Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Doing it Wrong

"You can't do it wrong" or "As long as you are having fun, you are playing it the right way"

These statements have been showing up a lot on the blogs I've been reading lately. It is a way of approaching the RPG in a hippy laid back way that I really like, however, I don't totally agree with these statements. I think you can "do it wrong" as a DM and as a player.

Before I get all preachy and contrarian, let me explain where I am coming from. I'm speaking from the experience of having whole games come to a death spiral over one bad ruling from the DM. Even the best DM's make mistakes - maybe it is how you handle a wish, or a fight between two players, maybe you become biased, or maybe you are actually too fair and you let them crash and burn without you intervening in real life and coaching them.

For example, the DM could really screw over the PC's on a single wish spell and end a long running campaign. Did the DM make the right move? Should he have worked with the PC's to aim smaller in their intentions with the wish spell to lessen the chances of backlash? Maybe the DM feels that he "taught the players a lesson" but then maybe he just lost his group and it will now break up because the players feel defeated.

I played in another DM's game where he just constantly gave us too much treasure. Every game we had turned into a Monty Haul style campaign. We never felt challenged and we never really liked playing in that game. He kept telling me he was only giving out the treasure that he had rolled up on the tables in the back of the DMG. So he was technically following the rules. Where he was screwing up was that he wasn't offering up the appropriate challenge to the players. All of his monsters just came out in the open, and attacked the party without any guile or use of tactics. So a party was able to walk all over monsters of much higher level than they should have been able to if he had made his goblins use bows and arrows and fire down at the party from a vantage point. If he used more random encounters in his dungeons the party would have been weaker from facing lots of monsters with very little treasure, before they encountered beasts in their treasure laden lairs.

Anyway, I think you can "do it wrong" and sometimes the ruling that seems like it would make for the most "fun" right now is not what leads to the most fun in the long run. Experienced DM's learn this over years doing it wrong and making mistakes... maybe the OSR should talk a little bit about what they have learned over their combined years of DM'ing about doing it wrong that would help novice DM's not have to make all the same mistakes.


  1. See, the right/wrong dilemma is a 'meta' phrase if I'm allowed to borrow that for a moment.

    Being a good DM/GM takes time and study and practice. So does being a good player, just not to the same degree.

    The statement is meant to be a way of stopping rules lawyers at the door who may disagree with a particular interpretation of the rules.

    My old AD&D1e group got along pretty well because we all agreed on many of the same principles. In our games you would find no Assassins, Monks or Bards as PCs. Period. We had found that those classes caused us more problems than we cared to deal with. If someone wanted to join in and play one of those classes we explained it right up front.

    The phrase has come to mean something so wide that it has lost much of its original meaning and purpose.

    To the DM/GM new to the game I say study the craft and the art of running a session. The session is like an iceberg...the players only see the 10% that sticks above the waterline. You are responsible for the 90% they never see. That's what makes a good judge in my book.

  2. I think you are right about the original meaning of these phrases (anti-barracks lawyer rhetoric). I like your iceberg metaphor for adventure sessions also. But I think the most important point is the "social contract" between the gaming group on the type of game that they all want to play. Games can go into extreme montyhaulism if that is what everybody wants, or wax silly, or extremely historical simulation. It is important that everybody is on the same page about the direction the campaign is heading.

    However, I do think we should endeavor to point out failed methods and rules (or rules interpretation) that don't work well in game play. I think I learned from crawling up the pile of corpses ( otherwise known as experience) of failure. I know I've made mistakes as a DM and I try to learn from them and move forward. I'd like to see more discussion in the OSR about things that didn't work and things we don't like instead of what we are happy with.