"... the warlock decided to help out by casting flaming sphere. However, he forgot the fact that 'flaming sphere' is a sphere that is flaming ... as in, it has flames, and the wooden ship immediately caught fire. Oh, this is much better!"
If you watch the video, this event occurs about 4 minutes in, as the party is fighting undead gorillas. I actually kind of like this narrator, but the above example is something I have heard repeatedly in D&D war story videos. What it says about what seems to be a typical game is ... troubling.
Basically, the story goes like this. The party is in trouble. The mage casts a spell. It is a really, really bad choice of a spell to cast, because in varying ways it is like deciding to get away from the bad guys by lighting the car's gas tank on fire.
And every time the example crops up, the DM never says, "Your mage is perfectly aware of the ramifications of that spell, and therefore will be aware that this is the effect that will happen; do you still want to cast that spell and potentially kill yourself?"
Whereupon, given the intelligence of the players as described (the video above being an example), the mage would probably say "yes," but that isn't the point.
What is it with the proliferation of this game philosophy?
As human beings, we know how tools work. We know what will happen if we hit our foot with a hammer. It is probable, then, unless we are batshit insane, that we're not going to do that, especially in the middle of a crisis. "My wife is in labor, before I get the car started, I rush immediately to my tool box, pull out my hammer, and start hitting my feet with it!"
That's how this shit reads.
I blink furiously as I realize that this is the level of play that goes on. And the level of DMing. And apparently the level of how these humans comprehend both communication and sensibility.
IF we want to give any advice on how to improve game play, we might start by educating players as to how their spells, and any other tools they have, work. And the effects they have. And what to expect when the tools are used. AND perhaps pasting a warning label on character sheets that reads, "Spell; Use with Intelligence."
Instead, we're allowing both players and DMs to play out high level intelligence characters as imbeciles in the old clinical sense, apparently because no one wants to take responsibility for the question, "Are you sure?"
I remember when I started running the game blog, I had some players who took umbrage that I, as DM, would dare to question their decisions for their character's actions, as though somehow I was breaking some massive rule that argued I was not allowed to express my human incomprehension at totally illogical instructions. I don't see it that way. I think that human beings, with a hammer in their hands, about to hit their feet as hard as they can, have a little voice that pops up in their heads and says, "What the fuck am I doing?"
And I think a DM has a right to be that little voice. Indeed, a responsibility to be so.
Look. The player is sitting at a game table. The character is factually in a visual, audial, tactile world, with blood pumping and self-awareness that, apparently, the player is often ignorant about. If the player can't picture the character about to do something that is clearly irrational, given the character's sensory input, then I am going to make that input clearer to the player! "Hey, player, if you cast that flaming sphere, everything in the room is going to catch on fire. Your character knows this. How come you don't?"
I know this is sacrilege. But I feel it needs to be addressed.