Wednesday, January 24, 2018

All Con

The other concern I have with the video in the previous post is this, which happened early in the video and then later:

"The most dangerous thing here was getting on the ship.  It was 50 feet up and we had to make two athletic rolls and of course, none of us could climb.  Several of the players kept falling off and breaking their legs and arms.  Those vines ... they wanted us dead."
"We pried up some damaged boards and made it down to the lower decks and started exiting the ship of the NPC's, climbing down on the vines.  And this is where the ship crew started dying like flies.  Even more than earlier ~ not the gorillas, but the vines.  Because remember, all the ship crew have exhaustion; meaning that they suffer penalties when climbing.  If they stay, they'll get burned alive.  So it was like, "All right you guys, come down here."  First guy [falling body]: "You're dead!"  [falling body] "You're dead!" [falling body] "You're ... also dead." [falling body] "Wow, he's still alive ~ just both of his legs are broken."

Okay.  So most readers were probably laughing through this.  So funny.  Breaking arms and legs, impossible vines, hah hah hah. 

I see nothing funny about this.  I see a seriously broken game, with a set of irrational arbitrary demands from a DM who is virtually non-existent in the teller's narrative.  I see my players, not being able to climb, asking if the ship is worth salvaging (not apparently), does it look like it has treasure (possibly), testing the vines and asking, "how safe are these," to which I would have to rationally answer, "Not safe in any way, whatsoever," because characters are actual people and people can perfectly able to recognize a situation that will probably put their lives in extreme danger.  I would presume characters, being adventurers and therefore skilled at assessing risk, would be doubly able to do so.

So the characters in my game would ponder, and figure out a way to use the trees to which the vines are attached, or chop the trees down, to cause the ship to crash to the ground, with the argument, "the gold will be fine."

But once discovering the crew was aboard, the characters would be, "How can we enable the crew to descend without our having to go up?"  And that would produce a lot of possible answers, such as digging out blankets and lacing them together, to create a thing to catch the crew, or some other means to produce a soft landing.  And if the crew refused to jump, I can see my players asking, "Are we really firemen here?  If they can't save themselves ..."

There's no way, no way in the world, that any players of mine would try to climb vines that were so hard to climb that two rolls were a virtual guarantee of falling. And if one did try, that first failure would absolutely, certainly, ensure the players did not send up another character by the vines.  What I get from the story, then, is the DM pointing at the players and saying, "Thou shalt climb the vines, because I order it," and the players answering, "Yes master, we are thy miserable chattel, we are grateful for the privilege of licking your boots with our dice."

And this makes me really, really mad.

Just now, as I get the online Juvenis campaign in motion again, the players have come to a four-foot-wide stone bridge over a 100 foot drop, in a dark cavern, with sounds, and without any certainty of what may be in the half dark.  They are taking it quite seriously.  No one has made a joke about dying.  The most sure-footed is making her way out onto the bridge.

How would it be if I, as DM, decided that to cross this bridge, everyone should have to make two rolls that would produce a 50% chance of a character falling to their death.  How fun!  How exciting!  Wow, we're really playing D&D now, aren't we?

What a load of bollocks.  You, dear reader, can laugh at the hilarity of the Puffin Forrest video, but the truth is, it's a really, really crappy stand-in for an "adventure."  The concept, the expected adherence to the DM's solution to the problem, the arc of the undead appearing and the ability of undead gorillas to flawlessly climb these vines (unless, hm, they imaginatively climbed up some other way ...) is just gawddamned bloody sad.

I am sorry, very sorry, that to play this game you have to prostrate yourself to this level of creativity.  And then, from desperation to defend it, to argue that somehow it is "fun."  Yes, so fun, to roll dice that ensure failure, to take part in a sequence of events that a NASCAR fan would find infantile, in order to have something to do on a Saturday night.

I ... I just ...

When I started this blog in 2008, I had issues with D&D that I had been carrying around for years, knowing the sort of narratives that had been floating around the game since the early 80s.  But you know, it's not surprising that stuff like White Plume Mountain is deified as a game adventure ... when compared to what is being described here.  At an official company organized event.

And I had someone tell me yesterday that this 5e thing  is "just a different system, with different pros and cons."  All I see is con.  Mounds and mounds of con.  Holy shit, it's the wrath of con.


  1. I imagine some of the people making these types of videos intend them as a funny illustration of "how not to play D&D", but a lot of them come out as an unfunny example of "how not to play or run D&D".

    I've gotten a lot of experience playing 5e in the past couple of years, and it's just as vulnerable to bad DMing as any other game. (I probably don't have to tell you that there are awful original D&D and AD&D DMs out there - you wrote some of your early blog posts about them.) Just the other night, one of my fellow party members got himself killed, but only after the DM explained the consequences of his intended actions, and he insisted on doing them anyway.

    (Also, from just seeing the title of this post in the feed, I thought it was the name of another convention you were going to.)

  2. Ah, I wish. But we need real income to do these things, and alas, I am working for minimum wage.

  3. Last night I was very angry and boozed up. My anger was at 5E and its publishers and the state of what passes for "D&D gaming" in the mainstream. I fell asleep before I'd finished writing my rant and this morning I was strongly considering just letting the whole thing go. After reading this, my ire's back up again and I think I'll post it after all.

    Sometimes you just need to let off steam.

  4. I've played in every edition of D&D since Basic D&D in the 80's. 5E is not special when it comes to bad DMs. What part of 5E do you think encourages bad DMing? That exact scenario could have happened in any RPG.

  5. It is less the system than the way the company is marketing it. At no time previously has the company tried to enforce this mass participation among its players, complete with bribes and organized rules dictating how DMs are permitted to present the materials in the public space.

    Much of my opinion about this was covered with this post:

  6. Ahh, ok, Adventurer's League. So, I agree that AL is kind of garbage. But at the same time, it seems to be effective at getting people to play. They're running it like a MMORPG - that's why the rules are the way they are - characters need to fit standards for treasure and magic items and abilities so that they can be taken to different games run by different DMs with different characters. One DM can't hand out +5 holy avengers to level 1 characters because then those characters would be overpowered when they went to next week's game with other players from other games.

    As for people feeling like they have to play AL ... that's pretty standard FOMO - fear of missing out, and the standard MMORPG thing where you play more than you otherwise would because you don't want to fall behind your friends.

    I think you'll find that a ton of people are playing 5th edition outside AL. More than have played D&D in a long time (4E didn't really help). So, while Adventurer's League isn't ideal play, if it gets people into the game, I don't think it's a bad thing per se. I do think it's unfortunate that in their push to standardize, they cut out a lot of the innovation and roleplaying that can happen in D&D... but if you're worried about keeping things absolutely "fair", then it's somewhat unavoidable.

    Granted, I don't know anything about the Calgary store, so it's possible things are different there in some way.

  7. Nate,

    You do understand that I can defend the drug culture in exactly this way, right?

  8. Drug culture aside marketing is designed on devious persuasion. Healthy, skilled-play D&D is a different animal from what marketing is meant to sell. You can't market a skill that takes a lifetime and is mostly made up in a your head. The Catholic Church can't market the clergy. One answers the call to be a great GM or does not. There is no clear path to the craft besides playing and trying your level best not to stink up the joint and lose your friends over your shitty elfgame.


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