Monday, June 21, 2010

A Harmless Bit Of Deception

I ran in my Daughter’s world on the weekend, and it happened that after four sessions my first-level mage at last became a second-level mage. This marks the first time I have had a character of my own level since the 1980s.

This is mostly due to not playing as a character, but almost exclusively running as a DM; and it is because characters that I have played either were not meant to level (tournaments) or the campaigns did not last ... but I’ve bitched about that enough.

I find myself a great deal less concerned with the levelling of my character than I think I was way back then. I suppose I’ve gotten more fatalistic.

I am anxious to level - my particular style of play is very risk-oriented and I can take risks more safely with more spells and with a greater pool of hit points. My philosophy is that a mage, even when they are lacking spells or combat ability, can afford at lower levels to take a hit or two, thus enabling the fighters to last longer. It is, in a sense, giving them six or eight more hit points - mine - simply by putting one more warm body out there to get hit.

Since I am playing, I might just as well talk a little about my style of play ... while avoiding, if I can, the bane of all D&D discussions: giving a blow-by-blow of what happened in our last session.

My co-players are the same people, with a couple of exceptions, that play in my own campaign - but they are rugged individualists and not at all concerned with my other role. However, the fellow playing the 3rd level paladin in this campaign did not hold it against me in the least that in the last session I ran, I killed off his 9th level druid. Very considerate of him. Still, I wouldn’t think my character gets any special treatment ... my daughter enjoys, I think, having full powers to tell me to “... Shut ... Up.” Any fathers out there with similar stories?

That said, I have a lot of experience playing this game, and have seen a lot more styles of play and tactical strategies than my co-players. As such, I find myself trying sometimes to play a little stupider than I am; I try not to dominate the discourse between the players too much by telling them where to stand or what to do; and I try very, very hard not to get manipulative of the DM, who does not have my experience. This is the hardest thing not to do.

I’ll make the example as brief as I can (I may have mentioned this before, seems like I have). In a Traveller game a couple of decades ago I had a Referee who created a system for trading goods from planet to planet, incorporating a set of stock markets into his system. We - specifically me and another rather brilliant fellow named Mike who I have seen in years - saw the error in his system fairly quickly and set out to dupe the DM out of tens of millions of credits. We did it by using his system against him, but also by manipulating the hell out of his human weaknesses.

It requires a level of asshole in order to be a DM; all I need is a DM who is willing to be nice to me or considerate or to stretch their willingness to believe that ‘my plan’ makes sense, and I am off and running. I haven’t seen very many long-time players talk about it, but playing the DM (‘topping from the bottom’) is a reality of the game, and the principal reason why a short-time DM has the worst of it. It only takes one experienced player to seriously ruin a neophyte DM’s day ... and I have to struggle not to be that player.

Why struggle? Because I like to win, that’s why. I like to pull the A-Team like plan together and have it smash apart the pile of troglodytes or giant frogs or whatever that look like too many to kill. And I’m good at making it sound reasonable that the strategy I have in mind will work ... when I know damn well as a DM that I’d be going, “Uh, no,” or possibly, “Maybe you haven’t thought about this.” That being a wrinkle in the plan that I would see, but this DM doesn’t.

There was something like this that happened Saturday, and I kept my mouth shut at the time. We were faced with a room full of bow-using baddies that were above us, we created a fire and filled the room above with smoke, and then we went up and killed them in the obscurement, making good use of the thief in the party. And never once did the DM mention that any of us suffered from breathing in the smoke.

It might have been intentional on my daughter’s part. She may have thought of it, and decided that she just wanted us to get through the room and onto the next part of the dungeon. No doubt someone else in the party also thought of the forgotten detail. If so, they kept their mouth closed also. Probably thinking, as I was thinking, ‘Best not to say anything.’

Now don’t say that as a player the gentle reader hasn’t had a moment like this. We all have. And we are well aware that saying something would slightly to greatly reduce our chances of success. We’re not all so super-pure that we don’t decide to sit on the information for a round or two, even when we do confess our thoughts.

It’s a complicated game. The rules are ill defined. It’s easy to get away with shit. And if the laws of physics can be ‘forgotten’ at a convenient moment ... well ...

Who can blame us?


shlominus said...

seems to me like you were cheating (against your own daughter!).

because you like to "win"?

i don't get it. i really don't.

Dave said...

I agree w/shlominus, it sounds to me like you cheated. (And you try to justify it with the old line that "we all" do it. Wrong. We all make mistakes; we do not all cheat.)

And you did this because you wanted to "win" (as if "win" has any serious meaning in a cooperative social gaming context)? Because you wanted to "get away with shit"?

Wow. Seriously, I do not relate. At all.

Alexis said...

I also beat my wife and skewer innocent babies while in my cups.

Andrej said...

All joking aside, would it have been truly better for Alexis to have pointed out the possibly flawed ruling at the table, undermining his daughter's position as the referee? As he pointed out himself, she may have chosen to ignore what seemed like an inconsistency for a reason... there's a fine line between being helpful and disruptive when you're the regular DM of the group but you're at the table as a player.

As a further aside, I would describe my DMing style as less advesarial than what Alexis describes as his. As a player in his online campaign, however, he has never struck me as an advesarial DM. More tough but fair than arbitrary or advesarial. of course in pointing this out I may be courting his ire...

Steve Lalanne said...

Like many here, I am both a player and a DM.

As a player, I often mention things that the DM has overlooked, even if it's to the detriment of the party. This is not to ingratiate myself with the DM. His job is harder than the players' and sometimes requires help (I feel).

In the smoke-filled room example, I would not have mentioned the DM's oversight directly. But my PC would have held his breath or covered his lower face with a wet cloth, which amounts to tipping off the DM anyway. In fact, my PC's preparations would occur before going in, so unless another PC had already entered the room, nobody would have known that the DM would have otherwise forgotten about the ill-effects of smoke inhalation.