Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Was I a Dick DM? Thoughts please.

Tonight was the tenth session of our OSRIC campaign. For the folks out there who don't tend to read actual play reports (the vast majority of you) the characters are trapped in the lower levels of a dungeon which they know to be infested with doppelgangers, madmen and cannibals. Without spoiling things too much, I'd placed an encounter with an NPC party in the dungeon, an encounter which, if played correctly, would have netted the party some much needed allies. I'd even foreshadowed this potential encounter by mentioning this missing group repeatedly in the last few sessions.

Instead, when the encounter happened, the players fluffed it. They made a heck of a lot of noise outside the room in which the NPC party (or rather, it's remnants) had made camp. The result being that they were ambushed with a sleep spell the moment they actually managed to open the door. Not unnaturally, their characters awoke bound and stripped in a dark room where they were interrogated by a understandably very jumpy NPC Magic User and his two surviving hirelings. All they had to do to prove they weren't doppelgangers or crazed dungeon residents to this NPC was answer a simple question: "Who sent you?"

Despite the fact that this NPC's name has come up in every single one of the previous nine sessions, not one of the players could remember the name. Not one. So the NPC killed one of them (randomly selected by dice roll) to jog their memory. And as it happened, the PC in question was the one character whose loss they could least afford.

Now, if we weren't specifically played an Old School game, and I hadn't specifically set out in advance that I would be unleashing a ruthless DM style on my players before hand, I would naturally have allowed the players to make an Intelligence check to see if their character could remember. Especially given that most of the players have been playing less than a year.

But I didn't. I didn't allow them the int check because:
  • We're now ten sessions into the campaign and the name they were asked to remember has come up every session.
  • I've been repeatedly banging on about how it's not my job to remember things on their behalf.
  • The last time they forgot the name of an important NPC (just last session) I specifically warned my players that they needed to either start keeping better notes or else play closer attention to the actual play notes I post after each session. 
Even so, these are rookie players after all. Had the character died from a save or die roll or a monster that would be fine. Yet I can't help but wonder if I crossed over into arbitrary ass-hat-kill-territory. The end result is that I feel, frankly, like a bit of a s**t. Have I been too harsh on my rookie players?


ze bulette said...

Hilarious! Nah, yer fine man. I think you've made a very good case here, any jury should acquit. I wish I could've seen the the looks on their faces when one of their guys got whacked for their shoddy note keeping and memories. Sounds like a fun and memorable game btw.

So did they give you a bunch of shit, or are you just doubting yourself?

Arkhein said...

Yeah - what ze bullette said. It's their own fault. Players have a tendency to forget who hired them for the mission, and even what that mission was. And they don't take note for crap. Forgivable in a game using skill rolls - but a game where the players are supposed to be suing their wits? Nahh. Let the axe fall. :)

- Ark

scottsz said...

Have I been too harsh on my rookie players?

No. But their stupidity got someone killed.

You have helped them make the jump: they aren't rookies anymore.

Welcome to Old School.

christian said...

Because you laid this out as an old school game, which tests PLAYER skill as much as PC abilities, you were okay in your action. They need to pay better attention, especially in light of the fact that they were given every opportunity to succeed.

As Scott said, they will probably be better at remembering NPC names from now on.

Pontifex said...

I think you are a dick. By arbitrarily killing one of the PCs, you deprived them of the learning experience of being horribly maimed. A real gentleman would have cut off a hand.

Dangerous Brian said...

Thanks guys. They were shocked. Pale white for a moment even and there was a definite moment of pin-drop audibility at the gaming table. But they were surprisingly good about it.

It was definately a case of doubting myself. What had me concerned was the players lack of any frame of reference: were they fine about it because they just didn't know I was being dickish? Or were they fine about it because they themselves realised they'd mucked up badly?

I guess now I know. Thanks to you all for putting my mind at ease so quickly.

The Angry Lurker said...

No you were fine, this is a wake up call for their complacency.

Dennis Laffey said...

I'm the sort of player who tends to keep notes about that sort of thing, if I can't remember it off-hand (years of keeping lots of NPCs straight when I'm DMing, and reading books like the Chinese Classics where there are hundreds of characters with similar sounding Chinese names helps me here).

So I'd say since you warned them that they needed to remember this stuff, and you did roll randomly to see which PC the magic-user killed, you weren't being a total dick DM. Besides, this should be a learning experience for the players.

Aaron E. Steele said...

I find a lot of "new" players don't understand ther rudiments of session notes, player maps, sketches and so on.

It might be worth it to plan a short tutorial prior to your next game.

Lord Siwoc said...

They may have learned from their mistake. You do not get everything served on a plate. I am a gm as well, my players write names down as well as places.

I even use things that they have written about in their background!

No you were not a dick gm. You pointed out several times that they may have to write names down.

Dangerous Brian said...

Thanks guys. Before Blogger had it's meltdown, there were a number of other comments on this article (I think 6) all agreeing that I hadn't been a dick -which I was very relieved to here.
Some of the comments were very insightful indeed, and I'm very sorry to have lost them.

Before play, I directed each of the players to the Primer to Old School Gaming, the two "Kicking it" 1st ed AD&D campaign blogs on my links page and even ran them through Lion Castle to make sure they prepped for old school gaming.

I suppose the note taking is something that must slipped -probably due to my posting an actual play report of every session on this blog and on Obsidian Portal.

Dangerous Brian said...

Actually, speaking of tutorials, my first level survival guides (see link at top of journal) were written specifically with my rookie players in mind.

Jeremy Deram said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but if I understand correctly, you captured your players, and killed one of them while they were bound?

I don't even know what remembering a name has to do with it, but I would say yes, that is a bit harsh. Adding randomness to which one gets it doesn't seem to do much to soften that blow. No matter what one of them was going to die and there was nothing they could do about it.

Maybe there is something I'm not understanding from the post?

As far as remembering details about the world like NPC names, etc, I always just tell the players what the characters know if they seem to be forgetting. I don't see a problem with doing that.

But anyways, the real answer to your question will be given at the next session if they show up or not. Our random internet opinions matter little in the face of that.

Dangerous Brian said...

It was a distinctly Old School game, one where they were warned before hand that player wits would count for as much as character stats and that the bodycount was expected to be high.

As it was, the players certainly seemed to think I wasn't overly harsh. We had our next session (unplanned) the very next night. The players got to together and arranged the next session with my wife.

As it was, we very nearly lost another two characters. The party is now out of food, out of healing, down to three combat effective characters and so, so close to escaping the dungeon it's unreal. Assuming they can survive this last fight their about to get themselves into that is.

Jeremy Deram said...

Well, if the players took it well, that's the important thing. Another big concern was that you said you had female players (is this that game?). "Stripped and bound" is dangerous territory, especially when dealing with female players, and has a high likelihood of making a player uncomfortable.

Dangerous Brian said...

Yup, thats another valid point. I have two female players and -luckily- I know them both very well.
I wouldn't have used the same descriptive terms with female gamers present unless I knew them very well indeed. Well enough to know they would be comfortable with this style of play, at least.

I certainly won't be using this sort of flavour text next month. We have a friends sixteen year old daughter joining us after she finishes her exams.