Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lost Fails

My character is standing on a dirt road some five miles from town, late in the day.  It is overcast, with gray skies, and my party expects that we're going to come into town after dark and soaking wet.  But now comes along a cart, driven by a poor peasant.  The DM tells us the peasant is quite obviously poor, as he is wearing worn clothes and seems to suffer from a rash on his face.  The cart is empty.  I step forward and say, "My companions and I would like to rent your cart, sir, to reach the town across the valley.  We will give you a gold piece for your trouble."  The DM rolls a die.  "No," says the peasant.  "I better not."  But why?  I ask the DM.  The DM looks at me and shrugs.  "He just doesn't trust you or your party."

My character and the party have done well.  We have gathered a retinue of 25 men, we now travel upon wagons in style, we wear fine clothes and we are quite clearly wealthy.  As we approach the city gate, we are stopped by the guard.  They ask for a sum of money to enter that we consider hardly worth noting, so we are prepared to give him three times the amount out of a desire for largesse.  However, the chief guard tells us we cannot enter the city with our weapons.  "But we are clearly not ruffians," I tell the guard.  The DM does not roll a die.  "If you carry weapons, you cannot enter."  But why?  I ask the DM.  The DM answers, "Those are the rules."

Our party's ship draws up to the quay, having been granted permission to dock.  Several crew jump off the ship and proceed to tie the lines to the cleats.  The harbour master approaches and calls up, "Who are you, and where have you come from?"  We answer back that we're nationals, but we will only give the name of the captain.  The DM rolls a die.  He says the harbour master calls a contingent of the guard, that soon arrives on the dock.  We're told, "We will not let you disembark without fully identifying who you are!"  We answer back, "We will leave port first."  The DM does not roll a die.  "Go then!" shouts the harbour master.

I tested these out yesterday on two of my players to see if they would notice if anything was wrong in the above.  They didn't up front; once I had explained what bothered me, they understood, but on the surface the 'problems' presented for the party seem perfectly fine.

The above is a big reason why I have no interest in playing D&D in someone else's world.  Yet I know, too, that it is a problem that completely escapes most people.  It is similar to disconnects I have with people over movies.  While they're worried about where the actor's hands are from shot to shot, or the vague reflection of a camera truck in the shiny car door for a fleeting moment, I am bothered by the above.

I'm not concerned about minor technical errors.  I know how hard it is to film a movie, I know the insurmountable problems and why fixing continuity becomes a zero sum game.  The actor holding the tool in the wrong hand in one shot out of seven is going to cost many thousands of dollars to fix, even if we notice the error the day of shooting.  That has to be balanced against the expectation that fixing the continuity will make a difference at the box office.  Most of the time, it won't.  For those people who find this sort of thing annoying, however, because it takes them 'out of the film,' I'm always curious why the uncomfortable theatre seat does not do likewise.  But I digress.

Writing, unlike film making, is easy to fix.  Its, it's, which, that, I hurriedly walk, I walk hurriedly . . . takes two seconds, and any high school A-student knows how to fix those things.  They are mistakes that get made because the writer is concentrating on the content and not on the detail, and because much of writing is muscle-memory coupled with a strange sort of onomatopoeia that accumulates over time.  I move to write they're mistakes, the brain couples the sound with a word, the fingers (that have typed every version of every word thousands, even millions of times) slam out the word that sounds like they're and the sentence reads, their mistakes.  That is what editing is for.  People who make a big deal of the error when they see it are quite silly; they have no idea what content is, nor why it consumes a writer apart from fiddly little details, or how little regard a writer has for fiddly details that the reader can fix if need be.  But I digress.

Some readers are, just now, wondering what's wrong with the above three examples.  At this point, however, I'm going to be most inconsiderate.  I'm not going to say.  I will remove a few possibilities. It is a writing failure.  It is not an error in the words or the phrasing or anything having to do with technical aspects of writing.  At any rate, its only writing on the blog - in a game, it would be descriptions and speaking.  Nor is it something the DM is doing deliberately.  The DM is doing their best to run the game as the DM sees it.

There is a fail, however.  A big one.  It is not the sort of fail that bothers most people, because people are willing to accept this fail all the time.  Just so long as it isn't a failure that hits home with them, because of a personal connection to the circumstance.  Then it will drive them absolutely crazy.

Worse, it is that the fail is something the DM is unlikely to recognize as a fail, even once it is pointed out.  This is in the realm of how a retailer will react when it is pointed out that there is something seriously wrong with the product - a shrug, followed by the attitude of, "I don't see how that is a problem."

Which means, of course, that it isn't, not for most people.  The reader, if the reader even cares to, is looking at the passages again and thinking like the retailer.  "What's wrong?  I don't see anything wrong."

I guess it isn't.  But I don't want to run in your world.


Ax said...

The fail I see is that the DM rolls a single die, a check fails and everything shuts down. Further inquiry is not met with character responses but rather DM stonewalling. The story switches from showing to only telling that a way is closed, without recourse.

JDJarvis said...

To me the manner of the writing suggested the player as character is interacting with DM not the peasant on the cart or the guard at the gate. They are one or more steps removed from the setting.

In the last example “having been granted permission to dock.” Indicates there would be some reason the locals would let the ship dock and just dismissing them out of hand is pointless as it suggests marshaling of troops is common and minor issue which is curious in a world where resources are precious to everyone (everyone but the DM).

Everyone is dancing on the DMs strings, NPCs are acting with the voice and authority of the DM and players are seemingly accepting it.

That's my take at least.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I do also have trouble with that, but it's not the thing that bothers me. Most of the game is based on roll a die and live with the result, as all games do. If I roll a 6 at the start of Monopoly, am I allowed to argue and go somewhere other than Oriental Avenue?

My problem is not with the die roll, or the lack of a die roll. It is the reason the dice are rolled or not rolled. The fail is a 'logic fail.'

Alexis Smolensk said...


That is part of the issue, JD, particularly in the recognition "where resources are precious to everyone" but the DM.

While money does figure in all three of the above examples, however, presented are three different angles of the same fail, one that does not actually arise specifically from the presence of money.

Discord said...

The DM is wasting the party's time with these three situations. He has presented these situations as obstacles or opportunities, but them shuts down a reasonable attempt to try to interact with them. In all of the cases, the NPC don't have any motivation to act the way that they do. They also do not broach any alternatives to resolve the issue.

None of these situations are advancing the plot or presenting interesting opportunities for interaction.

Alexis Smolensk said...


That is even closer! The question I have for you is, however, why is the DM wasting the party's time? As I said, the DM is not doing this deliberately.

Why are the NPCs acting as they are?

Discord said...

The DM is treating these NPCs as their roles, rather than as actual individuals. He is not taking into account that they are 'actual' people, in an 'actual' word.

Tim said...

Yeah, these die rolls seem somewhat illogically made, in such a fashion that the DM has forced the players to do certain things and seemingly ignored narrative details.

In the first example the players now have to "come into town after dark and soaking wet," despite the appearance of the empty cart. While this peasant is quite wary, which the DM refuses to explain, the players are railroaded into continuing on. The whole encounter seems useless: this is a fairly trivial question of "will the party reach town before nightfall?" which would only matter if the DM wanted to, following the peasant with the cart, perhaps drop a group of highwaymen in the party's way. Why not just have the party roll to see if they reach town early or have any unusual encounters?

In the second example, where you explicitly state the "DM does not roll a die," it is more reasonable for a die to be rolled, because the players have consciously attempted to interact with the world by persuading the guard. Again, any attempt by the players to play in the game world is foiled by the DM, as they are forced to give up their weapons (again, one might presume the DM has something in store to screw with the party) even though they are clearly an important group of wealthy people.

In the third example, the whole encounter once again seems like a waste of time over trivialities. The party has permission to land, they land, woop-dee-doo. If the party won't identify themselves and the harbour master is so edgy he won't let them land, then the party is stonewalled by the weirdest harbour master ever. The DM appears to have made a mistake before by letting the group land and is trying to take it back mid-action.

Every time, the DM makes a decision and then contradicts it. The DM decides the party will be reaching town earlier, the DM decides that the party should actually reach town late; the DM decides the party must pay a meaningless sum to enter, the DM decides the party should actually "pay" a different, meaningful sum to enter; the DM decides the party will be able to land, the DM decides the party should actually not be able to land.
The party attempts to roll with the one option and then the story turns, the tracks take them another way and the train keeps chugging along. The players have no power: it's infuriating.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Big nod.

Yep, that is damn close enough.

The peasant isn't acting like a 'peasant.' He knows the party can destroy him at any moment, that his life is forfeit having already been alone and meeting potential bandits, so he should be RELIEVED to find we're willing to pay him. As well, he's driving the empty cart there anyway, he will get company on the road, which will in fact be safer for him. Chances are fairly likely that, like any farmer, he'd offer them dinner. Rural people HELP each other; it is one of the necessities of living in a rural setting. The DM clearly has no idea what it is like to live in the country.

The guard doesn't know his job. His job is to make sure that the wealth of the town is protected. The party's entourage is surely going to spend a lot of money. The local merchants would NOT be happy to risk turning aside rich buyers for the sake of a rule made to keep out scum. Rich people have minor rules overlooked, just as a cop will let a minor celebrity or local politician on their way. A guard would always be very obsequious to the rich, and would never even mention such a rule. The DM has no idea how law enforcement works.

The harbour master doesn't know his job either. Clearly, as we have been allowed to enter the harbour, our ship does not resemble any ship known to be operated by pirates - its not like medieval ships can simply change their license plates. Ships are very distinctive in appearance. As we are nationals, we have the right to our privacy. This isn't the era of closed borders, papers, customs and so on. Past the captain's name, which serves to let business interests connected with the captain know that he's still in authority over the ship that is already registered, its none of the harbour master's damn business who else is aboard the ship. The DM has no idea how trade or international borders worked before the 19th century.

This just drives me crazy - like a doctor watching a hospital show, or a lawyer watching a courtroom drama. We know too damn much to enjoy ourselves.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Your issues are sound, Tim, but I think they rely upon the DM deliberately being obstructional. As I said, I was never looking for a deliberate cause.

The greater issue is ignorance.

Particularly where I am saying, "Um, harbour masters don't ask questions like that" and, like the retailer, the DM answers, "Well, my harbour master does."

Barrow said...

I like this exercise. My thought is that the dice roll is the only "reason" given by the DM explaining why the NPC's are turning the party down.

There must be a reason a poor peasant would decline an easily obtained gold coin? Its not because the DM rolled a dice and decided the peasant is going to be unfriendly. If such a reason exists, its possible no dice roll was required.

Physically rolling the dice only served to shut players down from asking additional questions. Is that rash contagious? Are you in some sort of rush sir?

Similar questions for the guards and harbor master are blocked by dice rolls as well.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It's a side issue from the exercise, but wasn't that the problem that 3e created, Barrow? That everything needed to become a skill check or a roll? Don't DMs everywhere complain that players don't roleplay, they just get out their dice and roll diplomacy or other thing first? Isn't that a similar problem with the DM?

In this case, I don't think I have a problem with the DM rolling dice - it is what the dice are rolled FOR. I think it would be perfectly reasonable to roll to see if the farmer is going all the way to town, or if the farmer's actually house is only a hundred yards away, meaning the farmer would have to go the five miles to town and then come back in the dark - the farmer might ask if he can pick up his two sons for company for the return journey.

The guard might need to roll dice to determine if he sends someone to fetch his commander, or if perhaps the party would like a handful of guards to show them the best way to the good side of town.

The harbour master might roll dice to see if he cares what the ship is carrying, or where the captain is specifically, since we were willing to give the captain's name. Perhaps the harbour master is from Brittany, and sees signs on the ship that suggests the captain may be from there also.

There are GOOD reasons to roll dice as well as bad. I don't think that dice rolling is necessarily a problem.

Harvicus said...

The NPCs are not fully grounded in the world. They are not acting as one would expect them to act in each situation, and there is no real reason for this (the DM even admits this in the first scenario when he shrugs off the player's inquiry).

In the first scenario, a Gold piece would be quite a boon to the cart driver, in addition the sight of armed men would probably instill fear, and he would likely fear rejecting their offer in case the party would just take the cart by force. That is what I would expect of a typical person in the cart drivers position. If one was to roll a die to check the cart drivers reaction to the offer (as the DM does here) I would expect that the worse possible die outcome would not generate the flat refusal we see here. To me, it would indicate the cart driver wanted to refuse, but realizes he is in quite a pickle. He would stammer, get very nervous, start trying to find any way out without insulting the armed men. But unless he were a great warrior in disguise (aka not typical) it is not consistent with reality that he reacts as he does.

In the second scenario, we see an NPC facing a similar decision. A large force of armed men, willing to play nice. Only the most foolhardy, innocent guard is going to stand in their way. The "typical" response for the NPC would be to take the extra money (pocketing the bonus) and wave them in. He does not get paid enough to potentially get killed over this. At best, he sends a runner to alert the captain after the party passes, or perhaps tries to stall them while they fetch someone with more power/influence. But, even that would be atypical.

The final scenario, sees the harbor master acting quite unreasonable and out of the ordinary. He seems extremely suspicious with no reason for being so. There is nothing out of the ordinary with what is happening, yet he is willing to escalate the situation to potential violence so quickly.

In all 3 cases, I can imagine reasons for the NPCs to act as they do, but these are special situations, and the DM does not seem to indicate there is anything atypical going on. If there were, he should include hints to the players.

The cart driver who is a wandering swordsmaster itching for a fight, might meet their eyes with more confidence than normal. The port that is locked down because of a crime or threat, the PCs would see more soldiers on the docks than normal, and searching other vessels as they pulled up.

James C. said...

Alexis, I couldn't agree more. The only danger here is that the potential reader walks away thinking they need to be up to snuff on 17th century law and customs, or conversely, misses the point entirely because their game takes place in 2246. The essential point is that before the DM ever rolls the dice he or she should be considering what it is they are rolling to determine. Randomness is a necessary element to the game. Arbitrary randomness works against verisimilitude, though. It must have a context. One must take this context into account or the believability of the world will suffer.

Alexis Smolensk said...

While those are internal conflicts you've clearly thought through, Harvicus, but in the first two cases you have completely missed the mark.

It is clear from the first that the peasant is thinking like an ordinary, modern person alone on a road with a cart. The peasant is not thinking like a farmer. See my comment, above.

Second, you make it sound like the guard perceives that he's alone against this force of armed men. He's not thinking like a guard. The guard knows he's got all the power he needs, instantly, at his beck and call. Just ask a soldier.

Heck, however, you're sort of there.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Would you like a 23rd century example?

Hah. Yes, I completely agree with that assessment.

Dave Cesarano said...

Your issues with playing in "someone else's world" are more about the DM's lack of understanding about reality and how people function, make decisions, etc.

In your first case, the DM is basing his entire decision off of a die roll. And you're right, a poor peasant with nothing (except a horse and cart--you said he's driving it, not pulling it himself) wouldn't have anything to be robbed of except perhaps the horse, and if the party already has enough money for a horse, why would they steal one, especially a farmer's weary, beaten-down old nag?

In the second one... The DM has no idea how law enforcement works. Absolutely! And it demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of medieval economics. Bands of mercenaries weren't always allowed in cities with their weaponry, though, unless they were being paid to be in the city or had a charter or official permission, but that's more renaissance/early modern. Nobles and their entourage were always allowed to keep their weapons. And it completely ignores the extreme likelihood that the mercs would easily bribe the guards to look the other way while they went in armed. Heck, the guards would probably suggest the bribe. "Hey, look, why don't you spare half a sovereign for me and a half for my companion and we'll pretend we didn't see your weapons."

But that's more Renaissance/early modern. If it's early or high medieval, the very presence of weapons at all indicates that they're noble (even if they actually aren't) and the watchman isn't going to mess with them.

As for the last... the harbormaster is an idiot. And you're right, this isn't the 18th century. Heck, I'm not sure they even had harbormasters during the early medieval period (except in the Mediterranean).

How most DMs run their games is a mish-mash of ideas garnered from movies, novels, and television shows to create a kind of anachronistic porridge of conflicting circumstances. There's no real sorting-out done by the DM to try to make things make sense. They don't even realize that things actually don't make sense.

Matt said...

In addition to ignorance it appears that the DM in these examples refuses to be educated. He does not allow the players to question, or to bargain. He doesn't seek their experience or expertise.

I've been that DM several times. I've been the DM that says "Well, here that is what is happening, regardless of your experience or evidence to the contrary." For me, that full stop comes from seeing players try to take advantage of leniency.

I've run several games with players who were there to play the table instead of the game. I've seen people selectively remember rules, read descriptions only in the most advantageous way possible, and mix real-world thinking with game mechanics for the sole purpose of breaking the game. I've played with people who try and pull shit like the "peasant rail-gun" which relies on the incomplete meaning of "free action" paired with modern understanding of speed and physics to instantaneously accelerate an object.

I've played with people who insist that Fireball is magical, and thus wouldn't burn down the inn they are staying in. I've played with people who throw tantrums when I explain (before they cast!) that the same fireball will expand in an enclosed space, incinerating them along with their enemies. I've played with people who have decided to sabotage a game that they were no longer interested in playing. That sort of behavior can poison a DM to squash anything remotely resembling rebellion before it happens.

To the players, they are trying to pay this peasant more than well enough for his inconvenience so they can get to town on time. They want a second chance to roll the reaction dice. The DM sees them trying to undermine his decision with meta-game thinking. The players want to see if they can make a show of influence in the town by wearing their weapons openly. The DM sees a party trying to change the law of the land. The players says "But that's not how things work in real-life" and the DM says "Well too damn bad. This is what I said, and it goes."

After losing the players responsible for the shenanigans everything is much more open. I feel less threatened, and so am more willing to question myself and my sources when the players push a decision I've made.

Alexis Smolensk said...


You're going to have to explain what a "peasant rail-gun" is.

Granted on almost every point, except that I do feel that 'playing the table' is legitimate gaming. The way I mean it, however, isn't the way you mean it, and I sincerely get that difference.

Sigh. Yes, the badly behaved player. The lowest link towards which every game rule, every bit of advice, every established dogma must sink to. I know that's not your intention, Matt. You identify the real solution: boot them.

Silberman said...

More specifically than just not understanding the way social interactions work, the DM in these examples is denying the PCs any possibility of achieving social status for their characters, or making a difference by displaying status cues. So there goes a laudable character motivation, achieving status, out the window. No matter what you do, you'll always be treated as a common ruffian.

I think this often happens because, to DMs fearful of characters becoming too powerful, status is actually more threatening than gold, magic, and XP. Letting players achieve social standing gives them things "for free" that they would otherwise have to pay for in blood, sweat, and tears.

Alexis Smolensk said...


That is a good point; I hadn't considered that in contriving these examples, but I suppose there where conflict occurs there's always a tendency to seek the sort that television contrives.

Because, after all, we know that doctors, politicians, news people and other professionals spend all day long squabbling with one another like people who work together in a MacDonalds.

Matt said...

The "peasant rail-gun" is an example of rules abuse in 3rd edition D&D. It works by taking a literal wording of the rules, and then applying real-world physics to the effects that situation would create. It works like so.

In 3rd edition you can hand an object to another character as a free action. In game terms, this means you can hand a potion to a buddy, and still move and attack in the same round. A free action takes "no time" and it is the "no time" wording that is abused.

So, you create a line of peasants a mile long. The how doesn't matter, there are several ways to do it from paying them a days wages to taking the leadership feat and boosting the parameters that earn you followers. Now what you do is that you have the peasants pass an object such as an arrow, a crossbow bolt, or an iron rail down the line, one by one.

Remember, passing an item is a free action. The peasants can each pass the rail with the action taking no time within the span of a 6 second round. When the object reaches the last peasant, he throws it at a target.

Now, enter the physics. You have just instantaneously accelerated an object to 1 mile per second. The speed of the object when it is thrown must take that acceleration into account. It stands to reason that it will impact the target at that speed, as there is not enough time for proper deceleration. The result is that whatever you were targeting is likely obliterated due to the force of impact from an object traveling at that speed.

Of course, no good DM is actually going to let that shit slide. It is an obvious rule abuse. The more insidious stuff happens when you have players dumping the entire kitchen sink of rulebooks on you, and taking things one step at a time, until the absurd conclusion is almost palatable.

For instance, stacking two feats that grant followers (Leadership, and Tyranny, which are likely meant to be mutually exclusive) and using your work-force to buy and raise cattle that you then cast "transmute flesh to salt" on to sell tons and tons of salt. Because there are no rules for market fluctuations the player rakes in the money. He's also taken feats to improve his crafting skill, and has used his earnings to buy magical items to improve his crafting skill, and has an army of laborers to help him with his project. Then you learn that his project is to build an Imperial Super Star Destroyer from the D20 Star Wars book, which he can provide you with accurate pricing and blueprints for because everything branded D20 was supposed to work together.

Also pretty far off, sure. But lets say that he has increased his "Escape Artist" skill so that he can regularly make a roll of 80. Consider also that the Epic Level Handbook states as an example that with a roll of 80 you can phase through the Wall of Force. The player then argues that a wall of force is far more impassable than a dragon, and so he is going to phase through the dragon and rip out its heart from the inside.

Consider also that most of this stuff is still doable in Pathfinder, because Pathfinder bases itself on 3rd edition D&D, and give yourself another reason to hate Pathfinder.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I wasn't looking for reasons, Matt, but sure.

Yeah. That's pretty much something, isn't it? Murphy's Rules in the Dragon used to cover that shit.

It's a whole other post, of course. In my How to Play a Character book I encouraged innovation; I always feel innovation is important to the game. Players who can innovate along the lines you describe is something I've often wondered about myself as a writer.

As I digress. I find it very difficult to write fantasy or sci fi because I have a mental block. I like the recent Zack Snyder Superman film, but during the last scene I find myself wondering about the aftermath of a city being ripped to shreds by these two people fighting. Zod wants to fight there, so Kal pretty much has to as well - but there is this scene where they go up into space, then come back down to earth in the same place.

I can't seem to think this way as a writer. And to some degree, writing 'non-real' fiction on some level requires that you must. Sooner or later someone is going to do something that causes someone else to respond in a way that - to make the conflict work - has to be completely silly.

So whenever I start a fantasy novel, I find myself thinking, "what would a real person do here," which requires some explanation, followed by an expositional chapter that explains why the person who saw the event is acting irrationally to the person who didn't, and pretty soon I'm in a hopeless mire that can only be fixed by having someone hold an idiot ball for a chapter or two.

At that point, I stop trying. Other writers don't seem to have trouble with this.

I'm this way as a DM too - but I find the rules and the immediate discussion framework with the players allows for a clear interpretation, which writing does not. So I have no trouble with logic in D&D - or with changing rules that create the sort of thinking that you've just described, Matt.

I'm probably writing another post at this point, so right now I'll stop.

Silberman said...

Alexis, Considering the response to this post, maybe your next book should be "How not to run: 35 annotated examples".

Alexis Smolensk said...


The response to this post stems from the fact that 'what is good' is a largely subjective discussion. The less defined the subject material, Silberman, the more comfortable readers will be in commenting on it.

For example, yesterday's post was about cossacks. People don't know very much about cossacks, and what they do know comes from the net and books; it means that there must be some research before disagreeing with me. However, as it is clearly defined as "Alexis' World," that ends all useful disagreement (in the reader's opinion), so no one writes to tell me I'm wrong about the sword or about the cossack treatment of peasants. Result: no comments.

If, however, I write a vague description of what a player says, and what a DM says, and then express discontent, there is no right answer and people realize that their opinion is as worthy and meaningful as anyone else's. Result: comments.

More than that, I get comments that ask questions, that encourage debate, that seek to flesh out my thoughts, that introduce related philosophical positions and so on, rather than a short word of praise - so there are not just more comments, the comments are better. They are thought out and interesting.

However . . . I am learning that if I allow myself to pursue this line of comment-getting, it is not very long before I'm writing something that deliberately provokes. Though I am only seeking to increase the involvement of the reader, I end up in offending, driving people away, or alternatively ramping up my viewership voyeuristically.

Alexis Smolensk said...

For example, last week, there was nearly a back and forth on this blog. My page views spiked. Then the commenter and I worked out our differences. The views dropped through the floor. This is very telling.

I have been reviewing the whole posting thing since. If this blog is to continue, it has to be less confrontational. Not because I will be less confrontational - because I'm me - but because I have decided to stop feeding the black wolf. At least for awhile.

I couldn't find the quote; Ron Perlman delivers the speech in Crave, an awful, awful movie.

A young indian brave approaches the chief and says, "I am conflicted. I want to do bad things. I know that I should only do good things. I am confused and don't know what I should do."

And the chief tells him, "These two wills in you, to do bad or to do good, are like a black wolf and a white wolf who fight each other for control. It is this way with everyone."

The brave asks, "But which wolf is stronger?"

The chief answers, "Whichever one you feed more."

Barrow said...

Are you suggesting that the bad-examples are a result of poor DMing? That no thought was put behind these NPC's lives, roles, responsibilities, and motives. That is, the DM has not created enough narrative for a prospective peasant, gate guard, or harbor master. In these examples the NPC's narrative is superficial and does not deepen beyond the obvious: man with cart or man following strict rule or protocol. They are mere props or extras on a TV shoot. Extras who, the director, or in this case the DM, never intended for the show's cast to have any real interaction with.

Or, are you suggesting that DM's overlook the importance of understanding the economical, cultural, and social structures of the DM's chosen setting? That DM's need to strive for a reasonable understanding of the historical context of their NPC's lives and responsibilities?

Or does one hand wash the other?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Simplest answer, Barrow?

When I find myself talking to NPCs in a campaign who might do anything, anything at all, because the DM has completely chosen to ditch the way people are affected by their status, responsibilities, professions, age, experience or motivation, I do not desire to play. I have no basis on which to plan my actions. No basis whatsoever.

For the sake of the DM's ignorance about how real people behave in real life, I am forced to toss out all the experience I have had in living that real life, to role-play in a world that obeys arbitrary, made-up behaviour that is not predictable or even interesting.

The world is, therefore, worthless to me as a place to seek my own enjoyment.

Dave said...

Peasant rail gun? Genius! But you can do so much more! Form two circles of a mile of peasants each, and have the circles right next to each other, so a peasant in one circle is standing back to back with a peasant in the other. Each group passes a rock clockwise for three or four revolutions, then one of the two passes his rock behind him to the other circle: Peasant Super-Collider!

BTW, I just checked my son's 4e books, and passing something to another person would be a minor action, so this would no longer work.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Drifting off-topic, but as Dave and I discussed some of this privately, I'll let it pass.

James said...

My bigger problem with the scenarios was that there was no real conflict, and the DM created conflict. No dice needed to be rolled in any of those scenarios.

I know you think the bigger issue is the DM's lack of knowledge, but I disagree. By deciding to roll dice and/or create an unnecessary conflict, the DM created a situation that was illogical, and thus had illogical results.

That small decision to roll dice unnecessarily instantly changes the dynamics of a situation, especially if the results are success/failure (changing the outcomes to success/success+cost would fix much of this). It forces the DM to treat the NPC as an obstacle rather than a person, and takes perfectly logical options off the table.

As an aside, for the lawyer/courtroom issue, while it can sometimes be hard, it also means that when a show gets it right, it makes it even better.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Which is why I love Ratatouille, James. After 12 years in kitchens, I have met every one of those people in the film. And I swear to gawd, if you don't keep your station clean, I will kill you.

Matt said...

Back off topic, but in response to Dave -

Minor actions are limited to 1 per round, but a combat round is still 6 seconds in which all participants are acting. All the peasants have to do is delay until they are all on the sequential in initiative and then use their minor actions.

Lack of the Leadership feat or rules for hirelings solves the problem though. You can't abuse masses of peasants if hiring them isn't an option.

Alan Harrison said...

Here is where I find die rolling most suitable for establishing NPC behavior.