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How much should a GM cater to the group?


Gamer Talk

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I have been in or GM'd for some fairly dysfunctional groups. I see some disagreement on how that should be handled by the GM.

I have been in groups that had no one with any significant social or knowledge type skills. Some of the players seemed to think that the GM is then responsible to make all the social intelectual aspects have a lower difficulty so the group can still succeed relatively easily.

I was in one group where no one had much in the way of melee capability. Some people seemed to think that the GM should have changed the encounters so a ranged only group gould take them.

In both cases, I did not feel that way. The group (including me) chose to handicap ourselves by not making any attempt to cover some of the basic roles. I thought we should have had to struggle along and muddle our way through. That was part and parcel of the choices we made.

What do you think should be done in cases like that? Or at least how would you have handled it?

PS1: I'm not trying to straight jacket a party and say you have to have the big 4. But it seems silly that just because no one wanted to make a melee machine that everyone else in the world would suddenly stop trying to close with opponents. Or that since the party is a bunch of obnoxious illiterates that every thing in the world would suddenly have nice little labels and everyone loves obnoxious adventurers.

PS2: If I think some cpability is necessary, I try to tell that to the group at character creation. For example: recent campaign I told the players that as written, the module pretty much requires at least a little bit of channel positive energy capability.


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There is no right or wrong answer to this. The GM and the group have to come to an agreement or they may have to find a new GM/group. The goal is to have fun, but not everyone's idea of fun is the same. Some people think the victories should be earned. Others want them to be a foregone conclusion. I prefer for a group to deal with the consequences of their decisions. If I am the GM they better find another way to deal with the encounter, within reason*. As an example of making people deal with their decisions, if a player refuses to buy a ranged weapon that does not mean I won't use flying creatures. That is on him, not me. I am also of the mindset that GM's don't kill characters. Players get characters killed. It was the player that decided to not buy a bow, dump con, willfully decided to not make a perception check, and so on.

*I won't throw a level 1 group against a CR 6 encounter.

PS:I know there are exceptions to GM's not killing characters.

PS2:Sometimes NPC's kill characters too. :)


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Part of what the GM does is make the game enjoyable for the party. This doesn't mean easy or quick or simple. Some times is means tactically challenging or require non-obvious or novel solutions. This is why being a GM requires some fluidity because you want to reward players for doing something you didn't plan for but which makes sense.

However, if a party lacks melee characters, then making small room brawls would penalize the players without providing any means for innovation or clever problem solving. The idea that a ranged-only party should only be given ranged-only combat is silly, but so is a bunch of melee only combats that the players cannot win.

The same problem comes up with parties full of twinks that are destroying APL appropriate fights. The GM complains that they don't know what to do because the rules say APL X gets CR X encounters. But as GM, you make every encounter; if the players are blowing through CR X encounters, you just bump it up to X+2. Same here; you want things to be challenging without being impossible; fun without being trivial.

Having a plot choke-point that can only be solved using Diplomacy is a bad idea in a party without any diplomats... but having diplomacy be the 'easy' option and allowing/hinting/accepting other options is a good plan (such as bribery, black mail, sneaking, etc). Throwing a party of magic users through a golem-based dungeon is bad because it is boring and pointlessly punitive. However, having a few magic-immune enemies now and then provides tactically interesting challenges.

The key is to the game interesting for the players without making it impossible.


I agree that a party cannot expect every enemy to use nothing but ranged tactics against them. I would suggest that, on the whole, there are WAY more melee creatures than there are ranged ones.

As for no social/interaction, the party has the capacity to buy knowledge if they can't do it themselves. Of course that doesn't help them identify bad guys so that they can easier defeat them but that's on the party.
The Party has made it's choices and will need to muddle through as best it can.

I'm in a group right now where the only melee fighter we have is my rogue. GAH!! He's modifying his style to deal with it but it's not easy (2 feat dip for Combat Expertise and Improved Feint so he can still get Sneak Attack damage).
Sometimes it's expensive to cover party issues due to the make up of a party but, you make do.

Cheliax

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

I think the group should have to live with their choices.

If they choose to play a certain way IMO it is not the GM's job to cater to them.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
bigkilla wrote:

I think the group should have to live with their choices.

If they choose to play a certain way IMO it is not the GM's job to cater to them.

I think you need to cater to party a bit. With so many options you have a base line and some parties are above others are below it. If you don't cater to the party you will have groups that are above that baseline finding the game boring becuase everything is too easy. Then the opposite where the game is frustrating because everything is too hard. I find frustrating game less of an issue because they usually end up in TPK quite quickly. The boring games drag on and just need to bit tweeking, like adding 1 to APL works. Make use of interesting terrian and stacking encounters one after another as to give little time for recovery.


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Gronk de'Morcaine wrote:
PS2: If I think some cpability is necessary, I try to tell that to the group at character creation. For example: recent campaign I told the players that as written, the module pretty much requires at least a little bit of channel positive energy capability.

That's part of what I like about pre-written modules and adventure paths. It somehow feels more "fair" to me if the adventure has already been written before the players have made their party. At least you can't claim that the GM is picking on you, so to speak.

If a party was missing some kind of specialised role (e.g. trapfinding, super-social skills, magical healing, etc.) and the GM wrote an adventure that specifically exploited that weakness, I'd probably be none too enthusiastic about it.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

To some extent all GMs do (and should) cater to their group's make-up. You wouldn't (or at least I hope you wouldn't) send up a group of 1st level characters against a CR 23 dragon. Possible they could stumble on one. Heroic--not so much.

I'm not going to say that a GM should only play to the party's strengths, but they should not be building a bunch of melee-heavy battles for a party of archers or a campaign revolving around political intrigue when no one has any social skills.

To me the key is: Do the players have fun?

Forcing someone to build a melee fighter when they want to be Robin Hood will not result in them having more fun. Having them fail adventure after adventure because they didn't have anyone who could gather information needed to start the adventure will not result in anyone having fun.

A good GM will balance the party to keep things challenging regardless of party make-up.


The way I deal with this is to try to set expectations early. Preferably before the first gaming session.

When I start a campaign, even if it is only players for whom I have GM'd before, I always make sure that each of the players hears from me exactly what sort of campaign they are likely to be encountering.

Email makes this much easier than it used to be.

My pre-campaign message usually goes something like this:

pre-campaign message wrote:


Howdy! You are hereby invited to participate in the upcoming {campaign name} campaign. This campaign is set in the {campaign setting} world and will be using the following {Rules system} rules content: {List of acceptable content}. If you desire to use different content, it must be something that I agree to add before you can use it. This campaign {will/will not (usually "will")} have custom content. The game {will/will not (usually "will")} allow custom races, classes, spells or magic items, subject to approval to the GM.

This campaign will most resemble a {hack-n-slash/dungeon crawl/social interaction/heavy role playing/etc} campaign. It will be a {high/medium/low} mortality campaign, so plan accordingly. Reasonable allowances to party make-up and capability will be made, but NPCs will act and react as realistically as I feel they should.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask either privately or copying all players.

For example, the current campaign I am running is a medium mortality, high social encounter, reward role playing campaign with custom monsters, spells, items and races...


I would definitely cater to certain groups. Most (not all) of the time it makes sense to cater to their strengths or the things they want to do in the campaign, don't you think?

All groups need to be able to talk/roleplay, I have no problem with a non-diplomatic group talking and/or completely screwing sections up. I can be more challenging and/or funny that way.

Ranged classes can basically own everything whether they have a melee class or not. Not sure what the problem is. If you can challenge them, all the better. Most GMs can't.

If the campaign needs a PC/PCs with certain abilities, yes it's the player's responsibility to cover that, or else they don't play the campaign imo.

Silver Crusade

A good example of not catering would be traps in a group lacking a trapfinder. Just because the group doesn't have someone who explicitly finds and disables traps doesn't mean you shouldn't use traps. Disabling is the easy solution, healing HP damage or teleporting through are also solutions. Regardless, your traps shouldn't be so deadly that the group's survival would depend on a trapfinder's skills, so the group without a trapfinder should be able to deal with it too, though probably not as gracefully.

The point is that you skew the campaign to fit the players, but you don't completely rework it. If you lowered the DC on knowledge checks to 10 so that untrained characters could make them, then anytime a character took a knowledge skill it would hurt the party instead of help it (DCs would increase and only the trained character could make the check now). If they find NPCs that fill a hole they have, they should think, "wow, that would be useful to have" not, "we don't need that, we're doing great without it." In the knowledge example, you make libraries available to research important information, but the group will probably never identify a monster in the field.


Be reasonable.

If low level encounter has 2 orc barbarians, a gnoll ranger(archer) and a goblin alchemist and your player group consists of 1 alchemist, summoner, a witch and rogue, you might want to rethink the enounter or change the circumstances (like the PCs have a chace at ambushing THEM)

If against 4 strix armed with composite longbows on an open field, and the longest ranged weapon the PCs have is a slingshot, maybe you make sure they found a potion or scroll of obscuring mist before hand or they get an idea of what<s coming up so they can counter?


I think the GM should run a realistic world, and only slightly modify things as needed, according to group tastes. Like, allow highly situational class features to come into play, even if they wouldn't normally come up. Just once or twice. Maybe reduce the number of traps for a party with no trap finder, or perhaps allow them to be solved old-school, through reason. But not necessarily, this is just for illustration. There are some things that should not be changed. If there's no meat shield in the party, no need to change the encounters. The party better get some hirelings, summon monsters, or do whatever they need to do, to get that meat shield. No range capability? Well, they better have backup crossbows or something. Just my opinion.


Ok, some of you brought up a good point that I didn't think of.

If the party is blowing through encounters I will up the power level (even if it is a published module) to keep things challenging.

If I'm going to do it one direction, it is only fair to do it the other direction. I do cater to them somewhat if they are too effective, so I should do the same if they are less effective.

However, I think only to a limited extent. If a group is strong I don't only throw enemies specifically tailored to their weaknessess. So if a group is weak I'm not going to only use enemies specifically tailored to their strengths.
So I might reduce social skill DC's by say 4. But they will still be their. Or I might reduce CR of opponents by 1 or 2 but I won't just make them stay at range.
I think they should still feel the hurt of weakness by choice. But I will try to make sure it does not make success impossible.

Thanks for the input folks.


Jason S wrote:
... Ranged classes can basically own everything whether they have a melee class or not. Not sure what the problem is. If you can challenge them, all the better. Most GMs can't ...

Was a lycanthrope heavy campaign. The opposition kept making it in close to melee with the casters and archer.


It is a complicated question with no one right answer, but I think it can be simplified somewhat by falling back to a more common version of the same question:

What if the party has taken no healers?

That comes up a lot, and the general consensus usually is to (in no particular order):

Make an NPC cleric to go along with them.
Make NPC healers available in every town.
Increase the number of healing items (such as wands) in the game.

That these solutions are so readily given in that specific case, may point to a median level of "help" or "catering," if you will, that most GMs are willing to provide. So that might be a good baseline for you to compare. How much catering would you say that is equal to in another scenario?


I think it's very important for a GM to cater to the group, I beleive it's the GM's job. If a player puts points in Profession: Cobbler because it fit the character concept, it is absolutely the GM's job to make that skill relevant.

You also have to consider that if all your players are making combat monsters, that's probably the style of game they want to play, and if you force them into something else, they won't be happy, and proably won't be your players very often.

I think Adamantine Dragon said it best: Set your expectations before hand. Let your players know what type of game you're going to run to make sure you get the right players for your game.


That is reasonable Bruunwald.


The DM must, without fail, entertain the group, and people are entertained in different ways, but they must be entertained.


Jodokai wrote:

I think it's very important for a GM to cater to the group, I beleive it's the GM's job. If a player puts points in Profession: Cobbler because it fit the character concept, it is absolutely the GM's job to make that skill relevant.

I always think that's the player's responsibility - certainly when I play characters with, aaah, sub-optimal skills... (Profession (Tailor) is suprisingly useful)

Silver Crusade

I think there is a strong difference between "No Melee" and "No Social". The thing is this: It's reasonable to agree beforehand what kind of campaign you want to play, much as Adamantine Dragon described. If your players do not enjoy Social Encounters at all and you really don't care, it might be best to avoid them. If you warned them that some social stuff might be involved, it might kill their fun to shove it into their faces - but they should not complain if they have to deal with something social every now and then.
"No Melee" on the other hand really strikes me at odd. I get groups which do not expect or just do not care about combat, I get groups which do...but if you say "Well, we expect great combat - let's all play ranged characters!" you have only three options in my opinion:
A) Point out this fact to your players and say that this MIGHT get them killed. At least one of them should be willing to play a Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin or at least a Monk of Melee Cleric to hold the front line - right?
B) Design Encounters which are all about ranged combat. See how your players curbstomp every enemy in their path before he even gets through to them.
C) Go the "Well, you chose your own fate..." and do not redesign encounters that much.

Really, it depends. Of course you and your group should respect the wishes of the other side - if it's important to you that some social interaction will happen, that should be respected - but if they expect something which is just completly unreasonable ("You see, we all will be Sorcerers. Our Spells will be Alarm, Endure Elements and Grease. Yeah, you said that we will encounter monsters...but we are sure we can handle them with our daggers!") it's time to point out that they just might be idiots.


Funky Badger wrote:
Jodokai wrote:

I think it's very important for a GM to cater to the group, I beleive it's the GM's job. If a player puts points in Profession: Cobbler because it fit the character concept, it is absolutely the GM's job to make that skill relevant.

I always think that's the player's responsibility - certainly when I play characters with, aaah, sub-optimal skills... (Profession (Tailor) is suprisingly useful)

I'm of the mind that if you want to encourage this type of behavior you should reward it. If Power Gamering gets the most benefit, players are going to power game. When the Gnome saves the day becuase his Knowledge:Shoe Making told him the Butler is actually halfling wearing elevator shoes, people start taking skills that fit their conception.


One session the group consisted of a Paladin, 2 Fighters, and a Sorcerer. No ranged weapons, and the only ranged spell was level 0. When they had to deal with a creature flying and climbing and attacking them at range with a wand they learned quickly the weaknesses of their group. They almost died from what was probably the most challenging encounter I've thrown them in and only survived with innovative ideas and luck. They now have ranged weapons...

It's not bad to play to their weaknesses, but it's important to keep in mind that the CR is totally thrown askew in that case. Throwing golems at a party of casters is significantly harder than at a group of warriors.

Taldor

A player who took profession: cobbler would get to fix his comrade's shoes. He can also work in civilisations...i don't see why should i make the skill relevant...

That works the same as a player bringing me 20 pages of backstory (times new roman size 11) and expecting me to put every little detail of it to use with the story.

Taldor

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Terquem wrote:
The DM must, without fail, entertain the group, and people are entertained in different ways, but they must be entertained.

The Players also must, without fail, entertain the GM.


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Hama wrote:
Terquem wrote:
The DM must, without fail, entertain the group, and people are entertained in different ways, but they must be entertained.
The Players also must, without fail, entertain the GM.

Both are true statements, if the GM fails to entertain the players, there are no players and there is no group and no game. If the players fail to entertain the GM, it becomes work, and the motivation for working on and presenting the campaign is gone, and the game falls to pieces because the GM is no longer putting in the enthusiastic work.

Shadow Lodge

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Enough to keep them playing.

Taldor

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I don't cater, I usually just throw some food together in the crock pot and have some soda in the fridge. I am planning on making another apple crisp this week, though.

...

What?


Hama wrote:

A player who took profession: cobbler would get to fix his comrade's shoes. He can also work in civilisations...i don't see why should i make the skill relevant...

That works the same as a player bringing me 20 pages of backstory (times new roman size 11) and expecting me to put every little detail of it to use with the story.

If you don't want to encourage this, then don't cater. If you like players to put time into backstory, or to take skills that fit conception rather than just optimize for combat, make them feel like they got something out of taking those.

Personally I love 20 pages of backstory, and will use every page I can incorperate. I feel it makes the PC's part of the world instead of things that are just stuck on.


I say yes.

I'm a fan of attacking characters at their strengths. I attack their weaknesses as well, but I make sure that they're weaknesses the player enjoys dealing with.

If a player makes a Fighter with a low Charisma, I'm not specifically going to go after him in social situations... unless this is a game about social intrigue. Fighters don't have much for skill points anyways and after a few levels they'd always be behind on Bluff, Diplomacy and Sense Motive anyways.

Now if the player is interested in his low Charisma and through some means tells me he wants to explore that flaw in his character, sure, it'll come up.

Players tell you what they are interested in when they make their characters. Just because no one takes Swimming, doesn't mean I should force them onto a boat or near a river with a creature that likes to Bull Rush.

That said, one game where I'm a player, I'm kind of sad that my Sea Reaver barbarian hasn't had an opportunity where his special abilities came up at all... in ship based campaign.


Irontruth wrote:
... If a player makes a Fighter with a low Charisma, I'm not specifically going to go after him in social situations ... Just because no one takes Swimming, doesn't mean I should force them onto a boat or near a river with a creature that likes to Bull Rush ...

But if all the players have low charisma, would you just take all th social situations out of a written module?

If no one takes swimming, would you take all the swiming check situations out of a ship based campaign?

That is what some of the players I've seen seem to expect. That GM will change everything so it only plays to their strengths. Even if it makes no sense to the plot. { shrug }


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Not everyone on a ship knew how to swim. In fact, there have been a lot of stories about sailors/pirates who DON'T know how to swim. If I'm upfront about a game, the players are making a choice. If I say: Hey, this is a game about magic, someone should make a wizard... and no one does, it might mean no one is interested in my campaign idea. In which case I would talk to them about what their expectations are and my expectations are, and we would probably change something, either a character or maybe the basic idea of the campaign.

If no one make a Rogue or another class archetype with trapfinding, and my players don't like traps... why would I bother creating encounters in the game that my players are uninterested and have avoided making characters to deal with.

If everyone makes low charisma characters and spends no points on social skills, I'm not going to throw social problems at them. They probably won't find a lot of success if they try to solve things with Diplomacy either, as their rolls won't be high. I'm not going to penalize them for it by making Diplomacy the ideal solution to all their problems. We're just going to focus the game on killing stuff.


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I don't get this idea that low charisma characters can't be involved in social interactions.

They're going to go badly, obviously, but that's where the fun starts, no?

Andoran

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Depends on what type of catering is expected. I will never hand an easy win, but I do allow for multiple solutions to a situation. They even managed to talk themselves into allies.

If my group builds all casters I do point out they have a major flaw if I can get in close and eventually I will get in close. Usually 2-3 of my players take turns sacrificing a concept in order to ensure the group survives.

I only once had to prove my creatures could potentially get in close to the casters. My players tend to ask for building advice to help their concepts. I am always happy to oblige on that (it also helps me plan the adventures better). I rather enjoy watching them slaughter my creatures when battle happens.

Taldor

I once had players make an all full caster group. And they began a war against a powerful lich. He scried them and realized that they had no warriors. So he sent a group of fighters and barbarians against them. It was a near TPK. After that, they began hiring muscle to protect them.

Silver Crusade

I don't cater because my player's don't like for me to run my games that way. They're excuse is the game begins to feel too much like it's a setup. They like the game to be a bit random. If they don't choose ranged weapons and I throw flying creatures then they run, find some ranged weapons and try again.


So, you are catering to your groups playstyle, because you're giving them the game type that they want.


It comes down to the type of playstyle the group enjoys. Some prefer the game to be easier so victory is alot more convenient. Others like a challenging campaign, things like climate and environment start forcing many checks and saves, that sort of thing. The other thing is the dm, how buffed are the enemies and how many tpks are they going for. Some dms make that sort of thing their main goal of running the game. If the group and gm can't come to an agreement or neither side is enjoying the game, then unfortunately its time to find another game.


Funky Badger wrote:

I don't get this idea that low charisma characters can't be involved in social interactions.

They're going to go badly, obviously, but that's where the fun starts, no?

Very true. I've also seen rogues and monks with a low charisma but still having a decent diplomacy modifier or social skill modifier. Just because a character is low charisma doesn't mean they can't put ranks in social skills or engage in social interactions.


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To answer the question on the thread name, I think a DM should cater enough so that everyone at the table has fun.

Taldor

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Icyshadow wrote:
To answer the question on the thread name, I think a DM should cater enough so that everyone at the table has fun.

Including the GM


But of course.

I allow a lot of stuff, but even I know that I need to draw a line somewhere.


It depends greatly on the style of play.

I have a GM who loves to run small groups, and he runs stories for those characters, which sometimes means challenging their specific weaknesses. More often, it means that the characters get placed in situations that only they could hope to succeed in. It accentuates the character creation choices.

When I'm behind the screen myself, which is more often because I run APs, I'm nothing like that. Like Hogarth says upthread, impartiality is a very rewarding and low-effort way of running a game, and the Adventure Path is pretty much the perfect device for that. I just started an AP for just two players, but I'm so confident in their abilities that I am not altering the challenge in any way. That's actually more extreme, I think, than the OP's scenario. At least with four unskilled martials you have 4 rolls to fail. But these are expert players, and they know the odds are tough, so they're having more fun with the challenge.

So who is doing it "right"? Me, or my sometime GM?


I think it should be done as much that it can feel "natural" (that is, it is not immediately obvious and/or doesn't feel out of place).

Sure a kobold tomb without any traps would seem strange. On the other hand, a lot traps in most dungeons seem pretty artificial. Most of the time there are put there just so the rogue has something to do. No rogue in the party, then toss out a lot of those kind of pointless and silly designed traps.

A tunnel designed to collapse when you purposefully push a button to cover your escape makes sense. A tunnel designed to collapse when your enemy unknowingly steps on a spot to cover your escape does not, because when you are in a hurry trying to escape, you might accidentally step on the trigger and kill yourself. That is bad design, but you see things like that all the time in adventures.


There's also an element of self-selection in any sandboxy campaign.

A party of all rogues is going to put themselves in situations where rogues are useful. A party of clerics and paladins might seek out undead because they are at an advantage. A party of dumb brutes will probably find a paymaster who keeps them out of trouble.

Depending on the campaign type, it might be downright weird to have the party's weaknesses exploited over and over.

Silver Crusade

When I run a campaign I make it into a living breathing thing. The world has consistency and things are there for a reason. If a red dragon lives in the area then he may fly over your group of 2nd level characters, you better run and hide because if you provoke him then he will attack. If there are zombies in an area then there is a reason. If your weaknesses show through then it's not done on purpose but on pure randomness.

I present the players with the challenge and it's up to them to find a way through it, not the other way around. Also my challanges are never impossible.

Andoran

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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
shallowsoul wrote:
Also my challanges are never impossible.

Nice of you to cater to your players. :)

Silver Crusade

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shallowsoul wrote:

When I run a campaign I make it into a living breathing thing. The world has consistency and things are there for a reason. If a red dragon lives in the area then he may fly over your group of 2nd level characters, you better run and hide because if you provoke him then he will attack. If there are zombies in an area then there is a reason. If your weaknesses show through then it's not done on purpose but on pure randomness.

I present the players with the challenge and it's up to them to find a way through it, not the other way around. Also my challanges are never impossible.

If you truley make a living breathing world, then some challenges are by nature impossible. Sometimes the dragon torches the town to the ground because its presence annoys it. If the 1st level group of PCs are there, it sucks for them, but sometimes that's how it is. It's why we modify and adapt the game world to the PCs.

It doesn't seem very heroic for the PCs to die to a force of nature. In our world, people frequently die for no fault of their own. That doesn't make a very exciting story, and is rather depressing in a roleplaying game.


So anyone up for a game of Call of Cthulhu? ;)

Taldor

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Ah, but going insane and dying is the point in CoC

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