Last week we had a look at Arrogance and Affluence and this
week we look at the last three: Attachment, Adherence, and Anal.
3.Attachment (being too attached to your NPCs or monsters)
“The root of suffering is
attachment.” – The Buddha
I love it when a DM puts in the time,
effort, and imagination to create something both interesting and challenging
for the players. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an original
work/adventure/idea but it should have that particular DM’s personal touch
added. This is the difference between a good DM and an excellent one. However,
when a DM puts in their time, effort, and creativity into a project, something
diabolical and sinful can happen from time to time. This would be what I like
to call the “Attachment Effect”.
Essentially, the Attachment Effect is
where a DM has created something that they love so much it becomes more
important than anything else. Depending on what it is, the DM can become so
protective of this thing that it begins to railroad the adventure and perhaps
even alienate the players. Here are two examples of the Attachment Effect that
I have personally witnessed:
1) Attachment to a Monster. Our group
had been on the trail of a Dragon who had attacked a nearby town. We followed
it into a labyrinth of underground caverns and began to prep ourselves for the
big fight. Our DM however, had other plans. Unknown to us, he had worked for
hours creating an elaborate backstory for this Dragon and he had planned for
our group to find him, have a dialog, and eventually come to terms peacefully.
Our group however, attacked the Dragon on sight despite the pleadings of
the DM. This lead to a total party kill (TPK) and the DM eventually scrapped
the whole campaign.
2) Attachment to an NPC. Sometimes DMs
like to put NPCs into the mix as their way of getting in a little playtime for
themselves. This is not a bad thing on its own but can develop into a problem
when the NPC begins to have more playing time than the actual players! If you
suddenly find that the DM’s NPC is doing most of the talking, making most of
the decisions, and even winning most of the battles, something needs to be done
To combat this Cardinal Sin the DM must
be continually reminded that the players and the story need to be the two main
foci for any adventure. NPCs and monsters are great tools for accomplishing the
task but they are just the means to the end, not the end themselves. NPCs and
monsters are no more an adventure than a hammer and a drill are a house.
4.Adherence (being a rules lawyer)
“I have always found that
mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” – Abraham Lincoln
Being a rules lawyer is one of the worst qualities I can think of in a player. And, let me be clear, there is a big
difference between someone who knows the rules well and someone who
continuously brings them up. But, when the DM himself or herself is the rules
lawyer, it creates a very unbending and harsh
environment where players can feel restrained. This is the total opposite of
what D&D should be, in my opinion.
Make no mistake, the rules are a
fundamental part of what makes the game work and everyone, both DMs and PCs,
should have a solid grasp of why things are the way they are. But understanding
and enforcing do not always go hand-in-hand. For example, I recently had a PC
in my group, the Bard, attempt to give a rousing speech to a group of local
villagers to boost their moral and give them the courage to defend their town from
an impending attack. I told him to roll his diplomacy but in my mind the roll
really didn't matter. I was going to give him their undivided attention and he
was going to succeed no matter if the die had come up 1. It was an iconic
moment; it was a critical piece to the story; and, from my point of view as the
DM, the rules could bugger off. His actual roll was, in fact, very good;
however, if I had been a rules lawyer and the roll had come up 1, the villagers
would have ignored him and several negative things would have happened. The
player would have felt discouraged, his fellow players would have been let
down, and the story would have been placed in crisis because without the
villagers the PCs would have had to defend the town alone. Why unleash all of
those issues over one stupid roll?
In my mind, the rules are nowhere near
as important as the story and the story should trump the rules every time. If
you feel like, or have been told that you are a rules lawyer, I want you to
repeat the following ten times before every game: “Knowing and enforcing the
rules at every opportunity does not make me superior. It just makes me
5.Anal (being overly concerned about every single tiny teeny-weenie
“Fastidious taste makes
enjoyment a struggle.” – Mason Cooley
‘So as you approach the entrance to the
cavern you notice that there are several bushes nearby with dark green, almost
black, leaves interspersed with bright red berries that remind you of
strawberries, although they are smaller and more round in shape similar to
snake berries. The bushes are about three feet high and have a kind of
chocolate brown bark to them. There is also a smell in the air around their
proximity that has the initial scent of cinnamon, but then turns very sour like
that of a lemon or grapefruit. Sorry, where was I?’ *Bang!* (that would be the PCs taking matters
into their own hands).
Fortunately, I’ve really only seen one
DM in my experience who committed this sin regularly. However, when it exists
it can be a game killer. Now, in the defence of some, this issue can be
temporarily brought on by nerves (maybe it’s the DM’s first time or first time
with a new group and they are trying extra hard), or it could be brought on by
the DM playing for time while he or she frantically thinks about what’s supposed
to be next. These circumstances make this Cardinal Sin forgivable. What is not
forgivable is a DM that does this regularly because they are a little stuck
inside of their own mind. How does a DM get stuck in their mind? It usually has
something to do with being a perfectionist or trying very hard to be as
detailed as possible (often in an effort to impress the players). Ironically,
this can be one of the quickest ways to alienate or disengage your players from
you and the game.
The best advice to handle this Cardinal
Sin is to RELAX! Not everyone needs to be J.R.R. Tolkien when they describe
things. Players just want the basics and if they need something specific, they
will ask. In fact, the only time I go into more detail about a room than two or
three sentences is when I’m trying to set something up that will come into play
later such as a trap or a hidden monster or a secret passage. As a DM, be aware
if you are doing too much. Also, do your best to work on the quality of your
words, rather than the quantity. Let your motto be that time honored cliché:
keep it simple stupid.
Do you have another Cardinal DM Sin
you’d like to add to the list? Make a comment below!
In my article from last week, I mentioned that it was a
Cardinal Sin for DMs to assume that they knew exactly what their players were
going to do at any given time. This got me thinking about all of the Cardinal DM
Sins and so I thought I would outline the top five for you. Now this list is by
no means complete; however, I feel that these five terrible sins are the worst
and should be avoided at all costs. If you are a DM and you recognize that you
have one or more of these issues, you should seek advice from your players or
even other DMs as to how to cure these terrible afflictions.
(assuming that your players will always do exactly what you think they will do)
“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm
of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a
better person.” – Leo Tolstoy
I will begin where I last left
off. Too many DMs, especially the ones who have been playing with the same
group for years, think they can predict down to the last breath how their party
is going to react to any given situation. This problem can present itself on
the DM side of things (i.e. the DM is stuck in a boring routine and is never
prepared for the wacky side-adventures of his/her players when they do happen)
or on the player side of things (i.e. the players never do anything wacky
because they are stuck in a boring roleplaying routine). Both of these
scenarios are unacceptable for all people involved.
One of the foundations of
D&D is how open ended it can be. In fact, I’ll bet that if many of you
recalled your favorite or most funny moment in D&D, it probably came out of
something improvised on the spot. It is that capability for the player and/or
DM to be creative that sets roleplaying apart from every other type of game
available. If you want to just sit on the couch and play a perfectly planned
game with a straight-up plot, there are thousands of console games in which you
can indulge. Go fill your boots! In my opinion, D&D is better because it’s
Thankfully, atoning for this
sin is easy. Firstly, if the problem is with you, the DM, you must always have
a good plan in place as to where you want the campaign to go next and be
prepared for a few side-adventures. There’s nothing wrong with these so long as
you can eventually get back to the main plot. Secondly, if the problem is with
your players, you need to do something unexpected to shake things up. It’s time
to think outside of the box, get out of your comfort zone, and engage in half a
dozen other clichés that gets the group as far away from their normal routine
as possible. It doesn’t have to be long-term or even something so wacky your
players will be wondering if you’ve suddenly become possessed, it does need to
be different and memorable and put the idea into the player’s heads that
something about this campaign is going to be different so they should pay more
attention and take a few more risks than usual. Try your best to find a balance
between your regular game and something totally off the wall.
(giving away too many items and/or magic with no challenge or consequence)
“He who wants everything every time will
lose everything any time.” – Vikrant Parsai
In many ways, players are like children.
In game you have to teach them values, morals, and show them what their limits
are. Sometimes they should be rewarded, and sometimes they should be punished.
And, just like children, you have to be wary of the trap of spoiling them in an
effort to buy their love or maintain their interest. Keep in mind that there is
a big difference between your players liking you and respecting you.
Personally, I would much rather my players dislike my stingy nature with
rewards and yet respect me as a DM than like me for what I give them and not respect
me as a DM at all.
Spoilt children always expect something
bigger down the line, and spoilt players always expect that their characters
will get better and “cooler” as they grow in levels. How do you expect to
maintain that expectation when you give away most of the cool stuff too early,
or for little effort? And when you fail to meet their expectations down the
road you will find yourself in the very interesting position of having given
away everything the players ever wanted and they still are very displeased with
both you, as the DM, and the campaign in general. Why? Because human nature
dictates that enough is never enough.
To combat this sin, you have to do two
things: 1) Do not give in to the wants of your players just to “keep them
happy”. Giving out rewards or needed items is one thing and handing over +5
armor just because the guy next to you keeps whining about it is another.
Remember that you are the “parent” in this situation and sometimes you have to
put your foot down and make the hard calls. They may not like it but they will
eventually respect you for doing so. 2) Always try to couple risk and reward.
Nothing should come for free in D&D and, if you are inclined to give your
players that +2 sword or a wand of magic missiles, you should make damn sure
they have to work for it. Maybe they have to slay the two-headed Ogre; or find
the well-hidden treasure room in the dungeon; or even save up thousands of gold
pieces from an entire campaign to purchase it from an NPC. However they get
their hands on that “whatever”, make sure that it is a reward and not charity.
for next week’s article which will have the remaining three Cardinal DM Sins!
This week I’m taking a look at another amazing female
artist, Anne Stokes. Anne (also known by her nickname, Ironshod) currently
lives in the UK and began her career around 1998. Her D&D credits include: Monster
Manual III (2004), Player's Handbook II (2006), Monster Manual IV (2006),
Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss (2006), Complete Mage (2006), Magic Item
Compendium (2007), Monster Manual V (2007), Rules Compendium (2007), and the
4th edition Monster Manual (2008) and Manual of the Planes (2008).
Overall, there is a richness to Anne’s work that seems to
transcend the page. Her colors are always vibrant and never clash. I’m also
impressed by the way she can put real heartfelt emotion into her characters; be
it love, sadness, hate, pride, joy, etc. It’s easy to fall in love with her
work because the work itself is like a love letter: passionate, well crafted,
To have a closer look at the piece known as Drider, one can quickly pick up on the
flowing color palette of purples and grays common to many depictions of the Drow. It’s also interesting to
examine the expression of hate on the face of the once powerful female Drow
(most likely a priestess in my opinion) who is now magically altered to have
the body of a giant spider for the rest of her days. Where does that hate come
from? Well, for those who may not know, the process of turning a Drow into a
Drider is considered a permanent punishment in Dark Elf culture. Sure, you get
to be much larger and stronger, but the trade-off is a loss of intelligence and
a breakdown of one’s will. Essentially, you become an easy-to-control killing
machine. C’est la vie!
Also, a quick look at the background reveals that Anne
Stokes knows much about the Drider’s environment as well. Nestled into the back
of a small cave, the Drider’s webs have been carefully threaded among the stalactites and stalagmites. And it also looks like she's been busy as she's collected the skulls of many unprepared visitors. The whole work just screams "underdark" to my eyes.
If you’d like to see more of Anne’s works, including her unforgettable, fantastic dragon pieces, check out her website at: www.annestokes.com
Here’s a question that I hear a
lot: As a DM, what do you do when your players don’t do what you expected or
have planned? Answer: I beat them ruthlessly with large metal objects.
Thanks, have a good week!
Well okay, maybe I don’t do that,
but the thought has crossed my mind! Seriously however, every DM has been in
that situation where they think they know exactly how their group is going to
handle a situation and they run off in totally different and unexpected
direction. I’ve heard these events called “side-quests”, or “unexpected
adventures”, or even “chaos content”. I simply call them tangents and they are nothing to be feared.
Tangents are almost always linked
to choices that the players have to make in-game. Choices like killing an NPC or keeping them
around as a prisoner; or running away from the gang of thugs in the alley or
staying to fight; paying the merchant a fair price or stealing what you need; following
the rumor you heard at the tavern or ignoring it as gossip. Each of these
choices have consequences (or they should) and the DM must be ready to handle
any choices the PCs might make. It is a cardinal sin for DMs to assume that
they know exactly what choice the PCs will make and only prepare for one
decision. If you feel that way, why give them the choice in the first place? It
is much better to be open to anything and flexible enough in your planning to
adapt for the inevitable tangent.
But how do you do that, you might
ask? Well it all comes back to good campaign planning. Personally, my goal for
every one of my campaigns is to provide a novel-like storyline for all of my
players to run though. However, that doesn't mean that I plan out every scene,
action, or event down to the last detail. Doing that would just be inviting
disappointment and frustration. Instead, what I generate are plot points I call
guideposts. Depending on how long I
want my campaign to be, I can set as few as three or four and as many as ten or
twelve. These guideposts can really be anything. Some examples are: combats,
dungeons, events (such as murders, suicides, invasions, political change, a
natural disaster, etc.), the PCs discovering a secret, uncovering a hidden
plot, you name it! Once I have my guideposts, all I need do is set them out in
order and (eventually) follow them. To give you a better
understanding of what I mean, what follows is a detailed example.
So, to begin,
I decide that I want to run a campaign that will be played one night a week,
three hours a night, for three months. That’s a total playing time of 36 hours.
For a campaign of this size I would be planning for three guideposts. That’s
three major events I want to see happen in the time I have. Now let’s say that
those three events are going to be: 1) a combat that leads to a NPC(s) being taken hostage, 2)
a dungeon, and 3) the fight with the final boss. Simple enough and I’m sure you
can fill in the details with any number of possibilities.
So now that I have my three
guideposts, as a DM I’m capable of handling almost any situation/decision my
PCs can make without fear of never getting back to my story. But what if the
PCs don’t care about who has been taken hostage and don’t want to give chase? Give them a reason to care! Offer a reward, make the hostage takers old
rivals that the PCs are aching to see behind bars, make the NPC(s) important to their background, raise the stakes! But what if the PCs
decide that the dungeon can wait for a few days while they level up elsewhere?
There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you have the time to spare. And, if you
feel like you are running out of time, maybe it’s time for a strong reminder
like having some of the hostage takers attack them in the night and steal some of
their equipment! But what if they attack the final boss with almost no hit
points or spells? Two answers here. Firstly, if you have some time to burn,
maybe the boss defeats them the first time around without killing them and they
need to run into each other a second time for the “real” fight. Secondly, if
time is short, your answer might be cutting your final boss’ hit points down to
“easy” level, or perhaps tipping your PCs off to a big weakness in his
Here’s the main point: there’s
nothing wrong with letting the characters go on a little side adventure, or
wandering off in a previously unexpected direction, or even taking unexpected and foolish risks as long as the DM can
eventually pull them back to the central plot, i.e. the next guidepost. Sometimes,
I even find it a challenge to indulge the PCs in their side-quests until I can
manufacture a way to integrate what seemed to be a tangent into the main story.
For example, let’s say that your
campaign hinges on the PCs tracking down a thief and interrogating him for some
vital information. But, when the time comes, the PCs kill the thief before he
can give the vital information away. You’re stuck right? Wrong! Embrace the
fact that you are about to embark on a tangent and start working on the countless
ways that you can bridge the gap between where you wanted to be and where you
are. Are you in a hurry? Maybe the thief has the information marked down on a
piece of parchment back at his inn room and the PCs have to find a way inside
without being seen. Do you have lots of time to spare? Then why not make this unexpected happening a part of the journey and go on an elaborate tangent to find the “only
other person in the world” who knows the information you need.
A sudden change of circumstances
and patching plot holes on the fly is one of the biggest tests a DM can face.
Some are very good at it and can make any tangent appear seamless. Others get
very uncomfortable and can bend under the pressure. However, I believe that good
planning and easy to follow guideposts can help even the most inexperienced DM
stay on the path of good gaming. Open your mind to the possibilities, accept that things are not
always going to go to plan, and organize the chaos.
Since the Royal Museum of Dice Shaming was such a hugely popular article, I’ve decided that
it’s time for you folks to show me how well you can shame your dice! That’s
right, the only thing you have to do to enter this contest is take a quick pic
of your die or dice with a nice shaming caption next to it/them explaining how
it/they screwed you over…and over…and perhaps over.
You can enter as many times as you like and send your
entries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
with the heading “Dice Shaming Contest”. I’ll be judging the best entries on
creativity and humor so do your best to make your dice rolling misery as
hilarious as possible.
If you are reading this, the contest is already open and
I will be accepting entries until Friday, August 22, at midnight, North
American Eastern Time. The winner and the “best of” entries will be posted to
this blog on Friday, August 29.
The winner will receive…(drum roll)…a new set of dice!
Yes, I will mail you a brand new, never been opened or used in any way, set of
dice to hopefully reverse those horrible fortunes you’ve been having with your
present ones. You’ll also receive a “Certificate of Awesomeness” and the
countless laughs/groans of your fellow roleplayers.
Looking forward to seeing what y’all can come up with.
This week I return to the amazing work of Larry Elmore
and a piece that I have adored for years. This one is entitled “Cities of
Mystery” and was the cover art for a boxed set in 2nd Edition of the
same name. Incidentally, if you’ve never had the chance to look at that boxed
set, I highly recommend it. It was full of great ideas, plotlines, and NPCs
that could be used in any urban setting.
Getting back to the artwork, I love this piece because it
grips the viewer immediately. I think the first thing that draws your eye is
the grinning character (Gnoll? Werewolf?) on the right side. It’s only after closer inspection that
you realize that he is very well hidden and the real focus should be on the
“beggar” luring in the two unsuspecting travelers. I’d also like to think that
those two travelers are spending their very first day inside the walls of the
big city. Unfortunately, they seem on the verge of learning the hard way that
cities can be full of deceitful people.
Looking at the details of the piece, the “beggar” seems
to be trying to attract attention by the use of a small pendant, perhaps asking
the travelers if they are interesting in buying it. However, I’d also like to
think that perhaps the pendant has magical properties making the “beggar”
appear friendlier and more inviting than he really is. Either way, he seems to
have the travelers’ attention as they are turning inward for a closer look.
Interestingly, the travelers do have their weapons drawn and that could be a
hint that these folks won’t go down without a fight.
My intuition tells me that the next few moments after the
one depicted here will result in a very interesting fight. But who will be the
winner? You decide!