This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!
We all know how common this is in gaming, and Jason has all the answers! Yay!
This month, he tackles player knowledge vs. character knowledge. What do you do when your players memorize the Monster Manual and use that knowledge to their benefit, even when the character should have no knowledge of that stuff?
The original question he answers is:
My players have memorized the Monster Manual, so they recognize every monster I throw at them. How can I keep them from using out-of-character knowledge in the game? -- Maggie at Wizards of the Coast
His suggestions are three:
- Beg them to "play nice." Appeal to them with DM interpretations of the Knowledge skill. If that fails, lay down the law about OOC vs. IC actions.
- Forbid PC actions that are based on "knowledge to which the PC isn't entitled." Huh, that sounds suspiciously like laying down the law.
- Punish players with XP penalties after the game, "if a player persists acting in a way that is unreasonable for his character." Huh, that also sounds suspiciously like laying down the law.
In his summary, Jesse empowers DMs to tell a player to "shut his yap" and to "feel free to stomp on that kind of activity -- and hard." Yeah, that'll save my game! Thanks!
Jesse misses the fundamental point that D&D 3.5 supports Gamist style play very well, and supports other kinds of play pretty damned poorly.
Look at Maggie's question. "They recognize every monster I throw at them." How can I stop them? Maggie seems to understand that D&D is about "step on up." She's throwing monsters at her players and wants it to be a fair fight. She feels they're cheating. But why? Your characters don't know all the stats of the monsters! So?
God, I get queasy reading Jesse's anecdote about how he squelches his 10 year-old daughter's enthusiasm when she proudly identifies the doglike creatures as kobolds and analyzes their threat level to the party. Squish! All your reading is for nought! I'm willing to bet that the reason she clapped her hand over her mouth was that Jesse was giving her some kind of disapproving look.
Adam's New Philosophy on the Best Way to Play D&D
D&D 3.5 plays best, I think, when a player can use every tool at his disposal to Step on Up, Kick Ass, and Take Names (and their Stuff). Here are some possibly controversial ideas for game play that I think will Save Your Game.
Player knowledge is fair game. Hey, man, read the Monster Manual and use that knowledge during the game. As DM, I certainly do, so you should as a player. Need an IC justification for it? Shouldn't be too hard. Your PC is an adventurer, dammit. He spent his teen years sitting in bars and listening to bards and rangers talk about their experiences. He studied under great wizards and warriors and learned all about monsters and traps. Maybe he's never actually seen a kobold, or a dire wolf, or a mind flayer, but he has heard all about them and knows their strengths and weaknesses and he knows which ones will likely kick his ass instead of vice versa.
Tell them the Challenge Rating. That's right, DMs. Tell your players how tough the encounter is and how many XP they'll get if they Kick Ass and Take Stuff, er Names. Taunt them. "What? A little CR 3 ogre gonna scare you away? Chickens." Bribe them. "You know, he probably has a +1 dagger in his boot." But give them the ultimate choice to fight, run, or do something else, and give them the knowledge they need to make the right decision. Don't surprise them with a few extra ogres and bump the encounter up to EL 6 cuz you felt like it.
You can still do surprises; you just have to inform them of the EL/CR earlier. "Hey, guys, you can either go down the left corridor, which leads to a pretty dangerous EL 6 encounter worth 3000 XP, or you can go down the right corridor which leads to a series of EL 2-3 encounters worth around 400 XP each. Your choice." "We'll take the big one." "Okay, whoever is in front make a Spot check at DC 20. Aww, damn, until they drop on you, you don't notice the cloakers hiding on the dark cave ceiling! Roll initiative!"
Play for keeps. Hey, you're letting them choose whether to fight or run or do something else, right? You're letting them read the MM and every supplement and letting them bring all that player skill to bear on the game problems, right? Shit, some of them even read the module you're running. So? So play for keeps. Try to kill their asses. Be fair, stick to the rules, and be ruthless. You told them it was CR 6, and they went anyway. A bunch of cloakers drop down and attack. Hey, maybe you'll kill the whole lot of them. Total Party Kill, baby. But if they win? Wow, that'd be awesome. They'd be pretty damned proud to survive that encounter with their four characters each level 2 or 3.
I think those things will help you Save Your Game a lot better than Jesse Decker's advice.