Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First Time In Fifteen Years

This is well after the fact, but last Saturday my daughter ran Dungeons & Dragons while I, as promised, tutored her. As it happened, there was very little need to do so. She has had experience as a DM, though not for some years – she says – and not in my world. But I have to hand it to her ... it was fairly easy for her to get the feel for the players. For the first three hours, as it happened, I mostly just watched, answering mundane questions and finding the tables she needed – not knowing where in the books they might be found.

What is interesting is that the world has a moderately different feel under her hand – it is softened a bit by the NPCs she introduces, and by her descriptions which are less harsh than my own. She betrays some classic characteristics – she grew frustrated and unhappy when her 5th level fighter and 4th level thief, along with their 8-orc party, got pretty much smattered due to her bad rolling. The party in this case is made up of minor henchmen from the main party – which I’ll be running myself this Saturday.

They consist of a 3rd level fighter, a 2nd level druid and a 1st level paladin. The paladin is quite a piece of rolling – he has four 17s – Dex, Str, Con & Chr. His other two scores are above 12. In chain mail, with Dex and paladin’s bonus, he is AC 0.

It is somewhat annoying that this particular player is one of the better in the group and also one of the most self-serving players I’ve ever had in my world. He manages to do this without being exceptionally rude, abusive, unkind or petty. But he will seize treasure with the alacrity of a falcon and he will wheedle, cajole and obfuscate as necessary if that’s what it takes to get the rest of the party to give him a bit more than his share. Sadly, the rest of the party are generous to a fault and allow this to happen.

So the paladin is a dangerous fellow – and it was mostly his ability to avoid being hit (he took 4 damage altogether) that enabled him to do so well. Interestingly, he’s the DM’s common-law husband, which makes him effectively my son-in-law. Thus, the central source of her frustration.

To be fair, he’s also one of the brightest pennies in the box that it’s been my pleasure to have met in the past ten years – a fact which he cleverly keeps hidden. He and my daughter have been together for something like five years now and I have long since found him out.

All of this background leads to a point that I’m going around the castle in order to make. About three hours after starting, I got sharply told to shut up by my daughter as I was giving her additional background information – something she plainly didn’t need. I took that as a sign that she was comfortable doing what she was doing. I promptly shut up and waited for the first break in the action.

Whereupon I said that I was prepared to roll a character. My daughter felt that was fine, so a character I rolled.

Thinking very definitely about the paladin, and about the party in general, I had intended to run a multiclass, with one of the classes being a cleric. Sadly, I managed to roll abysmally – so bad, in fact, that my daughter insisted, with the rest of the party in agreement, that I roll until I got six scores that were remotely decent. This took four complete groups of six rolls. Whereupon I wound up with a 17, a 16, two 11s and two 10s. Too little to be a multi-class. Also too little for a cleric. I won’t sacrifice the combination of strength-constitution-wisdom that is necessary for a decent cleric, so I considered a thief and a mage. Mindful of the paladin’s eventual dominance of the party, I took the latter.

Well, I won’t bore the gentle reader with any further details about the character. The long and the short of it is that I then proceeded to run as a player for the first time in fifteen years. In all, I got to run for about half an hour.

I am happy to say that I’ve forgotten nothing. In short order I was able to manage my resources towards getting the party motivated in hiring a few men-at-arms at some expense ... something which I have always noticed parties failing to do. We saved a prisoner, we revived him and plied him with goods and booze – I had equipped myself with a bottle of lager as a treat, but it was better given to the prisoner – and made a friend of him. We sent him into town with gold, mostly the gold I had started with, to hire us a few men ... and if he absconds with it, no worries. He might not, whereupon I’ve gained a loyal follower. If he runs, I’m out 60 g.p. C’est la vie.

I rarely find players in my world are willing to gamble on NPCs. I admit, one should be hesitant to trust, but making an arrangement with someone that doesn’t threaten my life is a perfectly sound chance to take. Yet players won’t take ANY chance ... to their detriment, I say.

Why not offer a considerable tithe to the church? Yes, you might not be able to buy that plate mail you so desperately want, or the four white stallions, but aren’t friends worth something? Can’t you think of any good reason why you shouldn’t take a thousand gold and offer yourself as a silent partner to some well-established businessman? You don’t think you’ll get your investment back? Silly player ... who would be a better source for rumours, gossip or warnings than a well-situated member of the town – all the better situated on account of your well-invested plunder?

But no, players don’t think like that. And no wonder. As I remember, the DMs used to be largely untrusting themselves. Give a thousand to a merchant and he is sure to blow town the next day, immediately, with your money. As if that makes any sense at all. Give it to a church and somehow you’ll find yourself on trial as a thief – as though churches have scruples about taking money from thieves. Sure as the sun will rise, if I gave 60 g.p. to a stranger I’d rescued from orcs to buy me men and weapons from town, the stranger would be high-tailing it in the other direction.

It isn’t that players aren’t willing to trust, I think ... it is that they’ve learned that never, ever, under no circumstances will a DM reward them for thinking out of the box. DMs are far too avaricious about depleting a player’s resources, as though that were the purpose of the game. Give them the money and take it back. It isn’t just hack, slash and haul away the loot. You can add ‘and watch the DM screw you’ to the old mantra.

As an aside, there will be those reading this who will wonder if I won’t get more than a little lawyerly when it comes to how my world runs and where the bodies are buried. I don’t think so, myself. I think that my daughter has the same viewpoint as myself when it comes to this game – if she isn’t going to railroad me, the principal conflict isn’t with her, it’s with the creatures that populate the world. She’s going to try to play those creatures hard – she’s going to feel let down when they die too easily. But she won’t swamp me with them just to win. And I don’t feel as though playing the trump card as her DM
will be very much fun.

I don’t know who out there can understand that. I am much less interested in ‘winning’ than I am in succeeding ... where the measure of my success comes from inventing a tactic that works brilliantly in a pre-generated situation. All I have needed these past fifteen years has been someone bright enough to create a pre-generated situation who doesn’t need to act like a petulant child when it's smashed to pieces. This I think I have in my daughter.

As it turns out, my daughter is just recently 21. Which means I started working on the solution to my problem six years and nine months prior to my problem existing.

How brilliant am I?


Chgowiz said...

Given your aforementioned lack of a decent gamer pool in your locale - apparently you're extremely brilliant or something else...

It's been my experience in my game, that players will hire hirelings if they perceive their place in life is precarious. The moment they feel a bit of power and security, they horde their gold. It usually results in a near-loss or loss of a player character and they realize that having extra muscle around is worth the cost.

sirlarkins said...

Great points about building player-GM trust. It's sometimes tempting as a novice GM to lower the boom at every opportunity in order to create "conflict," but the payoff in the long-run is a group of players too paranoid to try anything new or trust even the friendliest NPC, as you point out.

I try to foster an attitude of trust with my players for sure. Trust that I won't screw them over, and trust that if they try something creative or risky, not only will I let it go ahead, I'll even encourage them with reasonable payoffs (assuming they don't bungle the operation).

Also trust that if they then find themselves tied together and dangling over a magma pool as legions of jeering goblins chuck offal down on their heads, they got there through their own actions. ;)