Friday, February 15, 2013


The never-lacking, ever-metal Zak at PDaDwPS posted this entry which he dubbed Balance.

In it he says, essentially, that he is cool with any puzzle, trap or encounter the PCs of any given game may come across as long as there is a possibility that a reasonable group of average, intelligent people (the Players in this case) can survive and defeat it.

I am paraphrasing of course and probably not doing it justice.

 Go read it. Come back after. I'll be here.

Hmmm-hmmm. Da-dee-da.

Back? OK.

I agree whole heartily with everything this says.

Then I reach this point...

"Allegedly there are GMs who won't give you the chance to puzzle it out and who won't agree with you about what's a good idea. When I meet one I'll start worrying."

...and my first thought is, "It must be nice to be Zak."

Now I don't mean this facetiously. I don't mean because he gets to have sex with some of the most beautiful women on the planet or because he is such a skilled artist. My envy does not stem from these...well...ok, maybe the first one...but the point is, I envy someone unfamiliar with the GM who won't give you the chance to puzzle it out and who don't agree with you what's a good idea.

I can assure you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that my time in the hobby would've been very different if I had not met the very GMs of whom he speaks. I am primarily a GM and no lover of Dungeons & Dragons to this day because that is what I encountered when I played that game and a number of others.

From as early as my first game of AD&D 1E to the last game I played over the internet, I have encountered GMs who can't believe you tried multiple times in multiples ways of figuring out the puzzle but weren't thinking of the one-and-only-thing-that-would-work-which-is-based-on-an-obscure-concept-that-I, the GM-spent-the-last-three-weeks-figuring-out.

Nope sorry. Funny? That I am. Creative? I like to think so. Capable of an excellent William Shatner impression? Most definitely. Telepathic? Nope, can't help ya.

"Really Adam? Really? You couldn't figure out that the way of escaping the trap was eluded to by the images of goats in the ballroom tapestries? Don't tell me you aren't familiar with 14th Century French Tapestry Art and the meaning of their images as political and social symbols. You didn't get the reference, you don't know tapestry art and you failed to ask the seamstress who I mentioned walking by and waving to you all as you approached the castle. I gave you every available chance. Do I have to spell it out for you?"

Yes. If you are going to use information no one knows but you and make it the key to enjoying this adventure than f*^&ing Yes!

In reference to the GM who doesn't agree with you on what's a good idea, if I had a nickel for every time I've encountered or seen that I would be able to buy back my entire collection of original Star Wars figures and brother, I had a Bantha load.

I remember one instance that still keeps me up at night sometimes.

I was watching some friends play a Sentai RPG campaign run by a female GM who they knew but I did not. Basically it was a Superhero campaign styled after Japanese Super-Sentai shows, what we know here in the US as 'Power Rangers'.

A PC villain, after monologuing triumphantly at how he had trapped the Red and Blue Rangers, also PCs, blasted them with a huge, spherical energy bolt. The way in which they were trapped made it impossible for them to dodge, reach for their weapons or whathaveyou. There was barely enough room to move but there was that much. It seemed they were doomed!

With nothing to lose, my pal Nelson, playing the Red Ranger, swung his arm to simply backhand the ball of energy away. The look on Nelson's face, the sly smirk, the steely gaze, was enough to send the villain Player reeling back with a nervous chuckle. We knew Nelson had formed a plan, an explanation for the insane action in the same moment he thought of it.

The GM said, "You can't do that. It's an energy bolt. It will explode. You're hit. Take..."

"Wait!", said Nelson, "Our armor is energy resistant and PseudoScience/Magic. This is Sentai and Sentai is Japanese. Japanese characters have a precedent for batting away energy blasts. Goku of Dragonball Z does it all the time, as did characters in many older series created by the same guys who created the first Sentai shows."

Then the villain's Player piped in as he was the true guru on all things Sentai. "Actually in one of the early Sentai shows one or two of the characters could defect lasers with their hands or bracelets, not unlike Wonder Woman. I'm cool with this. He can try to deflect the blast."

No. The GM would not allow it. It didn't make sense to her.

When the term 'Old School' is bandied about, I tend to think of GMs and play styles like that. When I wasn't GMing, when someone else was, most of the other GMs I encountered were very much like the woman in the tale above.

So forgive me my gripes and jabs at Old School in general and D&D in particular. I can name the GMs I've met in my 35 years of experience who were not like that out of memory. I can count them on one hand. I might need to include my other hand were I to include myself in their number.

I hope you all appreciate the time you spend not playing with those GMs or being those GMs. Smile about it and give thanks.

Good gaming all.

Barking Alien


  1. Must admit I have a friend who runs to convoluted plots and several layers of multi-coloured herring in his games. After the third or fourth layer, we usually give it up and the game quietly dies.

    I've found that convoluted plots work better in prose than in roleplaying games as none of the players I know, no matter how bright they are, are either Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot and, quite frankly, we play RPGs for fun, not to prove what great tetris players we are.

    1. Multilayered and/or complex plots in and of themselves don't bug me.

      It's when said plots are based on this one episode of this one TV show that was on 11 years ago for about two years and if you didn't see that episode you can't solve the problem.


      If you are going to do that make sure everyone is a fan of that show before you make that adventure.

      I've said it before and I'll say it again, my Star Trek adventures often refer to things from the various TV series. No Star Trek adventure I have ever run REQUIRES you to have seen the series to succeed.

  2. Zak's right. Start worrying about these people once you've met one. Once he's left the room, stop worrying about him.

  3. I had one of those GM's once. It was a one-shot, and we spent almost an hour trying to figure out the puzzle which constituted the last scene of the game. Eventually he had an NPC help us out, which was worse.

    When it comes to plot complications, I think you need to get about as convoluted as a Scooby Doo episode. Anything higher will get lost.

    1. I don't know.

      While at present I don't have too many detective/investigative type players, there was a time where I had a good number.

      Kobold notes that none of us are Sherlock Holmes but my ex-wife, Allen of RavenFeast's Mead Hall, Pete Hernandez from my old High School group and a few of the fellows from our Star Trek and Champions day could definitely give Batman a run for their money.

  4. This are multiple aspects to this topic.

    One the one hand we are talking about dickish GMs who, rather than using encounters to entertain and challenge their players, use encounters to either beat their players or prove that they are somehow cleverer, better more knowledgeable, etc. than their players and who smirk and gloat when their players can't figure out such a "simple" puzzle. This isn't a problem with the old school. There are immature dickish GMs everywhere. Newsflash to this breed, RPGS are cooperative games not competitive ones. If you want to compete, go play a board game.

    On the other hand, we are taking about the age old question of should an encounter challenge the players or should it challenge the characters? The old school tends to favor the former over the latter but that's not a bad thing. I mean it's fun for a player to have to solve a puzzle but a problem arises when the game loses sight of the idea that the players are playing characters. The worst puzzles are ones that rely exclusively on player knowledge that the character wouldn't have, whether it be a reference to popular culture or a part of the GMs thesis, if the puzzle is expected to be solved by something that the character could not and should not know it's the worst sort of meta-gaming. A good puzzle is something that is self contained, the clues to solving it should be contained within it or should be well within the characters body of knowledge. The character could, of course, have knowledge that the player doesn't have and that is where die rolls should come into the picture. My 18 intelligence wizard with high ranking knowledge skills should be better at solving the puzzle than me. Thus a good balanced approach that combines both player and character capabilities is that the player must solve the puzzle but can make rolls against the characters stats or skills in order to get hints from the GM. This way the experience is a player having fun playing a character who is solving a puzzle which is what RPGs are about.

    Of course, none of this works if the GM is a dick.

    1. Here's the thing about being a dick...OK two things.

      First, don't be one.

      Second, the last time I faced a GM with an obscure, nigh-unsolvable puzzle as a player, I honestly don't think they were trying to be a dick. Not at all. I think they were trying to be clever and challenging.

      The problem was and is, what is challenging and clever to your experience may not mesh well with the experience and knowledge of others.

      So, check and see if anyone in your group other than yourself read that book, saw that movie, knows anything about DC Comics from the early 50's, watched every single episode of the new Doctor Who or whatever before thinking about using any one of those things as the basis for a puzzle or trap. It's usually better to go more general and have a trap or puzzle based on reason, a common cliche', word play or something that anyone with a bit of thinking can sort out.

    2. Yes, and unless you are playing a modern setting or the game is actually set in the Doctor Who or DC Universe, the character certainly hasn't read that book or seen that movie and so, isn't going to have the knowledge required to solve the puzzle.

      A funny counterpoint to this is that whenever I steal a puzzle or plot point of some kind from a book or film, it's my sincere hope that the players haven't read it or seen it, otherwise they'll know the solution in advance. Of course, since I'm not a bad GM I make sure that the characters do have the knowledge to allow the players to find the solution and if the players come up with a clever alternative way to solve the problem, I will go with it.

  5. A welcome counterpoint illustrating an important idea:
    your perception of D&D and old school games is based on different people than mine is.

    You did make one mistake, but it's small:
    "In it he says, essentially, that he is cool with any puzzle, trap or encounter the PCs of any given game may come across as long as there is a possibility that a reasonable group of average, intelligent people (the Players in this case) can survive and defeat it."

    The word "average" is not in my post. When running games, I am uninterested in average people or what they want or can do.

    1. Point received and taken. You are correct and I did indeed er in that regard.

      One might say the 'average' person isn't playing RPGs at all, eh?

      Although, as I mentioned in my posts before, there must be an 'average gamer'. Hmmm.

    2. The average person probably doesn't play games but even the average gamer is way too dumb or at least too boring to hang out with. I like fun, clever people.

  6. Oh my ... how "exclusive" of some people. No "average people or gamers allowed" ... how awesome that must be ...