Author Topic: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.  (Read 11526 times)

The Good Reverend Roger

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A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« on: February 10, 2011, 05:26:52 pm »
Okay, the number one bitch I hear from DMs is, "I can't hold a group together."  Most of what follows I have learned from painful experience, either from my own mistakes, or from sitting in on other people's disasters as a player.

1.  PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE.  If you're running a published adventure, copy the maps and READ THE FUCKING ADVENTURE while consulting the maps.  If you're running your own adventure, put some time into it.  The players know when you're winging it.  It sucks.  Also, STICK TO YOUR PREPARATIONS.  If it turns out to be a cakewalk, so be it.  If it's too difficult, because you fucked up the balance, give the party a chance to retreat.

2.  READ AND KNOW THE RULES.  This is especially important for setting up an adventure.

3.  BOOK RULES.  This is the NUMBER ONE THING that causes players to leave the game.  If you must have house rules, write them up and distribute them, so everyone knows what they are.  Rules that change moment-to-moment are frustrating as hell to your players, and it destroys the suspension of disbelief that separates D&D from table top war games.  Also, see #4.

4.  CLASS/RACE ABILITIES ARE NOT TO BE NERF-BATTED.  Nothing is worse than dealing with a DM who thinks that a core class is "broken", and modifies it...Or jacks with the rules to make his life easier.  The best example of this is the second level rogue ability Evasion.  It doesn't matter where the rogue is, or what the situation is.  If he makes his reflex save vs that fireball, he takes no Goddamn damage even if there's nowhere for him to hide or take cover.  It's a game mechanic, used to balance the various classes.  This isn't a Goddamn physics class.  He just gets to do it.  End of story.  Half the fun of the game is leveling up to those cool abilities.  Having them then arbitrarily neutered by a lazy DM makes players angry, and they'll eventually quit.  DO THE FUCKING LEGWORK TO MAKE A CHALLENGE, DO NOT FORCE A CHALLENGE BY DENYING CLASS ABILITIES THAT THE PLAYERS HAVE EARNED.

5.  "THE DM'S WORD IS LAW" IS NOT AN EXCUSE TO BE A SHITBAG.  Killing a player arbitrarily or using DM fiat to make up for shortcomings in your preparation is fucking weak.

6.  DO NOT START NEW CAMPAIGNS EVERY TWO GODDAMN WEEKS.  This one's a killer.  The players worked to level up, and they want to use the abilities they've earned.  Yes, preparing high level adventures is a solid bitch.  If you can't handle it, let someone else run.  If you do not provide continuity, your players will leave.

7.  IF YOU FUDGE THE DICE, ONLY DO SO FOR THE PLAYER'S BENEFIT.  Sometimes a player does everything right, and the dice fuck him anyway.  Instead of having that last hit he took kill him, leave him 3 points short of death (negative value of Con is the point of death in pathfinder, -10 in 3.5).  On the other hand, if he tried something stupid, let him die.

8.  USE A DM SCREEN.  You can't see what the universe is about to do, the players shouldn't see what the bad guys are up to.

9.  LET THE PLAYERS ROLL THEIR OWN SKILL CHECKS, ETC.  If you make all their rolls in secret, they feel like spectators.

10.  THE PLAYERS ARE THE HEROES.  If you're running NPC THEATER, where their favorite NPCs have to save the party all the damn time, you don't have a game.  Win or lose, live or die, the players are the main characters.

Sometimes the players are going to rabidly own your ass.  That happens, but it rates a rant of its own, so I won't go into detail here.
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2011, 05:31:31 pm »
Also,

11.  DO NOT START THE PARTY AT 20TH LEVEL.  Players don't value characters that they haven't brought up from 1st level.

12.  READ THE FUCKING RULE BOOK.  Did I already say that?  Well, it bears repeating.
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
- TGRR, raising the bar at work.

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2011, 05:39:07 pm »
11.  DO NOT START THE PARTY AT 20TH LEVEL.  Players don't value characters that they haven't brought up from 1st level.

Is starting at level 3 acceptable? I've heard that it's a fairly common practice.
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2011, 05:48:04 pm »
11.  DO NOT START THE PARTY AT 20TH LEVEL.  Players don't value characters that they haven't brought up from 1st level.

Is starting at level 3 acceptable? I've heard that it's a fairly common practice.

I recommend against it.  Players bitch and cry about starting at 1st, but when you're bullshitting about campaigns gone by, where is the most nostalgia?  It's when Joe Platemail had an AC of 15 and 12 lousy HPs to his name.

Also, abilities stack up pretty fast, and if you haven't grown into them, you won't get the most out of your character.
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
- TGRR, raising the bar at work.

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2011, 05:49:38 pm »
Also,

13.  MAINTAIN CONTINUITY.  Skip too many sessions, and the game will fall apart.  If a player consistently misses, drop him.
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
- TGRR, raising the bar at work.

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2011, 05:53:51 pm »
Also,
12.  READ THE FUCKING RULE BOOK.  Did I already say that?  Well, it bears repeating.

Nothing stifles play like a a few 5 minute clarificaiton hunts.  Same token as not using Deus Ex GM, I think if players can stuff me on a rules point w/o breaking things, eat some crow and give them their victory ... THIS TIME....
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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2011, 05:55:11 pm »
Also,
12.  READ THE FUCKING RULE BOOK.  Did I already say that?  Well, it bears repeating.

Nothing stifles play like a a few 5 minute clarificaiton hunts.  Same token as not using Deus Ex GM, I think if players can stuff me on a rules point w/o breaking things, eat some crow and give them their victory ... THIS TIME....

This.  I'm going to cover that a bit more in "DM ownage", #3 in this series.
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
- TGRR, raising the bar at work.

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2011, 06:14:38 pm »
May I add: DO NOT FORCE YOUR PLAYERS TO PLAY RACIAL OR CLASS STEREOTYPES.
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2011, 06:19:26 pm »
May I add: DO NOT FORCE YOUR PLAYERS TO PLAY RACIAL OR CLASS STEREOTYPES.

Yep.  It's the player's character, not the DM's.  Got a story behind this rule?

The main thing is, people are playing to have fun.  Taking the fun away by fiat kind of defeats the whole purpose.
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
- TGRR, raising the bar at work.

Cramulus

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2011, 06:32:16 pm »
another great post! A few thoughts...

4.  CLASS/RACE ABILITIES ARE NOT TO BE NERF-BATTED.

Core stuff, yeah, best to use it as written. But if you let your players select stuff from other sources, you should really have a look at it before you green-light it. The stuff they publish in Dragon magazine, for example, is usually a bit more powerful than the core material (to give people an incentive to subscribe). I recently had to tell the party rogue he had to trade out a feat called "flash of the blade" which basically let him get a sneak attack without having to use any kind of teamwork, flanking, or set-up attacks. He felt it was unfair, but the feat was craaaacked out.

Quote
8.  USE A DM SCREEN.  You can't see what the universe is about to do, the players shouldn't see what the bad guys are up to.

I keep my notes backstage, but I make my die rolls in front of the players. I think that you make the game less dramatic if you fudging die rolls too frequently, and I want my players to know that I'm not saving them from random crits just cause the party might wipe.  :evil:


11.  DO NOT START THE PARTY AT 20TH LEVEL.  Players don't value characters that they haven't brought up from 1st level.

1st level games are good for telling stories about peasants and regular people that become small town heroes and eventually one day save the world. But if you want to break away from that, or you want to tell an epic level story without grinding through low levels for months, I don't think it's a problem to start higher. After all, they wrote a ton of content for the game and a lot of people never see the higher level stuff.

The players will get to know their characters after a few sessions regardless of what level you're playing at.

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2011, 06:36:08 pm »
5.  "THE DM'S WORD IS LAW" IS NOT AN EXCUSE TO BE A SHITBAG.  Killing a player arbitrarily or using DM fiat to make up for shortcomings in your preparation is fucking weak.

Christ, yes.

Also, I humbly submit:

-EVERYBODY GETS A TURN.  It's fine to spotlight a particular PC for a few sessions, if there's something cool happening.  If it's a sneak-and-run situation, the rogue gets to shine, and that's cool.  It becomes MUCH less cool, fast, when the rogue is the ONLY one who gets to shine.  Ever.

That, by the way, is the only reason I've ever walked away from an active campaign, other than real-life reasons (I have class that night, whatever.)
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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2011, 06:43:38 pm »
I played one session, as a monk, with a new DM (our group had invited her to take the pressure off of me so I could just run games every other week).

During said session, my monk was offered a bribe.  Said bribe was actually turned down after a brief moment roleplay (Whatshisface considers this for a moment, then turns away or something like that).

Apparently even being *tempted* by a bribe violates some monk vow of poverty I've never heard of.  Because all monks are apparently modeled off the real world concept of monk, and can't be a normal person who learned how to kill things with his bare hands.

Quote
-EVERYBODY GETS A TURN.  It's fine to spotlight a particular PC for a few sessions, if there's something cool happening.  If it's a sneak-and-run situation, the rogue gets to shine, and that's cool.  It becomes MUCH less cool, fast, when the rogue is the ONLY one who gets to shine.  Ever.

Incidentally, this sucks even when you're the rogue.  I've been there too.
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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2011, 06:46:16 pm »
It was the paladin in that particular campaign.

Four words.

Holy sword.  Level FOUR.

I think the only reason I kept going back as long as I did was to see if the DM actually WOULD get down on his knees and blow the paladin's player at the gaming table.
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"My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know, everybody you see, everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake, and they live in a state of constant, total amazement."

If Luna was a furry, she'd sex humans and scream "BEASTIALITY!" at the top of her lungs at inopportune times.

I like the Luna one. She is a good one.

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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #13 on: February 10, 2011, 06:47:04 pm »
another great post! A few thoughts...

4.  CLASS/RACE ABILITIES ARE NOT TO BE NERF-BATTED.

Core stuff, yeah, best to use it as written. But if you let your players select stuff from other sources, you should really have a look at it before you green-light it.

My rule is Paizo-official rules only.  No third party stuff, no 3.5 stuff.  That keeps things nice and balanced.


11.  DO NOT START THE PARTY AT 20TH LEVEL.  Players don't value characters that they haven't brought up from 1st level.

1st level games are good for telling stories about peasants and regular people that become small town heroes and eventually one day save the world. But if you want to break away from that, or you want to tell an epic level story without grinding through low levels for months, I don't think it's a problem to start higher. After all, they wrote a ton of content for the game and a lot of people never see the higher level stuff.

The players will get to know their characters after a few sessions regardless of what level you're playing at.

My next rant is about high level adventures.  9 times out of 10, shake & bake high level stuff is just a low level adventure with "mountain giants" dropped in place of "orcs".

Starting at Epic level...Why bother?  They make superhero games already.

Also, take an average player and hand him a 20th level monk.  He won't get jack shit out of his class abilities, because most of them were never used for a while as his best schtick.  
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
- TGRR, raising the bar at work.

The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: A little handy gaming advice #2: How to hold a group together.
« Reply #14 on: February 10, 2011, 06:47:36 pm »
It was the paladin in that particular campaign.

Four words.

Holy sword.  Level FOUR.

I think the only reason I kept going back as long as I did was to see if the DM actually WOULD get down on his knees and blow the paladin's player at the gaming table.

WTF?   :lulz:
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
- TGRR, raising the bar at work.