This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!
This installment of Save My Game provides some quick answers to quick questions from the message boards on the Wizards of the Coast website. What's a DM to do if the players perennially expect to succeed without reading the rules, or figure that the DM's favorite will get all the perks? And what about players who want to carry the function of certain magic items beyond the realm of reason?
Problem: Playing Favorites
How do you handle players who expect you to play favorites? What about those who don't bother to read the rules but just expect you to let them do whatever they want? -- Adapted from a post by Kalriem on the D&D message boards
The favoritism issue used to be a big topic of discussion on rec.games.frp on Usenet. The most common complaint aired there was the DM who included his girlfriend (or relative, or best friend) in the gaming group. Whether it was true or not, the other players always assumed that the DM would go easy on the significant other's character in the game because of the out-of-game relationship. Really, however, this situation isn't so different from a coach of a sports team whose kid is one of the players. In either case, everyone assumes that some favoritism is likely to occur.
The other issue -- players who don't read the rules but expect to succeed anyway -- can stem from many sources. The D&D rules can be overwhelming at first, and no one should expect new players to be familiar with them all at the start. But experienced players should be able to make informed decisions, not just roll the dice.
Solution 1: No Free Rides
The solution to both of these issues is simple: Let it be known that you offer no free rides. If your significant other has a character in your game, make it clear to everyone from the start that you won't play favorites. Say it out loud, and then follow through. You don't have to treat the supposed favorite worse than the other players just to prove the point; just be sure that you run an even-handed game and let the dice fall where they may -- even if your significant other is unhappy with the outcome.
As for players who don't want to bother with the rules, you can cut them some slack if they're new. A brand-new player shouldn't be expected to know all the rules or conventions of RPGs -- in fact, it's easier to recruit new players if you reassure them that they don't have to know everything at once. But that situation should be temporary. If you and the other players are vigilant about showing the newbie the ropes, he should eventually learn how the game works and begin perusing the books.
It's also fine to let players be creative and even cinematic with their characters' actions. If they say they want to do something that the rules don't quite seem to cover, listen to how they intend for the action to play out and interpret what needs to happen in terms of game mechanics for that idea to work. Then throw the dice and see if the PCs succeed. But D&D is not a rules-light game, so players need to realize that characters always have some limits on what they can do.
They key point in this situation is to emphasize to all your players is that D&D is a team game, and anyone who wants to play must be willing to put some effort into it. After all, you have enough to do as DM without having to carry a player who won't play. To return to the sports analogy, a player who refuses to learn the rules of the game and come to practices, but still expects to play, is both delusional and selfish. If allowed to play, such a person is likely not only to hurt the team's performance, but also to create stress and division both within the team and between the team and the coach. In addition, by not knowing the ropes, the player is putting herself in a position where she can be hurt.
In short, a player who is unable to understand the cooperative nature of RPGs probably needs to step back from the table for a while until she can learn how to play. Learning by doing is really the best way to become familiar with an RPG, but the player has to want to learn. After all, sitting at the table with dice in your hand doesn't make you a gamer any more than sitting in the garage makes you a car.
Problem: Constructs as Weapons?
Can a construct be sundered? It is a weapon in a sense, so the sundering rules should apply. And the steel predator deals more damage to magic metal items than other items, so does it deal extra damage to a construct? -- Adapted from a post by Pseudolife on the D&D message boards
This question really should have been addressed in the last installment when we talked about constructs in depth, but we'll cover it here instead.
Solution 1: Weapons are Weapons and Creatures are Creatures
According to the rules, a construct is a type of creature. Thus, even though a combat-designed construct might philosophically be considered a "weapon" in the sense that it is created for fighting, it doesn't count as one in game-mechanical terms. Therefore, it cannot be sundered according to the sundering rules.
As for the steel predator, you may want to reread its description carefully. Its sundering bite special ability deals extra damage on sunder attacks against any held item, not just metal objects or magic metal objects. Its magic sense ability lets it automatically detect magic metal, but technically it doesn't deal any more damage to metal objects than it does to anything else -- though it certainly likes the taste of magic metal better!
If you wanted to play up that angle of the steel predator, however, you could make a slight adjustment to its sundering bite ability to let it deal double damage against any metal object, or when making sunder attacks against weapons, shields, or other held metal items. This mechanic retains the original ability of the steel predator to sunder weapons while also allowing it to chow down on metallic creatures and objects of all kinds -- including metallic (or mostly metallic) constructs, a wall of iron spell, or an animated object. All metal means all metal, regardless of its nature.
The appearance of favoritism at the gaming table can cause bickering among the players and detract from the gaming experience for everyone. It isn't fair to exclude someone from a game just on the basis of an out-of-game relationship, but such situations do require extra care. In particular, a DM who has a significant other among the players must take care to treat that person's character the same as any other -- no better and no worse.
While it's fine to carry newbie players along while they learn the rules, and even to let players contrive "cinematic" solutions to some problems, no DM should have to deal with players who don't want to learn how to play the game. After a certain point, it's perfectly fair to ask such players to put up or shut up -- that is, to remove themselves from the game until they have read enough of the rules to play their characters adequately. Finally, the sundering rules do not apply to constructs, since they are technically creatures rather than weapons. However, the steel predator's sundering bite ability could be adjusted to deal double damage against metal objects or in sunder attacks against metal items held or carried by creatures.
About the Author
Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.