A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Clever Critters, Napoleon, Player Powers and DM Knowledge. A Rambling Assault on the Senses.

So I had a conversation with one of my players related to our recent sessions of D&D4.

I'll try to be concise. It had to do with the DM altering the behavior of the bad guys in an encounter based on the information that the DM had about the players pending actions.

Example: Player A says, "Okay, I invoke this special power that lets me get double damage on any opportunity attack for the next round." DM says, "Ok cool." and proceeds to move the bad guys in such a way as to not invite opportunity attacks.

In that example, the DM takes the information from the player, and (probably) is influenced by that information. So it brings up a couple of thoughts/questions.

Should the players keep their conditions like this a secret from the DM? This has the mindset that the DM is the "Opponent", which, like Schroedinger's Cat, is both true and not true. My answer is no, I do not think that conditions should be secret from the DM. I trust the group that I play with, and I do not think that they would be dishonest, but the way that D&D is structured, the DM is the final arbiter of the rules and the actions in the game world. I think that on the pro side, having things like this a secret from the guy who is "playing" the monsters does increase the likelihood of true impartiality, it also, I believe, would create more rules discussions and difficulties - for instance, if a monster has a power that makes it immune to some certain form of attack.

Related point - The role of the DM, or at very least, MY role as DM, is not to foil the players and their characters. The DM's job is to craft the world around them and share it with them, to mediate and arbitrate the rules, and to "play the bad guys" in a way that makes for fun and interesting encounters. I'm not interested in doing "Gotcha" gaming, as I've mentioned previously. But part of my job is to run fun and interesting encounters. I ribbed Andrew the other day, when he complained about tough monsters, and I told him that I was changing the game style, and that their party would travel from village to village, participating in Bake-Offs, to see who could cook the most delicious cake.

D&D4, with its seriously grid based minis combat, is part chess. I have to wear two hats at once, seeing the pieces in front of me as markers on the field, and moving them in a way to give maximum advantage to my side. Not because my goal is to defeat the players - because it is not, but instead because I am interested in making it challenging, as opposed to simple or easy. On the other hand, I'm supposed to be "playing" the monsters, and not every cave slug has the battlefield prowess of Napoleon. Which is fine, but it makes for sometimes tough decisions for me. "How clever is a shadow bat?" Does it know to stay out of the fighters sword range while trying to get to the juicy guy behind him? My source and reference material is.. lacking.

D&D4 works a little differently than previous editions. This one is all about powers. So it raises the question in my mind of "How do these powers get represented in the game?" I don't want every power use to involve a 30 minute discussion about whether the fighter gives obvious signs that he is doing some super-smashing-power-thingy or not.

If the DM alters the behavior of the monsters in a way that negates a special ability or function that a character has, I'll give that it is in a way penalizing that player. Or at very least negating their Cool Thing.

So, having rambled and jumped around alot - its a tough call. I'm not certain which way to go with this, or how to do it in a way that is 100% fair to my players, and also 100% fair to the critters and the system.

Obviously, I'm thinking too much about it, and have managed to ramble now for two or three pages of text.. but I'm hoping that this will help me feel my way through it.

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