Thursday, May 25, 2017

GM 101: Just Say No To Fudge

Bonus points if you can spot the Easter Egg.
+Venger Satanis wrote a little piece a while back about GM fudging which I found thought-provoking, but also found the advice a bit concerning, especially for a new game master.

In addition, on my post about Fun and Story over Rules, several comments mentioned "fudging rolls" as a way to bend the rules with the goal of enhancing story or fun.

For the record, I am strongly against this. I am more than willing to change a lot of parameters in a scene or encounter on-the-fly for the purpose of storytelling, but once dice hit the table, reality becomes static. (Read on for the why).

While I agree with a few of Venger’s musings, there needs to be a lot more context for anyone who is a relatively new game master for a role playing game like D&D. Some strong words of caution: Fudging can destroy a game just as easily as it can help it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

GM 101: Does Story trump Rules?

Another Facebook thread tweaked my interest a few weeks back where the poster simply asks, “Do Rules trump Story? Or does Story trump Rules?”

For those of us who have been DMing a long time, the answer may seem obvious (and most of the responses were in accord), but there is some nuance to that question that requires a bit of analysis for our younger, newer Dungeon Game Masters.

There is a famous quote by one of the original authors of Dungeons & Dragons:
“The secret we should never let the game masters know is that they don't need any rules.” - Gary Gygax

You see, the rules and mechanics are there to provide us a framework for telling the story… but they are not the story and should not necessarily dictate narrative. The rules are not what make the game fun. What makes the game fun is the collaborative storytelling and epic moments produced by the players and DM working together. But, what’s really important, and not stated in the original question is fun. Why do we play these games? To have have fun… Otherwise, what’s the point?

Caveat: There is a difference between the game as a whole being “fun” versus any given moment of the game being “fun”. A favorite character dying can be a bummer, but the experience that lead up to the character death may have been the best time ever… And sharing memories with your friends about that time Dave’s PC epically died in a heroic (or decidedly unheroic, but humorous) way can be great fun, even if, at the time, it was a bit of a downer.

Given the above stated assumptions, the “mathematics” of D&D is basically:  Fun > Story > Rules

Almost always, but again, there is nuance (and caveats).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

D&D: The Slippery Slope of Saying Yes

As expected, the reactions to my last post were quite intense and often fierce... but there was were a few themes among the Rules-As-Written purists that I found intriguing and wished to explore deeper.

Game Balance

There were quite a few people who cited game balance as a major objection, which I found peculiar given the small magnitude of the change being discussed. They cited that this change wasn't "extensively play tested" or "balanced against other racial abilities" or some other silliness about min-maxing. This kind of anxious hand-wringing seemed overwrought for utterly minor change to a racial stat. I mean how much min-maxing can occur with just one point? (and BTW, they are giving up a point of DEX for it).

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

D&D: Just Say Yes, For F*ck Sake.

And we will call it "this land..."
...Or The Case of the Curiously Intelligent Elf.

On a recent Facebook post, the OP asked a simple question:
“My player wants to play an Elf Wizard and would like +2 INT, +1 DEX for his Elf Racial Bonus instead of +1 INT, +2 DEX. Would you allow that?”

Yes. YES! For F@CK SAKE YES! …and yet in the poll, over 800 people, a staggering 60%+ of respondents answered “I would never allow it.”

What is wrong with you people? I hate when people tell others they are having Bad Wrong Fun, but I’m sorry, in this case, you are doing it wrong (yes, that's a satirical comment in case you missed it).

Here’s the thing. In 5th Edition, a Forest Gnome can get a +2 INT / +1 DEX (and also has Darkvision, etc), so we know that this minor change doesn’t break the game mechanics at all. All non-human races get some combination of +2/+1, and Elves already get a boost to INT and DEX… so it isn’t a stretch at all to just swap their bonuses.

The racial bonuses are completely arbitrary anyway (and even differ significantly from one edition of D&D to the other). Why does an Elf get +2 DEX? Because Mearls and Thompson decided that’s what they thought an Elf was at this one moment of time. Why does the Gnome get the bigger INT bonus? Who the f@ck knows. It’s just a game of “Let’s Pretend”. The Player’s Handbook is not some religious scripture handed down by the gods.


The most important job of a DM is help the players have fun. The players only have power over their characters. The rules on everything else in the world -- setting, genre, NPCs, cities, populace, everything -- is basically in the control of the DM.

By saying "No" to this entirely minor and arbitrary change, you are telling the player “the trivial rules of my game world are more important than your character concept or enjoyment of the game.”

If he enjoys a tiny amount of PC optimization as part of character generation, why not let him have fun with that part of the game? Who cares if he gets to INT 20 at 8th level instead of 12th (assuming he picks no Feats)... It will make no difference to the game at the table. [EDIT: Actually, all PCs can get to INT 20 by level 8 with point buy. The only difference is the player that starts at 17 will also get a Feat. This makes the change have an even smaller impact.]

AD&D Half-orc photo bomb
And racial bonuses are entirely arbitrary and trivial. This isn’t a game breaking request. Elves have always had arcane abilities. As an example, in the original Basic D&D sets, the Elf class was a fighter/magic-user hybrid. So why not just let him play an Elf from some special Elf school of trained Elf wizards... or something. Who the hell cares what the rationale is. Maybe he just doesn't want to play a damn Gnome.

As another example, I had one player decide he wasn't crazy about his Feat selections when he reached 4th level (Human). I said "No problem. Just re-pick whichever ones you want". It made no difference to the game. It made a huge difference in his level of fun.

Take the broomstick out of your posterior and let him swap the ability bonuses.  Just get out of the way and facilitate the fun. That is your most important job. 

PS -- This obviously doesn't apply to AL legal characters since there are very strict chargen rules for Adventurers League. Also, if you comment a rebuttal using some example like giving darkvision to a Human, or some other bulls#!t straw man, I will f@#%ing cut your heart out with a spoon. (Rest in peace, Alan Rickman)

I just wanted to note an awesomely on-point comment by Robert Ehrman on Facebook:
"This whole article is just imploring DMs to be the bigger person at the table because a 1 point differential isn't going to be truly relevant to either party and player satisfaction matters. Clearly that point went over like a lead balloon."

Yes. YES! A thousand times YES!

I'll go one step further. As I noted in comments:

This article is not about a stat swap. It's about a philosophy. It's about not being married to rules. It's about facilitating ideas from the players. It's about keeping an open mind to player input because it's not the DM's game. The game belongs to everyone at the table. Saying "yes" to a player is not about giving them some insignificant +1... It's about saying "your ideas are just as important to this game as mine are." You want a sub-race of Elves that are tied more to the Arcane through a connection to the Feywild? Awesome! Let's incorporate that idea. We share this game world together.

Update: I posted an follow-up based on some responses.

My Last Origins

This will be my last Origins.

Just about every year, Origins opens its registration system to a rush of several thousand attendees. Just about every year, it’s a disaster of web site unresponsiveness, and just about every year they say, “Next year we will improve.” Every year, they don’t. Last year, they couldn’t even get badges quickly to people attending on the first day because of “computer problems” and ran out of convention programs.

This year was no different… and actually even worse than usual.

You see, this year in order to make sure I was ready for event registration day, I attempted to login to my account prior to event registration. For whatever reason, my password was not working. I was not terribly surprised, as I have a whole bunch of different passwords in order to minimize any attack on my identity. After trying several different times, I just decided to just use the “Forgot Password” option.

It didn’t work.

It was a few days before registration, so I emailed the Origins contacts so that I might get it reset before the event registration started. At first, there was no response, so I emailed again, and I called. They assured me it would be fixed before registration starts, and they would notify me as soon as it was.

Days pass. I email again the morning of registration. I asked if they could change it manually. “It will be fixed prior to registration opening,” I was told again. “We can’t change the password. We will let you know as soon as it is fixed.”

It wasn’t. They didn’t.

My wife and I were screwed. I had registered us both for the weekend pass, but could not access either account because of the password issues and thousands were about to flood the queue.

There was, however, a small breakthrough for us. We had two other family members that were going to attend, but doing events that were not the same as ours… So we asked if we could register our events under their itinerary  in order to hold the spots. Thankfully, they were totally cool with that.
So, on Wednesday, event registration opens and the site fails dramatically. No one can login without getting timeouts. No one can search events without all kinds of Java site errors or 503 Service Unavailable errors. The website was crashing so often, NHTSA said they were going to open an investigation.

Over the course of 3+ hours, my wife and I managed to get enough page loads between us to get into about 10 events… Or about 3 successful event registrations per hour.

Origins then announces on Twitter and Facebook that they will close registration until Friday at 1 PM to get the issues fixed… but then they secretly re-opened registration on Thursday without telling anyone they had told to wait until Friday. So, basically, if you listened to them, you were screwed out of events you might have wanted because other people kept trying anyway and found that registration has been re-opened earlier than announced (and the password issue was still not fixed).

The password issue was eventually fixed over the weekend, four days after event registration was initially opened (and after almost everything was completely booked). I was extremely lucky that I had family that could grab the slots my wife and I wanted to play. I’m certain many others did not have that opportunity.

They never emailed to let me know the password recovery had been fixed, despite telling me repeatedly they would. No notification. No apology.

S#!t technology… Even s#!ttier communication. For a 15,000+ attendee event, this is the worst event management I’ve ever seen. They apparently don’t even test the most basic functions of the website -- login, password recovery, and event registration -- which is basically everything you need to have a convention website.

I have been a major proponent of Origins on this blog and among my gaming friends, but there are other smaller cons that are growing each year with better customer experience -- Gamehole Con, BGG Con, Dice Tower Con, PAX East, and now PAX Unplugged. Origins may be the #2 spot in terms of size at the moment, but if it keeps offering crap customer experience, it will find itself less relevant as time goes on. It certainly will be for me as my family and I  will be seeking other alternatives and recommending others do the same. If they can't fix their management issues, they do not deserve our money.
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