Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Goldenshield and the 3 DMs

There once was a young adventurer who decided to leave his home in search of excitement.  He decided that his skills would be better used in the world than his little village.  He left his little village and travelled for a few days.  On his travels he heard of a group of Goblins who were threatening the surrounding area with their raiding.  He decides to stop them at their lair.

Walking down the trail he comes to fork that splits into three separate roads.  Goldenshield looks to the left and further down the trail, he sees 3 Owlbears and a Displacer Beast. He thinks to himself:

“This way is too hard!”

He looks to the right trail and sees nothing.

“This way looks too easy!”

He looks straight ahead and sees 3 Kobolds trying to rob a resident farmer, and runs to his rescue and with some difficulty, dispatches his adversaries.

“This way was just right!”

Continuing down the middle road, he comes to the Goblin’s lair.  Our adventurer comes to face three doors.  He tries to open the door to the left.  Grunting and groaning and pushing with all his might, he is unable to open the door.

“This door is too hard!”

He tries the door to the right, and upon touching the door, it opens.  He looks into an empty room with a feast setup on the table with a nice shield and armour hanging on the wall. Taking the shield and armour and eating to his hearts content he thinks:

“This was too easy!” and leaves. 

He tries to open the third door and with some prodding, he notices the door is locked.  With a little luck and some lock picks found along the way, he manages to unlock the door.

“This was just right!”

Feeling good about himself, he proceeds cautiously into the Goblin lair. Travelling a few minutes, encountering no resistance, he enters a large room.  In the room lie three chests.  He tries to open the one to the left and upon opening it, explodes with a glorious bang.  He is thrown across the room, and lands in a broken heap, hovering between life and death.  He somehow manages to consume a healing potion and says to himself:

“This was too hard!”

He gets up shakes his head and tries the chest to the right. As he approaches the chest, it opens and a mage hand pops out with a cigar, sticks it into the adventurer’s mouth and lights it.  In the chest lies 300pp. 

“This was too easy!  What a haul!”

Placing all the money into his backpack, Goldenshield tackles the third chest.  He manages to notice a trap and decides to break the chest open.  With much effort he manages to break open the chest and inside gleams a +1 magic sword.

“This was just right”

Confident in his abilities as an adventurer, he continues down the tunnel and notices a glow ahead.  He enters the room and makes a little noise.  Unfortunately for him, it is Orcus, demon prince of the undead!!!  He spots Goldenshield and in one fell swoop...decimates our adventurer. Just before perishing Goldenshield looks up to Orcus and says:

“This was too hard...”

I will not be the one to disagree that DMs have it tough.  They are very busy individuals.  They have to build the encounters, run the encounters, and keep their players happy.  This is a very tall order, but it has to be filled nonetheless. However, there are DM’s who still do not follow the essence of what gaming is all about.  This article will compare 3 types of DMs and what should and should not be done to create and deploy delightful encounters.

The Power Tripper
The first type of DM is the one I like to call the Power Tripper.  The following is a list of the characteristics of this type of DM:

1. Treats his monsters like player characters. 
He thinks that the monsters deserve as much of a chance to survive as the player characters themselves.  This DM is envious that the players get to advance their characters, and he wishes that he could be playing alongside them.

2. The level of encounter he likes to throw at the party is usually hard.
This DM will usually design the encounters he throws at the party 1-3 levels higher than the player characters level.  In concordance with the above point, it is in hope of designing a combat encounter to possibly kill one or more player characters.  This DM will either use no minions, or more than recommended, in order to overwhelm the party.  He enjoys either the TPK or character withdrawal.

3. Is usually inflexible.
This DM is usually a by the books players and is very inflexible in his storyline and will not give PCs the opportunity to try anything because they are contrary to the rules.  He will kill party members without a thought, hiding behind the rules.  He is the type of DM that will railroad the party into where he wants them to go in the adventure. This can really make adventuring unpleasant.

4. Is usually cheap
He will usually hand out little or no treasure, because he thinks that if the party defeats the monsters that they are too powerful and do not deserve the magic.  This DM also tends to neglect magic and gold; he concentrates too much on designing encounters that will challenge or overwhelm the party.

The Pushover
The pushover DM seems almost self explanatory.  This DM will allow pretty much anything.  He will try to please all the players any way he can. Many characteristics describe this type of DM.

1. Is very lenient
You want to leap over that chasm will little or no chance of success the DM will give a bonus to help the character along.  You want to leap 10 feet into the air to get to those Goblins on the ledge, you will manage somehow. The DM make things easier.

2. Makes things easy.
Encounters with this type of DM tend to waver towards the easy side; 1-2 levels lower than the party level.  Player characters tend to have an easy time with these encounters.  Player resources hardly used up, and usually go for many encounters before extended rests.

3. Hands out way too much treasure.
The DM wants so much to please the party, that he gives them anything they want. Gold, magic items etc...

This DM is fun to play with in the short term, but in the long term, boring encounters lead to bored players.  Players lose interest, and tend to leave the game in the long run, not willing to put up with the easiness of the game.

The True DM
This is the person who makes all the right moves.

1. Flexible yet reasonable.
The players enjoy trying all sorts of new things with this one.  He sets the DCs according to what the player wants to try, whether it be to sneak up on a Dragon, or to trick the new Baron into hiring you into his service, the DM will adjust the difficulty of the situation and never say no to the player (unless it is something way out there).

2. Encounters are just right.
Just when the players think they have it easy, the DM throws a monkey wrench into their cakewalk.  This is a characteristic of a DM that can modify encounters to challenge the characters and to build them up to an epic battle.  He understands that the players need a balance; some easy, and some hard encounters.

3. Players are implicated
The DM knows that this game is not only there to satisfy his gaming needs, but the gaming needs of all his players.  Players do not game only to roll dice, but to contribute to the storyline and the adventure on behalf of their characters.  The DM is able to take the players action and spin these into one incredible story.  He is flexible with whichever way the players want to head.  Players appreciate this.

To be a great DM takes a lot of preparation.   In order to achieve the goal of not falling into a Power Tripper or Pushover, your skills as a DM have to be honed through education (blogs, others opinion) knowing what your players want, and a lot of practice.  Unfortunately, some DMs come naturally to being a True DM: the rest of us have to work at it.

How do you rate yourself as a DM?  Do you fall into one of the categories mentioned above?