Monday, December 26, 2016

Lurker's Corner ~ A Cold Examination of the Barrow Fight

Here we are, Monday again, and there haven't been many posts on the blog this past week.  At the same time, I am thinking sincerely of making the Lurker's Corner a regular thing . . . but perhaps once a week is too often.  There were many, many comments on the post last Monday, however, and that is encouraging.

I did say a week ago that I would wait until the combat was over before making any personal comments about what I felt had gone wrong with the party.  We only managed to get three rounds accomplished since then . . . but with Gudbrand dead, as Rowan slides into unconsciousness and both Aleksandra and Lothar likely to be attacked by two or three beetles each, things have gone far enough that I don't think any of my comments right now can seriously change the party's situation.

Let me just say that as I write this, it is round 11 and I'm waiting for Aleksandra to make a move and end the party's action for the round.  I hope to publish this after that move is made, so that the players are locked into whatever the 12th round might bring.  But I'm going to publish as soon as I'm done.

As the DM here, I have the benefit of knowing what the party was about to meet, so in many ways what I might say about their "errors" could be construed as unfair.  After all, I did not need to throw 12 beetles at them.  I could have thrown 6 or 3.  Moreover, I could have set up the "dungeon" so that the party had plenty of time to get down the makeshift rope together, even plan a strategy before they got attacked.

I didn't, however.  I didn't think about how the party might react.  I thought what might conceivably make a home for itself in a barrow in Norway; I began with the premise that it ought to be something that could dig up from below, since the top of the barrow would be all stone.  Once I decided upon beetles, primarily because it was an opportunity for the party to harvest the nodes on the beetles' for coin, I decided that given that it was Spring, the weather would be moderately warmer and that they would have begun to lay their eggs.  I envisioned four pits, and decided an average of three beetles per pit would be fair.

I decided that one pit would attack up front, once provoked, rolling 2-4 beetles appearing.  Then, each round following, I would roll a d6 to see if the beetles from the other pits joined in.  The first round, each pit would join on a 1; the round thereafter the pit would join on a roll of 1-2, then 1-3, then 1-4, as long as it took.

As it happened, one other pit joined in with the 3rd round after Aleksandra woke the first beetles, in round 4; then the other two pits woke together the round after, round 5.

I want to emphasize that what follows is only my opinion about how the players should have handled the situation.  But let's also be clear; I have done nearly a hundred combats with players since developing these movement rules about 8 years ago, some of those combats ridiculously huge.  I have noticed some patterns in that time.

Here are some issues I think are worth addressing:

Online Thinking

I'd don't know what else to call this.  Now that I've started some twenty people in my online campaigns, I have to wonder what sort of worlds that people run in.  Knowing that you have limited resources, and knowing that you WILL get other proficiencies in the future, why oh why would you not take a club as a proficiency?  Why would you presume that because it isn't on the market list that a club is something that can't be made?

First and foremost, why would the ranger choose to put his highest stat under charisma, particularly since his age would have assure an 18 strength, with +1+2 bonuses, if he hadn't decided to throw the 17 away on a fairly useless stat for a ranger to have.  Surely, a 13 would have been sufficient!

Similarly, why would a low-level assassin choose bolas as a proficiency?  Not a dagger?  Not an easy to find weapon, or one that would suit the environment?  There is a reason that bolas developed on the Pampas, a big, open plain, with very few trees, rocks or objects between hurler and target.  I've noticed that there's something strange about people's choices ~ put something strange on the list and players will be drawn to it like a moth to a bug-zapper . . . only to get killed by it, just like a moth.  Given that the bolas couldn't even be purchased in the present circumstances of the assassin, assigning this as a proficiency, when the assassin would have gotten another one after three levels, makes no sense.

But it is the sort of decision I've gotten used to seeing online people make.  At least the sort of mistake Gudbrand made, failing to buy weapons, is a mistake I've seen live people make.  But in all my playing of D&D, right back into the the 80s, I've never seen players make the kind of choices I see them make online. This goes double when we get to the battle sequence, below.

Failure to Take Advantage of Resources

Let's start with the players who decided that they absolutely would not hire their men-at-arms.  It stated clearly in the background generator that these people were friends!  Dani's started with the thoroughly great morale of only 6, meaning that on a 2d6 she had a 27 out of 36 chance of being willing to die for Dani in a bad situation. 

But the 6 g.p. was too high a price, given that Dani had only 10 to her name.  Nevermind that Gudbrand could have easily afforded it (he had 70 g.p.) or Rowan (who had 190 g.p.).  Lothar had a harder decision ~ the morale of his friends would not have be as well as Dani's, and the men-at-arms were more expensive.  Still, one of them would have been useful for a dungeon, given that they were sappers, and therefore could have managed getting in on their own.  As well, they would have spent the 24 g.p. on some equipment of their own, something I would have thought to bring even if the party did not.

And let us not forget that Engelhart's older sister would have worked for FREE.

Two extra men in the battle could have made a real difference . . . at least one of them could have hauled on the rope, dragging people up, so that they didn't have to climb once they were all inside.

It was argued that the party was very short of funds, but there was Engelhart's boat just sitting there in the harbor, worth hundreds of gold, while Lothar had access to 450 g.p. in stolen furs.  All I said about those was that it wouldn't be a good idea to sell them in Stavanger.  Did the party not consider selling them someplace else?  Someplace that it would have been relatively safe to get to, without being attacked viciously by a dozen monsters?

And what about Engelhart's family, where is says on his background that "friends of the character will be treated well"?  Did the party not think this would mean they could get fed?  I made sure that Engelhart's grandfather gave the party some presents.  Why did no one think to approach the grandfather and ask for an axe or something?  I would have probably given an old battle axe, good damage and break on a 1 in 4 if dropped.  But no one even asked. Lothar could have holed up there for a week, surely ~ "treated well" would certainly have included nursing his ills!

Failure to Read or Comprehend Description

I have to believe this has everything to do with how other people run their games.  I had made it fairly clear before the party decided to go out to any of the barrows that I could make them more "interesting."  Has no one heard the [erroneously attested] Chinese curse?  How clear do I have to make it?  Should I have said, "Oh, I'm sure I can put things in the barrows fully capable of killing you"?  Do I have to make it that clear?

But the assassin dove in first without any hesitation, despite a serious lack of proficient weapons.  Then there was an interesting disconnect, one which Aleksandra may not have understood.

Initially, she said that "Once everyone is down who wishes to be down, I toss a rock towards the red glow." [The Barrow's Entrance]

This is a difficult phrase, one which I always encourage players NOT to use.  See, as a DM, I never, ever, assign any importance to what a player says they "will" do.  Planning to do something is not the same as doing, and in order to keep order at the table I don't presume that anyone does anything until they state clearly that they ARE doing something.  Which Aleksandra does, in the next post:

"Alright.  I toss one of my rocks towards 1008." [Under the Barrow]

With all the confusion that has gone on with the previous post, with players starting and stopping themselves from going down the twine, I started the next post on the campaign so that it would be understood that only two actual people were DOWN: Aleksandra and Lothar.  I stated that Aleksandra could hear nothing, adding that the sound of her heart in her ears was "the loudest sound you can hear."

I don't know why she presumed that there was nothing to be frightened of at that point.  It got confusing, with Engelhart somehow thinking he could see Aleksandra (when it was clear from the image that he wasn't in the room), as well as Engelhart, Gudbrand and Rowan all indicating in three successive posts that they assumed were all down the rope, even though I had not told any of them that they were, even going so far as explaining that they had weapons out and were ready.

This was absolutely profound to me.  I had explained the rope/twine situation, had explained that it would take rounds of time to get down, had shown in an image that only Lothar and Aleksandra were in the room.  But presuming all three had read Aleksandra's post about throwing the rock, they ALL seemed to suppose that the world would stop spinning on its axis long enough for them to all climb down the twine (2 rounds for each) before anything would actually happen in the room.

This sort of thing is so frustrating.  I said there was a glowing in the room, then ignored the party hauling out torches because there was no need for them.  Once the party was out of the sunlight, the glow from the four pits was more than enough to see inside ~ but I didn't make this clear enough and that fault is on me.

And worst of all, in the midst of trying to explain all the confusion to the players, I completely missed that Lothar had pulled his bow and made it ready to use.  So, as a matter of fact, I owed Lothar a bow shot in the first round of the beetles appearing.  Unfortunately, Lothar took my mistake as a DM's ruling [which he shouldn't have], so that he stated again in round 1 that he was loading his bow, when he should have been screaming at me that his bow was already loaded, stated clearly in the previous post.

After all, when I was bitch-slapping the three people who were still up-top, Lothar was in the room and did have plenty of time to load the bow.  Therefore, I wasn't speaking to him at all ~ something that would have been obvious, had we all been sitting around a table.  But we weren't, we were trying to do this in text, and in the interest of saving everyone's time, the whole comment thread became a nightmare.

Would Lothar's bow shot have made a difference?  Possibly.  We'll never know.  I make mistakes, I totally discounted that shot, Lothar assumed I was on top of it so he didn't bitch-slap me and the shot was lost.

It is difficult to run this game in voice; it is insane to do it in text.  The only thing I can do is to try to browbeat people into understanding HOW to communicate, one step at a time, not saying what they'll do in advance of someone else doing something, but to concentrate on exactly what they do right NOW and at no other time. The failure to grasp this definitely led to a lot of misunderstandings, and those misunderstandings led to big trouble when the battle got started.

The Party's Inexplicable Choices

First, I want to explain that the party had LOTS of hit points.  Look at the hit point damage from the end of the beetles' attack in Round 11: the party has taken 77 damage and three of them are technically still on their feet.  Even with the inexhaustible supply of bad luck experienced by the party, it is clear from the potential damage they could take that they had a deep, deep well from which they could expend hit points, waiting for things to get better.

Why didn't things get better, then?

Well, start with Gudbrand from Round 2.  He had disappeared most of the day, I was anxious to keep the campaign going, so I rolled a d20 for him and caused him to hit and kill the beetle in front of him.

This led to a bunch of unnecessary self-recrimination, that simply could have been overlooked.  Instead, it caused the player behind Gudbrand to indicate that he was running out of the combat, apparently hiding behind Aleksandra, rather than just attacking one of the two beetles remaining.  Who knows!  That attack might have hit ~ and even if it didn't, Gudbrand just being there in front of the beetle, giving the beetle something to hit other than Aleksandra.  But by taking himself out of the battle for Round 3, he basically crippled the party's combat strength by 50%.

Then he does it AGAIN in Round 4, deciding that the right thing to do is abandon the party completely, because he's busy with his real life and had chosen not to "burden" the party by staying behind and helping them live.  And this in the face of seeing right there on the screen that the party has just acquired 4 new enemies.  I didn't know what he was doing for sure, but I suspected: it was only when, in Round 5 he actually declared he was leaving the barrow, that I had evidence ~ whereupon I threatened to dump his cowardly ass out of the campaign, causing him to suddenly decide that maybe he better carry his own weight.  By then, of course, four rounds of damage dealing or taking had been lost, since even in Round 6 he hasn't made an attack.

Which brings us to Engelhart, who got onto the floor of the barrow in Round 4, at the same time those beetles appeared.  And what does he do?  Does he rush right over and help Lothar kill the beetle that is right there, within reach?  No, he rushes for "higher ground," where he'll have to wait a whole round (in which time he is totally useless) before he can get a mere +1 bonus.  Meanwhile, Lothar misses, and is now the only target that can be hit by the beetle in front of him.  Engelhart could have been right there to perhaps soak up some of that damage, but he isn't, he's well away from any danger.

In Round 4 the players seem to be working together ~ for what it is worth, ganging up on one beetle.  But while Rowan could have thrown his club at the oncoming beetles, he instead decides to spend all his movement accomplishing nothing that round.  He had a spear!  Why didn't he throw the club and fight with the spear?  At the same time, Lothar and Engelhart turn their backs on the oncoming beetles, when a hammer could have been thrown ~ except that the cleric took a maul as a 1st level weapon, in a forested/cave land, making about as much sense as a bolas.

At least they hit the beetle.  And no great problem, since the beetles don't have enough move to attack them anyway, so they can easily turn around and just fight.

Except . . . they don't!  Lothar continues to keep his back to the four beetles attacking, in order to kill that one that's been hit before, presumably because it will be easier to kill.  Do they teach this sort of maneuver in military school?

Meanwhile, Aleksandra attacks and then retreats, ensuring that Lothar has no support at all, since Engelhart has done the same.  Thus, when the beetles move in, the split the party in half, since of course they rush into the empty pocket the party created.

Now, this sort of thing has nothing whatsoever to do with bad rolls.  This is just horrendously bad tactics ~ but it gets better.

Engelhart widens the gap still further by continuing to back up, so that as Lothar does the same he still doesn't have anyone at his back and there's still a gap.  Meanwhile, Gudbrand is front and center, the first and best target in front of the beetles, where his +1 defense looks pretty pathetic.  And since Engelhart is at the back of this mess, the one fellow with the most hit points at this point has put himself where he is threatened by only one beetle.

In Round 7, both Gudbrand and Lothar are predictably stunned ~ they're the most vulnerable characters.  Engelhart doesn't get attacked at all, so that the weight of the next round is certain to fall on Rowan, who has nowhere to throw Gudbrand except in front of the beetles.  Engelhart is totally blocking the party's retreat by sitting in the totally useless fullback position.  The party is in huge trouble right now, with only two real defenders, both three hexes apart.

Then Rowan, beyond inexplicable, ignores the four beetles in front of him to again turn around and attack a beetle that Engelhart can absolutely handle.  Why?  I have no idea.  This blows my mind . . . particularly as it means he and Gudbrand will be swarmed by five beetles the following round.  

Then, while Engelhart moves towards Lothar and Aleksandra ~ presumably to close the hole ~ he creates another one, totally abandoning Rowan and Gudbrand at this very critical moment.  And again, the cleric manages to get himself into a position where he will experience only one attack in round 8.

This is so consistent it is almost hard to believe it isn't deliberate; I don't think it is, though.  Engelhart floats all over the battlefield, however, and either by luck or intention keeps avoiding being in the thick of it.  And while he may not have wanted to keep avoiding being attacked, he certainly never rushes forward to risk all to hold the party together!  He's in the center for three rounds and yet he's never in the thick of it.

So, in Round 8, the inevitable happens.  Gudbrand gets his ass kicked all over, leaving Rowan with his ass hanging out.  But instead of saving Rowan by attacking the beetles in front of the druid, the ranger rushes over and stands over Gudbrand's practically dead body (-8 is pretty much out of the question), while Engelhart plainly runs away from the center position to attack the lone beetle that Rowan hit two rounds ago.  And, making my jaw drop, Lothar also ignores the threat to Rowan and attacks that beetle as well.  But at least the ranger is using his body as a shield.

Now, I don't know how Engelhart feels about this.  Perhaps there is some logic here ~ but the fact is, he's completely avoiding being attacked by the beetles between Rowan and Aleksandra, while both Engelhart and Lothar abandon Aleksandra completely.  

I think perhaps the continuous missing had a psychological effect.  Certainly, by this time the Lurker's Corner post had gone up last week and everyone was talking on the campaign as if hitting was "impossible," so why even try?  That was a very bad head space to get into.

With the tactics employed, there was no chance of this going good places.  Aleksandra is surrounded by beetles in Round 8, Lothar and Rowan are getting swamped by the other five beetles and Engelhart is, once again, conveniently out of the struggle.  All those hit points that Engelhart has, that could help others not be stunned, are just sitting there.

Rowan runs out of luck in Round 9, Lothar also.  Now it is totally up to Engelhart to hold the line; Aleksandra, getting really lucky this round, realizes that she has to get back to where others can help her.

And now, seeing what Engelhart does, there's no question in my mind.  He walks away from Lothar, leaving the ranger to be attacked by 3 beetles, while retreating to a place where he has only one beetle to face.  How many ways are there to interpret that?

Round 10.  Gudbrand dies, but its a good thing, because three beetles begin to feast on his corpse.  This gets them out of the fight altogether.  Yay.  Aleksandra, who did not get supported by Engelhart moving Lothar into 0910 and taking the brunt of the attack at last, is now attacked by four different beetles.  Of course she is hit twice, miraculously making a check and remaining conscious.

Desperate now, Lothar overbears the beetle between him and the rope out of this hell-place, succeeding and using the beetles eating Gudbrand as a shield to try and get out.  All he needs is for Engelhart to step up, try to kill the beetle he's just moved or at least keep the beetle engaged long enough to let Lothar escape . . .

But Engelhart doesn't.  Instead, Engelhart uses this golden opportunity to flee completely out of the battle, ostensibly to cast a healing spell for 5-8 points.  Of course, the party is easily losing double that per round from the beetles attacking, and they'll all be dead by the time the cleric gets his spell off, but that's how it goes.  When all the beetles are feasting on everyone else, Engelhart will be in the perfect position to climb the rope and escape.

I'm sorry, but that is how I see this.  The party made huge tactical errors, repeatedly splitting themselves up when they could have been fighting together.  Gudbrand the assassin frittered, letting the real world intervene in his character choices, whereas Engelhart ~ by chance, by poor tactical decision or by sheer unwillingness to put himself in danger, perhaps because he lost the will to believe his die could roll above a 13 ~ wound up abandoning the party when his hit points would have increased the chances of everyone's survival.

Now, I don't want people to accept the above as fact.  I am one fellow, I'm not perfect.  I made several errors in running this game and was called out, justifiably, by all the characters, including the fellow behind Engelhart.  I'm just as capable as anyone of misinterpreting something.  Don't let my position as DM or blog-owner discourage you from telling me I'm wrong [politely, without name-calling, if you would be so kind].

42 comments:

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I think I reacted too strongly to this comment. The part about "staying up [above the barrow] until Friday":

https://juvenis-campaign.blogspot.com/2016/12/round-2-aleksandra-gets-bitten.html?showComment=1481777209488#c7826802657064704866

I read it and thought, "Oh, then I should just get Gudbrand out of here so that the game goes faster." It seemed like I was dragging things out unnecessarily.

But I should have confirmed with you and the party whether I was actually moving too slow and whether removing myself until Friday (or whenever) was OK, instead of just immediately choosing to run away.

~~~

I wasn't expecting you at all to say that I had an axe after I explained I hadn't bought one. That seemed to go against your normal principles (e.g. not letting Engelhart retroactively apply his reduction to falling damage.)

What was it that made you rule one way and not the other? They both seem like the same category of error.

Reasons I can think of: sticking to precedent established by the attack roll you made (which didn't bother me btw); not wanting to waste more time; more lenient with "forgot-to-get-weapon" error than "forgot-to-apply-ability" error; willing to overlook errors since I brought up my real life business.

Scarbrow said...

I don't even qualify as a "lurker" since I'm not reading the Juvenis campaign (yes, I should). However, this commentary highlights (on a really cold, glaring light) how different Alexis' game is from what it's usually considered D&D.

I'm only adding this paragraph for context: mainstream gaming has become ridiculously easy, in terms of preparation needed to do battle. See, I'm currently playing Dragon Age (videogame, 7-8 years old). It's not D&D per se nor it intends to be... except it's quite obviously a derivative without the trademarked brand-name. A spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate (which was AD&D, through and through). As with every "modern" videogame, penalties for players are irksome, but not deadly. Being asleep, stunned, poisoned or frozen are all temporary conditions. Most attacks will not kill. Healing is plentiful (both with magic and potions), quick and painless. Tactics are unneeded, most of the time. Only "tough" enemies (clearly marked as such in a dozen ways, and found only one at a time) have any chance of killing (a temporary condition, anyway) a decently geared character. And gear is ridiculously plentiful, to the point of finding full sets of plate armor with magical augments lying around on old sacks or crates on dungeons, not even locked. By that time you are even avoiding picking them up, because you're loaded with a dozen more pieces from other sources.

Going back to Alexis, I'm baffled by the statement: "Why did no one thing to approach the grandfather and ask for an axe or something?". I wouldn't have. "Alexis won't just give away equipment for free, that's for sure", would have been my first thought. Doesn't that count as "gaming the DM", something you have endlessly railed against, including your own book? Commerce yes, I would have expected trade to work (which reader of this blog wouldn't?). But "getting something for free" from an NPC... my mental-model-of-Alexis is frowning sternly at me, and will surely start to yell if I insist.

About parties sharing their funds (which I understand was a way to afford the men-at-arms they decided they couldn't afford) I blame the character generation process at large. Yours, specifically, but all the other ones in every other game in history too. You make do with what you're given. Funds are not pooled, because if they were to be pooled, why did they were specifically allocated to each character? It's more than a question of greed (of course greed is present, you gave it to me, it's mine!). It's a question of defaults. Given a baffling assortment of decisions to make within the reference frame, surely a player must feel overwhelmed. How can you blame them for not thinking outside the box? You very well understand cognitive biases, for you use them (heck, you specifically design your market tables to make sure items are difficult to find, and explicitly say so).

This does not deny player's selections being suboptimal or based on the rule of cool (really, bolas?). And I would have tried anything in my power to retain my man-at-arms, but that is only because I've been reading you for years. I know that much about you, and your system. If the players of your offline campaign walk with a retinue in the dozens, there must be solid reasons. I suppose you clearly explained that to the Juvenis players, but alas, it's difficult to remove the concept of "invulnerable hero adventurers" out of your head, isn't it? Same as for the 5-8 points of healing. We're used to insta-cast, insta-heal.

Thank you for the commentary.

Aleksandra Ivanovna said...

Very humbling. I will do better, and I'm sure my compatriots will do as well.

Butch said...

As a veteran of the Senex campaign, I think it would be impossible to overstate what a huge advantage it was for us to have James (Andrej/Sofia) as a member of our party. Not only because he's a great player, but because he'd been playing in Alexis's campaign and knew the rules very well. On top of that, his presence gave us a clear leader, IC and OOC, and I think that would have benefited the Juvenis group immensely.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Maxwell,

I gave you an axe in the hope of helping the party not die. Technically, you're right, it is the same sort of error that Engelhart made, or Rowan in not casting his shillelagh before heading down. Yours was a larger error, however, since surely you would notice all the other characters carrying around these weapons ~ and surely they would notice that you weren't! And probably said, "Hey, aren't you going to buy a weapon?" It is unlikely that they would say something like this to Engelhart or Rowan.

Scarbrow,

My rhetorical questions were mostly dramatic ~ I do know many of these conditions with other games, and know how easy those games are. I've recently played, so I know that people get all sorts of easy shit just handed to them.

But it does state that the grandfather and sister would have cared for the party; and the grandfather DID give something to the party. There is an old, old aphorism that says, "Help will be given to those who ask for it." Of course I could have said "No," but it never hurts to ask.

Why wouldn't I give equipment away for free? Have I ever said, "NPCs must always be assholes to players"? The Senex campaign is full of players getting free stuff . . . hell, I just gave them some free pomegranates this month. But why read the Senex campaign, yes?

As regards sharing funds: I know of no rule that I've ever established against it.

Yes, players must feel overwhelmed. Yes, the bar must be very high. But I will point out that these players were very excited about playing in MY campaign. They knew the bar was going to be high. It was still their job to clear it.

And finally, this post was not written as an indictment. It was written as an explanation. In part, to help the players of both campaigns be more aware, but also to encourage DMs to hold players accountable for their actions. To argue that a DM ought not to let the players' casual play get a free pass.

However these players come out of this experience, they will ALWAYS remember it. This battle will remain in their minds much longer than most they've played, because it reminded them that there IS a box. It is a real issue that players don't think outside of a box because they've forgotten what the box is.

Aleksandra,

. . . and for all those who feel humbled. It is just a game. Everyone loses when they're new.

Lothar Svensson said...

Yeesh, I am kicking myself so hard right now.

So many things I could have done better, and would have done better if I hadn't been in such a rush or making stupid assumptions. Lessons learned: Know all your options before setting out - i.e. chilling at Engelhart's place for a week to get over the cold. That would have made me feel better about getting on the sloop and sailing the furs to Bergen, or sailing up to Sauda to cash out some of my credit.

But I never thought to ask about that, partly because it wasn't brought up in conversation, and partly because I never asked about it. Too eager to "get started."

As for the Charisma thing, I was trying too hard to game the background generator system. I was looking for some men-at-arms from it, which I did get, but I totally failed to think, "Oh, maybe I'll have to pay them right away." - Maximillian never mentioned having to pay for his buddies in the old campaign, though his initial purchases weren't published on the blog as far as I remember so I shouldn't have (again) assumed. If I still stupidly insisted on having the 17 in charisma, I ought to have gone whole hog and played a Paladin. Too many conflicting agendas, and too little time spent processing.

And the combat? Again, yeesh. Back up your team, don't put your back to the enemy. Focus on the living. Standing over Gudbrand was in a vain hope that we'd be able to pull out of our tailspin of tactical errors and maybe all still survive. Such hopes were promptly dashed. By more tactical errors.

+5 hindsight facepalm. Lessons learned. The hard way.

Matt said...

I'm going to speculate a little on player thoughts and motivations, and obviously as I am not those players I may be completely wrong, but here is what I think.

First, proficiencies. Here I think that there may have been either some misunderstanding of the rate at which proficiencies are gained, or a misjudgement of how long simple, easily acquired weapons will be useful. Considering the proficiencies are limited, a forward thinking player would want to pick proficiency in a weapon they plan on using, even if it is not available now. "If I will soon only be using Bolas, why do I need proficiency in a stick?" Blame this on the permanence of items in almost every game of D&D being played. At most tables, even if beginning loot is scarce, players will quickly be able to afford their preferred weapon, and will never have to worry about maintaining or losing it. In such games using a limited proficiency slot for a club is foolish. In a game where you may, at any time, find your weapons lost or broken, and may be miles from civilization, proficiency in a club makes much more sense.

Second, on utilizing resources. I think here the party, in an effort to be on their best behavior, missed a lot of opportunities. No one wanted to seem scheming and weasly by forgoing the shops to pick up clubs from the forest. No one wanted to be seen as trying to cheat or game the system by asking for favors or gifts from thier friends. No one wanted to seem timid by suggesting the party wait out an illness in the safety of town. No one wanted to seem nagging by asking about those furs that were a bad idea to sell in town. No one wanted to be kicked from the game for any of theae reasons, as everyone was keenly aware that their performance was being judged. This is apparent when the players began questioning if they would be allowed to roll New characters and try again.

As for mismanagement of funds, well, I think there was a snowball effect. Everyone felt underequiped. Consider that modern D&D is willing to hand out a couple top tier weapons, and some of the best armor, in addition to a pack of adventuring necessities, to a level 1 Fighter. Money spent on henchmen is even less for much wanted (thought needed) equipment for the PC in question. Perhaps there was also some fear that the players would be unable to manage their hirelings, and thus be booted for poor performance. Overall though, I think this just comes down to undervaluing henchmen.

And then, Tactics. I think that maybe there was some concern that the obvious course of action (stand there. Hit the enemy) was dumb play. With all the rules for movement and tactical manuevering, to just group together and hit the closest things that were attacking may have felt like dumb play. I think the players may have been overthinking the system, trying too hard to explore and exploit it to just act. Especially if any AP might be wasted in the action.

Matt said...


My advice to the party if they give it another shot:

Stop assuming and start asking questions. Figure out ALL of your options and learn howto exploit ALL of your resources before continuing.

Get comfortable arguing with Alexis. If you can support your argument with past rulings, an overlooked situation, or solid facts Alexis may rule in your favor. Remember that he is human, he makes mistakes, and that ultimately he is out there in the Barrow with you, just facing the opposite direction.

Coordinate. Pool resources. Build characters that compliment each other. Choose Proficiencies you can afford. Prepare to share equipment and roles. You are a team. Ask your teammates if a stat assignment, spell selection, or equipment purchase makes sense. Sanity check for each other, and take advice. Come up with plans before you reach the enemy, and follow them. Consider electing a leader, or having some method of making a call when you are struck by confusion and indecision. Be ready to take hits for one another, even if you're the wizard.

Of course, these are just my thoughts as an observer. I am certainly willing to be corrected on any count.

Jonathon said...

I will be re-reading the combat often to try to avoid making the same mistakes, and I am grateful for the chance to learn from others before getting into trouble myself.

(From reading Alexis' writing and campaigns in the past, the other combat I have been trying to keep in front of my mind is the one against bandits in a mountain pass. I've filed that one under "don't assume you can beat your opponents or that they have underestimated you.")

I will admit that I fell prey to the same error with regard to proficiencies; I did not consult the market before choosing them and hadn't anticipated how much a weapon might cost. On realizing it, I didn't approach the rest of the party, either, but thankfully Enrico has offered to cover it and I just need to stay out of trouble until we get back to a market if I can.

A takeaway from this analysis that I hadn't considered in so many words is the use of multiple characters' hit point totals as ablative armor against stunning; by spreading out the hits you keep the point of 'every hit stuns' at bay for as long as possible. Definitely need to keep that one in mind.

Rowan said...

Man, even the smart things I did were basically completely an accident.

I only took club/spear because clubs work with Shillelagh, and Spear is my favorite weapon.

I regret not paying attention to anyone else's chargen though. While at a table I'd have been more open about the process, online I just kinda regard everyone else's character as sacred, something that's not really my business.
Same with cash expenditure: if people didn't want to spend on their hirelings, especially when we were all so uncertain about how we were starting out, I wasn't going to tell them otherwise.

Would never have considered casting Shillelagh in this fight, as I mentioned in a previous post. It lasts one round per level, and I don't think a +1 to hit for one round is worth blowing a whole round of casting on. It was a spell I took because it seemed like the best option after Entangle and Animal Friends.

Bet we all wish I'd gone for Invisibility to Animals now though, eh?

Oh well, lots of lessons learned here. Just needed a good thrashing to bring us together.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Beetles are not animals for the purpose of the spell: "Provides complete invisibility to mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians that do not possess magical abilities or an intelligence of 5 or greater (low and up). Semi-intelligent primates are affected by the spell.
"

If you have the spell, Rowan, why not use it? What good does it do to take a spell you don't think is worth using? Had you considered faerie fire? You could have improved the chance to hit three of the beetles by a bonus of +2.

Someone must explain why other player's characters are sacred. If you were playing doubles tennis, would commenting on the size or make of your partner's racket be unacceptable? If you were playing golf in a foursome for some tournament, would you restrain yourself from commenting on another player's choice of club? If you were on a hockey team, would you tell your fellow player that his skates weren't tied? If you were competing as a relay runner in the Olympics, would you restrain yourself from lending a teammate your extra jersey?

Makes no sense to me. You're a party, a TEAM. You live and die, depending on what these other people do. Does it make sense to let your character's survival depend on the happenstance and whim of someone else's privilege?

Ant Wu said...

"Someone must explain why other player's characters are sacred."

Do you not have hypotheses for this yourself?

Another player's character is sacred because it is an extension of self, for instance, and their self is sacred. Or perhaps it is the sum of how they want to play in a very slow game where they must dedicate a lot of time, and telling them to play differently is rude. Or maybe it's just a comparison of what we'd rather risk as players:

I'd rather have an imaginary character die than be seen as a disrespectful player or as a nosy person. That preference manifests itself as "other player characters are sacred" as shorthand.

All of those reasons obviously have flaws if you're trying to optimize for survival. All of those reasons result pretty directly in crappy tactical choices. I defend none of those reasons as being 100% rational choices.

But when you say "Makes no sense to me" you treat it as if the entire idea is completely unable to be comprehended by you. For the record, while commenting on an absolute failure is definitely less taboo, it would be quite rude as a tennis player to tell your partner to swap out their racket for most games.

That rudeness decreases as the stakes of the game increases - if you're playing doubles tennis for $1000 and you want to talk about which rackets are best, that'd be seen as less gauche than doing the same for a friendly match.

In short, teams of players probably don't operate like perfect teams because those players don't think like Olympic athletes. Characters are probably sacred because in our everyday lives many of us value identity a lot, and winning not a lot, or at least not *more* than identity.

Rowan said...

I actually agree that Faerie Fire would have been the better spell, and I regret not taking it. Magnitudes more useful, and my thoughts that we'd make it to second level, where Shillelagh would have hit a point that I -would- expend it on an emergency like this were clearly jumping the gun.

As for other people's characters being sacred, I don't really have any better defense than my own arbitrary feelings of politeness. I wouldn't comment on their choice of equipment for the exact same reason I wouldn't comment on their choice of class or race. I'm not defending it as a good or bad thing, I'm just saying it's what I felt at the time.

As it just so happens, we are all dying right now because of the value we placed on one another's privilege. That was clearly a mistake, and I don't think anyone among us hasn't felt (rightly) humbled for it.

The next round of characters will be more thoughtfully crafted, and we'll have a better grasp of both the rules of your specific game as well as the challenges of coordinating our team in a play-by-post manner.

I'm ready to see if this these mistakes amount to a TPK or just 4/5ths of one.

Ant Wu said...

This isn't to say that it's unreasonable to expect players to get there, or that players SHOULD for some reason not be in that headspace where they can work together to create a party.

However, if players don't communally create a party, that isn't this hard-to-understand thing. In games with backstories, players often don't link backstories.

You said in the 11/29 post that "D&D is, to my mind, a group activity, not one in which an a single individual attempts to achieve their personal goals independently of others."

This means you realize that folks sometimes try to achieve individual goals.

You have also said, in the same post, that "Players have to do more than play together ~ they have to reach out to other players, to ensure that everyone is on board and involved, whether they have been able to express themselves or not. These are the best games."

I'm taking that a tiny bit out of context, but that seems to imply that you realize players don't automatically reach out to other players - only in the best games does this happen. Plus, presumably this recognizes that the default state of players is not to reach out and collaborate - it is something they must *learn* to do.

Finally, in your 12/1 post, you say "Also, I know that most campaigns need some complicated reason why a bunch of strangers group together to become a party. I don't think this odd at all. People meet, they hit it off right away, they all have similar interests and they thrown in together. Happens all the time. We don't need a special reason."

The fact that you don't find folks meeting and working together to require some sort of glue to make it happen, but you simultaneously expect players to work together to build and mold those characters, is odd to me. Not wrong, just odd.

Using the analogy of the Olympics relay runners implies that you really want them to work together well before the game to build a synergistic team. It incentivizes players to not build characters, but parties. That implies that the party must be together for some special reason, surely, like they've been preparing for a team sport all year, or they've been preparing to survive together against enemies for a while.

Saying that people meet and hit it off, however, implies the *opposite* sort of gameplay. It unintentionally sends a message that while survival and good play may be part of the game, it is still alright to build characters, not parties. It implies a party that is together for whatever reason, that each individual of that party is *competent* but not necessarily a *complement* to other characters.

I admit I might be someone you'd call a problem player if you prefer humility, but I think I see the mixed messages about teamwork as your mistake, not Rowan's. Though humble players are always a great privilege for us GMs, and I respect Rowan greatly for his comment above.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ant Wu,

The phrase, "Makes no sense to me," is rhetorical. It is an expression intended to emphasize the silliness of a particular idea or viewpoint. It is not meant to be taken literally and has been in use for at least a hundred years.

I am not sure of your motives here.

You've gone a long way around the barn, in two different comments, to "prove" something which most of the other readers here understood immediately. I wish here to be polite in my response. I can only offer this:

"Rhetoric" is a language designed to have a persuasive and impressive effect on its audience. It often employs figures of speech, one of these being exaggeration of truth in order to obtain an emotional pathos. For millennia now, it has been a central part of the Western education, training public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with verve and invention.

My point was simply this: the need for a player to view their character as a "sacred" extension of the self, which cannot be commented upon, which cannot accept unsolicited advice, which cannot withstand the least criticism, because it will be viewed as a personal infringement upon a personal privilege, is evidence of something else.

Can I be more plain? People who play the game with an attitude that denies every comment about their character as an insult have a PROBLEM. They have obviously stopped taking whatever it was they should have been taking before they decided to participate in a GROUP activity.

These people, with their problems, need therapy, not game play. They need to go somewhere else and seek a means to deal with their personal baggage, rather than insisting on making others carry it.

Now, am I being rhetorical?

Please don't answer. This is not an invitation to continue this somewhat useless line of investigation. Please desist. It is boring as hell.

Ant Wu said...

Short and to the point:

1. Your above sports analogies and higher stakes incentivize what you want. Both clarify your expectations.

2. Lower stakes and saying don't worry about backstory, you'll just meet and hit it off mix up that message. They incentivize what you do not want.

Motive was to make that observation. Extra text was to elucidate my thoughts, since I'm a lurker not poster. That didn't work. My apologies.

Scarbrow said...

I'm always jumping here to defend Alexis and I think I have political capital enough to say: Hey, Alexis, back off. I think you need to apologize to Ant Wu. The guy (or gal) came here, offered a full-blown, rational explanation of human behaviour, citing your previous writings on the matter, and offered an interesting viewpoint. You were sarcastic to borderline rude. You have all the right to be, it's your turf, but you're growling, old bear. You're better than this when you're calm.

For what it's worth, I agree with Ant Wu's observations: I also think you end mixed messages with your expectations. Your analysis in this post makes things clearer, but still some doubts. The comments still clear it up further. I think there is more information now on the table than was before, thus alerting of possible confusions in the previous situation has merit.

And the problem is not with the entitled player making a fuss about a comment about his character. It's about the other players hesitating (for excess of respect) to give comments. That's an entirely different animal.

Now that I mention it, you also didn't answer my question: Doesn't asking for free equipment from NPC count as "gaming the DM"? And if it isn't, why and where's the line?

Alexis Smolensk said...

No, Scarbrow, I'm not going to apologize.

The other players hesitating comes about after having tetchy players jump down their throats enough times. Take note, when I comment about Ant Wu's character [nitpicking a single phrase pedantically that was never meant literally], you rush out to tell me I owe an apology.

Before I answer your question about gaming, I'm fairly unclear on what my "expectations" are. You and Ant Wu seem to know perfectly. The post above is about why the party was smashed all to pieces. You will both note that I was content to LET them make their mistakes and to carry out the reprisal.

No, asking for something from an NPC is not gaming the DM. According to my dictionary, "gaming" is to manipulate a situation, typically in a way that is unfair or unscrupulous. Since I am in a position to say 'no,' in actual fact I am gaming the player. I am saying, effectively, "Here is the game: guess correctly what I am willing to give and I will give it; guess incorrectly and I will not give it." That is the line.

Where is the manipulation? Players may trick themselves into thinking, "If I ask Alexis for too much, he will not think well of me and I will feel the threat that he will remove me from the game." They may think, "I will ask the NPC for too much and find myself gaining an enemy or being pushed into a combat."

They may also think, "Hm; what can I ask for that Alexis is likely to give, because it is a reasonable request given our situation at the moment."

I am not responsible for what people think or how paranoid they may become. Yes, being booted from the game WAS a possibility . . . but the only person I actually DID boot was booted because he was telling me how to set up and organize 12 players online, work I was doing that he was not, in a way that personally suited his needs at my expense. No one else here did anything like that. They did not "joggle my elbow." When they stood up to me and pointed out my own rules, I backed down and corrected the situation in their favor. When they said they were worried I wouldn't let them play again, I quickly let them know that YES, I would let them roll up new characters.

I think I've done very well here, that I've given a terrific opportunity to a lot of people . . . and I feel that every statement that has been made along the lines of "We were worried we would be booted" is a statement without merit. I did not say another word about booting anyone after the game actually started, I worked to make sure everyone felt personally addressed and I even spent hours producing images for characters who are now dead.

And now you, Scarbrow, want to tell me that a generosity I always meant to offer, THAT WAS BUILT RIGHT INTO THE GENERATOR four years ago, shouldn't be advantaged because it's players manipulating the DM???

Nonsense.

Ant Wu said...

Again, keeping it short: you expect players to build teams not characters. Or more precisely, teams first characters second.

You suggest (rhetorically or not) that part of the reason players failed here was because they did not do this. You are correct, but I think it is as much on the GM as on the players to make the team happen.

Calling that a mistake seems premature unless you clearly communicated that talking to each other starts at char creation. Since I see mixed messages, I suggest that if there *is* a mistake, it is on you, and could be improved in the future.

Am I being unclear or do you just disagree? Or have I made some assumption somewhere that is wrong?

Matt said...

Alexis,

I hope that my suggestion that the players may have been afraid of being booted was not taken to mean that I thought that this was a mistake on your part. My post was about mistakes and misinterpretations of the players. It was about what may have been wrong in their thought process.

I think that many of your readers may view you as something of a hardass. They have this picture of an unrelenting hell DM. They imagine they have signed up to dig ditches, are expecting hard Labor, and then are confused when you offer them shovels. This is not because you have said "All ditches must be dug by hand!" but because you have said "Ditch digging is hard, back breaking work."

To address Ant Wu: You seem to be missing the point. The PLAYERS should probably work together to form an effective group, as the players are playing a long term, high stakes game. Bad play on one players part could get anothet player's months or years old character killed, forever. Gone. The CHARACTERS do not need an EXTERNAL reason to adventure together. No "You're all chosen" or "Magic binds you together" or "You all awake in prison." The PCs can be from different backgrounds, and different cultures. They can have different personalities, dreams, and goals. When they form a party though, they need to put those things secondary to the team.

Consider a band. Like, a garage rock and roll band. These guys have come together because they all want to play music, and maybe make some money doing it. They don't all need to have gone to the same school, or have been put together by a promoter for a club. They can just be 4-5 guys who Jam together. But if all 5 of them insist on playing drums, or if you have an electric guitarist, a saxophonist, and a guy who specializes in the didgeridoo, you'll have a rough time of it. If the band sits down together and decides on a guitarist, a drummer, a bass player, and a vocalist, and they pick a genre and style of music they all can play decently, and they write songs together that compliment their talents individually and as a group, then they might make an okay band.

And the skill to tell the Didgeridoo player to choose better proficiencies, or to tell the Electric Guitarist that rock and roll is dead, and to come to a compromise, as a group, so that you all have a shot at making it big, is important in Alexis' game.

Ant Wu said...

Uh.

My point was that the players clearly didn't realize all of the above. Now they may, but it seems clear they learned this truth not through the game, but through Alexis's post.

Therefore a disconnect exists. What is clear to you and Alexis is unclear to these players. This gap could be bridged by the GM. I 100% see that the players should do what you have said.

I thought this was responding to a diagnostic? I am diagnosing a disconnect that I think could be eliminated for future games as a mistake on Alexis's part. If you disagree with that disconnect then go on blaming players.

This isn't about hardassness or shovels. This is a diagnostic, pure and simple.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ant Wu,

No.

The game is designed to pit players against a setting that threatens to kill them. If the players work together, this will INCREASE their likelihood of survival . . . particularly in a game where the DM will not fudge or modify the die roll in their favor if someone does something self-aggrandizing and stupid.

That is not an expectation I have, that is a principle of the game. I won't fudge, I will try to kill the players. If they won't work together as a team, this will greatly increase their likelihood of death.

If I have an "expectation," it is that I have very little interest in playing with people who prefer to act selfishly in a potentially friendly, social activity.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ant Wu,

To continue on your last post.

I would argue that the players knew perfectly well that they would have to act together if they wanted to survive. The comments on the actual posts up to the TPK prove this. People WERE friendly, they did talk about sharing things, they were helpful in advice and they absolutely realized that the world would be dangerous. Go read the comments again and you'll see that.

However, they didn't think the world would be THIS dangerous. They weren't THAT helpful with each other. They didn't go far enough. That's not a disconnect; it was a mere matter of degree.

Have you never played chess with a stranger, thinking you will beat them easily? If you get beat, and soundly, does that mean you didn't understand the game was about moving pieces, or that you didn't know that it takes a good combination to win? Of course not.

I am a hardass. There were about twenty ways I could have softened the situation; hell, I started the post by explaining all about that. But I didn't. I set the situation to be a hard ditch to dig.

But Ant Wu, you seem to think the game is about this one incident somehow, or that this one incident demonstrates some quality that is inherent to my behaviour or the players' behaviour. You seem to think that people can't learn to play differently, or perhaps that because they didn't play so well right from the start that there is an issue here.

When people start playing chess, they lose. They lose a lot. They lose and they keep losing until either they quit or they learn how to win. Those who fall in love with the game are more than willing to keep losing for as long as it takes, because losing isn't important. The game is important. The pleasure of losing is more important than the pleasure of not playing.

So they lost. So what? Don't make a philosophy out of it.

Matt said...

Ant Wu:

That particular gap is a feature, not a bug. Alexis didn't hand them anything, didn't make anything easy on them. When they were taking actions that were unwise, he let the players live and die with those choices. He didn't sit down and say "Hey guys, are you sure you don't want to take proficiency in clubs?" nor "Oh, why don't you guys wait for Lothar to feel better before you leave," because Alexis is not a babysitter. Making these kinds of choices IS the game.

If the suggestion is that Alexis should have nudged them to better choices, or taught the players the value of teamwork before the game, I think you have entirely missed Alexis' DM Style, the point of his world, and the explicit challenge laid down when he first suggested running online. All three heavily emphasize player responsibility.

Matt said...

Scarbrow:

This may come dangerously close to being "How I Do It," but the way I see the difference between using your resources, and gaming the DM is like so:

Smart Play: I am going to ask the Apothecary if she has any healing salve or potions that she wi give us.

Manipulation: The rules for healing potions only cover HP loss, but if I pour one into my blind eye I should be able to see again. I mean, it has to do some sort of magic wound healing stuff. Okay, I get that one might not be enough to fix my eye, but what if I boil 2 or 3 down into, like, healing potion concentrate. That has to work, because magic healing.

The former is taking an action in the game World hoping for a result, but having no expectation that it will work. The latter is trying to subvert a known mechanical effect with the appearance of in game action exclusively for an expected outcome.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Matt, I only think you're missing one angle in your manipulation example:

". . . if the healing potion doesn't work, then shit! My character's blind and useless, I might as well not even be here if I can't just . . ."

Scarbrow said...

Alexis,

Thank you for your explanation (and further explanation by Matt and you) on "gaming the DM".

About the respect for other player's characters, I still think you're wrong, if only because I feel that kind of respect and boundary about others without ever having tetchy players jump down my throat. In usual circumstances, I would rather touch another player's skin than their character. It's, in some manner, more intimate. A path to their mind (and heart), their creation. However, I can understand the need for the party to act as one. I would probably question another player's decision if the life of a long-loved character of mine, being played for years, was on stake. I think, however, that asking that depth of identification of new players to their newly rolled characters is hoping a little too far, thus preparing yourself to be disappointed. I would probably question a novice decisions on their character, if I had been playing the game a long time. Again, it's a little too much to expect that players new to the game would do that. Also, I would question my friend's decisions much earlier (and much harder) than a stranger's decisions. Still knowing each other, still unsure of what might bother each other. Way harder when you are not all physically together. Can't judge body image, can't read body language. Why, oh, why, should I expect to start playing by being confrontational to the other players? Anyway, I could maybe address a point of optimal character building, like choosing a proficiency over another. But shared funds? Beyond my previous point (the structure of the game gives a different allowance to different characters), at first sight it seems as uncalled for to ask for the other character's money as would be suggesting a trade of proficiencies (on the basis that both are characteristic of the character-as-generated). Yes, money can change hands easily. But do you see my point? You have to be thinking in-world, out-of-the-box, while being pelted with information, pressured to make decisions and eager to start.

What I mean is, I perfectly understand why nobody ever thought of it. It seems to me that this mental process sounds so deranged to you that you are not being able to picture it. However, you know all there is to know about this, as you knew the generosity was not only built into the generator, but it was built four years ago. Knowing now that fact, I understand better how it should have been obvious to ask the generous family for help. Before knowing that, it seemed to me to be miserable, grasping-at-straws, gimme-gimme-gimme, entitled, showy and pouty behavior on the part of the players. I would have felt that way, as a player. Begging. After all, you decided to give them that much gold and no more. You have been stringy, you said that yourself. Maybe I'm used to DM's that would happily punish players for such things as "trying this into the world, seems reasonable, no expectations that it will work". I understand this has been just a misunderstanding and a learning experience. Having learned that, everybody involved would just adjust their expectations accordingly going forward.

I understand, however, that (running with Matt's example) trying to apply the potion in my eye, or boiling three of them into a concentrate or a poultice, and it working (or not) without nobody making a scene out of it would be perfectly OK with you, Alexis? That is, at most we have wasted a potion or three, it works or it doesn't, go on with the next decision.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Scarbrow,

I want to be careful, as tone can so easily misunderstood. Please read the following as though spoken in a conversation, wholly investigative tone.

So, if I am a player sitting next to you, and I ask what proficiencies you took, how would you answer?

If I took note that your proficiencies all seemed to outstrip your capital, having heard the DM tell you how much money you were to start with, and I asked, do you have any weapons in which you were proficient, how would you answer. Would that offend you?

And if it turned out that you had chosen to saddle yourself with a -2 proficiency penalty out of the gate, would it offend you if I expressed a dissatisfaction with your combat ability on account of that?

If, before entering the dungeon, I suggested that your character shouldn't go first, since your THAC0 had been reduced to 22, would that be okay?

And if I suggested that perhaps I didn't want you in particular guarding my back, but rather someone else with a better chance to hit, would it be okay if I felt that way?

On the other hand, if I happened to have a lot of money, and offered to give you some of it so you could buy a proficient weapon, would that charity offend you?

Would you accept the money as a loan ~ and if you did, would, or would I not, be entitled to insist on interest?

Finally, does the same apply to the distribution of food? How about the distribution of my hit points as I stand in front of you? Would you be willing to ask me to stand in front of you and stop an orc from killing you, or would that also be begging?

Because while we can argue, and rationally, that asking for something might be begging, we can also argue that failure to offer coin freely and generously can be miserly of the other players who are not you.

Perhaps I have gone too far to suggest boundary issues are 'deranged'; but what I think you're experiencing here is pride . . . that thing that goeth before a fall.

It certainly went before a fall here.

Scarbrow said...

No offense taken from tone so far, for my part. BTW, very professorial of you, this last comment. It made me think long and hard.

Now that you mention it, I wouldn't feel bad at all if another player would do what you suggested. The question about being saddled with a -2 proficiency for a start would surely make me question the wisdom of my choice (and change it if at all possible) while I would be very grateful for the offer to either give or lend me money so I could afford a weapon I would be proficient with. Any interest short of usury would be welcome, even (and I would probably congratulate the player making the offer for being smart). I'm not saying it to save face: when the amount to be lent IRL is important, I charge interest too.

I might contend, after being questioned for the wisdom of my choices, that I had a plan and a logic for that, and I would explain them. Thus an argument may arise, and I might be convinced from it. I have not said so in the last paragraph because, well, it's D&D. A -2 proficiency and a THACO of 22 seem like going to swim with a 5 kilo lucky stone amulet around my neck.

You're very right in that hit points, food and such are also game resources that are expected to be shared freely. We would rightly and quickly condemn a player who would try to grab more than the previously agreed upon share of the treasure just because she absorbed more damage than the rest (also, in your world, she was already rewarded for this with extra XP). Miserly, yes. Maybe I'm ready to accept some freely given help, yet I'm not ready to ask for it. You could call that pride, even. I'll tell you: I accept pride is a component of this. Will you give me that shyness may be another one?

Thank you for the social lesson, too.

Ant Wu said...

I concede that it was a matter of degree and not a matter of a disconnect.

I'm confused about this quote:

"But Ant Wu, you seem to think the game is about this one incident somehow, ... You seem to think that people can't learn to play differently, or perhaps that because they didn't play so well right from the start that there is an issue here...

So they lost. So what? Don't make a philosophy out of it."

This is a diagnostic post, and so it seems fitting that if I respond, I should focus on one thing, and make a diagnosis of it. If my diagnostic is off, then I will further explain it or change my mind.

To recap and make sure I understand your argument: I've said that if you want a party to be a cohesive team you should just tell them upfront to get them to do that. You respond that if they make bad choices, then they will meet the appropriate consequences. You as the GM let them fail. Matt says I'm missing the point, because your GMing style is about player responsibility.

In that case, why diagnose? If the central conceit here is that you hand players nothing, and players do everything, while you just run a world that holds them accountable, then this doesn't fit.

If you write a diagnostic like this, you must be thinking, "Without this, the players may not realize their mistakes. They may not improve. I want them to improve, so I will write this."

Ant Wu said...

If the above is NOT true, then indeed everything you and Matt have said makes sense. The "matter of degree" is entirely on the players. They failed but this is a feature not a bug. Let them fail.

However I see evidence that the above is true. Both Matt and you have talked of things players did as mistakes or have commented about how they should act. The only difference between telling a player how not to act before or after a game seems to also be a difference of degree - the player listens more after a fall, and advice is clearer because they have the benefit of an example.

So what point am I missing? My counterpoint is simple: if you view all all the above as mistakes, then the mistake is in part or in whole on the GM side as well. The pre-game chargen stuff didn't emerge out of player stupidity. It emerged out of shyness, politeness, pride, whatever. If those explicitly have no place in the game, that seems more efficient to me.

Maybe efficiency isn't the point. Maybe consequences are more valuable than efficiency to you. Is that why you disagree with me?

Finally: survival is a principle of the game. But you will not deny, I hope, that GMs adjust how much each principle of the game matters. You have turned your own knobs on the game to create a game that most suits your world and your GMing. Saying "I do not have to tell my players to work together more so than in other D&D games, because that's the principle of the game" is plausible deniability. It is a more important principle in your game, so much so that it extends not only to tactics, but also to checking builds, inventory, proficiencies, etc.

This is a long post, so I risk befuddling my core message: if you say all or some of the above are player mistakes and you have no responsibility beyond running a fair world, I am befuddled by your logic. You as the GM have tons of ways to incentivize or disincentivize players without holding their hand. If at the start of the next game you state "hey, those player character boundaries? discussing character creation with other players is not only fine in my game, but if you fail to do so it is a mistake in my book."

...is that holding their hand? Is it sacred that players must first fail for you to mention that? Or is that a genuinely new expectation from the majority of D&D games run today? I'd say it's the latter, which is why it is on you to state it. You make all of your in-game expectations clear with rules and whatnot; metagame expectations should not be hidden, especially for this one factor, which you now know is an issue players have, which you have known isn't due to player stupidity, and which you judge as a mistake.

Shelby Urbanek said...

I've been holding off on commenting on this particular conversation, but it keeps happening and my thoughts about it keep getting louder. So here goes.

I think there are two things Ant Wu is missing. First, that all of the players are at least passingly familiar with Alexis' position on player responsibility and his expectations of his world and player (to a greater or lesser degree, admittedly), else we would not have been here in the first place to sign up for a spot at the table. The fact that we read his blog should have given us enough information to determine that this game isn't like other D&D games regarding smart play as well as a myriad of other aspects. So that's on us.

The second thing is this: This very post is a part of the game. We aren't sitting around a table, freely able to chat about this or that, talk things through, get a feel for each other or any of the other advantages that come from playing together in person. We don't have the benefit of seeing Alexis roll his eyes when we make yet another tactical error. We don't have body language, the ability to easily say general things specifically to gauge the other player's reactions. We don't have the conversation about desiring to play a Ranger and "awesome I got the minimums stats for ranger, and oh I'd like some henchmen so I'll give myself a high charisma;" "wait that's dumb why don't you give yourself extra HP or an attack bonus instead, or play a paladin with that 17 you rolled".

We don't have the after-game dissection of the night's events with the other players, recognizing patterns and working to fix them before we meet again. This post is part of bridging that gap. It is as much a part of the game as the posts on the actual campaign blog.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ah, I see. You suppose that because I write a diagnostic, I have an agenda, my "expectation" that the players should now adhere.

Actually, I'm just a nerd. Lots of people dissected the battle before I did ~ just because I'm the DM doesn't mean I have an agenda.

Ant Wu said...

Shelby Urbanek,

While I realize you all are familiar, it seems like a lot of the mistakes posted were still a shocker to at least some of you. That was the part I was addressing.

Post as part of the game, though, was very illuminating. I realized of course that you gamed via post, but I didn't make the next logical leap that *all posts* were part of the game. That...sheds a lot of new light on how I read these comments and this blog. Thank you for that. It was a much-needed correction to my assumptions. The part about Alexis rolling his eyes is particularly helpful. I can now read his exasperation here as his body language, rather than as just a "cold examination" in a vacuum.

So, thank you for that, Shelby.

Alexis,

You also hit the nail on the head very well, especially after I read Shelby's comment. I indeed supposed that the diagnostic indicated an agenda and was confused because I felt you did not successfully diagnose all the things that would lead to that agenda. "Actually, I'm just a nerd."

On board now. I understand and agree with virtually all your points now, and the exceptions are minor nitpicks in semantics.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oh good. I like a friendly conclusion.

Scott Stringer said...

The quality of the discussion going on in these comments is fabulous. I'm enjoying reading through the conversations a great deal.

I hadn't considered it until Shelby wrote: "This very post is a part of the game". Yeah. They do form a part of the game. Obvious when you think about it. Thanks Shelby!

@Alexis: Thank you for your analysis of, and opinion on the campaign thus far. I'm sure figuring out how you think is of enormous benefit to the players.

Ant Wu said...

A final curiosity:

"Maybe efficiency isn't the point. Maybe consequences are more valuable than efficiency to you. Is that why you disagree with me?"

Was I right - that you believe consequences should come before analysis, rather than the other way around?

Justin Kennedy said...

Quick question, Alexis: How do you feel a Str. 18 Human female looks?

I remember a post a while back (that I believe was on Tao) about how strength 18 for men didn't necessarily look like Arnold. Do you feel like a Str. 18 woman would necessarily look like anything other than stout?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Justin,

Take your pick:

Bodyshape Female Athletes

Alexis Smolensk said...

Pandred (5'8, 143 lbs) is about the size and shape of either Stacy Dragila (5'7, 140 lbs) or Stacy Sykora (5'10, 135 lbs), though more the first Stacy than the second.

If you go looking for video of Sykora, you may notice the size of her hands. She has enormous hands, probably large enough to squash my head. I don't doubt she has an 18 strength, she drops to the ground in an instant, can fly off the court twenty feet to knock back a stray ball and leaps four feet in the air.

But then, check out this slow motion of Dragila. I can see Pandred's cheeks straining in the same way as the weapon is swung or that spectacular flex as she pulls her body weight straight up into the air. That is an 18 strength, no question.

Justin Kennedy said...

I'm a huge MMA fan, so I definitely understand that awe-inspiring functional strength and range of motion don't need to look like a shredded suit of muscle armor (I've never heard you mention that you're a fan, but did you see Garbrandt vs. Cruz this Friday?! It was incredible) but I have to press: if either of the Stacey's are 18, what might we presume that Mrs. Price-Smith or Mrs. Haworth would clock in at? Perhaps 18/50-00? Do you feel that the Str. stat isn't nearly as tied to mass as most would presume? Perhaps you see it as flexible and dependent on the PC (could be large and unwieldy Str. if low Dex., or could be lithe and whipcord if the opposite).


I don't have the level of detail in my game that you do and I am not out to attain peak simulation, but one of the biggest impediments to my feeling like I'm not spending my free time as a grown ass man merely playing make-believe is the strange situations the standard rules can put my suspension of disbelief in. Notable examples include: no practical strength limits on halflings/gnomes/females and hit points increasing by the level (Yes sir, I know you've been over that one. Still feels weird). So if your insight to this dilemma can at the least give plausible deniability to my inner adult, I'd appreciate hearing it.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Justin,

I don't think you should necessarily feel like a grown man playing make-believe. I rush to point out that Shakespeare became the most celebrated icon of England with make-believe, that the entire Religious Edifice of every kind that exists was fashioned out of make-believe and that, on the whole, the principles of make-believe are those which give us insight, strength and a reason to live until tomorrow.

You're doing fine.

As far as race/ability limits, who says that an elven muscle is built of the same stuff as a human muscle, or that halfling tendons are built like a human tendon? How do you know what a 3-foot-tall humanoid is like if that size is not due to a hormonal deficiency, but due to environmental and evolutionary design? Perhaps a Dwarven hand is a collection of ligaments, carpals, muscles and tendons that might have the power to crush a baseball in a way no human strength could. Perhaps while our 18 strength comes from what we think of as fluidity, speed and leverage, an elf's 18 strength comes from a skeletal structure that bends like a bamboo rod but is yet hard as stone.

Who knows?