Page 1290 - The Fourth Screen

24th Oct 2019, 6:00 AM in School Raze
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The Fourth Screen
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Author Notes:

Newbiespud 24th Oct 2019, 6:00 AM edit delete
This was a tough page to write, for obvious reasons. It touches on an incredibly nuanced subject of group management and directly confronts one of the core pillars of the D&D-campaign-webcomic genre ("The DM and the players humorously and disastrously clash rather than work together"). And there's only so much space on the page. But there comes a point when if your story is going to continue and still be a story with characters - rather than cardboard cutouts doomed to a neutral status quo - then some things need to be addressed.

This is one time where I explicitly don't want to jump on a soapbox and preach that I've got the one and only right answer on this. This is an example of how to explore and set boundaries after the fact, but it's a very flawed example. Not every group needs it, and not every group needs it done this way. But especially as the TTRPG hobby continues to expand to include more people of all sorts, and as more and more examples of spectacular roleplaying become common, I think this is a timely issue to discuss.

Notice: Guest comic submissions are open! Guidelines here. Deadline: January 27th, 2023.



ANW 24th Oct 2019, 6:07 AM edit delete reply
Let's make a list of mistakes that all DM's will make.

Misreading and miscalculations does not count.
Platonix 24th Oct 2019, 6:22 AM edit delete reply
Trying to run an official published adventure module without reading the whole thing cover to cover first. I guarantee they're not formatted for you to be able to do that without accidentally introducing plot holes, making important battles easier than they should be by overlooking a key tactic or ability, or worst of all, discovering an error in the module when you don't have the free time to properly figure out how to correct it.
CCC 24th Oct 2019, 6:57 AM edit delete reply
Very first time I ran a published module, it took place on an island. There was a scripted event near the end, where a group of NPCs leaving the island meet the PCs (having landed at a small cove, they were headed back to their ship).

Early in the adventure, the players explored the island, and one of them cast Alarm on the cove; thus resulting in his meeting said NPCs on their way *in* instead of on their way *out* (thus substantially earlier in the adventure, too).

I would never have been able to handle that had I not read through the entire module first.
Sensei Le Roof 24th Oct 2019, 4:25 PM edit delete reply
Ooh, I had a hilarious run-in with this one playing Floating Vagabond. I don't know the module's name, but we were floating down a river and there were Space Nazis hidden in the trees above us -- that we weren't supposed to know about. The Bartender accidentally read that bit out loud.

To his credit, he thought quickly: the SNs said "You don't see us!" and he had us all roll Pitifully Easy CS checks. <b>We all blew it.</b> And while still laughing about it, we got jumped by the villains we knew-didn't-know were waiting to ambush us.
hankroyd 24th Oct 2019, 6:27 AM edit delete reply
Three that pop to my mind

The DM that thinks his purpose is to defeat the other players, not make a story with them. It's more inexperience than incompetence though.

Railroading DM that want the story to happens the way they want. So if the players manage to think outside the box to solve a problem. You could expect your well laid plan will go wrong because "Magic".

DM thinking every groups (every players even) want the same thing. It could lead to great disapointment (Been there on that fence more than once, but hey that's how you learn.)
Digo 24th Oct 2019, 9:42 AM edit delete reply
One mistake GMs might make is not sitting down with each player and asking what their character's motivation and life goals are.

Probably not needed for a one shot adventure, but in long campaigns, especially open ended? Yeah, know what hooks the PCs so you can get them invested in your game.
terrycloth 24th Oct 2019, 10:57 AM edit delete reply
I don't think most players have that sort of life goal in mind for a character starting out, and forcing them to pick one is just going to get some thing random that won't actually hook them.

Real motivation is picked up in play, like every other sort of compelling characterization.
Digo 24th Oct 2019, 12:11 PM edit delete reply
I purposely left out wording to say find the motivation *at the start* because I know not every player creates their PC with goals in mind. Some players know from the start their goal and it turns out great for them. With others it might take a few sessions to get an idea. A good GM can track that, paying attention to what kind of NPCs and quests draw in the player and go from there.
hankroyd 24th Oct 2019, 11:28 PM edit delete reply
I guess it depends on the PC.
With experiemented PC, they want to flesh out their character, give it a backstory, some stuff to make it real.
With new player, unless they explicitly ask for, I guess creating a character with a basic generic backgroung and motivation works better.
MythicFox 24th Oct 2019, 11:02 AM edit delete reply
Railroading the group to show all all the 'awesome' worldbuilding you've done -- making sure the players have to meet every NPC you came up with, see every little twist and tweak you've made to the setting, etc.
Digo 24th Oct 2019, 6:30 AM edit delete reply
One of my past GMs had that same habit of wanting to strike fear into players and kept hitting us with "gotcha" twists and turns several times a session. Enen if we did something mundane like go exchange money at a bank, things keep popping up to drag us off in other directions so that we'd never be able to accomplish simple tasks.

To be honest, I think that GM had ADD, but I didn't ask and pry into his personal health. >.>
JoeHow 24th Oct 2019, 7:39 AM edit delete reply
I had this problem of making these really epic npcs, cause I enjoy character concepts and crafting. They were so badass, and while not min-maxed, were strong that one of my players asked "If there are so many strong nods running around why are we here?". I didn't know how to respond and just ended up stopping the campaign. Not cause I was butthurt but I realized I had written myself into a corner and felt it would be easier to let someone else DM while I worked on a new campaign with less OP npcs.

It also didn't help that my PCs didn't have any attachment to the world. We were playing in 5e continuation of our 4e Eboron game but I failed to mention that, so no one had any background set in my setting, leaving them all feeling disconnected from the setting.
Enigmatic Jack 24th Oct 2019, 9:07 AM edit delete reply
I played with a DM like that, but he didn't have the self-awareness you seem to. He'd create NPCs, force them on the party as allies (and make us take control of them), and pester us about what they were doing if we didn't specifically use them all the time. They'd be the same level as the players, but they'd have higher stats, more HP, better weapons, better skills and deal 2x-3x more damage than anyone in the party.

He got kind of mad in one game because we found a princess/maiden/some random girl who he was likely going to try and force on one of us as a love interest (that was pretty common, too), and I decided that the cave we were in was MUCH too dangerous for her so I ordered the NPCs to escort her out and wait with her by out cart until we returned. If we weren't out by dusk they were to take her back to town and wait there until they heard from us. He HATED it, but he couldn't argue with the reasoning.
Vald Drakul 24th Oct 2019, 11:02 AM edit delete reply
JoeHow, decided to register and choose a new name

My OP NPCs were either ancient dragons or leaders of important organizations. They didn't show up all that much unless the PCs went looking for them or they had a quest for them.

I did make helper NPCs for my players but only if they asked. For instance the storm sorcerer brought a airship and hired a life cleric to be the doctor, a hunter ranger cause the sorcerer made magic clothes as a side business and needed hides and other parts/mats, and wanted a chef that I made a warforged kensi monk cause I thought it would be funny for something with no taste to be one of the best cooks in the world after spending decades practicing.

The paladin and monk PCs followed suit building their own side teams and their followers never outshined them, as the PCs brought all their follower's gear and the followers only leveled when the PCs did.
Composer99 24th Oct 2019, 8:09 AM edit delete reply
I think it's fair to say that you have perhaps "the" correct answer that DMs/GMs and players need to communicate and collaborate in order to make their game (*not* story) work, and that the overall tenor of the game should have the assent of everyone at the table. Where there's no one and only right answer is how much communication, collaboration, and assent is required for any given issue that might arise during or around gameplay: that's necessarily going to vary by player, by DM/GM, and by table.
Winged Cat 24th Oct 2019, 11:56 AM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
Yeah. Mind if we put a soapbox under you on this one anyway, NS? ;)
Balmas 24th Oct 2019, 1:11 PM edit delete reply
I think that there are two--no, possibly three--major traps you can fall into when you start to GM a game.

The first is not knowing the difference between the story and the world. As the GM, you create the world. You take the input your players give you, ponder it over your dinner, kick it around in your thoughts, and figure out what the world looks like. You populate it with friends, allies, guards, tavernmaids, all that good stuff. You set up a villain, figure out what motivates him, what she wants, how they're going to go about achieving their goals.

What you DON'T do is determine, in advance, what the players need to do to solve this. You might have a broad-strokes idea of "throw the ring into the fires of mount doom," but what happens in between is entirely up to the players. If you're figuring out in advance, and writing down, "and then during the third session, the players bargain with Lord Humpershtuffle for his aid in conquering Moria," you're setting up both your players and yourself for disappointment.

That's linked to the second mistake. It's tempting to think that, just because you're doing the most work, this is your game. These chucklenuts just have to show up every week, don't they owe it to you to go along the neat little path you've laid out for them? No, no they don't. You aren't a God, you aren't a story writer, and these aren't your characters. As a GM, your job is to be the support crew. You set up the situation, and then ask the players what they're going to do to solve it. Use their plot hooks, help them buy in, let them tell the story, and I guarantee it's going to be more memorable for them than whatever you came up with on your own.
Guest 25th Oct 2019, 4:40 PM edit delete reply
This is hands-down the hardest thing to learn. Or unlearn, as the case may be. It's all too easy to look at DMing like designing a video game, but it's not. It's honestly more like babysitting: you're making a sandbox, tossing cool toys in there, and sometimes you step in to make sure the tykes don't choke on something.
evileeyore 24th Oct 2019, 7:45 PM edit delete reply
"This is one time where I explicitly don't want to jump on a soapbox and preach that I've got the one and only right answer on this."

That was wise, because you don't have the 'one and only right answer'. As you probably are aware, every group is different and what works for one may be anathema for another.

I happen to be with you, 'sharing is caring' after all. But as a Player I also want my GM to occasionally throw out twists and surprises or do something unexpected without showing their cards. And as a GM I can't really 'share' in advance as 90% of my method is to react to the Players, the world shapes around them as they take action, so I really can't plan more than a session or two down the road (unless the PCs are diehard on a mission that will take a long time).
albedoequals1 24th Oct 2019, 9:29 PM edit delete reply
Even then, communication is key. Whether the players like to collaborate with the GM or whether they prefer rug pulls out of nowhere, a straightforward talk before the story starts will make sure everyone is expecting the same thing.
Guest 25th Oct 2019, 2:15 AM edit delete reply
I've heard many in the fandom didn't have the self-awareness to get the point, but the song "Flawless" and its episode really addressed a few fundamental poins about storytelling: it's not because your characters change and improve that they will stop making mistakes or having flaws, and it's not because you learn a lesson once that you won't have to keep working on it. Without flaws and mistakes, you get the same problems as early Star Trek TNG where Rodenberry basically said "those characters are perfect, now write drama." (in SF Debris's words).

I mentioned in a comment a few weeks back how it was hard to sympathise with the DM because they often kept doing the same thing that doesn't and complain it still doesn't work, but this page illustrate the core of the issue: they kept doing the thing because they didn't understand it was the problem they kept hammering their head again.

After this page I'm looking forward for the characters' mistakes and flaws, both new or old with a new spin.