometimes - more on that in a sec.

The party was climbing a wizard tower to confront the
bad guy inside (no prizes for guessing the class). I try to make my boss encounters varied, and talkative if it's not awkward - there's sometimes one guy who would rather insist the bad guy opening his mouth means he can get a surprise round and a full attack, but most of my players were cool with it - but this time I decided to do something simple. Wizard sat on the far side of the room at his test, bodyguard beside him, and he'd get up to shout and fight when the PCs barged in.

I never pre-write speeches for this shit (in case the players really do want to just fight), so when the soulknife guy wanted to use his character's higher-than-normal speed to cross the room and get a hit in, I allowed it. Besides, he was actually a fair challenge for melee attackers, because --

Unfortunately for the wizard, one of the purposes of the natural 20 in D&D is to flip the other guy's AC the bird and tell him to spin on your crit. One 20+confirm later, boom, knockout!

Oddly enough, back then I used the deathblow house rule (natural 20 to-hit + natural 20 crit-confirm + second confirm = instant death), but eventually I decided I didn't like it and dropped it. The main reason? That same guy's PC got killed by random mooks. Twice. Tee hee.

I've been tempted to write about that campaign in this blog a few times, but there's one thing that usually stops me - the players. See, even though I'll gladly accentuate the negative about a lot of things, my players included (it's cathartic!), I sometimes worry that they'll stumble across it on the internet. It's not too paranoid - I basically stopped posting on the WotC forums after one of my players "just happened across" a thread I made asking strangers for advice on player problems I was having and decided to post in the thread and paste everyone else a link, and I don't write about my players on the internet because I want to hear fourty fucking minutes of five minute's worth of justifications for whatever bullshit they pulled.

But whatever, let's get it off my chest and talk about it.

It was my first campaign, so not particularly inspired. The plot can be summed up like this: There was a standard medieval-ish fantasy society, and it was being threatened by a lich called Dominique despite being male who was also one of the previous king's many wacky alternate personalities. He had already lost a war to take the crown ten years ago and was brooding in the mountains while sending his lackey Georgio (a halfling who was originally a throwaway mook during the first session which I brought back as an undead antagonist) to steal all the items, NPCs and knowledge he could get his hands on to give them an edge in the war he was planning to relaunch with the aid of the evil races of the land. Nothing unusual for the most part.

It lasted a few years, ending with the war itself - Dominique turned the mountain he brooded in into a floating fortress and brought it with him on the frontlines, and the PCs entered it and killed him. Still nothing too original.

In hindsight, that campaign makes me conflicted. On the one hand, I enjoyed it, I really did. But a lot of the game happened when I was a... newer DM, and made a lot of mistakes. One of the biggest ones was at the end, which doesn't help. And, of course, I DMed for a few shitty players. All in all, it was a good campaign, just one with a lot of fumbling.

I learned a lot of lessons though:
  • The "D" in "DM" does not stand for "Doormat"
Around the start, several of the players did some pretty stupid things, from rolling bad characters to cheating at character creation. I allowed it, though, because I didn't want much trouble. Later, I allowed players to take large treasures for themselves instead of splitting it amongst the party and using it to buy their ~6th-level fighter a +1 keen holy frost greatsword, act like prima donnas, etc. because it seemed easier than dealing with players being whiny.

Don't. If you just let bad things happen like that
, your game isn't going to be good.
  • It doesn't stand for "Dickhead" either
Later - possibly as a reaction - I swung too far the other way: yelling at players for minor mistakes, verbally molesting them for being assholes, restricting treasure and experience, etc.

Fucking no. That just upsets people who didn't do anything in the first place. Since then I have, I hope, found a happy medium between "too hard" and "not hard enough".

  • Don't drag dungeons on
To finish the campaign, I decided, I would make an epic dungeon. It was a floating mountain fortress, after all. In the end there was a prison complex, an orc city, a magic research facility... all kinds of stuff. The problem was, I misjudged my limitations terribly - at the time, with the number of hours we could put into each session and so on - the last dungeon took months. Even I was tired of it by the end. That, I feel, is why I do not often look back on that campaign with fond memories.

So if you take anything from this screed, make it this: don't make adventures too long;didn't play.
  • Be prompt with EXP and such
I like to award exp after each adventure, not at the end of the session. It just makes more sense. Still, I tend to be lazy and not bother figuring it out until somewhere during the next adventure, or some bullshit. At the end of that campaign, I had to give it out when the players slept as a matter of necessity, except I kept forgetting and eventually had to suddenly grant them all two levels in one session to make up for months of missed exp.

So from now on, if I have a plan for when and where I give out EXP, I'm going to stick to it.
  • Don't fucking railroad
God, I feel dirty just admitting it.

So, one time, I had that Georgio guy show up to taunt and harass the PCs for a moment before escaping. Two problems: First, his method of escaping was very badly-defined, relying as it did on knowledge of the surrounding terrain and buildings that was next to impossible to communicate to the players properly without taking way more time than a reasonable explanation should have. Second: It came off as railroading. Hard railroading!

So, the players called me out. It took a while to convince me to undo it, too; I let them catch up and kill him, then revived him as an undead again when I needed him. I still feel terrible about that, and it's one of the reasons much of that campaign is an old shame for me.

I am told there were some positive points to my DMing style and I was very skilled at things like coming up with NPCs on the fly, and the players enjoyed the game immensely when fumbling bullshit wasn't going on in the DM/player departments. Most of them have also insisted that for the most part, I didn't railroad and ran a pretty open world, which is cool. Still, ugh. I guess everyone has dirty laundry, right?

Speaking of... I did say mistakes were made by everyone. Part 2 will be more fun to write...


Ran said...

Uhoh, part two. * Cringe *

Awww, though. I really did enjoy that game, for all the things less that went wrong. And you DID bring it through to completion. Kind of rare in our circles. :)

(But part two won't be the 20th post anymore.)

Blastcage said...

I swear all of your posts are tagged "I am a terrible dungeon master"

But that game sounds incredible and I would buy it.

Blastcage said...

Also your penis is as many inches long as your blog has comments

This one doesn't count because it's post script

Ettin said...

Stop calling me out on my annoying self-deprecation habit and underdeveloped genitalia!

Karizma said...

Indeed Blastcage, pick ONE!

Now, Venerable Blogger Ettin, Ran has a point. Most games are never finished. If they stuck around to the end (especially through a month-long dungeon crawl), it must have been fun.

What I want to know is how you feel about the pros/cons of running a game online or around a table.

Ettin said...

What I want to know is how you feel about the pros/cons of running a game online or around a table.

I'm, er, not sure.

My dirty little secret: I haven't played D&D around an actual table ever, so I wouldn't know. It's all been online!

The main reason is because none of my friends etc. have been particularly interested, but currently I am also worried I would find it awkward after IRC gaming for years.

I will say this though: It is MUCH easier to roleplay a succubus NPC online. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Here to add another inch to yer dick.