Am I a Jerk GM?


Advice

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The final encounter of a dungeon is too much for the characters to handle. Barring a series of ridonkulous rolls in their favor, they cannot win. The encounter is designed to force them to think differently: retreat, live to fight another day, and draw the enemy out rather than facing him where (and when) he is strongest. The odds should appear overwhelming at first glance: there is no surprise that I'll be pulling out midway through the encounter. All the facts will be on the table from the onset.

I have been clear with the players about my dungeon design philosophies, especially that the world around them isn't shaped to their level. They have taken this as a dare and nearly gotten themselves killed two times in this dungeon already. They may be thinking I'm bluffing, or that I'm a virtuoso at the fine art of designing encounters to bring them just to the brink of TPK. The truth is that I'm new to the system and we both got lucky: one or two rolls the other way and they'd all be dead. Or, more likely, enslaved.

Spoiler:
Last tidbit that has bearing here: the BBEG has something on his person that the characters need in order to complete the quest. The BBEG must die for this artifact to be removed. In other words, they can't just avoid this guy altogether. They have to face him eventually, but it would be better to face him on their own terms.

If they do try to retreat and are pursued, an NPC who has a vested interest in their survival will cover their retreat. So a little deus ex machina is in the works.

So, by intentionally presenting an encounter that is impossible to beat head-on, does that make me a jerk GM? I'm curious what other people think.


Well, if the odds are CLEARLY overwhelming, and you've told them point-blank they shouldn't expect to be able to fight everything they see, I don't think you necessarily are a jerk. Now, it's a little trickier because of the item on his person. They're not able to steal it from him/trick it away from him somehow? That seems a little unfair - you have to kill this guy, but you're unable to kill this guy. The rest, though, all seems valid to me, so long as you've communicated your philosophy to them sufficiently, and it seems that you have.

There's been a couple of good blog posts about exactly this topic in various places on the web, unfortunately, I'm unable to remember exactly where any of them were. Hopefully someone else has a better memory.


as long as you present the encounter as one they have to run from you arent being a jerk. Some people may not like that style of play but there is nothing inherently wrong with it. I would however talk with your group one last time, and make it clear that this is your philosophy. Nothing brings a campaign to a halt faster then a tpk.


couple questions:

Why are the PCs going head on into the fights? You telling the players that shouldn't work is one thing, characters seeing obvious danger and ignoring it is another.

If the NPC wants to see the PCs win, why isn't he/she helping in this fight rather than just helping the PCs run away?

Will you allow the PCs to win this fight if they surprise you?

As a dude running a game, expect nothing you plan past a single event to go as planned. Right now you're planning for several:

1: PCs to fight BBEG on his terms
2: PCs to lose
3: PCs to recognize this loss and run away
4: NPC to provide meaningful help.

What happens when the PCs don't do this?


Lvl 12 Procrastinator wrote:

The final encounter of a dungeon is too much for the characters to handle. Barring a series of ridonkulous rolls in their favor, they cannot win. The encounter is designed to force them to think differently: retreat, live to fight another day, and draw the enemy out rather than facing him where (and when) he is strongest. The odds should appear overwhelming at first glance: there is no surprise that I'll be pulling out midway through the encounter. All the facts will be on the table from the onset.

I have been clear with the players about my dungeon design philosophies, especially that the world around them isn't shaped to their level. They have taken this as a dare and nearly gotten themselves killed two times in this dungeon already. They may be thinking I'm bluffing, or that I'm a virtuoso at the fine art of designing encounters to bring them just to the brink of TPK. The truth is that I'm new to the system and we both got lucky: one or two rolls the other way and they'd all be dead. Or, more likely, enslaved.

** spoiler omitted **

So, by intentionally presenting an encounter that is impossible to beat head-on, does that make me a jerk GM? I'm curious what other people think.

You are nicer than Gygax and his Tomb of Horrors

Grand Lodge

Tim4488 wrote:
Well, if the odds are CLEARLY overwhelming, and you've told them point-blank they shouldn't expect to be able to fight everything they see, I don't think you necessarily are a jerk. Now, it's a little trickier because of the item on his person. They're not able to steal it from him/trick it away from him somehow? That seems a little unfair - you have to kill this guy, but you're unable to kill this guy. The rest, though, all seems valid to me, so long as you've communicated your philosophy to them sufficiently, and it seems that you have.

I have to agree with Tim on this one.

If you have communicated this to them they should be okay.
I'm in a similar situation, my players have ran into TreeRazor, and want to kill him. They are level 14. While they should do some hurting on him, they probably won't kill him. Teleport is nice for a demon.
They had an encounter and decided to run after they almost died. I made clear in description that this guy is not to be messed with in open combat on his turf. But they have figured away to go around that and are produceing balistas to take down Witchbole, so they can flush him out in thier own way.

They have a good trap set for him and i'm excited to see how they do.

But no you are not a jerk GM. I think it's a good idea to show players they can't run in and kill everything. Sometimes you have to take a different road.


Tim4488 wrote:
They're not able to steal it from him/trick it away from him somehow? That seems a little unfair - you have to kill this guy, but you're unable to kill this guy.

They can take him. They just can't take him in his lair, with all his followers, and with...

Spoiler:
...his pet medusa, all gimped out and on a chain leash, their newborn offspring, fresh from the womb, flopping messily about the floor, glancing wildly about the room trying to complete the maternal bond (looking for its momma).

It has its mother's eyes, you know!

...and yes, I have armed them with stone salve. They have the means to undo petrification.


You made clear that you did'nt plan all encounters to be level adequate. But you know that they probably took that as challenge/bluff, so I think this statement might only have the effect of bolstering their resolve.

Players see their characters as heroes, rightfully. And heroes are not seen as people who run away (even if it is sometimes the best course of action), but who stand proud, fight on against impossible odds and conquer. ESPECIALLY against the BBEG. Running away while facing the last boss is pretty anti-climatic. You gotta take this into account.

Also, remember that most players will consider that fleeing is not a valid tactic, since they probably think the ennemy will be easily able to pursue them and kill while they are fleeing and unable to retaliate.

Do they know that the NPC will cover their retreat if they need to escape? And know (or at least think) that he won't need to sacrifice himself to do so? They probably won't try running away unless they come into the fight considering it a valid option from the get go.


Phneri wrote:


If the NPC wants to see the PCs win, why isn't he/she helping in this fight rather than just helping the PCs run away?

Long story, but short of it is: NPC would be way out of his league in the thick of it, but has the means to buy them time on the outside without risking harm to himself.

Spoiler:
Besides, they don't trust the NPC, and currently think he's one of them. So if he entered the fray, there's an outside chance they'd target him too.
Phneri wrote:
Will you allow the PCs to win this fight if they surprise you?

Absolutely. Actually, this is the secret to my current string of no-TPK successes: I can always rely on the party to surprise me. But this time the odds are more heavily stacked against them, if they choose to fight it out in this particular chamber.


Braden wrote:
You are nicer than Gygax and his Tomb of Horrors

Yeah, I'm not quite that bad. For that module I'd run it something like this:

"So, what, you guys aren't going to hire any henchmen first?"

"No."

"Um, are you sure?"

"We're sure."

"Last chance. No henchmen to use as guinea pigs in this deadly tomb?"

"Nope."

Sigh. "Okay..."

No mercy after that.


A few rounds in have the fighters roll an INT/wis check and if they pass tell them that their years of fighting experience tells them that they are sorely over matched.


So, if someone gets turned to stone, how are they going to retreat? Even with the salve, it takes time to apply it, which, during a retreat, you often don't have.

Also, if they have fighters in plate mail, they aren't fast enough to escape, usually. Does your party have the means to escape?

Also, do they have divination? Could you help them to figure out what they're facing ahead of time? 'Cause it's a waste of time to roll an entire combat designed to be pointlessly dangerous.

Lastly, if you're planning on using NPC aid to turn the tide, be very careful to avoid DMPC syndrome. Even worse than fighting a combat you can't win is being forced to fight it again so that the DM's sock puppet can make a star turn.


Not to be "That guy" but generally when someone posts "Am I a jerk DM/Bad DM/Too hard on my players?" There are 2 things that are almost always true.

1. The OP generally already knows the anwser

and

2. Yes

Now this is not always the case, but from what I have seen, well yeah actually it is.


roguerouge wrote:
So, if someone gets turned to stone, how are they going to retreat?

If you're stone, you're not one of the ones retreating. True, this would suck. But what's the purpose of having a creature who can turn characters into stone if the threat of it actually happening isn't real?

roguerouge wrote:
Does your party have the means to escape?

They aren't starting boxed in, so yeah, they have means to escape. They even have means to temporarily obstruct pursuit.

roguerouge wrote:
do they have divination?

No.

roguerouge wrote:
be very careful to avoid DMPC syndrome.

Definitely with you 100% on this point. NPCs have a long and glorious history of dying horrible, grisly deaths. This particular NPC serves a purpose specific to this adventure, and in this encounter he would only buy them a little bit of time. If they do him wrong, though, and go back on a deal they've made with him and don't kill him, then he could later bloom into a bit of a BBEG hell-bent on revenge himself. But no, I stopped doing the NPC-as-DM's-hero bit back in '82.

Thefurmonger wrote:

1. The OP generally already knows the anwser

and

2. Yes

1. I suspect some would consider me a jerk and others wouldn't. I do value 3rd party input.

and

2. Probably true. We'll see what happens. If the players call me a jerk (or equivalent), well, theirs is the only opinion that matters.

I'm hoping they surprise me.


Usually railroads take the form of a pre-fab story that the PC's need to follow in order for the game to make sense.

In this case- you are actually preparing a rail-road combat scenario. If they do not follow your rail road they die and you get to say "Hey, you didn't do what I wanted/told you to and I prepared you beforehand by telling you about it so, reroll and lets try this again".

Jerk? No. Control freak? a little.

Design an encounter that, at their level, they can win. Give them the option to withdraw if you want to but you shouldn't design "1 way to kill it" creatures much less entire encounters behind it. The Deux ex Machina bit is just over the top. "If you do what tactic I've prepared, I will make sure it works, don't worry! I have it covered!"..

Why not just take away their character sheets, pull out the book you wrote and read it to them? It will be about as interesting. More so probably because even if it is boring it at least won't be *frustrating*.

I would suggest you stop trying to teach your PC's "how to play" and instead make interesting encounters that they have a chance of winning and let it go from there.

I don't think you are a jerk- but you seem to be "trying to teach your players" when the players already know the kind of game they want to play. Learn from them. You are all a team. You aren't there to re-educate them on the "kind of game" they want to play and enjoy. If you don't enjoy the same kind of game they do, step aside and let someone else DM.

-S


Yes.

You're not a jerk dm for having an artifact that the players need.

You're not a jerk dm for putting an encounter that the party can't beat and needs to run away from.

You ARE a jerk dm for COMBINING those. If the party thinks they absolutely have to kill the guy or gloom and doom will occur, that's a hint from you, the gm, to them, the players, that the person is supposed to die.


IMHO

If they know what they are getting into before they decide to attack and can leave before attacking, then you are NOT a jerk GM. If they decide to attack anyway, then their fate is in their own hands.

If you spring this encounter on them with no forewarning and expect them to runaway, then you ARE a jerk GM. As has been pointed out, is is going to be difficult to run away if your character is stone. Though does the petrified condition specifically SAY you can't move, just kidding. ;)

I've only been involved in 1 TPK. The TPK was an overwhelming encounter (CR7 or something while we were 2nd- a large group of advanced Darkmantles) sprung on the group with surprise. All we did was open a door and BAM, they were all over us. People started getting grabbed from the start and the group took a "No one left behind" attitude. By the time 1 person was free, another would be grabbed or down. TPK. Yes, a couple of characters could have left the others to their fate, but we chose not to. That's what's likely to happen here if you have them engage before they know how overwhelming the encounter is.


Yes.

You're not a jerk dm for having an artifact that the players need.

You're not a jerk dm for putting an encounter that the party can't beat and needs to run away from.

You ARE a jerk dm for COMBINING those. If the party thinks they absolutely have to kill the guy or gloom and doom will occur, that's a hint from you, the gm, to them, the players, that the person is supposed to die. You are what you do though, so you can correct that.


Lvl 12 Procrastinator wrote:

The final encounter of a dungeon is too much for the characters to handle. Barring a series of ridonkulous rolls in their favor, they cannot win. The encounter is designed to force them to think differently: retreat, live to fight another day, and draw the enemy out rather than facing him where (and when) he is strongest. The odds should appear overwhelming at first glance: there is no surprise that I'll be pulling out midway through the encounter. All the facts will be on the table from the onset.

I have been clear with the players about my dungeon design philosophies, especially that the world around them isn't shaped to their level. They have taken this as a dare and nearly gotten themselves killed two times in this dungeon already. They may be thinking I'm bluffing, or that I'm a virtuoso at the fine art of designing encounters to bring them just to the brink of TPK. The truth is that I'm new to the system and we both got lucky: one or two rolls the other way and they'd all be dead. Or, more likely, enslaved.

** spoiler omitted **

So, by intentionally presenting an encounter that is impossible to beat head-on, does that make me a jerk GM? I'm curious what other people think.

Is there a reason for the encounter at all, other than to teach a lesson? If so I would not think it a waste of my time as a player to even have me go here. If your world does not account for levels, and it was a random encounter then that is more realistiic, and it would fit into what the players agreed with.

Why are they in the dungeon is what I guess I am asking. If someone has already asked this question then I apologize in advance. I have not read past the first post.


Lvl 12 Procrastinator wrote:
Tim4488 wrote:
They're not able to steal it from him/trick it away from him somehow? That seems a little unfair - you have to kill this guy, but you're unable to kill this guy.

They can take him. They just can't take him in his lair, with all his followers, and with...

** spoiler omitted **

Then they should run away, and you are not a jerk.

edit:unless you doing this to teach them a lesson.

Sczarni

meh.

Oh noes, the PC's can't win the straight up fight against the entrenched BBEG with allies, henchmen, and a lair.

Sounds about right.

If the PC's (and players) consistently use the same tactic (hey, guys, let's kick this door over and kill some orcs!), and don't encounter anyone who can neutralize said tactic, I'd be more concerned for your GM skills.

When the encounters change from day to day, incorporate more than just "kill monster, take stuff, repeat", and there's some strategy involved in character action, the GM is doing his job right.

Final point:

If

A: the players are all about "right up the middle" tactics, and won't accept games that deviate from that

and

B: GM wants games that deviate from "right up the middle" tactics

THEN

THe conflict inherent there will negate your game. Don't even bother to GM at that point, since all parties involved will just become frustrated.


I'm not into "teaching lessons." I'm into creating a truly challenging adventure that they will be able to look back on with a sense of pride because they survived it and accomplished their objectives.

I'm into creating a final encounter that is more challenging than previous encounters in the same adventure. We have played this one dungeon adventure for eight sessions of three hours apiece. There is suspense, there are unanswered questions, and the players have already expressed the feeling that they think something nasty is coming. I don't want the final encounter to be a letdown.

Spoiler:
I'm also into seeing the looks on their faces when it is revealed that the horn they've been searching for isn't a musical instrument after all, but rather is the spiral horn growing out of a BBEG's cranium.

My philosophy is that if there is no real threat of death, then the adventure isn't hard enough. So I tend to run my games on the edge of TPKs anyway, with the occasional easy encounter so the players get to feel like bad-asses too. But when it comes to the big encounters, I want the players to sweat.

The whole adventure is actually a side quest, though it is one that is packed with useful information, treasure, and adventure hooks. Seeds being sewn in this dungeon will bear fruit months down the road. So they have the option of walking away without the main prize, an option, in fact, that one of the PCs has been arguing for the entire adventure.

I ask if I'm a jerk, though, because I see this phrase a lot on these boards, and wonder how other folks are running their games. And I honestly don't know what will happen in this encounter. Like I said above, they could surprise me and beat this "impossible" encounter. Same dungeon, weeks ago, I had a magic item in a trapped room. They finally managed to secure the item without taking any damage from the trap, but it took them an hour to figure out how. Afterward one of the players asked me if their solution was what I had in mind when I designed the room. I said that I didn't have any solution in mind. He was angry at first; after all, what kind of GM creates a puzzle with no solution? My response was twofold: (1) there was at least one solution, and they found it; and (2) I had a way for the room's creator to get past the defenses any time he wanted to. That NPC happens to have skills the PCs don't have yet. And this is fair, I said, because the world isn't shaped to their level. It is consistent with the nature, original purpose, and history of this dungeon that there will be things in it that are frankly beyond them. This they have learned along the way, though they haven't come across their betters in combat.

I digress. My point is, in ages past an NPC of more than twice the APL made a chamber to protect a treasure, yet the party found a way to beat it. So maybe they'll beat this encounter too. At least this time I can think of one way to beat it: divide and conquer. Use choke points. I'm sure there are other ways I haven't thought of, but the possibility of them dying if they just charge in is high.

If they succeed, they're going to be rightfully proud of themselves.

And if they don't? Well, I guess that would make me a jerk.

One final note: I told them, before they started, hire henchmen. Did they listen to me? Nooooo...


Hiring henchmen often carries moral implication, its not the same "hire henchmens" than get yourselves a few fire prot potions...

I never let them treat henchmens as simple cannon fodder, unless of course they are wicked and evil... xD

Also, why the focus on henchmens, if you wanted to "show" them the power of your BBEG, you may have him lash out a goon that failed him.-

Silver Crusade

A warning to hire henchmen is not sufficient to let you beat them down in an unbeatable fight.

That said it sounds like your adventures are in depth and very interesting. I have found that if you want to warn your group it is necessary to be much more direct. i.e. "The boss is very strong and has a lot of minions. You might die fighting him." It might seem like it will be too direct but players can be remarkably obtuse about things. They have a tendency to focus on little details because they do not have the wide view of the world that a DM does.

Now even after a direct warning some players will still persist and die. I have given such a direct warning and told the players that their kick the door in tactics will get them killed when reaching the more fortified portions of the adventure. It was not until a character died that they were more cautious.


my question is how did they get this mission? Did some NPC look at them and say "Well we have an idea who stole this important item and he could probably kick that group of adventurers asses without trying when he's down in his lair.... buut... yeah lets hire those guys."

The reason it makes sense for the world to conform to their level is because they should avoid things stronger then them. their will be other adventurers for that, it is not like when they are level one that no one is trying to take over the world, it's just that isn't for them to worry about just yet.

So how/why were they roped into this?


Shadow_of_death wrote:
So how/why were they roped into this?

There's the in-game how/why, and there's the real how/why. Let's cut to the chase and go with the real.

How: Players asked me for a side quest.

Why: Players wanted to level up before exploring the ruins of a lost elven city.

They were having difficulties getting to the city (and were in fact lost), but that was largely because they were just a party of two with no healing or spell casting of any kind. I planned the main adventure (the city and surrounding forest) with a larger party in mind than just two, but some folks backed out before we even began. So life in the forest was rough, and the two players felt that leveling up would increase their chances of survival. They asked me for a side quest, and I started preparing.

Three more players eventually joined and balanced things out. Two of them joined before the side quest was offered. The NPC (a pseudodragon) who delivered the side quest showed them an old, hidden road to the city, along with a way to leave the forest and return to civilization. They could go on the side quest, or proceed to the city, or head back home and pursue other adventures. I was prepared for any eventuality, though my concept for the side quest turned out to be pure gold and I was (and remain) glad they chose that route.

The NPC didn't trick them. The NPC told them it was a dangerous place: an underground prison where the elves used to keep dangerous prisoners and more dangerous magical artifacts. Then one of the players (the last to join, bringing their number to five), an elf they rescued who was trapped in this prison for the last 500 years and knows about the bad s@&* that has gone down there, further reminds them at every opportunity that remaining there is a terrible idea. Leaving has always been an option.

The promise of the horn is that it may be used by the pseudodragon's master to cure the elves, fey, and various forest critters of a magical, non-fatal disease which has ravaged the countryside, turning the once proud elven civilization into roving gangs of lunatic sadists who shun the light. It is, for what it's worth, the birth of the drow in progress, or at least how that race comes into being in my homebrew world. The chance to save a race? Yeah, that's a tempting side quest, I admit...

TL;DR ...but "roped" might be a little strong.


My opinion: If you can take the BBEG in his lair, surrounded by his henchmen, in a straight up frontal assault?

1. Yaaaawwwn....
2. Why is he the BBEG again?

So kudos, I think what you are doing is great, though I would recommend that if they are dumb try your best to petrify/capture them... jailbreak scenarios are awesome, and can lead to some great roleplaying.

I gotta ask though, have you got plans for if this splits the party?
If half the party gets away and half gets petrified, are the petrified guys effectively dead, and to be replaced by new pcs? If not, and if some of the party is captured, and some escape, what are the captured players do while the rest of the party rescues them?

If some of the players have to twiddle their thumbs while they wait to get rescued, then yeah jerk move. If they try and escape and none of them get away, also a jerk move (unless it is too late).

Good luck... I'm interested to hear how it goes?


Jerk ? No. You are EXACTLY the kind of DM, that I would LOVE, and id be happy to play with ^^

No fudging, butt-saving, scaled-encounters or pussified "player empowered storytelling". Just let the dice fall, where they may, and continue this way.
The world needs more DMs like you !

However, sometimes, the players will still have luck, no matter how stupid their actions are (like the above situation), even to the extent that a "BBEG" is no challenge at all (imagine they crit 4 times in a row, and your guys keep rolling nat 1's)
In these cases, also: Let the dice fall where they may. Tell them they had incredible luck, and that their action were totally stupid, but grant them their victory. If they continue that way, they will die soon enough >:)


Lvl 12 Procrastinator wrote:


There's the in-game how/why, and there's the real how/why. Let's cut to the chase and go with the real.

How: Players asked me for a side quest.

Why: Players wanted to level up before exploring the ruins of a lost elven city.

They were having difficulties getting to the city (and were in fact lost), but that was largely because they were just a party of two with no healing or spell casting of any kind. I planned the main adventure (the city and surrounding forest) with a larger party in mind than just two, but some folks backed out before we even began. So life in the forest was rough, and the two players felt that leveling up would increase their chances of survival. They asked me for a side quest, and I started preparing.

Three more players eventually joined and balanced things out. Two of them joined before the side quest was offered. The NPC (a pseudodragon) who delivered the side quest showed them an old, hidden road to the city, along with a way to leave the forest and return to civilization. They could go on the side quest, or proceed to the city, or head back home and pursue other adventures. I was prepared for any eventuality, though my concept for the side quest turned out to be pure gold and I was (and remain) glad they chose that route.

The NPC didn't trick them. The NPC told them it was a dangerous place: an underground prison where the elves used to keep dangerous prisoners and more dangerous magical artifacts. Then one of the players (the last to join, bringing their number to five), an elf they rescued who was trapped in this prison for the last 500 years and knows about the bad s~+* that has gone down there, further reminds them at every opportunity that remaining there is a terrible idea. Leaving has always been an option.

The promise of the horn is that it may be used by the pseudodragon's master to cure the elves, fey, and various forest critters of a magical, non-fatal disease which has...

I didn't mean roped as if i assumed you forced them so I apologize if you took it that way.

If there told its too big for them and they still want to run in just slaughter them. I have had PC's willingly walk into an ancient dragons lair at level 2 (he was sleepin, hibernating for the next 100 years) he woke up and treated them appropriately, TPK. your players are doing the same thing, let them know they haven't reached superhero levels yet.

There's being a jerk and then there's letting stupid adventurers (only 1 in 30 make it past level three anyway) walk all over you because they know you'll feel bad for letting them die.


I was going to post, that such an encounter will only work if the players have OTHER motivations to keep them alive.

And they do! - I read your post later in the thread about how this is a side quest and something they in theory can leave and come back to at a later date.

There is no urgency, no dependents whose life is in danger and no great injustice to be answered. - In other words, the character's players should not have too much difficulty to bite the sour grape of defeat.

These situations ONLY work if the characters have something else already established to live for. Otherwise the PLAYERS lose focus of the greater world and throw themselves mindlessly at the closest challenge at any time.

In your case though, it looks like you have done great work to establish a living world with several options. Good job! :-)

Expect one or two of the players to suicide on the BBEG though. Some people cannot accept defeat in games.

If they do, weigh taking them captives vs. killing them. If you kill, then the party can move their focus to other quests and come back when they are stronger. - And foster some real nice hate vs. the BBEG.

If you capture, then the rest of the party will be forced to remain in the neighborhood and try to save them... This can be frustrating and bog the game down.


Lvl 12 Procrastinator wrote:


So, by intentionally presenting an encounter that is impossible to beat head-on, does that make me a jerk GM? I'm curious what other people think.

I think the 3e+ rules for encounter design have coddled the players too much. Now, 12 years later, if the players can't survive a fight it's not because they were being stupid. It's because the GM didn't design the encounter right.

I don't think you're being a jerk. The problem, I think, is that a lot of people are getting used to the fact that they are supposed to face fair fights in D&D. Change game systems and you won't see the same kind of assumption at all.

I have players who'd complain to no ends if an encounter in PF was stacked against them. Retreat is unimaginable! On the flip side, I make heavy use of 'unwinable' encounters in Dark Heresy and no one has ever complained about it. They accept that they can't face everything head on and instead try to be smart about it.

So, to reiterate, I don't think you're being a jerk. You are trying to break 12 years of bad habits and nudge your players into thinking more creatively. That said, if they plainly just don't get it, and are being slaughtered, you should consider pausing the action and have a talk with them about your encounter design philosophy and if they really think their head on attack is the best approach.

Nothing is more frustrating than losing because you missed something that the GM thought was blindingly obvious.

Sovereign Court

BigNorseWolf wrote:
You ARE a jerk dm for COMBINING those. If the party thinks they absolutely have to kill the guy or gloom and doom will occur, that's a hint from you, the gm, to them, the players, that the person is supposed to die. You are what you do though, so you can correct that.

This is one of the definitions of metagaming. Its no different than a player saying, "Don't worry, guys. The GM wouldn't put this thing in the campaign if we weren't meant to pound it into the ground so hard it leaves a crater."

YMMV, of course. If your game works this way and you're having fun, then don't change it.

IMO, the OP is not a jerk... so long as the PC's have a way of learning about the danger they'd face IN-CHARACTER (I disagree with people saying the GM should tell the players they might die, should hire henchmen, etc. unless the players are having their characters do whatever they can to figure that stuff out for themselves). If the PC's have no way to find out they're going to be chomped on by the BBEG unless they do something that deviates from their SOP, the GM is a jerk...

Silver Crusade

Learning things in character is great but usually flawed. People get distracted at the gaming table all the time. Players will focus on one thing you said that was unimportant and ignore the big important thing you wanted them to notice. I have seen too many DMs say but I warned you when that NPC said blah blah blah and you ignored me.

I have had people ignore direct warnings so indirect in character warnings are definitely not sufficient. I work hard on my campaigns and I hate for that work to go to waste when I could have prevented a TPK with a direct warning. Once you give a direct warning your players have not reason to complain though they still will do so.


Yes, and No. It sounds like a fun, challenging adventure. You have warned them, and it sounds like one of the PCs is continually warning them. So from that aspect, no.

However, it is really hard to get PCs to run away. I remember a Star Wars where we were all 4th & 5th level, fighting are way through a pyramid, when Darth Vadar walks around the corner. We STILL didn't run away. After several hours of frustrating combat, the rescue ship we had called smashed through the side of the pyramid. My jedi stayed behind to buy them time, Vadar cut off both of my arms, and they seized me with a tractor beam and got out of there.

I have also designed numerous encounters or run encounters from published mods that I was sure would result in a flee or TPK. I can remember one TPK (because a PC was secretly evil, and turned on them for a chance to become a demigod), and one flee (because the last one standing was a druid who was an abject coward). For the TPK, they had already established the means of cloning themselves, for the Flee, the druid eventually reincarnated all of them.

Your players always surprise you. From the sound of it, I would give the BBEG odds of no more than 50/50. It's simple math. Five players, one DM. FIve times the chance to think of something you didn't. Not to mention plain old luck/karma coming into play. Let us know how it goes.


Major__Tom wrote:
Let us know how it goes.

I will. Hopefully they'll hit the big encounter tonight, but they could end up exploring a side area first. The latest I can see them hitting the encounter is during next week's session.

Thanks everyone for the feedback. Lots of good ideas to consider.


You are absolutely NOT a jerk. You actually sound like a well prepared GM with good story making ability running a 'real world' campaign, as opposed to a 'world revolves around the PC's' campaign.

As long as the players KNOW there will definately be times they will stumble into something way bigger than them and they will need to retreat (and it seems clear you have made this explicit) then if they choose to try to take it anyways the onus of failure is on them and biting off more than they can chew.

Even so, when they spy this chamber-o-doom for the first time, if your players seem to be too gung ho, you may want to say something in the description like "as you survey the chamber and it's occupants, you are certain that trying to take them here, where they are at their strongest, would be inviting sure death." just as one final GM warning. After that, let the chips fall where they may.

I don't suppose you in the Chicago, region? Your game sounds very cool.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Just be aware that players are often inordinatly hard headed about facing opposition that you have designed to be to hard for them. In order to get a 'omg, this guy is to tough we can't fight him head on' type of reaction, the treat really needs to be completely overwelming. I mean like not just 'oh he's real tough' but like 'OMG This is an Adult Dragon and we are level 1!' type of situation. From the brief details of this encounter you've given. BBEG, Pet Medusa this doesn't seem to be immediatly obviously to tough for them to fight.

It's important to remember that the statistics of you're monsters are largely hidden from the players, they can only make their estimations based upon obvious visual clues. There is no way for the players to know (for example) how many caster levels a wizard has, or if the Pet Medusa is actually a 10th level ranger, or how many HPs they have. In you're specific case you've made some reference to an enviromental hazard (baby medusa's using their gaze attack all over the place), how are the players to gauge the difficult of this hazard untill the encounter it? Worse, medusa's are particularly troublesome as by the time the players realise it may be a good idea to retreat, it may already be to late to do so. Try and see things through their eyes, the encounter's difficulty is obvious to you, but you have all the data, the players do not.

In my experience this tendancy is very hard to fight, and you are making it worse by putting him at the end of a dungeon which tends to encourage linear head-on type thinking rather then out of the box solutions. The best way to set this up is for the players to have knowledge ahead of time that the foe is likely to strong for them to face head-on. By the time they have rolled initative it is probably to late, again recall that it is very difficult for players to guage the difficult of an encounter mid encounter.


karkon wrote:

Learning things in character is great but usually flawed. People get distracted at the gaming table all the time. Players will focus on one thing you said that was unimportant and ignore the big important thing you wanted them to notice. I have seen too many DMs say but I warned you when that NPC said blah blah blah and you ignored me.

I have had people ignore direct warnings so indirect in character warnings are definitely not sufficient. I work hard on my campaigns and I hate for that work to go to waste when I could have prevented a TPK with a direct warning. Once you give a direct warning your players have not reason to complain though they still will do so.

IME, when those players run face-first into enough buzzsaws that they could have avoided if they'd have just paid attention, they learn to be more circumspect. As a GM, I never consider it my job to save players from the consequences of their own stupidity, and ignoring warnings given by NPCs is just plain stupid, no way around it. "I wasn't paying attention when you were giving out the information I needed to keep my character from being pureed" is just about the worst excuse there is. Likewise as a player, I want my stupidity and mistakes punished by the GM, and punished aggressively, so that my victories are truly earned. I never, ever want to be handed anything. I never, ever want to pull a punch or have a punch pulled against me.

In regard to the OP, heck no you aren't being a jerk. You sound like a good GM to me. Not everything is supposed to be easy, and the BBEG encounter is NEVER supposed to be easy.


That you care enough to ask if you are a jerk is probably proof that you aren't a jerk. I'm pretty sure a couple of "encounters that the players should run from" per adventure has been part of accepted adventure design practice since the early days of 3rd Edition. I think it keeps things interesting and prevents some metagame thinking (*it's here, so obviously we are meant to kill it*).


Gilfalas wrote:
I don't suppose you in the Chicago, region? Your game sounds very cool.

Thanks! Unfortunately, no, I'm in the Richmond VA area. "Unfortunately" because I love Chicago. Great city.

Silver Crusade

Gregg Helmberger wrote:


Snip

I never, ever want to pull a punch or have a punch pulled against me.

DMs have to constantly pull punches or the group constantly dies. I have played with DMs who pulled no punches. Every monster played to the best of its capability. Reaching 2nd level being considered an accomplishment. Having monsters fight near the character's power level is required for survival.

Try to run away from a Balrog at 5th level and tell me if you need punches pulled.

I am not saying character or players need to be coddled. Far from it. But some coddling is necessary so your game does not implode because you just killed everyone. Also making the characters constantly on their guard makes for an aggravating game. Because once your players start doing everything to ensure their survival your game will crawl.

Look at the boards to see some of the behavior this spawns. Groups that constantly: detect magic, sneak, look for traps, rest after a fight or two, etc. Players who optimize for combat rather than for fun.

Now the OP seems to have a very interesting and in depth game. I think that his boss fight is interesting too but that he needs to give his players a more solid warning to prevent a campaign killing TPK.


karkon wrote:
I think that his boss fight is interesting too but that he needs to give his players a more solid warning to prevent a campaign killing TPK.

Good feedback. I think I'm going to play it by ear. I'll be watching the players closely during that brief period of time between the reveal when they absorb what's in the chamber, and when they announce their course of action. I'll provide fair warning accordingly if it looks bad (i.e., if they seem unconcerned with the level of difficulty).

If they think to listen at the door first (and they often do), they'll hear a big crowd in there. Yet another hint to exercise caution.

EDIT: I should be clearer. When I say "fair warning," what I mean is that I'll look at them with a very serious expression and ask, "Are you sure?" But that's it. So YMMV, and I'm willing to bet that in many peoples' books that doesn't exactly constitute fair warning.

Silver Crusade

"Are you sure?' is good enough in the face of the threat. It definitely gives most groups pause.


karkon wrote:
"Are you sure?' is good enough in the face of the threat. It definitely gives most groups pause.

And if I were playing a character with 10 wisdom or above I would rethink my actions.


karkon wrote:


DMs have to constantly pull punches or the group constantly dies. I have played with DMs who pulled no punches. Every monster played to the best of its capability. Reaching 2nd level being considered an accomplishment. Having monsters fight near the character's power level is required for survival.

Try to run away from a Balrog at 5th level and tell me if you need punches pulled.

This is an odd argument to me. There's a difference between "not pulling punches" and "the GM has no idea that 5th level characters can't conceivably defeat a balrog." One is a play style, the other appears to be some sort of serious cognitive deficit.

To me, "not pulling punches" doesn't mean putting the PCs into situations they simply can't win. It means setting up situations where they can win if they play smart (and maybe get lucky, because luck is part of it too at times), playing the opposition as being as smart as their Intelligence scores allow them to be, as determined and ruthless as the PCs, and as formidable as they can make themselves.

If the GM is putting 5th level PCs against CR 19 critters AND EXPECTING THEM TO HAVE A CHANCE, then that GM has problems that go well beyond pulling or not pulling punches. He needs to settle down, learn how to read a chart and do basic math, examine some well-written adventures, and not GM again until he's learned better.

karkon wrote:
I am not saying character or players need to be coddled. Far from it. But some coddling is necessary so your game does not implode because you just killed everyone.

So, you're not saying, you're just saying? :-)

Assuming the opposition NPCs knows the PCs are actively trying to kill them, they should be actively trying to kill the PCs, and they should do so to the best of their abilities. The same goes if the opposition wants the PCs as food, or because they've been hired to kill them, or because they like killing people, or whatever. There's nothing that irritates me as a player like being set up by the GM to fight opposition that's clearly out of our league if played anywhere close to properly, but still winning because the GM played the enemy to die instead of pulling out every trick it has to make it win.

karkon wrote:
Look at the boards to see some of the behavior this spawns. Groups that constantly: detect magic, sneak, look for traps, rest after a fight or two, etc. Players who optimize for combat rather than for fun.

I'm well aware of the sort of behavior that being a bad GM can spawn, but "being a bad GM" and "not pulling punches" are two unrelated conditions, as I've said above. Having the bad guys try to kill you just as hard as you're trying to kill them no more automatically results in the aforementioned behavior than it automatically generates TPKs. What it DOES generate, possibly after a few generations of short-lived adventurers, is players who don't take their eventual victories for granted and who know that they're going to have to work awfully hard to overcome what the GM is throwing at them. In other words, they'll be players who earn their triumphs, not ones who expect them as a birthright.


I get that DM's shouldn't necessarily pull punches or coddle the PC's. I also get that combat should be a situation where you are at least sometimes threatened with death. What is the point otherwise?

However, the one thing we have to have over our PC's is.. control. We get to pick our characters, their skills, feats, classes, etc. all within the constraints of the game world. i.e. houserules, DM suggestions, and whatnot.

I am not against some strategies working better against some foes than others. What I do have a problem with though is the DM trying to force *his* way of gaming onto me. If he has a problem with how I/the group plays then he needs to discuss it.

Specifically, I am referring to this sentence:

Quote:
The final encounter of a dungeon is too much for the characters to handle. Barring a series of ridonkulous rolls in their favor, they cannot win. The encounter is designed to force them to think differently: retreat, live to fight another day, and draw the enemy out rather than facing him where (and when) he is strongest.

You have designed a "no win" encounter in order to force them to play the game the way you want it to be played. I have to say- I really do not agree with this.

I've read through the thread and you claim you aren't trying to teach them a lesson when you specifically stated that it was your goal. You created an over powering encounter in order to make them play how you want them to play. Absent some miracle on their part, or you altering the scenario mid go, they'll either all die or be forced onto your little train to ride back through the dungeon.

Does it make you a jerk? No. But it does make this the kind of campaign I'd not enjoy being in. Retreat should be an option (against some foes. Intelligent foes may prevent it, such is the way of life) but the DM actively plotting against the characters such to create an encounter to "teach them" anything is just.. adversarial, at best.
At worst I would say: read them a story. At least then you are in control and they don't have the illusion of thinking they get to select their actions.

If your goal is truly not to force them into doing the little dog and pony show you have planned, then if I were you I'd sit back and give the encounter a through look over. Ask yourself this question: "can they defeat this encounter at their level with their skill and gear and class selections without having to resort to my little pre-planned method of combat execution?". If the answer is no- then you need to fix the encounter.

Having an encounter where "charge!" isn't the best tactic is one thing. Structuring an encounter they can't win without running away (since you chose to pick that as the "win" method) is quite another.

-S


Selgard wrote:

You have designed a "no win" encounter in order to force them to play the game the way you want it to be played. I have to say- I really do not agree with this.

I've read through the thread and you claim you aren't trying to teach them a lesson when you specifically stated that it was your goal. You created an over powering encounter in order to make them play how you want them to play. Absent some miracle on their part, or you altering the scenario mid go, they'll either all die or be forced onto your little train to ride back through the dungeon.

I agree the GM shouldn't try to force the players to play his way, and obviously any time you have a situation where players only have a single right approach is questionable design at best. HOWEVER, in this instance, the OP isn't expecting that. He isn't expecting them to read his mind and he isn't expecting rocket science out of his players. He's set up a situation where assaulting the enemy in exactly the way the enemy has obviously and logically prepared for is a bad idea, so the PCs have to do something else to get the fight onto ground of their own choosing.

A useful illustration here would be to put the BBEG in a castle instead of a dungeon room. Confronted with the BBEG bunkered down in the castle, it is unreasonable to expect players to know better than to attack the castle outright? And if they do just try a frontal charge, is it unreasonable to expect the BBEG's minions to slaughter them in front of the walls without bothering to interrupt the BBEG's tea? Of course not. A player with the smallest amount of common sense will look at the castle and say, "Boy, that's a tough nut. Let's look at how we sneak in or draw him out, because if we attack the place we're going to get slaughtered."

In other words, I think the OP is expecting his players to display some common sense and avoid doing the obviously stupid thing. I think every GM ought to expect the same, and to do so is neither jerky nor being a bad GM nor even being slightly a little bit kinda unreasonable. And if the players are dumb enough to do the obviously stupid thing, well, let them suffer the consequences.

ETA: In other, and perhaps clearer words, defining a specific course of action as suicide is in no way the same as defining only a single course of action as possibly successful. One rules all others in, while the other rules all others out.


Lvl 12 Procrastinator wrote:

The final encounter of a dungeon is too much for the characters to handle. Barring a series of ridonkulous rolls in their favor, they cannot win. The encounter is designed to force them to think differently: retreat, live to fight another day, and draw the enemy out rather than facing him where (and when) he is strongest. The odds should appear overwhelming at first glance: there is no surprise that I'll be pulling out midway through the encounter. All the facts will be on the table from the onset.

I have been clear with the players about my dungeon design philosophies, especially that the world around them isn't shaped to their level. They have taken this as a dare and nearly gotten themselves killed two times in this dungeon already. They may be thinking I'm bluffing, or that I'm a virtuoso at the fine art of designing encounters to bring them just to the brink of TPK. The truth is that I'm new to the system and we both got lucky: one or two rolls the other way and they'd all be dead. Or, more likely, enslaved.

** spoiler omitted **

So, by intentionally presenting an encounter that is impossible to beat head-on, does that make me a jerk GM? I'm curious what other people think.

I DMed for Years. Something every player (of which I was often as well) NEEDS to learn if they havent' is that they are not indestructable, and that "retreat" is a viable option.

I don't know what your party consists of, or what kind of players you have either, but your situation is meant to force them to use their brains (hopefully they have them and aren't just "hack'n'slashers") instead of their brawn, plan, and work together.

When I played, I was always pinholed into being the party leader. I always learned what each on my companions strenghts and weaknesses were, then employed them accordingly, and we rarely lost an encounter, and not every encounter was a fight either. Sometimes, players run into things they can beat at all, or can't beat quickly. Even Drizz't has been knocked on his backside a few times and had to return to finish the job. This is no different.

So, whatever you do, as long as you aren't being one of those "kill the party" DMs, don't appologize or feel you're doing it wrong. You're simply providing a dangerous and challenging encounter that the party must overcome to complete their quest. Sometimes things don't go the party's way, thats "life" in a fantsy gaming world. They, just like my friends and I had to do at times, need to find a way to out-smart the BBEG and the DM, by pulling things no one has ever thought of from the proverbial hat.

A+, +10, GOOD JOB, cause you're DOING your job the way you should.


Selgard wrote:

...At worst I would say: read them a story. At least then you are in control and they don't have the illusion of thinking they get to select their actions.

If your goal is truly not to force them into doing the little dog and pony show you have planned, then if I were you I'd sit back and give the encounter a through look over. Ask yourself this question: "can they defeat this encounter at their level with their skill and gear and class selections without having to resort to my little pre-planned method of combat execution?". If the answer is no- then you need to fix the encounter.

Having an encounter where "charge!" isn't the best tactic is one thing. Structuring an encounter they can't win without running away (since you chose to pick that as the "win" method) is quite another.

I probably oversold the impossibility of the encounter in my initial post. As others on the thread have pointed out - and I agree with them - players will surprise the GM. I have outlined one way they can survive, which is to retreat to a better position. I am terrible at military tactics, so there are likely options besides running away that I have overlooked. If I was running the party myself, though, and if I used only the full-frontal assault tactics the party has used to date, then I would die. Thus to me it looks like an "impossible" encounter, but to wildcard players it may not look so dire.

Philosophically I have to disagree with your point about fixing the encounter. I struggle to provide some semblance of verisimilitude in the adventures I create. A central tenant in my attempts at realism is that the environments and inhabitants of the world, and their interrelationships, have their own internally consistent rules and logic, independent of the existence of the player characters or their intrusion in those environs. The captors who placed the BBEG in this prison 500 years ago didn't think, oh wait, we can't do that because a party of level 6 characters that might come along may not be able to handle him and a bunch of his followers at the same time once things get out of hand in this prison and he seizes control of the detention area and holds a strong tactical position.

Now I'm no fool, and I don't relish the prospect of a TPK any more than the next GM. To that end I don't have beings running loose who could easily annihilate the party. No ancient dragons, no Balor, no froghemoths (man I LOVE froghemoths), purple worms, etc. I stayed within a general range, with a few non-fatal exceptions. But yeah, I don't think there's anything wrong with an encounter or two that exceed the party's means, if that's what the environment calls for, and as long as the players have a way out.

This prison is a tightly contained hell on earth with a disease running amok, mutating captives and captors alike. A place where food is so scarce that vermin are a commodity and the poor morlocks who tunneled their way in by accident are used for sport and sustenance. A place with no way out for the inhabitants, but the players brought the key to escape with them when they entered, effectively plastering a huge target squarely on themselves. The warden (picture Al Davis as a drider) and his arcane archer minions almost offed them right off the bat, and the players loved it. Anything less than a scary bad ass in the final encounter of this setting would be a disappointment. And scary, to me, means better-than-even chances of meeting your doom unless you use your wits.

That's how I see it.

Silver Crusade

Gregg Helmberger wrote:


This is an odd argument to me. There's a difference between "not pulling punches" and "the GM has no idea that 5th level characters can't conceivably defeat a balrog." One is a play style, the other appears to be some sort of serious cognitive deficit.

To me, "not pulling punches" doesn't mean putting the PCs into situations they simply can't win. It means setting up situations where they can win if they play smart (and maybe get lucky, because luck is part of it too at times), playing the opposition as being as smart as their Intelligence scores allow them to be, as determined and ruthless as the PCs, and as formidable as they can make themselves.

If the GM is putting 5th level PCs against CR 19 critters AND EXPECTING THEM TO HAVE A CHANCE, then that GM has problems that go well beyond pulling or not pulling punches. He needs to settle down, learn how to read a chart and do basic math, examine some well-written adventures, and not GM again until he's learned better.

I meant "always coddled" I will edit to fix that.

I gave an extreme example but there is a point where a party has a high likelihood of dying. The encounter starting this post is an example of that. If you know your players and you have set something up to challenge their normal play style then you should say something. Give them a chance beforehand or you might end up with a dead party and dead campaign.

You are putting limits on "pulling no punches." So you do want some punches pulled or just not thrown. A GM can kill PCs with a CR appropriate monster. But most don't do that because he has to pull punches to make the game fun. Can the fight be hard? Sure! The DM is Muhammed Ali in his prime and you are a hobo with a glass jaw. He can spar with you and make it fun but difficult or he can pull no punches and end the fight in one hit. Even pulling punches can be cruel to players if you just toy with them, constantly beating them down. (Ali vs Ernie Terrell).

My point here(in this thread not this post really) is that players often have different expectations of how a game will be run and that open communication of how you plan to run games is important to keep it fun for everyone. I don't know why you think that is a bad idea or punch pulling. You just seem to want every fight to be Mike Tyson biting off an ear. Because that is pulling no punches (or bites).

If you want to run a tough game then you have to let your players know because not every player is hard core or even that invested in the game. Some just play to hang out or because it is a nice way to spend time. If you expect a group of casual players to put up with a consistently stiff game then you have a surprise coming to you.

Hard core geeks can really enjoy a tough game as they work to eek out every little advantage for their character. But they still do not like to die consistently. I like this game but I just play for fun and so does my group. So we make interesting if flawed characters and play a game where death is unlikely but possible.

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