Thursday, December 21, 2006

Awesome Feedback

Since my blog entry How to Awesome-Up Your Players recently appeared as a guest post on I've gotten some really great feedback. Great, but not all positive. Some folks think my advice is crap. And you know what? That's totally A-OKAY in my book. I don't pretend to know the One True Way of role-playing. When I wrote 'Awesome-Up' I was only outlining my way. If you and your group is having fun running your game a totally different way then you won't get anything from me other than an enthusiatic thumbs up and maybe a "Right on, bro!"

Rather than have all the comments languish in relative obscurity attached to an old post, I wanted to put my responses to the last few commenters right here on the fron page of the blog. Please fell free to go back to the original post and re-read all the responses. There's some good stuff there.

HackHamster writes:
However, I disagree that the rock-star treatment has a long-term beneficial effect on a player, and a game. Sure, it can be fun for a while ignoring the humdrum of a game world, and sticking to the flashy parts. But I think the greatest attractor for a player is not the virtual glory enjoyed by his character, but rather by the fear of "I'm gonna die this time!", and the exultation of surviving. Feeling real fear, frustration, and panic during the game session is the reason why I do this. Real risk is the spice of gaming (and life).

I have to ask, how many PC's have: died in your campaigns,
slain by a trap,
had levels drained,
had alignment changes that screwed their classes,
or been executed by johnny law?

If the answer is few or none, what do the players have to give them a sense of caution, force them to plan ahead, leave them with a sense of dread when undead appear, or just stoke their paranoia? Victories earned dearly count for so much more, and keep the player coming back.

Ok, ok, maybe I am coming from the old school of D&D, and Jeff, your style just ain't mine. Good luck.
First off, HackHamster, I don't think what we're doing is as far apart as you think. I'll leave it to my players as to whether they experience fear, frustration, and panic in my games. The read and regularly comment on this blog so I have no need to speak for them. Deaths and other bad stuff are relatively infrequent, but the close calls have been many. As to the question of longterm benefit, I just finished an 18-month campaign and everyone is ready to immediately start another one. I call that longterm success. If you're the kind of guy who has been running the same game since 1977 maybe that doesn't look longterm. But doing things the Awesome-Up way has gotten me my own single longest and most successful campaign.

BTW, based upon your criticisms I'm pretty positive that I would totally enjoy playing in your game.

An anonymous poster chimes in:
OMG, I can't beleive I wasted 10 minutes reading this. I'm not going to sit here and bash anyone opinion. I'd like to just state mine.

I'd like to start by saying I totally disagree with your whole approach. I acually laughed out load when I read the line "Give the players almost everything they want". What happened to making the players earn what they get and reward for great playing and extroidinary achivements? If you give them what they want, they have nothing work towards. It doesn't allow them to actually roleplay, think, come up with new and interesting ways to overcome a situation.
Uhhh, I did say "and make them fight for the rest" or something like that, right? I meant that part. Anyway, Anon continues:
In your example about Doug buying an a spiffy new magic sword....first of all, my DM would laugh at me if I asked to buy ANY kind of magic item. Magic and magic items in our game world are not something are easily baught or found. And good luck finding something specific. Anyway, back to the example...So now Doug spends all that money on a cool magic sword. Now he thinks he has the answer to all his problems that are thrown his way, "I've got this sword to use now". Having everything you want and relying on those things (magic or not), leaves you totally one dimentional, not allowing for imagination and skill to shine through. I personally would get bored playing something like that.
Based upon my reading of the new editions, magic item purchasing seems to be an inevitable consequence of the rules. Magic items have prices, right? And don't cities have spending limits well in excess of the cost of all canonical non-magical equipment? Magic item purchase seems to be the obvious designer intent here. Note that if I were running a different edition of D&D, I would probably not go this way. No one buys magic swords when I run OD&D or Basic/Expert, for example.

Also, you are totally wrong about Doug. He is seven shades of awesome. He's a very skilled hackmonkey and hella fun to play with. Judge me. Judge my game. But don't judge my players based upon a few lines I wrote, okay? That would be uncool.

Anon finishes up:
Please don't flame me on this post...I'm not trying to bash or say what you or anyone else is wrong. I'm just throwing my 2 cents in.

I'm glad to hear that all of you are having fun with what ever game you plan and how ever you choose to play it.
No flames, Anon. You're opinion is welcome here just like everyone else. Rock on.

Finally, we hear from Topher:
There are two types of GMs: Those who believe their players really know what they want and those who run a good game.

One of my favorite examples is the television show Cheers. The show started off great until the producers listened to the fans and hooked up Sam and Diane. At that point the show began to seriously suck. Once they solved the problem by breaking them up, the show got good again.

Too many GMs are afraid to say no to their players. I strongly recommend asking your players what they want before starting a campaign, but after that, stick to the program. If the players want a Norse campaign in which they make an epic journey, don't let someone bring an "elf ninja" into the game. To borrow your "rock star" analogy: You've set a particular stage--don't let Anthrax perform at Carnegie Hall.

Challenging your players with powerful, recurring NPCs is a great way to build excitement. "The last time we saw Reginald the Red, he kicked our asses! Time for a little payback, Reggie!" Eventually most NPCs should die--but if they "suck" there's no satisfaction in killing them. Killing a worthy opponent is far more rewarding than killing a cookie-cutter schmuck.

D&D is a game. Games have winners and losers. If there's no chance for a PC to die, then it stops being a game and becomes a Barbie Dream House instead. If there's no risk, the reward isn't sweet. If you really want a "non-stop high-octane freak-out," keep them on the edge between living and dying, make them pay for their mistakes, but reward them when they accomplish something noteworthy. Starting them off as The Beatles gives them the world--starting them off as The Quarrymen gives them something to pursue.
Topher, there are two kinds of people: those who divide the world into diametrically opposed groups and those who are open to the possibility that maybe the universe isn't constructed so simply.

But far more important is the fact that I was unclear in 'Awesome-Up'. I don't know if you read the original essay or the one Johnn Four cleaned up for his site. In the original I mention in the intro and ending that I wrote the piece while totally jazzed on caffeine. It was more over-the-top than even my usual exhuberance around here. So I apologize if the message was garbled. In fact I agree with most of your points.

Death and other loss should always be on the table in a D&D game. I don't play in games where the DM won't kill a PC. I run with a softer touch than some lethal DMs, but I do kill PCs. And recurring villains aren't just okay, they're wonderful. I'm against the 20th level wizard or gold dragon or whatever that sends you on missions they themselves could easily handle with ease. I'm against GM-PCs who soak up all the glory that rightfully belongs to the PCs. I hate those guys, not recurring villains.

One last thing: I am not going to start the players out as the Quarrymen. The PCs might be low-level but the players are always going to be center stage in my game. You may do things differently and it might work well or even better than my method, but I'm happy with what I've got going right now.

Again, thanks to everyone for all the wonderful comments. Even the critics. You make some good points and I certainly have plenty to still learn about DMing.


  1. I have to ask, how many PC's have: died in your campaigns,
    slain by a trap,
    had levels drained,
    had alignment changes that screwed their classes,
    or been executed by johnny law?

    Ugh. I would hate to play in or run this kind of game.

    I used to run Shadowrun games with frequent PC casualties, but it was always in action. Who wants to undergo an alignment change or be hanged at dawn? (Although prevention of the latter is a great adventure hook.)

    I've never seen the need for /arbitrary/ death to make people cautious -- usually the vanilla danger was sufficient.

  2. Dude,

    I read your caffein buzzed Awsome-Up column, and I thought it was just spiffy. I enjoyed Monte Cook's comments, somewhere's around the beginning of 3.0, about not squashing your PC's cool skills when designing adventures. Your piece added a lot of enthusiasm along with it's easy to use maxim. It was a good article, and fun to read. And I understood your point without straining: let them play something fun and cool on the way to a great plot resolution.

    You're a very nice man. I would have been tempted to unload on the nitpickers.

    But those guys on the hackmaster board: Wow. I've never seen so much handwringing in my life.