Your DM is trying to kill you! vs. Your Players are lemmings!
Welcome back to Ready To Role, gamers. Since I won the Pulitzer for the first column here at Geek Syndicate, it seemed only right that I continue the fun. So, last time we talked about how to make sure your new Player Character fits the setting so you had the most fun possible vs how to make sure your players don’t set themselves up for a fall.
How did your first game go? Had fun? Managed to not burn down the tavern? Some Goblins now lay cleaved in twain? Good work! That was your warm up. Now, the adventure truly begins, because you’re not only hooked on Dungeons and Dragons, but you’ve been introduced to an incredibly dangerous world that you now need to survive in. Here’s how:
Players! Your DM is trying to kill you!
In case you hadn’t noticed, your DM is an evil genius, megalomaniac, sadist. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Your DM’s sole purpose is to make sure that everyone has fun. They write the story, they populate the world with interesting beasties and scenarios for you to come across. It just so happens that everything they have at their disposal is specifically engineered to rip your face off. It’s hardly their fault is it?
If you’ve ever taken a look at the Monster Manual, you might have noticed an uneven balance of creatures designed to help you vs those in the stab-now-and-ask-questions-later crowd. For those who haven’t had a flick through, assuming that your team are doing the right thing all the time (and that rarely happens, does it?) there are twenty creatures in that tome who might give you a hand. Do you know how many will only help if they had their coffee that morning, are totally disinterested in your existence, or want to use you as a whoopee cushion? Two hundred and sixty-nine.
Among some of those monsters are shapeshifters that can look like anything from your loving grandma to the toilet you’re about to have some privacy on (Privacy? Privvy? Anyone? *sigh*).
Yeah, good luck with making friends.
But that’s just the creatures. Players, you need to be ready for everything. Think of the traps that your DM has painstakingly designed. Every time you open a chest or a door in that dungeon crawl, assume it’s trapped. Every time your party rests for the night, assume there’s something waiting for you to close your eyes before mounting you like a jungle lion and having its way with you in the dark. Set a guard rotation, for the love of all the Gods.
Also at your DM’s disposal (that’s before they start “homebrewing” their own ideas) there are: fourteen types of poison, three types of madness, three sample diseases, and a partridge in a pear treeeeeee. One of those diseases is called “cackle fever” which is essentially the Joker’s toxin from Batman (1989), quicksand, thick and thin ice, and something called razorvine which is foliage made of lovely kittens that purr delightfully as you pass by.
Oh, my mistake, apparently it rips you to shreds.
What have we learned? Say it with me:
Paranoia is good. Paranoia is our pal. Embrace the paranoia for it shall be our salvation.
Here are the top three things to think about at all times:
- Check everything for traps – Chests, dungeon entrances, that book you’re about to read. Assume everyone in your campaign setting really wants to keep hold of their stuff
- Set a watch – With a decent sized team, your DM will probably allow you to lose a little sleep in favour of a sentinel rotation. Elves are particularly good at this as they only need 4 hours of meditation to be rested
- Insight check – This is vastly underused in the groups I’ve played in. It’s used to check for lies, illusions and other deceits (with a decent roll, obviously)
DMs! Your players are lemmings!
The scenario is playing out perfectly. Your characters have taken the adventure hook and are searching the wilderness for whatever gribblies you’ve got in store for them. But you’ve noticed something. They don’t seem very scared. You’ve spread thick the tension. The descriptions and perfectly acted NPC reactions should have them changing their pantaloons by now. But they’re stomping their way through the haunted forest whistling Tom Hark like they’re on holiday.
Give them what I like to call “The Plot Slap”.
It’s your job to teach your Players how to play your way. Every DM is different, so they may not be expecting what you have in store for them. They may think that the idea of the game is to be easy. Their characters aren’t real and so they’re immortal.
Laugh along with me, fellow DMs!
The Plot Slap will sort this right out. In the first game of my new homebrew campaign, Avast!, my Players chose to carry gold from one island to another aboard their ship. All was well until an undead pirate turned up and buckled their swashes. They were level one, this was the first game some of them had ever played, and so I crushed them. I let them know that sometimes you need to be careful in this fantasy world. The best way to do that was with a nice beat down. This may sound cruel but it did two things; let them know that they wouldn’t always win, and set them up with a BBEG (big bad evil guy) to try and get revenge on later.
They loved it. Captain Elias Drake, Lich-pirate of Adua, is now their prime target. They aren’t ready for him yet. They’re only level three. But by the time they’ve traversed the trap-infested wizard’s tower to find information on him, spoken to the sea hag on another island about finding a way to catch up to him (his ship sails the grey vale between life and death. Standard), and figured out how to get away with losing someone else’s gold, they’ll be ready. Elias Drake will be their first Big Boss around level five/six. And the victory will be so much sweeter because he got one over on them before.
So, DMs, I give you The Plot Slap. A teaching tool that shows your students the page, and then hits them with the book. Maybe they’ll stop throwing themselves off cliffs and expecting you to catch them.
Thanks for reading, fellow geeks.
See you next time when we’ll be discussing out-thinking our DM with genius ideas vs tackling your Player’s genus ideas.
Craig Hallam is an uber-geek and author of Speculative Fiction from Yorkshire, UK
Find him at www.facebook.com/craighallamauthor or on twitter @craighallam84