Friday, September 6, 2013

Fly on the Wall

DM: The guard denies you passage. The guard does not like you.

Fighter: Did you roll?

DM: What?

Fighter: Did you roll a dice. To see if the guard likes me.

DM: I don't have to. The guard doesn't like anyone.

Fighter: Anyone? The guard doesn't like anyone. The guard doesn't like his mother, his brother ...

DM: None of those people are here right now. The guard doesn't like anyone trying to get past him.

Fighter: And you know that ... how?

DM: I decided it.

Fighter: So basically you decided to screw us.

Mage: Will you just drop it?

Fighter: No, I won't. Okay, we wait for the next guard. How long until the guards change.

DM: It won't do you any good.

Fighter: Why? Does that guard hate everyone too?

DM: Look -

Fighter: That's awful convenient. I think it would be marvelous to have perfect guards that have absolutely no chance of liking anyone they meet. Where can I rent these guards? Is there a storefront?

DM: I'm just saying -

Fighter: The guard hates me and he hasn't even met me yet.

DM: If you don't like the adventure ...

Fighter: The adventure is fine. It's this perfect guard thing.

Thief: What difference does it make?

Fighter: The difference is, we pay this guy ten times his monthly salary, just 30 g.p., and we get to the other side of the wall in the next ten minutes. Otherwise we have climb down into the moat again, find the secret door, wade through fifty yards of muck, fight another giant crocodile, climb up a 70 foot greasy metal ladder, make checks, and come out into the same stupid corridor covered in slime and grease and stinking like a garbage pile. Now I want to know why I have to do all that because this guard 'hates everyone.'

DM: Okay, fine. [rolls] The guard doesn't like you.

Fighter: Oh, now, what is that?

DM: I rolled.

Fighter: You're behind a goddamn screen. How do I know what you rolled?

Mage: I don't care about this. Let's just -

Fighter: I care.

Mage: You're just complaining. What difference does it make?

Thief: The croc was good experience.

Fighter: You really want to fight another croc? Screw that. There's good experience right here. And I'd rather get it not smelling like a gong pit. PLUS ... if we don't smell, we're going to have a LOT less trouble sneaking up on Paulo.

Thief: True.

Fighter: How do I know you're not just rolling a dice to make me shut up?

DM: I rolled a dice. That's it. It's settled. The guard will not take a bribe.

Fighter: It's not settled. You're just unwilling to consider any alternative.

DM: You're not going to tell me how to run my world. It's my world -

Fighter: - And what you say goes. We've heard that before.

DM: Well ... I am the DM.

Fighter: And so what? I'm supposed to just fuck around going through whatever crap you want because you can't be bothered to say there's at least a chance we could bribe the guard?

DM: There was a chance. I rolled a die.

Fighter: That is such bullshit. You never intended to roll a die in the first place. You only threw the die to shut me up.

DM: Look. This is how it goes. I don't care if you like it or not. This is my world, and if you don't like the way my world works, you can get out.

Fighter: So that's it. No negotiation.

DM: Not with this guard, no.

Fighter: Why?

Mage: Can we please stop fucking around and play the game?

Fighter: Shut up. I am playing the game.

Mage: You're bitching about the game.

Fighter: I'm trying to keep from being fucked over by the DM because he likes it when we do things his way. He's got something waiting in the damn sewer this time, and now that I think of it, I'll bet you all my freaking dice it ain't another crocodile. The only goddamn thing he cares about is getting to throw it at us.

DM: That's not true.

Mage: I just want to play. [to the thief] Are you with me?

Thief: Yeah, sure. I don't care.

Fighter: For the love of ... I want to play too. I just want to stop feeling like the only two options I have is to do what I'm told or to quit playing.

DM: You've got lots of options.

Fighter: Name two.

DM: Well, first of all, you can go down to the moat.

Fighter: That's one.

DM: The second is that you can go talk to the old woman.

Fighter: That's not an option.

DM: Yes it is.

Fighter: No, it's not. You told us we had to talk to the old woman anyway. We have to talk to her after we get the stinking Cup from Paulo. What good does it do to talk to her before we get the Cup?

DM: Well, she knows other things.

Fighter: But we have to talk to her anyway. No matter what happens. Before, after, it makes no difference. We'll still have to get the Cup, and we'll still have to go through the damn moat. It's not an option!

DM: You can do one or the other.

Fighter: We have to do both anyway. Oh my god.

Thief: Let's just get the cup. We can figure out what else we can do after.

Fighter: Jeez.

Mage: Come on.

Fighter: Oh ... fuck. All right. We go down to the fucking moat.

DM: Good. It's dark now, and you can see the shine of oil slicked on the surface of the moat, gleaming in dim rainbow colors ...


Alexis Smolensk said...

What's sad here is that the DM thinks he's won this argument.

Roger the GS said...

Geez, if they want to get through the guard so damn much, Charm Person, level 1 spell.

Otherwise, may as well argue, "Are you SURE there isn't a door here? Not even a secret door?"

Alexis Smolensk said...

DM: [roll] The guard makes save.

Jomo Rising said...

Of course he does.

Matt Judge said...

Obviously bad DMing. But what if the fighter says something unreasonable to the guard trying to get through? Is it bad DMing for the DM to decide the guard isn't going to let the player through without a roll? Does it matter what the fighter says, or does the roll determine it? If what the fighter says matters, does the DM arbitrarily decide how much it matters (modifies the roll)?

Mic B said...

Why is Mister Fighter not offering the bride, just in case? We'd have confirmation of who's badest between him and DM? The DM might be railroading or something... or maybe not. Mister Fighter seems to be totaly oblivious to what was not specifically proposed to him by said DM.

By the way... offering bribes to people who don't seem to like you much seems pretty common... at least, I've been offered my share by people who clearly knew it was not in their best interest. And before somebody asks, no, I don't accept bribes.

JB said...

Why didn't they just knife the guard and hide the body in the moat? Hell, then they'd have the guard's uniform then, too, which might help them later.

Sometimes the simple approach is best.

Lord Gwydion said...

Moron playing the Fighter, moron DMing.

Fighter player should have just started interacting with the guard, in character, forcing the DM to act out the surly, hates everyone guard (although the DM does have a point, it's the guard's duty not to let people like them in).

And I could think of all kinds of ways to try to get past the guard if talking/bribery won't work.

Rolling for initiative would be a quick, if messy and potentially complicating one. Disguises, climbing the wall instead of going under, various spells (invisibility, change self/polymorph, etc.).

Kudos to the Fighter player for at least trying something different. If the DM's being a douche like this, though, the player should have just kept thinking of alternatives.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Sure can tell the old school DM's.

And plenty of evidence of back-seat driving ... "If I were the fighter I would ..."

Uh huh.

Funny that no one mentions that every statement the DM makes is a) straight out of the Handbook of DM Cliches; and b) evidentiary of him being a total dick.

Quite a lot of people, apparently, think the DM 'won' this exchange.

Issara Booncharoen said...

They all lost. The Fighter is still playing a game they don't want to play, and worse has failed to convince the other players that this isn't the game they want to play.

The DM is going to get an earful again when whatever is in the sewers turns out not to be a crocodile, and if they have any decency all the enjoyment they would have had at the game will be sucked out because one of the players didn't apreciate it.

The other players lost because they obviously just wanted to stab stuff and watch the story unfold, they could have avoided the drama by just playing a video game together.

Everybody loses, everybody will continue to lose, what does that demonstrate apart from the fact that people have a strange idea of what having fun means?

Dave said...

The first line from each of them raised warning flags in my mind: the DM is talking about his NPC instead of AS the NPC, and the Player (falsely called Fighter here) talks about dice to the DM, rather than to the guard about getting by.

Matt Judge said...


I think the fundamental issue is the DM's stonewalling. Whether he or the player speak as their NPC or PC, the DM is committed to having the PCs on a track.

Anonymous said...

I started out sort of sympathizing with the DM. If the guard doesn't like anybody, no amount of rolling "skill checks" is going to change that.

However, the entire framing of the situation by the DM is bad. He has made 2 possible choices, and the players have to choose one of them? It's just a railroad with a siding track.

It's not the DM's job to make CHOICES for the players. The DM should be presenting an environment with a number of parts that the players can interact with how they please.

If there's just a guard and a moat, with no other context, there is no real way for the players to try anything creative.

Say if back down the path was a horse-drawn wagon approaching the drawbridge. Maybe it's carrying supplies to the castle? Maybe the PCs can hide in the wagon? Maybe they can spook the horses and cause a commotion to distract the guard?

I'd feel bad for the other 2 players who don't seem to be total hardheads.

The player of the Fighter is kind of whining, but obviously the DM has pulled this type of garbage before.

The game itself is the loser, especially if the player of the Fighter decides to quit.

YagamiFire said...

No options exist beyond what the DM has put on stage. There is no "world' being run, there is a script to follow.

And DM's fucking hate when they get told they don't have an actual world. Damn, I don't have an actual WORLD either, but I have a damn sight more than this entirely representative example of pure bullshit that comes up in games so very much.

"I run the world how I want" is really "You'll do what I want you to do" hiding behind a veneer of actual sorta-palatable authority. It's crap. Plain and simple.

Also holy shit to the people bitching about the player playing Fighter. It doesn't matter if he's Fighter McSwordguy Jr...he's playing a character...and calling out the DM on over-ruling the players options without so much as a second thought. The DM made a flat unilateral decision based, not on the world he claims to have, but rather on his own desires regarding what he wants the PCs to do.

And why? Because he's too nutless to just say "You have to go through the sewers because it's what I want you to do because it's what I planned". Yes. Nutless. So he hides behind a facade of legitimate interactions and an attempt at passing it off as "the world". Yeah okay.

It's a middle finger straight to the concept of someone trying to play a character in a world. It's this sort of situation that leads to players setting fire to everything around them...just to spite the hell out of the prick behind the shield. To watch them say "You can't/wouldn't/shouldn't do that" even though...yeah they CAN do that because they've got oil and wood is goddamn flammable.

When I am opposite a DM like this, my sole response is typically "Burn it. Burn it all". Don't aren't burning a world, you're just burning a stage someone is trying to make actors perform a shitty play on.

The Malcontent said...

I don't know about a winner, but I thought it was funny as all get out.

Issara Booncharoen said...

Yes I'm bitching about the fighter. Because the fighter is wasting their own time. You see the other two players are happy running along the railroad, they don't want to freedom of choice the fighter wants. The fighter is not enjoying the world, they know it will never change. Whining about wanting it to change makes the fighter the disruptive one(they're holding up everyone elses idea of fun) burning everything just makes this worse, the DM can point to everything that's wrong in the game and essentially say everything that's wrong with the world is a result of that players actions.

Better to stand up and leave, explain that this isn't the sort of game the player wishes to play. Leave the other three to the sort of fun they think of having and realise the fighter's own dream of having a world where the guards are living things. If it's a good world (there's no garuntee the fighter is a good DM) then perhaps the fighter can show the other three what DnD means to the fighter, but it is more likely that those three will remain caught up in the closed feedback loop where the DM writes the script, let them it is clear no amount of arguing over the table will change them.

I guess in short I guess the reason so many people recognise the failing of the fighter over the DM is because the fighter can see obviously see a better way to play the game, but is doing nothing to realise it. The DM is just a chump who doesn't seem to know better. The fighter is wasting their own time and not enjoying themselves, everyone else enjoys the DM's story time, it's not DnD and I certainly don't want to play it but those three kids are welcome to enjoy themselves any way they want. It's the fighter who should grow some and walk out.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Issara, The other two players aren't 'happy.' If you think they are, you've missed a lot of subtext.

Issara Booncharoen said...

The other players will turn up every week to play the game, they'll try to avoid argument just to get on with the game as it is.

They don't want to take the effort to change anything about the game but they will take the effort to get to the game and follow the railroad.

Maybe if the fighter can run a good game and the others are willing to play the fighter might show them that more interesting ways to play the game exist, but right now the fighter can't even convince them that it's worth the time to find another way to do one thing. They're more invested in following the tracks than in doing anything else with their time, especially arguing with the DM. Is that a good enough definition of being happy to go along with something?

The point is until the fighter actually takes action and leaves the game everyone at that table is responsible for the railroad that's being run, even if the DM has created it and insists on running it the players are enablers, even the one kicking up a fuss, because the DM feels vindicated by the support (however scant) of the other players. Everyone loses, only one person realises that they're losing.

Issara Booncharoen said...

Of all the abuses of communication I might have made these have occured to me.

Perhaps I should say admits rather than realises.

In the same way that when I said happy(to do or go along with something) it might be clearer if I said, willing (to do or go along with something).

Alexis Smolensk said...

People don't, however, do as you suggest Issara. They drag along for years like this, the frustration occasionally boiling to the top, because its better to play than not to play; and the DM becomes more and more certain that his method of play is at the core appreciated, because moments like this are brief and easily 'put down.' The DM introduces new people to the game, who find themselves in the same dynamic; the DM goes to conventions, and runs this way, but it isn't that evident to people who don't play with him weekend after weekend, and those players go elsewhere thinking this is how D&D ought to be played. Sure, players complain, but what are you going to do, huh? It's just personalities, that all.

Try to see beyond the obvious solution, to comprehend how people come to think this is 'correct.'

F. Douglas Wall said...

I think the main problem with your scene is that the party isn't thinking like a team.

The Fighter is good with direct confrontation, and he's frustrated when the direct approach fails to work. Instead of bullying the DM into letting him by, he should be trying to persuade the other players to assist him with resources that only they have. The Mage could charm the guard, as someone else suggested, or the Thief could sneak past or steal the key or badge or whatever from the guard.

Issara Booncharoen said...

I completely agree with you. Like I said everyone at the table loses.

I now see you had a wider point to make, the way I read the transcript wasn't as an example of a norm, when I read the transcript it felt like an exception, other commenters also seem to be looking it as if it were a single problem, with specific solutions rather than part of a larger pattern.

You have raised an interesting tangential question. Given that people exist who prefer to play the way you abhor, and that in general more people seem to prefer to enjoy themselves passively do you foresee a future where that DM will stop having a group to run for, stop going to conventions and stop theirs being the first game a new roleplayer experiences?

Because it seems to me that that model of roleplaying is 'correct' because it doesn't ask for much, players have their decisions laid out before them, they have the reasurance of knowing that their decisions don't really matter as the DM is trying to pander to their escapism. The DM get's all of the control for none of the effort, they have source books and adventures which require only a little time to scan through before they can start playing.

In the meantime someone comments asking why their party doesn't operate like yours, and your answer is (in a nut shell) they haven't done enough work. This is fair, this is true. But how do you imagine this way of doing things will ever eclipse the 'fun' way?

Your blog has plenty of convincing incites to push those who care to read it along in that direction, and plenty of tips to make the hard work a little easier. But the only thing I see on the transcript you represented are a group of people doing things the easy way.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm not sure how you derived from my last comment that I saw the pattern as something positive. I state it as a case in point.

Rest assured I do not see the dialogue above as positive.

YagamiFire said...

Issara...have you failed to notice the failure of logic in your post?

How can players "prefer" a way they're not given alternatives from? You are falling into the same logic as is employed by the DM in the example - "Your option is to do this. Or not play. See? Options!" Yeah no. That is not an option. If they have never experienced a different way of playing, they are not playing that way because they "prefer" it any more than a starving man prefers to go without food. The alternative simply isn't present.

You're employing circular logic at its best. "Players play this way. They must prefer it. They do not prefer a different way because they do not play that way so that way is not available for them to play because players do not prefer to play that way..." and on and on and on.

Look at the situation if everyone was being honest...if the DM was being honest. How many people would really like to be point-blank told "Yeah you are going to do what I want you to do in this game because it's what I've planned. Any other deviation will be side-tracked back to what I've got because we're doing what I want regardless of whether or not you're called the 'players'. It is my world and I will do what is necessary to keep you on my track and under my control". Sounds bad doesn't it? But it's honest. It's what goes on. Sure, it's in more blatant language than we'd like to pretty the situation up with...but humans ARE masters of justifying actions and ignoring the obvious.

Hell, the very topic of the blog post shows several such instances right in it...and they're all totally true to life with many DMs.

Issara Booncharoen said...

I was attempting to look for solutions within the scene which were not obvious. It seems that I misunderstood your call to look past the obvious solutions, I thought you meant that there was one hidden in there I couldn't spot.

Issara Booncharoen said...

We have a similiar idea about where roleplaying can be taken, how it can be made into something that allows us to live somone elses life for a few moments of our week. I don't expect everyone to agree with me that this is better than their way of playing the game, I expect even fewer people to actually do something about it. That's because it's difficult- difficult from the point of conception (so difficult I would never have been able to concieve of it without reading what Alexis had to write), to the construction (so difficult it's still taking Alexis a lot of his life to hash out), difficult to grasp and finally difficult to play with. People often choose the easy thing over the difficult thing and to ascribe that choice to ignorance alone is insulting, the fighter at least seems to have a vague concept of what sort of game they want to play, but they abandon that concept to keep playing a game they know is a poorly vield novel. So yes the players prefer playing the game to trying to change it.

It's a good thing neither you or Alexis are such strawmen, you chose to change the game rather than play it the way you had always been shown to.

F. Douglas Wall said...

On further observation, the whole group as described is a total clusterphuck.

The DM is a dick for presenting a railroaded adventure. There's no way to get past the guard, so they have to go through the moat.

The Fighter is a dick for, well, being a dick. Not for trying to break out of a railroaded adventure (I think we all applaud that), but for not roleplaying. He's not thinking "Fighter vs. Guard" or even "Party vs. Guard", but "Player vs. DM."

The Mage and Thief are dicks because they are passive players. They've signed on to the railroad and get off at every stop to collect treasure and experience. They resent unscheduled stops like this because it means that the train that takes them to the next level is being delayed. Even though they admit that the non-smelly route the Fighter proposes is easier, they make no effort to help him accomplish this. They have unique abilities to make the task much easier (spells and thieving skills), but do not even consider using them because they know that this is not the path to treasure and experience.

JB said...

(sorry...this was meant as sarcasm)

YagamiFire said...

Seriously I don't get is the fighter player being "a dick"?

Is he not a human being playing a game and therefore entitled to inquire about that game?

For not roleplaying? What? That doesn't even make sense. He explicitly is addressing a meta-game situation with the should he address that in-character? He has already been told something by "word of God" that over-rules the possibility of roleplaying towards his goal.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yagami, I think it is quite clear that everyone who is not F. Douglas Wall is a dick.

JDJarvis said...

Why isn't the guard raising the alarm when the guys who tried to bribe him are standing around and screwing about near the moat?
Is the party trying to sneak in under cover of daylight?
Can't they get another cup?
Seems to me everone at the table isn't used to playing in a dynamic "world".

Alexis Smolensk said...

Given the actual comments to the post, I am stunned at the ability of certain people here to just completely ... miss ... the point.

Like, wow, man.

James said...

That is because you didn't hold everyone's hand and explain that this is an example of how a DM exerts his authority over a group, and how even if someone tries to break free, even other players will support the DM. Because that is the orthodoxy. You missed the memo that said that all allegories and illustrative examples must be stated outright in bold text.

Hence, if you are trying to figure out what the Fighter did wrong, you missed the point. The Fighter's actions are irrelevant, because his actions are not the point of the fable. Ironically, in another sense, his actions are irrelevant because in this scenario all meaningful choice has been stripped from his character.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I think I would like to run a playbypost game for some of you. Especially - most especially - for our dear curmudgeon, who has not played for so many years.

The linkage is here: