Page 1498 - Villain Is You

20th Feb 2021, 6:00 AM in A Canterlot Wedding, Part 2
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Villain Is You
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Author Notes:

Newbiespud 20th Feb 2021, 6:00 AM edit delete
I'm sure this will spark a lot of nuanced debate, but I feel I should get ahead of it a little bit and say outright that this particular story beat is more about unconscious bias and unspoken expectations than it is about the "correct" way to DM.

Or, in other words: How did your very first campaign(s) shape the way you approach tabletop roleplaying, from either side of the table?

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



Kereea 20th Feb 2021, 6:03 AM edit delete reply
My first "real" irl game as an adult had me playing as a bard for versatility and joining a high level party and it really made me love the support role. Like, the Cha-casters always sort of spoke to me, but I love being able to buff my allies, debuff enemies, and so on.
dziadek1990 20th Feb 2021, 6:31 AM edit delete reply
Were you a prankster/troll with your soft skills?

Do you have any fun stories about using Bluff or Diplomacy? :)
Kereea 20th Feb 2021, 3:11 PM edit delete reply
I wasn't really a face or anything, it was a bit late in the campaign to establish myself as such. But there was a LOT of fun to be had with Greater Invisibility and Fireball to clean up for the nightmare-OP-rogue, and of course healing and such. Tho we had a better healer in one of the player's companions, if we could keep it summoned (it was a sort of spectral crab with a healing AOE) and I did once accidentally nuke the rogue with Synaptic Static, forgetting he was min-maxxed and so couldn't dodge the INT save. He lived, he was well into epic level by then.
Also got some good use out of using Dissonant Whispers to make monsters flee us and often open other doors trying to get away, Generally it was "which of the three wrecking balls shall I assist today" and since the Fighter had summons it was usually the Rogue or the Druid.
ANW 20th Feb 2021, 6:13 AM edit delete reply
To answer your comic question, a good one.
What's the point if no one else is having fun.
dziadek1990 20th Feb 2021, 6:29 AM edit delete reply
>What's the point if no one else is having fun.

Easy&lazy answer: if you *yourself* have no conscience and don't feel guilty about making others unhappy, then this way you can have something you enjoy doing, with none of the downsides. A win-win for *you*.

...though this is not sustainable of course, because then likely other players will simply leave you alone, not wanting to play with you anymore.
Digo Dragon 20th Feb 2021, 4:00 PM edit delete reply
Digo Dragon
Technically that's a Win-Lose situation. You win, the players lose. But otherwise I agree that it is not sustainable.

I learned early on how playing tabletop RPGs are a collaborative effort through a series of bad GMs. The internet was very young, but it was still useful with talking to other players and GMs to share experiences on what really works. :3
dziadek1990 20th Feb 2021, 6:24 AM edit delete reply
Hmm... My first DM tried to give my character a *responsible* role of a leader, even though I didn't want it, and even though I specifically chose my character to be a Chaotic Neutral "free spirit".

Not only that, but soon after forcing the role of a leader onto me, he made the NPCs (whom I was leading) ignore my orders the first moment he thought those orders were silly (and they were silly because I was not a good leader/planner then).

I think that that experience made me avoid forcing roles/responsibilities onto my players (not that I ever wanted my players do things they didn't feel suited for).
Kaze Koichi 21st Feb 2021, 2:54 PM edit delete reply
Did you kill that NPC for insubordination?
dziadek1990 22nd Feb 2021, 1:17 AM edit delete reply
I did not. (I wasn't even aware back then that there's such a thing as "killing an underling for insubordination.")

I soon forgot about them after they refused that order, made all the easier by the fact that they were faceless and nameless (and that they ran away from our party, away from danger, during the first moments of the campaign.

I don't remember what happened to them after that.
Cloud Ring 20th Feb 2021, 6:29 AM edit delete reply
My very first campaign that I have played was done by strict rules, and there was one player who might have spent a few hours over a single turn debating that this is correct turn indeed, and so very precise to their goal.

My second campaign had 'keltors', inside and local meme of NPC characters that were incredibly powerful and over-the-top comparing to the party. The party was able to shift the balance in keltors' battles, but much more often they were coming to either 'save' the party, or destroy the party's effort.

Because of the first, I am DMing pony campaign that is very light on the formal rules.

Because of the second, the party does help alicorns in their problems, but I take my time and clarify why exactly alicorns cannot, or will not participate in the party's task; and if they do, party's input still matters. I don't want any 'keltors' anymore.
Villain is Me 20th Feb 2021, 6:38 AM edit delete reply
I don't know, it just makes me feel really awful for the DM. They're always sacrificing their good time, and nobody else seems to care if they're having fun or not. Throw them a bone for once, you know? (To the players, not to the author.)

How this GM hasn't suffered burnout with this group is beyond me.
Tempestfury 20th Feb 2021, 6:58 AM edit delete reply
I feel for you. I think in the end, there is part of them which finds some level of satisfication and humour about how things go. But time after time, the players constantly buck the trend and pressure them into actions and routes that they don't really accept or agree with, but grudgingly go along with because its what the party wants. Which... isn't a bad thing for a GM to do, but I can see why it would lead to burnout too.

I think the fact that the Rogue plot ended up going so well, and the party actually ran with it, rather than trying to subvert it, is helping him avoid burnout a lot.
Ransom4 20th Feb 2021, 8:23 AM edit delete reply
I'd like to think seeing them actually want to use the setting the DM made does help a lot.

It would be fun to see if there was a way to make one of the Celestia based episodes or even comic stories into "Cheer up the DM," themed arc.
Kittoradra 20th Feb 2021, 4:48 PM edit delete reply
Just this on its own, it feels like the GM here is getting ready to "give up" because of a bad experience in the back and the players working together to completely destroy the carefully-arranged story. And with a few carefully-selected snapshots of the story, that could certainly feel accurate.

But we also saw a disagreement and discussion over how the GM here really wanted to be different from Discord!GM... So this feels more like a realization of how many assumptions and habits were picked up, unintentionally, by getting ready to refuse the players from being creative and using a lore aspect to their advantage (as well as including the guest players in the climax, for added inclusion). The tone is still a little rough, but this sounds to me like it's more "disappointment in self" for how much like Discord!GM they were becoming without realize it
Hariman 25th Feb 2021, 12:50 AM edit delete reply
I think the DM is redefining what he views as being a good DM as he plays with this group. He's focusing more on narrative and fun than on specifically playing the villains as a certain level of "smart" like his old DM did.

That being said... I do agree that he's probably going to want to play in a session, or run a different scenario at some point.

But I don't think he's going to burn out yet.
Scissors Rock Paper 20th Feb 2021, 7:07 AM edit delete reply
The first game I played made me quit the hobby for years. I tried a couple more times but I still only SAW games that looked like fun. That's when I started to DM. Much as I love to play, my players like my games more.

My dice prefer when I DM, too. They're player killers.
RuBoo 20th Feb 2021, 4:57 PM edit delete reply
...But you do fudge them sometimes... Right?
Warlock 21st Feb 2021, 7:45 AM edit delete reply
Not to divert into a 'how to properly gm' rant here. With that, I do have a friend who GMs who has the opposite problem. He hates killing characters. Which would be fine, if a PK or TPK wasn't thwarted by a deus ex machina save. When you set up your heroic death and prepare for a new character, only for prepared npcs to swoop in and save you, it can easily be a mood killer too.

It also taught some players that Constitution being a dump stat was no big deal, since death wouldn't happen. Had there even be a consequence to going down (jail, items looted, etc), it might have been more serious. It can be fun for a while, but sometimes player killing types are equally as welcome, since the stakes suddenly ramp up from 'relaxing romp' to 'need that teamwork baby'.
terrycloth 22nd Feb 2021, 7:23 AM edit delete reply
I roll openly and don't fudge dice rolls. I'll fudge details of the world the characters haven't seen yet though.

Once everyone in the party died (except for the rogue) and their backers had to ressurrect them all because, you know, they still needed the mission done and didn't have a B team anywhere near as good (and for a state actor, Resurrection is cheap).
Darkness2399 22nd Feb 2021, 7:57 AM edit delete reply
My Dice rolling Ratio when I DM often trends around the 14 to 20 mark. On the odd occasion i get rolls as low as 7 - 13, but I almost never roll a sub 5. I also roll openly for my parties since the number of natural 20s are so absurd most people wouldn't believe me. There was even a documented round of combat where, of the 14 attacks made by the 10 NPCs being fought, 6 of the rolls were Natural 20s.

The only time I really hide my dice are massive boss fights. I'm fairly certain everyone at the table knows when I do that I will be fudging in their favor but I almost never punches in regards to saving throws and hits. The real dice I fudge is often damage or recharge abilities. I'm still had characters die, at least one TPK, and many moments where they pull through by the skin of their teeth but it works out. I also know they don't mind if I change the results a bit because its easy to tell when no one likes hearing how the Evil Dragon they fought for 2/3 of its multi attack turn scores critical hits that leave their barbarian as a pair of bloody stumps on the floor, even while raging, cause the Damage output is so high this mid level challenge might as well be an end game boss for most other parties.

RuBoo 20th Feb 2021, 8:01 AM edit delete reply
Never in my life have I played more than part of a game. Though I feel I’ve got the essence of the sort of character I’d like to play...
Five points, arranged in a triangular bipyramid shape. The central triangle is formed of Magic, Science, and Nature. Three things that can sometimes mix perhaps two at once... But never have I seen all three. Then, the outer points: Healing and Sneaking. One would think they’d go hand-in-hand, you want your healer to be safe, but it turns out, nope...
Anyway, without a game to play, I’m just a character builder... Perfectly fine with that, of course, but I would like to see how my creations function in a “live” environment...
Ransom4 20th Feb 2021, 8:27 AM edit delete reply
Using the Celestia and Luna confronting Discord pictures is sending my brain into conspiracy mode. Is the setting an adaptation of a world the DM played in or built with Discord? Is Celestia adapted from the DM's previous PC character? Was there another player who played Luna originally?
albedoequals1 20th Feb 2021, 11:31 AM edit delete reply
Oooh, yes, that would be cool. Possible future story arc where the former Luna player comes over as a guest player, and they are uncomfortable with how much the setting has changed from what they remember.
CrowMagnon 20th Feb 2021, 12:04 PM edit delete reply
Or are still shell-shocked from when Discord!DM was running things, so they keep expecting it to go a certain way and don't understand at first how this batch of players have been able to survive.
Kittoradra 20th Feb 2021, 4:38 PM edit delete reply
Nightmare Night session, anyone? Seriously, that was everything Luna went through. A shocking disconnect between "expectations" and "reality", and learning that things aren't how they were before... but the way things are now is a setup where the GM and players are having fun "together" instead of specifically at each other's expense.
Borg 20th Feb 2021, 9:13 AM edit delete reply
Of course, what is appropriate depends a lot on the players. In the campaign I'm in now, I'd be kind of disappointed if we were allowed to pull some of the stuff the players here get away with; I wouldn't feel that we earned victory unless we fought tooth and nail in-character to make our terrible plan work (or came up with a good plan, but when's that ever going to happen?). But that's just a personal statement.
Composer99 20th Feb 2021, 9:24 AM edit delete reply
My very first games were older modules, such as The Village of Hommlet, Queen's Harvest, and The Isle of Dread, starting when I was around 8-9 years old.

A lot of those modules, if they have antagonists/villians, have a status quo where the villains are low-key winning up until the PCs disrupt that status quo. The Isle of Dread doesn't even have villains, although the PCs can have rivals or other antagonists - it's a straight up exploration hexcrawl.

I think there's a reasonable expectation, even in those modules, that antagonists should react appropriately (within their capabilities) to the PCs' actions. But "within their capabilities" is probably the sticking point. A lot of D&D antagonists aren't really that much more powerful than the PCs they face. The dungeon in The Village of Hommlet can basically be cleared in two or three game days, and the villain doesn't have the means to bring in piles of reinforcements in that time. (If the PCs start playing stereotypical 5-minute adventuring days, that might be a different story.)

Suffice it to say that venturing into a monster and trap-infested hole in the ground, or trying to stop an invasion, and other typical D&D adventures, ought to be challenging. But there is a lot of daylight between "ought to be challenging" and forcing the players to endure something like the trials of Tantalus.
KSClaw 20th Feb 2021, 9:25 AM edit delete reply
I just feel sorry for the DM. Like, I get that they don't want a repeat of what happened during the Discord arc either, or stuff that happened based on their own experience? But I hope there'll be a story where things turn out the way the DM likes it, without things ending in anyone getting upset.

Like, this is feeling like the pilot episode, where it turned out the DM had planned a long campaign, and all the players basically bulldozed their way through everything.

I hope Cadance and Shining's players have a good advice for both the DM and the players after this, because they gotta be able to see that some of this is upsetting for the DM.
Anvildude 20th Feb 2021, 10:01 AM edit delete reply
I can see that. Like, they keep trying to set up long-term recurring Arc villains- someone they can sort of play as their own 'character' to interact with the world and strive against the heroes, but that doesn't really work when the Party keeps beating the villain in their first appearance. You can kind of tell because both of their primary villains have been relatively non-lethal, overlord types. Nightmare Moon didn't want to kill anyone- just take over and rule (regardless how eternal night would actually affect things like food and temperature- this is Fantasy, they got magic for that.) Queen Chrysalis isn't looking to kill ponies- just use them as emotion-feed for her brood. Both are perfect situations where a long-term underground resistance game works well. There's no immediate calamity, no long-term loss of life. Just a despot that needs to be eventually overturned, and in Chrysalis' case, allies and friends to be freed and un-brainwashed. Heck, even Discord was like this, though in a douchier way.

But I think the key here, is communication. There's this sort of expectation that's somehow showed up in D&D that the DM keeps their plans completely secret from the party, and the party keeps their plans secret from the DM- possibly due to how players interact with videogames when they play them for the first time- and it leads to a lot of friction in groups.

This would be the moment where I would pause the game, and explain to my players what, precisely, I was expecting them to do and how I saw and hoped the rest of the campaign was going to proceed, and then ask them how THEY saw these events, and why they're so determined to fix/win everything immediately. I'm kind of hoping that's what happens after this, and I almost feel like that's what prompts the arrival of Tirek and maybe even the Storm King later on- the DM trying a more "Big Bad trying to destroy the world" sort of villain. Sombra seems almost like a test-run for that, too. "Villain rises up and takes over _specific small location_, and players must stop them before the finish, or THEN they sweep across the world as Dark Ruler.
KSClaw 20th Feb 2021, 11:57 AM edit delete reply
Exactly, communication seems to keep being a bit lacking in some places. And then there's also trying to please everyone, plus trying not to be Ultra God Mode after all that happened with Discord. They definitely need to sit down and have a talk about things at least at some point, or the DM is gonna end up going "I need to take a break, someone else take over."
Toric 20th Feb 2021, 12:07 PM edit delete reply
I think (always a dangerous start) that this is the right call to make here specifically because it is a guest session. Shining and Cadence's players clearly worked with the GM for at least part of this plotline, even if they weren't sure how this would all go down, but this is clearly a one-off. But, especially with the party "surrender," the GM has painted themselves into a bit of a corner here. If the invasion was so far advanced that the party was surrounded in the vault room, they really didn't have a path to victory other than this without establishing another long spin-off adventure. They either confront the BBEG who just defeated the strongest npc in the game (themselves already depleted), retreat and stage a guerilla action/infiltration seek-and-destroy, or just get TPK'd. I can't imagine Cadence and Shining's players wanting to be responsible or involved for partially derailing the group in that way.

The problem with "helpless" or "uwinnable" scenarios is they can only be RPed, and not solved mechanically. Here, the party has RPed an elegant in-world solution. And to their credit, this GM usually chooses to reward that RP, even if it derails their plans. I can understand frustration over wasted effort or abandoned plotlines, but I don't know how much the GM could have had invested in anything beyond this one-off from what information we've received.

All said, I admire the GM's ability to relate their own experiences empathically to their players, and choose to adjust the behaviors they worry are problematic. They might be a little hard on themselves in this situation, but the self-reflection itself is a very good sign. Thank you Newbiespud for some very solid character development and evolution.
Gray 20th Feb 2021, 1:24 PM edit delete reply
Making an unfair game is easy. Making a fair game is hard. Of course, if Discord-GM had players enthused about the prospect of getting twelve steps ahead of the villains, it wouldn't be an unfair game. It's just a matter of matching up expectations of different group members, ultimately.

My first campaign(s) taught me the importance of clear communication. It's a simple thing, but direly important to a game running smoothly. As the group here has figured out.
nlinzer 20th Feb 2021, 3:49 PM edit delete reply
I thought Discord DM was a good DM for Main DM and her playstyle as a player, and that she throughouly enjoyed her time playing. The problem was it didn't work well with this group. But the flashback makes it seem like she disliked the game and disliked the decision when she was a player, not that she thought it was a bad idea for this group from exprience of the Discord GM.
Digo Dragon 20th Feb 2021, 3:54 PM edit delete reply
Digo Dragon
When you look back at experiences with rose colored glasses, the red flags just look like flags.
nlinzer 20th Feb 2021, 6:00 PM edit delete reply
I guess that makes sense, first game, people are nice, a lot of good times and good moments, you forget the main questline was frustrating and you never won or had a satisfying conclusion.
Kittoradra 20th Feb 2021, 5:00 PM edit delete reply
Phew... My first game... I guess it would be better to go over "firsts" plural. First time with any tabletop ruleset? During lunch in high school, where we barely understood rules and were mostly trying to just have fun. It was pretty much nonsense, but we enjoyed each other's attempts at "doing things" and chances to play characters. (I also remember setting up a scenario for monsters to fight each other, and make a fight potentially easier for the group, because I noted that was a thing that could happen when looking at them.) The next chance was at a summer camp, where I happened to see a couple others with d20 Modern and asked if I could join in. They were helpful, cooperative, and gave plenty of advice. (Even when I made mistakes, especially when leveling up.) But it helped me feel "impressive" with how things went. The first actual, serious game I expected to do things in... I didn't actually plan on playing in. I just knew they were playing at college, and went to sit in and see how it went... and they gave me a sheet and told me to make a character, anyway. Plenty of "no idea what I was doing", but they still encouraged me to join and play.

For all of those "firsts"... I had a simple impression of the game being about the group. Not players vs GM, or one player being "better" than the others. I might not have figured out how to run games yet, but I know players should be encouraged to play what they want... but not be pressured into playing before they figure it out. (Unfortunately, the next game I tried playing included "scripted TPK" by the GM. So I had a rough time figuring out how to find good groups again...)
Winged Cat 20th Feb 2021, 5:26 PM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
I barely remember that I had a first campaign, though I'm sure I did at some point. I think it was D&D, might have been before 2E?
ChosenChaos 20th Feb 2021, 11:38 PM edit delete reply
Conuter-question: what kind of game would D&D be if the DM squashed everything the players came up with simply because it didn't fit neatly into their plans?
Faen the Monk 22nd Feb 2021, 6:32 AM edit delete reply
Paranoia TM
Otterfriend 22nd Feb 2021, 6:44 AM edit delete reply
On the contrary, a good Paranoia GM loves players coming up with ideas. It might be pointed out that the ideas the players come up with generally result in player character death, but so does going along with the plot the GM wants, so that's all right. When you've got the players good and trained, they'll more or less do the work of killing themselves off for you, and you can just sit back and relax.

[Reading the above comment is treason, of course.]
Warlock 21st Feb 2021, 7:38 AM edit delete reply
Hrm. the "First campaigns" I played and how they shaped my style.

I had played one game before I had GMed. Right off the bat, I had spend hours reading about GM technique and the like, so I guess I had learned from other's mistakes. The first game was relatively a game of 'simple soldier'. You know the set up. Make a character, get briefed by the commander, follow the rails. Turning around, the first thing I did was to do a "simple soldier" game as well. Realizing how much planning and effort goes into setting things up. Only to see how fast it gets knocked down.

Never had much trouble with going off the rails, since early on I learned that it was more important to just 'react' to the table's emotion. Wound up using stat blocks as guidelines, and bare paper-thin plot skeletons. Important NPCs wound up getting huge blocks of information, but otherwise having a barebones minimum of names, places, and random event ideas written down to the side was all i needed. Surprisingly, the players would be more than willing to fill in their own world, all I had to do is make the world react to them, like a spark of life in frankenstein's monster. Gosh, I'm a lazy GM.

In hindsight, I probably need to learn how to lay some rails down if every game isn't going to be a sandbox world. Not every quest stays in the Shire.
SilvercatMoonpaw 21st Feb 2021, 10:05 AM edit delete reply
My first several games were nothing, as they all ended pretty quickly. I remember things about them, but I doubt they had that much influence.

The first long-term game wasn't even a "game": it was like collaborative storytelling where people had veto power over the actions of some characters. I think I *did* learn from that game:
* Random death or other tragedy isn't needed to tell a good story.
* It's not that it's not fun to fail, it's that it's not fun to fail boringly.
* Lean into the absurdity: I'm no good at being serious.
* Meta-gaming my character is better than not having anything to do.

I eventually got to play actual games, and learned some more things:
* Planning doesn't work: it's kind of random how a game plays out. Just play whatever pops into my head: it works out better that way.

I also tried Gming several times:
* Do not GM: you do not like having to be in charge.

To finally loop it back around to the comic: the players should be privy to as much of the GM's thought processes as they want. If they want to be surprised and challenged, they'll let the GM know. But they might also actively *enjoy* setting their characters up for failure.
Akouma 21st Feb 2021, 10:47 AM edit delete reply
In one of the games I'm currently in, our DM has given is a long list of potential quests to work on, all of which have high stakes for potential failure. The web of how it all connects and their consequences is so complex we actually made a conspiracy theory web for how it all connects. Our DM has EXPLICITLY told us that every quest we've put off will be significantly harder (or just no longer an option because the bad guys have done their thing) while we pursue our current goal. Other DMs/GMs out there, this is the way to do it. If you haven't told your players that something is going to be harder or even impossible if they take a long time to pursue something, then it's not harder when the players arrive. Don't give them the gut punch "haha your dallying has DOOMED THE WORLD" moment. It may make a good story later, but they will HAAAAAATE you in that moment.
Ace 21st Feb 2021, 11:17 PM edit delete reply
I haven't had a first campaign, as a palyer or a DM, yet. and i really, really want to.
Cliff_Robotnik 22nd Feb 2021, 8:46 AM edit delete reply
I learned not to DM for 11 people of mixed skill levels in a villain campaign cuz I was a edgy twat, with a strict no backstabbing rule.

Now I usually DM for 2 or 3 at a time, tend to require alignments to be north of neutral, and still have a 0 tolerance PVP policy.

I maintain that, in all forms, "Player vs Player" is just a form of legitimized griefing... And have thought so since the host of the Minecraft Server I played on suddenly one day went "oh this is a pvp server now and no one gets a vote on that".... ended up with everyone's stuff wrecked, and everyone teaming up on the new asshats that convinced the host to do this until they left, and he fixed the damn mess.

And that's the last time I played Minecraft!

...wait what were we talking about?
Hariman 25th Feb 2021, 12:57 AM edit delete reply
My first campaign was a solo campaign across someone who put things like professional wrestlers, Link from Legend of Zelda, and the South Park Boys into his campaign.

It was crazy and left me wanting a more serious campaign.

My second and third campaign made me hate people who have a hate-on for "powergamers" and go too far in balancing against murderhobos.

My third campaign was the official Living Greyhawk campaign from the RPGA, and it made me loathe the awful mod writers of Keoland/The Sheldomar Valley, AND it made me hate players who think that picking on one of the other players every session for fun is "Just part of the game!".

My fourth campaign was the Living Forgotten Realms RPGA campaign, and it was a train wreck because 4th edition was a samey mess.

My fifth campaign made me appreciate having a group that has similar enough goals to not just be "a team of adventurers thrown together for whatevs".

*Sighs.* As much as I love playing D&D... I've had kind of a shit time playing during a lot of campaigns and sessions.

Some are unforgettable fun, but others are hard to forget bullshit.