Monday, August 30, 2010

Questions, Questions, Questions

We ended an almost three-month break for my D&D campaign this last weekend, something that always seems to happen in the summer, whether I want it or not. This year I did, but it wouldn’t have mattered – there were events and parties to attend, and generally people were busy. So week after week passes and we don’t play.

I tend to forget how exhausting this game is. The session we had was the first since the end of the great battle. Quite a number of the players had characters who went up in level, and most everyone was in a position to obtain another henchman – or, in the case of the 8th level ranger, a plethora of followers. Which in my world means the opportunity to roll up new characters. The ranger has 17 new followers of various types, both humanoids and animals.

And of course there is equipment to buy. And a new interest in building infrastructure for their characters. And maintenance issues that must be attended.

Thus, the session consisted of my answering questions all night long from six players looking to identify the things in the equipment list, wanting longer descriptions of the spells they were set to choose, details on the origins and characteristics of followers, capacity of living quarters, the amount of food (and types of food) necessary for purchase, details about the fiefdom and its aftermath (it was devastated by the goblins, hobgoblins and drow destroyed by the party), more details about items collected from the battle, details about the environment (it’s November now), information about how much structure they’re allowed to build (are they allowed to build castles?), information about what followers the cleric has and how many, maps of the area, names and other details about NPCs that haven’t been named yet, discussions about how certain information about magic or the world could be gained, can I put metal claws on the toes of my sabre-toothed tiger, and so on and so forth ad nauseum.

When this kind of thing goes on for three hours, I begin to feel overwhelmed. I run a complicated world, and the players have complicated plans. They have a great deal of back story and information to draw upon for ideas they have – and concerns also. Is this likely to awaken an old enemy of ours? What should I be doing now to prepare for the day I want a thieves’ guild? Or a monastery? Or a giant library? Or the journey to China that we’ve considered several times? Or less clear aspirations which the party is definitely not telling me because their short-term plans haven’t be settled yet.

I think if there’s something I hate about being a DM, it’s not having an answer to a question when it is asked. Most times, that’s because it is something that’s going to take more than three minutes to calculate or research – because I’ve never considered that the issue would come up. I could work it out, but it’s going to take time, and with six people sitting there, there isn’t time. Which means I tell someone I’m putting it on the back burner, I make a note about it and ... completely forget all about it until the question is asked again, next week.

I’m asking now that players communicate these things by email, because I can deal with it one email at a time and not during the running itself. I would have loved to have had this when I ran into similar problems with my long campaign that ended in ’94. Back then, with no Wikipedia, no internet, no email, no convenient help at all, I eventually got overwhelmed to the point where I was just throwing out ass-generated answers to get the players off my back. Such as, how big is a black bear, when there’s no immediate source at the table to tell you?

So the Net has hugely mitigated a lot of these problems for me. I tell you I have enormous sympathy for other DMs who are struggling to retain a degree of rationality in answering these sort of questions for players, as opposed to deliberately simplifying issues out of laziness.

My brain was pretty tired by night’s end Saturday, however. Give me mass combat any day.


Whining about my own issues, Oddbit has rightly brought up something I should have mentioned. It has been three months, and the players were absolutely pumped.  High, to be precise.  Like on drugs.  And they sure had a right to be.  In no manner did I mean to suggest that their questions did not deserve to be answered, in full, for as long as they care to ask.

1 comment:

Oddbit said...

As difficult as answering all the questions can be this is a great spot for the players.

There's nothing I like more than overcoming a mountain of a challenge, standing at the top and looking at the view of all the possibilities. Of coarse it's also a great spot to pick out the next mountain.