I've never played or run a D&D game, but I've wanted to for my friends. I have run other systems though. Which edition would you say is most fun and best to run for a group of beginners (including the GM)?
My normal answer would be "whichever one you are most familiar with because they all do pretty much the same thing," but since you are not familiar with any of them... any of them is fine. Seriously. You can enter D&D from any edition. Though I think going 2nd or 1st is making life difficulty for yourself for no good reason. The evolution from 3E to Pathfinder to 4E to 5E is mostly a story about streamlining and improving usability, though 4E wanders in some weird directions.
Look, first, last, and in between, 3rd (and Pathfinder) and 5th aren't as different as people think they are. If you know how to run an RPG and you're familiar with the tropes of RPGs and fantasy games, you can work out how to run any of them. The core action resolution system is basically the same. People complain about the amount of crunch in 3rd, but most of it doesn't get used at all and almost all of it comes down to resolving specific actions using specific skills. It's just loaded up with corner cases. 5E just glosses over the details.
4E does some different things in terms of how characters are managed and it fiddles with some of the basic mechanics, but the core action resolution is the same. I don't find it as versatile, I find it very constraining, but that's just me. Some people enjoy it and some people swear by it as a great entry point. I won't deny it is a great way to teach new players at low levels, but the complexity balloons out of control pretty quickly in 4E and it's kind of a mess with so many options and so many revisions to so many options.
In the end, though, the path HAS been an evolution. So there's really no reason to go backwards in my mind. If you're starting off and you have no attachment to any edition, you might as well enter with the most recent edition. Its current, new stuff will be coming out for it, and lots of people are talking about it. Right now, the number of options are constrained to a nice, manageable number which makes it easy to get in. 5E is easy enough to work out. There's really no reason to step backwards unless you have an attachment to something old. Just play what's current and you'll have a good time. That's my personal advice. Play 5E.
Last weekend, I ran a combat that went terribly, terribly wrong. The combination of monsters was going to lead to a party wipe, and I think it might have been due to my poor combat design... my "balanced" combat turned out to be a buzzsaw. What experience and advice do you have for such situations?
First of all, remember, DMs don't make mistakes. DMs create situations. Players make mistakes. Seriously, if the PCs were in danger of being completely wiped out, why the hell were they still fighting?! I assume you didn't lock them in a room with the baddies, right? They had avenues of escape, right? And they weren't fighting for the fate of the world or something so high stakes that their dying would have been worth it, right?
You may think I'm kidding, but that is actually my philosophy. It takes a hell of a lot for me to adjust an encounter I'm running at the table because the players have free will. If they choose to stay, they are choosing to live with (or die by) the consequences of that choice. And I'm not going to pull any punches just because they make the wrong choice. The combat may not be what I planned, but ultimately, it is no different from a fight in which the PCs are just getting wrecked due to the wrong combination of lucky and unlucky die rolls. I won't pull them out of that fight if they're not making the choice to leave, after all.
The thing is, if you put a combat into your game, you are accepting the possibility that you MIGHT kill the entire the party. That's what's at stake when a combat breaks out. If you can't stomach that, you can't run a combat. And if you start adjusting things to keep the PCs alive, whatever the reason, you're removing their agency. They don't control the outcome through their choices. You do. In essence, by ensuring they will win, you're railroading your players.
But, hey, if you're one of those DMs who feels that it is your duty to only present fights that are an even match and that the PCs should never be expected to run away and you misbalance a combat, well, you've taught your players not to run so you'd better fix it at the table. And frankly, how you fix it really doesn't matter. Some DMs believe you should do it in secret so the party doesn't know what you're doing. Fudge hit points, use hidden die rolls, and so on. But that's fraught with uncertainty and some players are very quick to notice it and they tend to get upset. You can just outright admit you unbalanced the encounter badly and offer the PCs the chance to flee (and you will let them escape) or offer whatever other way out seems appropriate (like ruling that the PCs have a nasty fight and ultimately win and handwaving the details away). Some DMs will balk at these approaches, but ultimately, the most important thing is avoiding the party wipe without risking the trust your players have in you. Admitting your error and wrapping up the fight off camera is the quickest, safest, most honest way.
What is in the center of the world?
Iron. You can look it up.
What techniques can you use to get players interested in the backstory of your setting? I am planning a dungeon that is an abandoned ruin of an ancient empire (Bael Turath), and I would like to get my players invested in the history of this empire (one of my antagonists' goal is to rebuild it).
I keep getting questions like this and I keep avoiding them. How do get people to be interested in this backstory or that plot or whatever. And the truth is, there's no really good answer. Sometimes people claim there is, but those people are not to be trusted. There is no one magic button you can press to make people get engaged in something.
But when it comes to backstory, let me tell you this: backstory ISN'T interesting. If the backstory were interesting, that's the campaign you'd be running. The reason you're not running it is because it is boring. That's why it's backstory. All backstory does is setup why things are happening the way they are. And very few people (though there are some) are interested in backstory for backstory's sake.
If you want people interested in the backstory, it's got to do something for them. Either it's got to make interesting promises. Or it has to offer a useful payoff. For example, if I talk about how an ancient civilization sealed away a terrible evil underneath a cathedral, I'm making a promise. I'm promising that that cathedral and that evil are going to be important in the future. There's a reason I'm telling you this s$&%. I'm creating anticipation. Players don't care about the evil itself, they care about how that is going to come up. And if it isn't going to come up, they aren't going to care. Thousand year old, dead noble houses aren't interesting because they're dead. No one cares.
On the other hand, if the backstory contains the explanation for how the great evil was defeated and suddenly the great evil looks like it's back, people are going to care because there's a payoff for knowing. It feels good to know. Now, the payoff doesn't have to be direct and obvious. Sometimes, just understanding why things are happening the way they are now and what created that situation feels good. If the campaign takes place in a mysterious haunted city and the PCs discover that a thousand years ago everyone in the city was slaughtered and starts to understand why the city is haunted the way it is, that's interesting.
The key is that most people aren't interested in backstory until it affects them in some direct way, either connecting to a current event or setting up a future event. And if your backstory is just fifty pages of narrative masturbatory world-building, no one can tell the promises and payoffs from the useless crap.
What is the Universe made of?
That seems like an unfair question. Only 5% of the universe has actually been identified by physicists and cosmologists and s$&%. And that's matter. Which is made of atoms. Which, by mass, are mostly protons and neutrons. And those are made of quarks. Except most of the mass of the protons and neutrons is all bound up in the forces that hold the quarks together. So basically, everything we see is actually just made out of this vague, hazy rule about how quarks always have to team up and the harder you try to pull them apart, the stronger they stick together. I mean, it isn't even "stuff" at that point. 5% of the universe is literally made out of the mathematical equivalent of Velcro.
The reason the question is unfair is because the other 95% of the universe hasn't been identified by all the smartest people ever to work on the question. About 25% of the universe is made of some sort of stuff that is invisible and doesn't interact with anything and is completely unidentifiable. The other 70% of the universe is made out of a vague sort of energy that is even stranger than the unidentified invisible stuff.
So, I don't know why I would be expected to know the answer to that question. Or are you actually asking on behalf of cosmologists and astrophysicists because they are hoping some random ask.fm user will happen to know what Dark Matter and Dark Energy actually are? Because that's highly unlikely. You guys are really grasping at cosmological straws now.
Two of the characters in my group have developed a releationnship (a halfling rogue and a watcher ninja), its interesting to watch develop. Have you ever had a situation like this?
Relationships are merely a drain on your emotions and your wallet. PC relationships are the same, only fake. Why would I give a s$&%?
In DgnWrld we find the wizard underpowered at 1st lvls and with an exp grow in power. I've read the goal is for it to be reminiscent of D&D, but as we haven't played much D&D I ask: What would be your take in a wizard class if you had no D&D "nostalgia/baggage"?
I guess it's the hardest class to do
Much as I enjoy Dungeon World, it is a one-shot game for me. I'll break it out now and then for a quick fun time, but I've never run it over the long-term and I've never run it for characters higher than about third level.
Now, I can say this: the wizard being limited in power at first level and growing in power and versatility as time goes on is very much reminiscent of D&D. There's no two ways about it. That is practically the D&D definition of wizard.
The thing is, I've thought long and hard about the wizard. And I'll say this much: I like the idea of growing in versatility, in having more options, as you become more powerful. It keeps things fresh and it feels like real growth. Some classes in some editions of D&D grow purely by numbers. And that isn't nearly as exciting or rewarding. I talked about this in my playthrough of Super Metroid ( https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGpNSlrWxNaaHM2CHtpMzMEtwI9a2UWRx
) and on my blog. But there's a fine balance to be struck. Versatility is nice until you have so many options that cover so many different situations that you can't keep track of them all and it's difficult to short-list them. A powerful wizard is very unfocussed. They can do a lot of different types of things in many different situations. They overshadow other characters AND it also isn't good for the wizard who has no sort of through-line or theme or defining characteristics.
And the versatility that wizards have is a weirdly false versatility, especially in later editions. Sure, they have a lot of spells that do a lot of different things, but those spells are each very specific and situational. It is hard to be creative with a magic missile spell. It is just "point at the thing you want to hurt and it is hurt." Breaking down magic into spells, into chunks of carefully defined rules ruins the versatility of magic to some extent. Honestly, if I were building my own wizard, I would dump spells and model them more as skills. For example, a skill for "producing fire" with some appropriate limitations of course. The game doesn't need burning hands and fireball and pyrotechnics and scorching ray. We just need a solid, versatile way of dealing with a wizard who can create fire. A way of adjudicating that.
It's very likely been asked but I scrolled a bit and couldn't find it.
What's the reason you still DM D&D, and how often do you play the other side of the game (as a player).
I am very rarely a player. I'm too creative and clever and witty and talented and handsome to be a player.
And I DM because with great power comes great responsibility. I'm the best DM there is, so I owe it to the world to run games.
What are some tips to create interesting, engaging dungeons? Most of mine feel kind of empty or simple.
This is a hugely loaded question and I doubt I can do it justice here. I'll try. But understand this is one of those things I'll eventually write about at my blog.
First, stop using the word "dungeon." A dungeon is an enclosed series of interconnected encounters. And there is nothing remotely interesting about an enclosed series of interconnected encounters. An adventure site has to have a story. A reason for being. It was built by someone. For a reason. http://dmwordoftheweek.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/dungeon/
What is the story of the dungeon? What did it exist? Who built it? Who lives there now? And so on.
Second, once you've got the story figured out, you want to focus on certain things. You don't want it to be scatter shot and feel like a random collection of crap. So, make a list of game elements: monsters, terrain features, hazards, traps, etc. that fit into the dungeon. You only need three to five to start off with. Also, make a list of three to five things that do nothing but hint at the story of the place. If the place was a shrine to an ancient god of warfare, you might decide that in one room, there are faded, tattered, and ruined warbanners that were deposited there by champions commemorating their victories. There might be discarded weapons and armor. There might be scrolls detailing historical battles. And those are things you can scatter around the dungeon to tie it together. And give little discoveries to the players to disentangle the story of the place. They are just decorations but they tie the place together. For the same reason, make a short list of specific locations or types of rooms that the party can stumble across to understand the dungeon's story. Maybe barracks, an armor, a forge where blessed weapons were forged, an altar or shrine, and so on. You don't have to spell out any of that crap, just put them all there and the players will either make the connections or they won't. But it'll make the place feel unified and whole.
Third, empty and simple are okay, as long as they are evocative. A site doesn't need to be big and sprawling to be interesting. Nor does every room need to be filled to the brim with encounters. As long as you scatter the story elements around and you add enough encounters, empty rooms and a simple layout will go unnoticed. Because really, what people want, is a sense that the place has a history that they are intruding on. That it's alive. Don't get bogged down in complexity or in over thinking it. People will tell you to think about the ecology of the dungeon and where the inhabitants find food and where they poop and all that crap. Those aren't terrible questions to ask, but they aren't the most important either, and if you skimp and shrug a little bit on some of them, it'll go unnoticed if it feels like there is a history to the place.
What is the point of a map? The ones where you spend hours drawing in the little hills and houses. I ask as it would help me to focus on what to draw and the quality to do it. It cannot be just for information or they would be just lines and circles with maybe some distances.
I get this question a lot. People look at the maps I draw and they ask this question and I always have the sense that what they really want to ask is "why are you wasting so much time on so much useless detail?" I'm a bit defensive. But then a lot of people are jerks, so defensive is only natural.
First, let me answer the actual question. Then I'll hit the implied question.
Maps have a lot of points. Obviously, a map is a visual representation of the relative or absolute locations of things. Duh. That's textbook definition. Right? It shows where s$&% is in relation to other s$&%. And there's lots of levels of detail that you might or might not include. For example, most of my maps lately don't bother with a grid or absolutely distances, though I usually have some sense in my head of the size of things and you can infer them from context. But if that level of precision is important, you include it. Otherwise you don't.
But maps can do more than just show positions. Maps can evoke flavor. Maps can tell stories. Maps can impart information. I did this little map of a village and the biggest, most prominent structure was a saw mill. And that alone tells you a lot about that village. It tells you what the people do there and how they make their money and that they are at home in the forest, that they rely on the forest. It tells you, even though I couldn't show it in any detail, that their houses are probably wooden. Maybe log houses. The workshops probably carpenters. And so on. But that assumes the person drawing the map is thinking it out along those lines. Maps are also art. They serve the same purpose as pictures in the book. They draw you into the world. They bring it to life in a way words just can't.
Now, everyone who draws or uses maps has to decide what they want to get out of them and put that level of work into them. Maybe you just need to know where the goblins are in the room relative to the PCs. Some lines and initials are all you need. But maybe you want something you can hand to your players that tells them about the world they're in. You gotta work harder at that.
As for the implied question that I always hear, "why do you waste so much time mapping" And I'm not implying you asked THAT question. Just going a step beyond in my answer, like I always do. It's because I enjoy it. It's relaxing to me. Some people paint miniatures. Some people build model terrain. I map. I do it to unwind and because it is fun.
How often do you have PC deaths? How do you handle it in general? When someone's about to die, do you press on as much as you can, or ease up on the gas?
Often! I'm really good at D&D and win a lot!
All right, seriously. I do not pull punches. I let the dice fall where they may and my players learn to live with the consequences of their choices, up to and including death. So, no, I don't ease up when a character is close to death. If characters are close to death, I rely on the players to figure out ways to turn that around.
That said, death is actually kind of a pain in the ass. It's really disruptive to the game and I kind of hate it. There's a few ways I deal with it. Let me suggest listening to NPC Cast Episode 41: Deaded, where NPC Chris and NPC Del invited me to discuss how to handle PC death with them. http://npccast.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/episode-41-deaded/
What are your feelings on having the PCs take control of a group of NPCs for a session to introduce a villain?
It's a good f$&%ing idea and a great way to let the players to see the world from a perspective that isn't their characters' for once. In my current Pathfinder campaign, my players are (sort of) reincarnations of heroes from past ages of the world. Every so often, we'll step away from our main adventure (mostly urban intrigue, guild politics, and dungeon crawler in the under city) and they will play a flash back of those past (pregen) heroes in historical events that influenced the current state of the campaign world. It helps break things up and it reveals the world's backstory in an interactive way.
Make sure you don't drag those things out. Fit your adventure into a single session (or two at most, depending on how often you play); don't drag it out. People don't want to be dragged away from their main characters for too long (and you lose the thread of whatever is going on). Make sure whatever happens in the one-off has some impact or gets called back in the main game somehow (so it's relevant). And keep the pregens simple and easy to grasp so people can just jump into the fun without having to learn too much s$&%.
I've been a devoted reader of your little Q & A here for some time. It seems to me that a lot of the questions you answer all amount to "What's the least amount of work I can do and still pretend we're having fun?" So, what's the least amount of work I can do and still pretend we're having fun?
First of all, if you're happy "pretending" to have fun, enjoy your delusion. But, I'd suggest if you don't actually find your gaming fun, you take up another hobby. Why would you want to waste your valuable time on pretend fun? There are lots of other hobbies out there.
As for the "least amount of work," thing? Yep. That's a perfectly natural question to ask. Once again, we're talking about a hobby. Something done for pleasure. Now, gaming - especially for a DM, but also for players - involves a certain amount of time invested just to make it fun. I mean, compare it to being on a baseball team. Right? The games are fun. Hanging out with your team is fun. But spending a few hours on a Sunday afternoon alone working on your pitching? Or going to practice even when you don't feel up to it? That's work. It facilitates fun, it's the price of fun, but it may not always be fun in and of itself.
That's just how it works. Some types of fun have a price. And if the fun is worth the price, you keep doing it. If not, if you're smart (see paragraph 1), you quit. Do something else.
That said, if you can find a way to minimize the cost without sacrificing the fun, you can change the equation. The benefit outweighs the cost that much more. Right?
There are parts of game prep that every DM hates. We all have something we hate doing. It's naturally to want to avoid that s$&% and focus only on the good stuff. But everything a DM does to prepare for a game is a tradeoff. They choose to spend free time preparing stats or building terrain or coming up with a list of twenty NPC names so they can populate a noble's ball on the fly next session or whatever. In return, the game runs more smoothly, the DM can run it more effectively, and everyone has more fun.
"What's the least amount of work I can do to have fun" isn't a bad question. Because its really "how can I get the most fun for the least amount of cost." In other words, "how can I be a more efficient DM?"
How often should enemies run optimal tactics? It's tempting/realistic to have Big Bads unleash everything on Round 1 and down 1-2 PCs (especially targeting the healer) before the PCs can react, then keep focusing on the weak PCs until they -stay- down, but that's not much fun for the players.
I hate this question. I just want to be clear on that. Because there's so much baggage and some f$&%wit always has to bring intelligence scores into it.
Look, here's the thing: a pitched battle against something that is going to kill you is pretty much the highest stakes situation a living being can face. Every creature in danger for its life is going to use the absolute best tactics available to it. That's it. From a fiction standpoint, anything less than that is horses$&%.
From a mechanics standpoint, the game assumes any creature in a fight is going to use the best tactics available to it. No game designer puts a power or a tactic in a monster stat block thinking it won't be used, or puts a fighting option in the combat chapter hoping it will never get used. So if you're leaving good tactics on the table, from a mechanics standpoint, you're f$&%ing up the difficulty curve.
Now, if you find your tactics are strong enough that your enemies routinely destroy your PCs (I've had this problem myself), you need to scale back the difficulty level of the encounters you build. Make your baddies less powerful. Don't try to adjust on the tactics side. Just set your game from Normal to Easy. That's what the Challenge Rating/Encounter Budget/Hit Die/Whatever system is meant for. It's meant to be a difficulty slider, not an absolute.
But where we run into problems and where I start to get pissed off is in the phrase "best tactics available to it." See, people make a lot of (pointless) noise about intelligence scores and wisdom scores and how tactically clever something is. They'll point to an orc fighter with an intelligence score of 6 and assume he has to be a moron in combat. They point to an animal and say "well, it is not smart enough to use tactics." But that's a load of bulls$&%. Animals in the real world are extremely tactically clever. Mainly because they aren't relying on reasoning ability, they are relying on millions of years of getting good at being predators or avoiding predators. And the orc fighter may be lacking in the logic department, but he's a goddamned elite fighter from a warrior society. He's going to be tactically very strong. Me, I find those arguments exhausting and useless. Because, honestly, they don't do the game any good and they don't really strain credulity if you actually think about what you're doing for even a moment.
But then, sometimes, some weirdness does come up. For example, does a wolf even know where a healing spell is coming from? Wolves are tactically very smart, very dangerous creatures, but can they figure out where a spell is coming from? I mean, I know they can figure out where an arrow is coming from because a dog will follow a thrown ball and can figure out where the source is. And that's where it all gets sort of hairy. Where do good tactics end?
My advice is this: play the creature. Make the decisions you think the creature would make. Just keep it rational. Don't be stupid.
What do you recommend for determining how much to tell players with monster lore? How do you determine it, and how much do you share?
I don't think I've made a secret of the fact that I prefer my players to make informed decisions insofar as it is possible, but I also like them to figure things out. I don't want them to know EVERYTHING but I want them to have the opportunity to learn EVERYTHING.
All in all, I tend to do things thusly. When I put a monster into the game, I have a sense of what a person in the world might "know" about that monster. I just kind of decide what things are knowable and what things are to be worked out in the fight or to be surprised by. My criteria is somewhat haphazard, but its all based around building good challenges and rewarding smart play and clever analysis.
When the players encounter a monster, as part of the flavor text, I tell them what they know about the monster. I just announce it. Up front. Because that's how recognition works anyway. You see a thing, you recognize it. And I don't bother with that crap about just telling the one person who has the knowledge and asking everyone else to pretend they don't know or asking the player to summarize everything in one six second sentence. I assume the PC, in the world, is yelling advice and information as it becomes relevant through the whole fight. "Whoa, don't get too close, it has a fire aura" whatever. I just sweep all that stuff aside and say "here's what it is, here is what is known."
And I'll tell you the honest truth, I hate Knowledge skill rolls. I hate them for a couple of reasons, but I've pretty much dispensed with the actual roll. If someone has the skill, I just give them the info. Done and done. That's your reward for Knowledge (Arcana), you (and your party) get to hear the lore entry for the elemental. And you hear it as part of the flavor text that sets up the scene or monster. That's how recognition works anyway. You see a thing, the information pops into your brain.
I never, EVER require a player to ask "do I know anything about what these are and can I make a Knowledge (Monster Lore) check?" That is s$&% DMing. If a PC might know a thing about a thing, you tell them. Immediately. Requiring players to access their knowledge skills actively shows a complete lack of understanding of how the human brain functions and is also anathema to role-playing. It is a speed-bump to role-playing. It f$&%s up the role-playing process in a fundamental way.
Geez man, it's getting kinda quiet around here. How was Gen Con?
In books, movies, series, etc, we see the villains on their own and that allows for depth and expansion of their characters. But in an rpg the villain only appears when the PCs see him. How would you give depth to the villain? I don't quite like the idea of monologues.
Movies and books have it easy. "Oh, how can we make our villain complex and sympathetic!" "Let's just show a flashback of the villain as a kid with his pet cat Fluffy that his evil tyrant father drowned in a burlap sack to teach him a lesson about power or eating his vegetables or something."
You've got to work harder. If you want your villain to have depth and complexity, you have to find ways to let your characters discover that stuff in the game, And monologues don't cut it. In fact, monologues are s$%&y because, by definition, they aren't interactive. They are passive. Players just listen. Nope. You need to let the players learn and discover things.
Maybe the players interact with people who work with the villain and who understand his motives? Maybe someone sympathetic to the villain comes to beg the PCs to leave the villain alone? Maybe they speak to someone who knows the backstory of the villain? Maybe they discover books, tomes, prophecies, diaries, whatever, that talk about the villain's past? Maybe when they ransack the villain's home, they find a picture of a cat and a collar that says "Fluffy." Maybe they discover the villain murdered his dad and then talk to the elderly valet who witnessed the fight. Maybe the find the orphanage the villain grew up in. Maybe they team up with the person who has the vendetta against the villain and fills in details. And that's passive ways to find out stuff.
More actively, there are always ways the players can interact with the villain. Maybe the villain meets with them in a place where they can't act, like a public street and the villain is a trusted public figure. Or the villain traps them someplace and leaves them to escape, but they get to have a conversation first. Or the villain invites them to dinner (again, in a public location) and tries to buy them off. Or the villain creates a hostage situation so they can't act against the villain without innocent people dying. Or the villain leaves notes or messages to taunt the heroes like Handsome Jack calling on the cell phone.
How do the players learn ANYTHING about the world? By interacting with the pieces of it and you give them the information to reward the interaction. Learning about the villain is no different.
In the Pathfinder Ultimate Combat book, in page 189, there's a little piece of fiction where Harks, the dwarf ranger, wants to get shot at a dragon with a catapult. Would you allow it, if you were running that game? If so, how would you handle it?
Haven't read it.
And why does it matter anyway? The question is whether YOU allow it. You're not at my table.
What is your view on players that do not trust their DM's. More importantly, how do you view DM's that have abused that trust and expect to be allowed to continue to abuse it due to "rule 1: the DM is always right"?
Abuse in this case being power fantasy railroading an the like.
Okay, I have to put on my hippie-dippie touchy-feelie hat here for this crap. Hold on. Okay, good. Ready?
You can't have a game without trust. When trust breaks down, the game is over. And people need to walk away. But trust is not really the issue here. It only seems like it is. In plain fact, what we have here, is players who don't like the way the DM handles the game.
Now, without actually sitting at a table and seeing things first hand, I won't pass judgment on whether the DM or the players is at fault and who's ruining the game and how. In the end, it doesn't matter. It's a game about pretend elves killing pretend orcs. The fault and the moralizing and all of that stuff is kind of pointless. All that actually matters is that the people at the table are not having fun.
And when that happens, there are only two solutions. First, everyone steps out of the game, sits down, has a frank discussion about what they want from the game, and tries to seek a compromise where everyone (player and DM) can be happy. If that fails, for whatever reason, the only other solution is for everyone to walk away. It's over. Game done. Players need to find a new DM (maybe one of them can do it) and DM needs to find new players. Or maybe the group stays friends and gives up RPGs. Maybe they go to movies or play board games or Super Smash Brothers.
And that's all it comes down to. I've got no "view" here on this. It isn't a thing to have "views" on. It isn't a matter of "bad DMs" and "good players." I know people like to focus on that crap, because we like to be able to point at the thing that went wrong and say "that's it, that's what's at fault." But that serves no useful purpose. It won't change anything. And, again, it's a game. It isn't a murder.
If the game stops being fun, you either talk it out or walk it out. Done and done.
How do you handle hostage situations?
I had a PC that would've died, but I thought it'd be more interesting if they fainted and the enemy used them as a hostage. The problem is I feel like it might cause hard feelings if the PC dies because of another player, but it can't be an empty threat.
Welp, you've got a problem. See, in real life a hostage situation is tricky on the hostage taker has to issue a credible threat to be taken seriously. But if the hostage taker has only one hostage and kills the hostage, the hostage taker now has NO leverage and things will usually be worse for the hostage taker than if the hostage taker had just gotten arrested for bank robbery or whatever. And that's exactly the problem you have. You have a PC as a hostage, but you can't pull the trigger without making everything worse for yourself. And the PCs can easily call your bluff and then you have to prove you're not bluffing.
You committed a cardinal sin my friend: NEVER EVER POINT YOUR DM-ING GUN AT SOMETHING IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO PULL THE TRIGGER. You put a PCs life in danger, you have to be willing to deal with a world where that PC loses his life. Don't run a game where the stakes are "the world will be destroyed" if you're not willing to blow up the world.
And I can't help but feel some of this happened because you tried to kick the can down the road. "The PC would've died, but you thought it would be 'more interesting' if they fainted." That suggests to me you were already unwilling to kill the PC and found an alternative. Which again, means you're pointing guns at things you're not willing to shoot. And your players probably know it. I get the sense that the players are trying to call your bluff. And that's a bad situation. The players don't take the threats of the game seriously. There are no stakes and no real tension after that. The game dies.
So, first of all, you have to decide for yourself, is this a credible threat. Is this the last chance for that PC to die? Are you willing to kill the PC. If you're not, let the PC regain consciousness and save his own damn ass, be done with it, and never put the PCs' lives in danger again. Because you can't credibly threaten them. But if you ARE willing to kill,...
The next thing you have to do is to make sure the players understand the stakes. Not the characters. The players. Break the fourth wall and tell them "just so you know, guys, this is for reals. He's dead dead if this goes south and he's making a new character." Make sure they know those stakes. Unambiguously. Be a hard ass.
And then, harsh as it is, you've got to make good on it. You gave them every chance to back out or put together a rescue plan. And they failed or they didn't take it. PC dead. As long as the PCs actually TRY to rescue their friend, you should be able to avoid hard feelings. If the players don't try... well... maybe you're running the wrong game for the wrong people and there's a problem of expectations and you all need to sit down and have a talk about what's going on in the game.
Now, don't make the rescue too easy. Don't pull one of those "any plan will work" thing or else the players will just take it as a sign you were bluffing. There needs to be a real chance of failure. And if it fails, it fails. Let it.
What is the meaning of the life in one word?
The one word that means life is LIFE. That's why we have the word life. To be the one word that means the things that life means. Do you not know how language works? What the f$&% is wrong with you?
You have said much on "What if the players know something that the character >shouldn't<". But what about the reverse? What if someone not very good with riddles plays a wizard with high intelligence? Is there a place for "My character is smarter than me and should be able to figure this out."?
I will NEVER understand how this is fun. My character is smarter than me, so I'll just roll a die to solve the problem. Woo hoo! And during combat, we can roll a die to see if your character is tactically better than you too. Hell, we can boil every decision your character makes down to a die roll based on stats and you never ever need to think.
Seriously, there is this whole myth of challenging the characters and not the players. But that idea is ludicrous on examination. Part of the reason people play RPGs is to make decisions for their characters. But if you're going to start assuming that the character will make different decisions than you will based on his mental ability scores or any other stat, you're no longer making those decisions. Likewise, when it comes to dealing with obstacles, be they riddles, puzzles, combats, or any other challenge, the moment you remove the players' ability to come up with their own plans and solutions, you might as well just be flipping a coin for every obstacle.
It's all well and good to say "I want to play someone smarter than me," but if you take that too far, you're not really playing the game anymore. You're just executing a random program. You're winding up a toy and watching it make its own way through the game.
Frankly, I think Intelligence is the most problematic ability score in any game. It CREATES a disconnect that, if it was actually implemented properly, would remove the players from the game.
Honestly, though, the only reason any player actually says that (my character should be able to figure this out) is because they are frustrated by the puzzle you've put in front of them and they don't see any way to proceed around it. So maybe you need to rethink your design and figure out why you are frustrating your players. Maybe you need more hints and clues available. And I don't mean that copout bulls$&% of the "get a clue roll." I mean legitimate hints and clues that can be found in the world. You also may have created a situation where your players feel bottlenecked and feel like that can't proceed without solving the puzzle. Maybe they need a more visible way around the puzzle or permission to not defeat the puzzle.
A Rogue PC sneaks up behind a fighter NPC. The NPC is fully armored, but fails to notice the PC as she slips up behind him and slits his throat. Many GM's would make the player roll against AC and for damage. I don't think that makes sense. How wold you handle it?
Honestly, I am inclined to agree with you. But I'll be honest. It depends.
If this were a pitched battle, then, yes, I would fall back on an attack and damage roll because the NPC is on guard and being on guard in a pitched battle is different from being completely unawares. Whereas an unaware individual not in battle would not be able to do anything in that moment of realization that his throat is being slit, the combatant in the pitched battle might do just enough in that one moment to change the outcome.
But, putting aside that, assuming the rogue simply snuck up behind a fully armored NPC standing idly on guard duty or whatever? The rogue could kill the guard in one shot. No attack. No damage roll. The Stealth roll covers it all. See, my philosophy is that one die roll is USUALLY enough to cover a single action. And an action, in this case, is assassinating the guard. That is what the character intends to do. Once the character starts sneaking, there are no real decision points after that. Either he gets caught or he slits the throat. He's not going to stop after a successful sneak and change his mind. So, that's an action.
That said, if we're really really talking fully fully armored here? And if we want to get really nitpicky? Well, throat-slitting ain't gonna do it. At the very least, the NPC is going to have a chain coif under his helmet and his breastplate, so that knife is not going to slit anything. You might be able to penetrate it with a stab, but that's a very different maneuver and unlikely to work. Alternatively, the fully armored knight is probably wearing a gorget, which is basically a steel neck brace.
The thing with armor, especially full armor, is that it's designed to keep people from killing you easily. And sneaking up and throat slitting relies on a very quick. easy, clean kill. So... yeah...
But in general: 1) go with as few die rolls as possible, 2) focus on die rolls at decision points, 3) don't use combat rules unless there really truly is a combat happening.
Angry, what are your favourite (i.e. mostly un-hated) board games? Please do tell!
Okay, I'm a little out of date. I haven't bought a really new board game in a while. And I don't get to play board games as much as I'd like. And I won't claim I like a game that I've never played. But, for what it's worth, here are a bunch of Board Games I Don't Hate...
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Thing
Legendary: The Marvel Deckbuilder
Lords of Waterdeep
The Awful Green Things from Outer Space
Red Dragon Inn
I read much on "good DMing". Now I probably have inflated expectations. And I'm somewhat afraid to start actually finding a group to join (as a newb player), because "what if the DM/players sucks?" Maybe I'll be hyper-critical and won't be able to enjoy it. Is this a real concern? Am I stupid?
This is a constant concern of mine. Because I am such an excellent player and Dungeon Master, I can't find anyone that lives up to my standards. The only solution is to never participate in games ever. That way you can't ever be disappointed.
Look, seriously kid... or whoever you are... have you stopped going to movies because there is the possibility that some will be bad? Have you stopped playing video games because you might run across a bad one? Do you avoid new restaurants and new foods because some of it might not be good? That's no way to live. And it's no way to game. There is a vast vast gulf between good game and awful game and a lot of middle ground. And a game has to be pretty bad before it stops being fun. As long as you are willing to find the fun in it.
The trouble with hyper-criticality is that often things aren't as bad as you tell yourself they are. If you are overly sensitive to tiny issues, then all you will see is those tiny issues. So, you won't force yourself to find the fun in the games you play. You will NEVER find the perfect game. It does not exist. Unless I'm running it. So, if you don't learn to let some concerns and problems wash over you like water off a duck's corpse, you'll never EVER have any fun. Even though most games are going to have issues, very few of those issues really actually matter in any real way unless YOU choose to make them matter.
Alternatively, you can just keep reading about good games that you aren't playing in.