Friday, January 4, 2013

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 39

CONDUCTING THE GAME
Now we get to the meat of the DMG--only 110 pages in!  Actually, that's a bit misleading, as I do feel (as I've said) that the DMG is a treasure trove of invaluable information for running any game, let alone AD&D. I still to this day will defend it as one of the greatest RPG supplements ever made, particularly if it is read and viewed in the proper light, which is to not consider everything herein as rote gospel for running the game. 

This section deals with practical advice for dealing with common and problematic occurrences in an AD&D game and while it's a bit heavy-handed (as Gygax tends to be), it should be considered a must-read for burgeoning DMs, in my opinion.

Rolling the Dice and Control of the Game
I've expressed issues with certain newer-school games, particularly those that deal with dice pools requiring the GM to penalize or grant bonuses to checks by adding or taking away dice. Why is this sort of thing a problem? Gygax explains herein:

In many situations it is correct and fun to have the players dice such things as melee hits or saving throws. However, it is your right to control the dice at any time and to roll dice for the players. You might wish to do this to keep them from knowing some specific fact. You also might want to give them an edge in finding a particular clue...You do have every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to occur. (DMG, p.110)

Gygax goes on to spell out situations in which dice rolls should always be made secretly: listening, hiding, trap detection, sneaking, secret door detection, etc.

In systems wherein the players are always aware of what they're rolling (the new World of Darkness comes to mind), they will always know exactly how difficult a given task is based on the penalty or bonus dice granted to their pool, and how likely they are to succeed (and indeed, if they succeed at all). Taking control of the dice as GM allows you to moderate this and return a semblance of mystery to the game. Even when my players roll dice (which let's face it, is the vast majority of the time), I don't always tell them if they're penalized or getting a bonus to their check. Thus, the dice might indicate success or failure, but the task's difficulty (set secretly by me) might indicate the opposite.

This section also briefly discusses using dice to aid with GM rulings in situations where the rules do not cover an instance. That is to say, instead of feeling trapped into making an on-the-fly ruling, you can simply set a probability for the situation to play out a given way, and then let the dice fall where they may. This is an exceedingly fair method of DM ruling, so long as your players are amicable to the probabilities you set. Again, remember in any roleplaying game there has to be a degree of trust between the players and DM.

There is a school of thought in gaming these days that we need reams of detailed rules to cover any situation, in order to moderate the apparently ubiquitous horrible GMs running around looking to destroy everyone's Friday nights. I disagree with this line of thought. It's akin to giving the entire class detention because one student farts. Personally, if I have a really shitty GM, I tell him about it, and if the situation doesn't fix itself, or if I seem to be in the minority opinion in the group, it's time for me to find another gaming group. That is to say, I don't game with GMs whose GM style doesn't match my play style, and I wouldn't ask any player whose play style doesn't mesh with my GM style, to play at my table.  For any good game, trust between players and GM is paramount and necessary.

Next up, Gygax discusses death as caused by a "freakish roll of the dice." His take on this is that while the player may have done everything right, if the dice randomly result in the character's death, it should probably be let to pass. His rationale is that there will probably be many times when players achieve victory through freakishly high die-rolls (indeed, I've seen this recently in some games of mine), and so really in the end it's not that unfair. He says, however, that if this is not your preferred choice, there's no reason you can't alter the result to be unconsciousness with a lingering injury--a severed limb, loss of a few ability score points, losing an eye, deaf in one ear, etc.

The only roll that he says should never be tampered with is the System Shock Roll used when a PC is raised from the dead. This is because without such a risk, the players never feel any sense of danger from true death. I agree with this. If a resurrection or raise dead spell is always just around the corner, the need to play smart flies right out the window in many cases. If a player has put a lot of work and care into their PC, and knows that even a resurrection spell could feasibly fail on a bad system shock check, they will tend to be less reckless, less foolish, and more careful in how they portray their characters. The game, as Gygax points out, becomes rather boring when player characters become effectively immortal through the use of magic.

I wanted this to be longer, but I'm doing it on my lunch break, and am running out of time, so that's all for today. Next up: HANDLING TROUBLESOME PLAYERS, and INTEGRATION OF NEW OR EXPERIENCED PLAYERS INTO AN EXISTING CAMPAIGN.

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