31
\$\begingroup\$

We are playing modern day campaign with high pressure on realism. Our DM in not very experienced, but appears thoughtful and planning. We played just one session, but there is one glaring thing: Every decision we take is opposed by a more or less probable counter example. It might be better exemplified in actual play.

Our mission was to break into warded warehouse. We had planned route which would not tip any automated alarms, but we needed to sneak past guard booth. I asked if we're safe, then answer was "You're moving behind his back, if he doesn't turn around it will be safe". We decided that it is expected of us and we went on. We passed, no roll required.

Later another question was asked: "Can I silently open that locker?" "If it doesn't have hidden alarm, easily". It was in staff common room with already deactivated alarm, point was made that the idea was silly. He shrugged.

In front of massive door: "I guess I won't be able to kick down that gate." "Well, it might have damaged hinges." We didn't try.

The visibly fed up guy once asked "What should I be wary of when I'm taking a leak?" "In some places you need to check your shoes for scorpions before putting them on" was the non-answer.

"I'm just answering your questions" he commented. (Oh, the irony)

In my opinion the game had pacing problem, but other players didn't think it was. However, during one prolonged in-character group chat our DM spontaneously rolled his trusty Munchkin d10. Apparently, nothing happened, it was just another way to plant doubt in us.

I can't shake off the feeling he just waits for us to forget to ask something, or just disregard his answer one too many times. After the meeting I approached him with my concerns and I was not-really-comforted with vauge response.

I can't really pinpoint how exactly that attitude is wrong, but it definitely is. It falls short of manipulative, he would not really explain himself what it brings to table. I'm looking for examples how and why this doesn't work, best backed by some article.

\$\endgroup\$

closed as unclear what you're asking by NautArch, Dakeyras, okeefe, Purple Monkey, GMJoe Jun 29 '17 at 9:09

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to get an idea of how this Q&A site works. (It's a bit different from a discussion forum). I'd recommend reviewing your question and asking yourself "what problem am I trying to solve" and then go back and edit that to make it more clear. I am not sure what "best backed by some article" means -- are you trying to find authoritative articles on GMing to present to your GM to show that you are right about something? (When's the last time you offered to GM for a session?) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 27 '17 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Exacly that. My problem is "The game is played unfairly" or "DM is unfair to us" but can't find reason why. \$\endgroup\$ – Krzysztof Skibiński Jun 27 '17 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mentioned in question perceived time problem, but did not emphasize that because no other player feels it. \$\endgroup\$ – Krzysztof Skibiński Jun 27 '17 at 14:43
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin I think ultimately the question is What purpose is served by this GMing technique? However, I agree that that question is buried under a lot of the asker's own feelings and concerns about the technique. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 27 '17 at 16:17
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like the GM's thoroughness is being interpreted as "mind games", which could make sense for a player with anxiety who needs more certainty to feel comfortable. Might that be the issue here? \$\endgroup\$ – Nat Jun 27 '17 at 19:56
90
\$\begingroup\$

This is a valid way to run a game.

The problem you are having is that you're asking questions that your character wouldn't know the answer to. So an equally valid response to your questions would be: "How is your character going to figure that out?" or "What skill are you going to use to try to know that answer?" or simply "well, your character isn't sure, and I as the DM am not offering free out-of-game information".

(When I get this sort of question in my own games, I usually give the "how is your character going to figure that out?" answer. That seems to work pretty well, and I haven't had anyone be unhappy about it.)

The DM is, in his mind, is being even more helpful than the above answers, by telling you what your character can understand about the situations you're asking about.


As you play more adventures, it's possible the DM will get bored with managing all the low-level details, and he'll start answering some of your questions with free information just to keep the game moving. (Like, he probably won't ever say "you'll be safe moving past that guard booth, I promise" but he might say "opening the locker seems pretty safe here".)

On the other hand, as you keep playing, it's possible that you'll start to understand what sorts of things your character might know the answer to, and you'll learn to either rephrase your question ("what are the obvious risks in sneaking past the guard booth?") or to learn by doing ("I open the locker, trying to do so silently.").

Let me elaborate on the "rephrase your question" thing. Here's a sample dialog from your group:

"Can I silently open the locker?"
"If it doesn't have a hidden alarm, easily."

Here's how this would go in most games:

"I search the locker for traps."
"Roll your Search skill."
"17".
"You don't find any traps."
"I open the locker silently."
"That's very easy and you don't need to roll for it. It's open now."

This illustrates the following idea: if you're trying to understand something about the game world, don't just ask the DM. Instead, describe what your character is doing to learn the thing.

Here's another sample dialog:

"Is it safe to sneak past the guard?"
"You're moving behind his back, if he doesn't turn around it will be safe."

Here's how this would go in most games:

"We sneak past the guard."
"He's watching the corridor, so sneaking past him will be really hard. Are you sure you want to try this?"

or:

"We sneak past the guard."
"He's not watching the corridor, but roll your Stealth skill to see if you can avoid making noise."

This illustrates the following idea: rather than ask if something is safe, most DMs will expect you to go ahead and do the thing, and they'll give you a warning if the thing is obviously unsafe.

Of course this doesn't work with all DMs, and if you're feeling paranoid it's still a good plan to ask "is there any obvious reason why this plan wouldn't work?". But I try to always give my players a warning if they're about to do something that's obviously a bad plan, and most of the DMs I've played with have done the same.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 21
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński IN that case, the DM's answer seems fine — to the best of the smith's knowledge using his expertise, the locker can be opened silently barring some sort of unseen trap. What's the problem here? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 27 '17 at 13:34
  • 18
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński For the playstyle of my group that would be a good answer. The GM is letting you know what the biggest risk is. Now you need to make sure there is no alarm. \$\endgroup\$ – Ling Jun 27 '17 at 13:35
  • 33
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński Well, sure. That's life, right? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 27 '17 at 13:58
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński Those are actually good things - the GM is opening you up to possibilities. In your shelf example... What happens if you hide behind it, have a catastrophically bad roll, and as a result of that bad roll, the GM says: "And something falls from the top and lands on you." Would you say "But you didn't tell me there was anything up there!" The GM is clearly illustrating that the cover is good-but-not-perfect. Same with the plans. Did you bring some documentation to validate them against, and have time to do it? If not, all the character can know is they seem to be right. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 27 '17 at 20:54
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński I suggest you edit your additional examples from the above comments into your question to make it more obvious what you are asking. As your question currently stands, I finished reading it wondering "When are we getting to the problem?" Your issue seems to be due to slight nuances in DM's wording perpetuated through the entire game (death by a million paper cuts) that are difficult for us to pick up on. Also suggest Dan B improve his good answer by touching on the situation where DM is too uncertain, as that can happen. Even with realism, we're playing a game, not real life \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jun 28 '17 at 14:50
45
\$\begingroup\$

Direct Response

I don't see anything wrong with what your GM is doing. If you're conducting a stealth operation, there should be a certain amount of paranoia involved. It's likely that your characters are operating on incomplete information, so there is no reason the players should not be operating on incomplete information.

Some of your questions are even things the characters have no conceivable way to be aware of.

  • Is the guard going to turn around? Sure, if he has a reason to. Were you quiet enough to avoid giving him a reason? The dice decide that.

  • Does the locker have an alarm inside it? Maybe. Do you have the tools (an orthoscopic camera) to look inside before you open it?

  • Can I kick down that gate? Again... maybe, if it is already damaged. Hollywood examples of people kicking down doors with a single blow are relatively unrealistic. There's a reason SWAT teams have those big, heavy hand rams.

  • What should I be wary of when taking a leak? In military environmental briefings for certain environments, the scorpion thing is actually something they cover, though it's more important for showers (I don't take off my shoes when I pee).

Now, if your character had a good stealth roll in the first scenario, and the guard still turned around and saw you anyway, you might have cause for alarm. That could be the GM cheating and making things more difficult. That's something that can happen with bad GMs, but it doesn't sound like it is.

Instead, it sounds like your GM is doing a good job. He's is "playing mind games", but he's doing it to get an emotional reaction out of you, one that mirrors how the characters should be feeling. It sounds like he's doing a good job.

Other Considerations

Answering player questions in this manner is certainly a question of form and style. What may be appropriate in an investigation- or espionage-themed game may not be appropriate in a cinematic or hack-and-slash game, where things are often more black and white.

It's also on the GM to determine if the players are responsive to this kind of GMing. Even when genre-appropriate, it may not be something that works for a given group of players. If it makes them uncomfortable, and the players say as much, the GM should take that into account.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ So you are saying that unsettling players is part of the job? \$\endgroup\$ – Krzysztof Skibiński Jun 27 '17 at 13:26
  • 22
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński It's an entirely valid stylistic choice for an espionage-based encounter. If you're worried about being spotted, your characters are, too. If he's actually cheating, that's a problem. If he's just sowing doubt, that's okay. Does it work for every group, every players prefered style? No. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 27 '17 at 13:29
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński isn't being on your toes part of the fun of it? Too many times I've wished that the table was more invested in the action and the DM didn't skip or give free advice just because he doesn't know better! It could be he is making something wrong and it is too boring, sure, but the story as you have told it to us sounds like solid DMing :) \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Jun 27 '17 at 14:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I just want to highlight the last parts of this answer: even if it might be a valid stylistic choice, the player is well within his rights to feel ambivalent about this. If the style makes you uncomfortable, mention this to the DM in a polite manner. Also I feel this kind of style coloring all of play should be discussed before starting. \$\endgroup\$ – semiomant Jun 27 '17 at 15:03
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @semiomant Definitely, though I added a bit indicating that the players need to speak up. If the GM doesn't know it bothers them, he can't adjust his behavior. Incomplete information is part of the game, part of the interaction between the GM and the players as characters, but it isn't part of the interaction between the players and GM as people. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 27 '17 at 15:08
23
\$\begingroup\$

I happen to fall on both sides of this dilemma, depending on whether I'm a player or a GM.

What you and your players are asking for is certainty and/or foreknowledge of the results: Can we safely sneak behind the guard? Can we silently open the locker? Can we [successfully] kick down the gate?

There are careful lines to be walked by the GM, here, but this much is certain: Your GM is not obligated to give you yes/no answers about your actions before you actually take them. It's not necessarily his job to sow doubt and confusion, but it's definitely not his job to settle your minds and tell you the results of your actions before you try them.

The careful lines, rather, are these:

  • When you, using your character's skills or lack of skills, ask for clarification or risk estimates, how should he convey whatever information he wants you to have? This is quite a bit harder than it seems. Yes/no answers are directly contrary to die-rolling games with elements of chance. Even raw probabilities are probably too much information to give out. Rather, they often need to be filtered through layers of description and the natural uncertainties that your characters actually have.
  • When faced with certainty-seeking characters, how should he convey information in ways that does not lead to paralysis through analysis?

As I said before, I fall on both sides of this dilemma. As a GM, I resist giving players certainty before their actions unless there's some gross player-GM mismatch. If something is meant to be really obvious and the players are making much more (or less) of it than was intended, I might clarify. For instance, if I describe a gap they need to cross over, and it's three feet wide, and they're breaking out spells and climbing gear, I might figure I've mis-described that and say, "No, no, you can jump it." If it's fifty feet wide and they're gearing up to jump it, again I'll clarify, "No, that's just not going to work."

But if it's something difficult but possibly achievable, and they ask, "Can I jump this?" the only reasonable answer is, "You can try," and maybe a rough descriptor of likelihood. Further, if I find myself continually needing to clarify in that fashion, that's a sign to me as GM that I need to describe things better. If I find the players asking for clarification about risky activities, that's a sign to me that I have hit a sweet spot where their actions are inherently risky or uncertain, and therefore inherently interesting to both the players and myself. That's important, so I'll say it again: Uncertainty is interesting. Uncertainty drives the outcome in unpredictable ways. I want my players focused on uncertain activities, rather than certain ones.

On the other hand, as a player, I tend to seek certainty. Obviously, why wouldn't I? I want my actions to succeed, and I want to solve problems, and if there's something I can do to maximize my odds, I want to do it. If left unchecked, my questions get more and more analytical, and ultimately slide into, "Can I succeed at X?"

Ultimately, when I do that as a player, it's a bad habit (and one the my GMs occasionally need to hit me with a stick for) and one I try to rein in. When I do that as a GM, I'm just doing my job.

Final analysis: Your GM is just doing his job.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm the same way myself. A lot of times, I may give a sarcastic answer to a question, but I usually think about it from the characters point of the view, as to what I think they could think of it. "Will this locker make noise if I open it?" Barbarian "Why would it? People use lockers every day" Rogue "Those hinges look a bit rusty..." \$\endgroup\$ – Taegost Jun 27 '17 at 16:40
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "Can I jump this?" the only reasonable answer is, "You can try," -- on the other hand, your character knows how far she can jump. You may not have the jumping rules of the game memorized. Asking "can my character jump over that gap" gives us "your character is confident she can", "your character is uncertain", or "your character is certain she cannot". In 90% of cases, I know if I can lift something, how fast I can run or walk, how far I can jump safely, or if I could compromise the password on a computer with physical access to its chassy. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jun 27 '17 at 19:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Despite the system agnostic tag, this depends somewhat on mechanics: Any game with a botch or critical success mechanic that applies could easily result in an unexpected answer. Beyond that, if a roll or randomizer of some sort is required to determine the outcome, then, for whatever reason, no your character does not know if success is assured. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jun 27 '17 at 20:20
19
\$\begingroup\$

The happy possibility…

Maybe the GM is not antagonizing the players, and, instead, encouraging the players to take action. Bear with me here! While it may seem paralyzing not to know the outcome of actions before taking those actions, that perspective is sometimes viewed by a GM as more realistic than an absolutely predictable outcome: "In life—even in the fictional life of a role-playing game protagonist—," such a GM reasons, "anything can happen, and every task—no matter how mundane or routine—carries with it the possibility of death… or, at least, entails some risk. But, as an adventurer, a PC shouldn't worry so much about those risks."

So, for example, when a player that asks the GM Can I sneak up on the guard? the action-oriented GM's response of Not if lightning strikes and kills you first should not be seen as a warning that the player made a mistake when, before the assault on the compound, he failed to ascertain the weather! Instead, the statement should be interpreted as the GM encouraging players to stop waffling and get on with it already!

While I think it would be better were the GM to come right out and say that he prefers players to act instead of ask so as to put everyone at ease, some GMs—especially inexperienced GMs—haven't yet fully grasped their own playstyles and may be unable to articulate exactly why they're doing what they're doing. But now you can broach the subject and find out if this—encouraging action not caution—is your GM's goal with his unusual answers to seemingly simple questions.

I should point out that the GM's answers aren't bad or wrong but simply might be sending the wrong message. If the GM's goal is to encourage action rather than planning, that action should be encouraged directly by saying Here's what you can do to find out instead of implying that players should worry about something else entirely.

For example, when a player asks Can I silently open that locker? saying Yes… if the locker doesn't have hidden alarm leads players to believe they should look for alarms rather than right away attempt to open the locker, and, by saying that, the GM has (perhaps inadvertently) added an extra step to every door in the campaign. As an alternative, a response like There's no way to know until you try or In your experience, most lockers open pretty quietly, but would you like to take a few minutes to examine the locker carefully to try to determine if it's somehow special? emphasizes instead either that the question's futile, there's no action that can be taken to mitigate consequences, and the players should be just doing stuff or the notion that some action must be taken first if consequences are to be minimized. Either way works, but the GM should be aware that offering a seeming non sequitur like In some places you need to check your shoes for scorpions before putting them on to What should I be wary of when I'm taking a leak? slows the game rather than speeds it up. (Except in scorpion-themed campaigns or , of course.)

In short, I suggest talking to the GM and see what kind of game he's trying to run, or, if that's too uncomfortable, stop asking questions, have your PC just do stuff, and see what happens. I suspect your PC will find no scorpions in his shoes.

…And the alternative

But it's also possible that your inexperienced GM may be on the way to becoming a totally different kind of GM. Instead of encouraging action, he could be like the GM Psycho Dave from role-playing game storyteller and game designer Al Bruno III's "A Night at the Inn, a Day at the Racists"1 wherein during a role-playing session the following exchange occurs:

AB3: I stop the wagon in front of the Inn.
Psycho Dave (the GM): Roll for it.
AB3: This is getting a little out of hand now.
Psycho Dave: Roll for it.
AB3: I need to roll to stop the… wagon?
Psycho Dave: You're the one that said that you were just all of a sudden stopping the wagon. Ever heard of slowing down before you stop?
AB3: I didn't think I had to be that specific. Okay, I slow the wagon down and—
Psycho Dave: Too late. You said it. Roll to see if you can stop the wagon without crashing, or do you want to… whine some more?
AB3: [Rolling.] Crap.
Psycho Dave: Okay, the cart flips over. Everyone else make a save versus death. Yes, you too Larry.
AB3 (V.O): As you can see I soon realized that Psycho Dave ran a game in roughly the same way that Warwick Davis in the film Leprechaun granted wishes. Everything you said your character did was scrutinized for some way to screw you over and the dice ruled all. He was the only guy I know who used a random monster encounter chart for Call of Cthulhu. You haven't lived until you've had a character go mad because he saw a nightgaunt sitting in a restroom stall reading a copy of the Necronomicon.
[Players roll dice.]
Cheating Bastard: A perfect 20!
Weasly Crusher: I can't believe the wagon fell on my head.
Cheating Bastard: I can't believe your eyeball popped out! What kind of crit tables are these?
Psycho Dave: The manly kind. I've been coddling you with those Arduin critical hit tables for too damn long.

(Minor edits mine.) And so on. Now, if this is the GM's goal—to take things absolutely literally, assume PC stupidity, and introduce the possibility of spectacle into everyday tasks—then there could be a problem. I'm making a valiant effort to respect all playstyles here, but I think I can say with some confidence that most players are at least mildly uncomfortable with a playestyle like Psycho Dave's. If this seems the route the GM's headed, the players should have a good, long talk with the GM about how many players find the Psycho Dave playstyle adversarial and alienating. Maybe after such a talk, a new GM will gravitate more toward the happy possibility or another playstyle altogether.


1 Al Bruno III's stories often contain strong language and mature themes. Discretion is advised. Further, there are many of them, and they're frequently tragically hilarious. Read alone when you've lots of time.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fabulous answer. And I agree that given the GM's stated inexperience by the OP, the first scenario is far more likely. I would even suggest that b/c he's inexperienced, he just doesn't know how to answer questions like he's getting and is kind of stalling to feign competence. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Jun 27 '17 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Paul Thank you, and I, too, figure it's the happy possibility. And that the inexperienced GM may be stalling for time with his unusual answers is—if you can word that up—probably good enough to be its own answer! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 27 '17 at 16:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Paul You both say these are answers an unexperienced DM would give. Then what would an experienced DM say? "Can we safely sneak past the guard?" "Are these the plans we were asked to retrieve?" I don't see how answering these with yes or no are the sign of a competent/experienced DM, on the contrary: Neither players nor characters should get the answers handed to them on a silver plate because they simply don't (and can't) know! \$\endgroup\$ – The Raven Queen Jun 27 '17 at 16:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @TheRavenQueen There's a difference between responses that encourage action and responses that discourage action. Currently, the GM is discouraging action through his responses when he might think he's encouraging action. When asked Can we safely sneak past the guard? a better response from a GM wanting players to act may be You won't know until you try and to Are these the plans? may be Did you want to take the time right now to confirm that they are? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 27 '17 at 16:57
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "Unless the guard turns around" -> Go ahead, unless fate itself is against you, he won't see you! Make sure that he doesn't turn around by making a noise in front of him! "Unless there's a hidden alarm" -> Go ahead and open it, there is no indication that it would squeek! "Seems like the plans" -> You won't know until you verify! Those already seem pretty encouraging to me, even providing possibilities to be even safer (e.g. identifying the guard as major risk, not suggesting that the plans might not be fake). The players just seem to expect a clear yes or no where it's simply not appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – The Raven Queen Jun 27 '17 at 17:44
10
\$\begingroup\$

I have one objection to what your DM is doing:

He's not making it clear to you what the format of his game is. What he should do is explain to you that when you ask certain kinds of questions, you get certain kinds of answers, for all the kinds of questions that are causing these problems.

For instance, if you had asked me, at my table, "Can I silently open that locker?", I'd have said "what do you mean by "can I"? At my table, I only tell you what your character actually senses and knows, nothing else. And that includes telling you wrong things when your character knows/senses the wrong thing. And it doesn't include telling you your character's future based on choices you haven't made.

What I suggest is talking with your DM on a meta-level(outside the context of the story) about how he answers questions, depending on the type of question, on the understanding that the way he's answering your questions isn't wrong, its just different to what you're used to, and maybe, its a style you won't like at all, but I suggest giving it a try.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 the whole "can I" question should either involve innate character knowledge "why yes, as a former blacksmith you can use the anvil and forge to repair the horseshoe", or a skill check "roll a d20 to see if you can sneak by quietly". \$\endgroup\$ – Jim B Jun 27 '17 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Someone enlighten me, aren't questions "Can I" understood by default "Can my character do X" and "Do i see anything obstructing the X-ing"? \$\endgroup\$ – Krzysztof Skibiński Jun 27 '17 at 14:15
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński The DM may be hedging against events your characters can't anticipate. If he answers a flat "yes" to "Can I silently open that locker?" (because for all your character knows they can) and there is an alarm, you (as a player) will feel cheated. On the other hand, if he only pulls out "maybes" when there is something hidden, then he tips his hand, giving you (the player) info the characters can't ascertain. By always answering "maybe", he avoids this. Talk to him about it, and assure him that you won't bite his head off if he say "you can" and something hidden pops up. \$\endgroup\$ – R.M. Jun 27 '17 at 14:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think we're going off the course. My concern is that someday something will pop up because we didn't think to ask. I might need to edit question to emphasize that more. \$\endgroup\$ – Krzysztof Skibiński Jun 27 '17 at 14:48
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @KrzysztofSkibiński And clarify exactly what you mean by that statement. Of course things will happen because you/your character will forget to ask something. You'll trip and alarm because you didn't think about one being there. You'll open an unlocked door without checking to see if there's someone inside and alert a guard. I'm not sure why this would be a problem. It makes for a more interesting and dramatic story. You can't think of everything. Honestly, as a DM I feel like he's giving you more information than he should by warning you about things that could happen. \$\endgroup\$ – kwgsmith Jun 27 '17 at 15:17
5
\$\begingroup\$

As hinted at, but never clearly stated by the other answers, answering such questions with a yes or no is a big turn off. The way I play, even asking them seems extremely awkward.

I know there are other approaches to role play gaming than mine, but I dare say all of them involve a bit of acting (theatre) and the thrill of problem solving. All these challenges the game master piles up in front of you are meant as opportunities for realising these two elements of the game. They are the prime motor of the game and even serve as "crystallisation points" from which new scenarios, unforeseen even by the game master, might unravel. All this is cruelly jeopardised, if the master starts feeding you answers that solve entire scenes.

Unfortunately, the information you provided:

I asked if we're safe, then answer was "You're moving behind his back, if he doesn't turn around it will be safe".

isn't too detailed. It may just be a synopsis of a longer conversation, but to me it sounds like you are reaching for the instant solution of an entire scene. If I tell the players they see the warehouse with a guard in front, I roughly expect they will:

  1. Survey the area for more guards
  2. Survey for better entrances
  3. Note the guard's routine
  4. Contemplate distracting him

Even in a beginner game, I would probably have provided for a second guard to run into players that don't even mention any of this. I would have fleshed out these guards and their loving wifes or gambling habits, so as to provide snippets of conversation with which to reward players who have taken the time to observe them. I am not going to let all that work go to waste by instantly teleporting you into the next scene!

\$\endgroup\$
5
\$\begingroup\$

I personally dislike your GM's approach but while some of it may be psychological tactics, it seems clear he probably wants you to ask better (more realistic) questions.

Particularly, this seems to fit with the style of campaign you say is being run. Regardless, he definitely seems concerned with keeping your characters within the limits of in-game knowledge at the very least.

Ex.

I asked if we were safe [while attempting to pass behind a guards back].

"Does the guard look distracted/sleepy/busy/attentive? What's he doing?"

"Can I silently open that locker?"

"I want to examine the locker. Do the hinges look rusty? Do I see anything out of the ordinary about it?"

In front of massive door: "I guess I won't be able to kick down that gate."

"I carefully look at the door. I check the hinges/lock/keypad/whatever. Are there any weaknesses I can spot?"

"What should I be wary of when I'm taking a leak?"

"Are we on a plane and if so, are there slithering reptiles onboard said aircraft which mayhaps might bite me on the willy?"

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ OP is concerned that DM might take it too literally. I agree your versions are better than the originals, but I would suggest they be less specific, more generic. Also, you are including hindsight; OP might not have thought about hinges when asking and wouldn't think to suggest them, but it still might be obvious they are weak with a generic "I examine the door to help decide if I can break through. What would be my character's assessment?" Or "I want to open the locker, but to avoid noise I examine it first. Do I find any potential sources of noise that would be an issue for my character?" \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jun 28 '17 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Aaron The heart of role-playing really does often come down to simply asking the right questions. =) \$\endgroup\$ – Anaksunaman Jun 28 '17 at 18:22
5
\$\begingroup\$

Role-playing vs Problem Solving

The difference is that you and the GM are interpreting your questions in different ways.

When you ask "Is it safe?" you are implying "My character is examining everything in the scene to obtain this information, can you just tell it to me?" This is thinking about the game as a purely problem-solving exercise.

It's possible that your GM just wants you to role-play a bit, make it clear that your character is doing something that would merit the information you are requesting.

You are probably irritated because these questions are ones your characters should be able to trivially find the answer to.

To use the locker scenario as an example:

"Can I silently open that locker?"

"If it doesn't have hidden alarm, easily"

"Well, is there one? I just asked you if I could open it silently, so obviously I'm checking for hidden alarms! Quit playing mind games and tell me the answer!"

But you could make it a bit more descriptive, get a bit more immersed and phrase it something like this:

"I inspect the locker to see if there is anything that would make noise if I open it. Would it be enough to alert the guards?"

Of course, it's also possible that your GM is just intentionally raising the tension by adding a "what if" to every scenario. As always, you should sit down and have a conversation, especially if the situation is making you uncomfortable. Anxiety issues are a thing.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I really like your opening with your first two paragraphs. Some days you are really into it and feel like role playing everything right down to tying your shoes and greeting the village NPCs, but some days you are feeling lazier and just want to get on with the show. I can RP the same character both ways depending on my mood. Sometimes it takes an hour to stay at the inn for the night even though nothing significant happens, but sometimes when feeling lazy we spot a village and I just want to say "I'll stay at that village's inn for the night then continue on the road." Big difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jun 28 '17 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't seem even remotely obvious that asking about a locker being quiet is implying a search for hidden alarms. This, I think, is the fundamental problem not behind the GM's behavior, but behind the players', specifically the player asking this question. Searching for hidden alarms, by definition, is a non-obvious task that has risk to it. It honestly seems fairly nice and generous for the GM to offer that as a possibility rather than merely saying "Only one way to tell" with a mischievous grin. \$\endgroup\$ – Attackfarm Nov 3 '17 at 22:15
3
\$\begingroup\$

Your DM's style is not incorrect, but he apparently missed the part where he explained why it was correct. Different groups have different styles and different game systems even have different DMing/GMing styles. How Cyberpunk is refereed is not the same as how Nobilis or 5e D&D is run. Some game systems have the storyteller or referee act as a friend, a guide, and a narrator, as part of a community. In other cases, its a giant cyborg with a referee shirt crushing the skulls of the cowering players.

What your DM failed to explain was that players will ask questions, and within the limits of their knowledge and perception, they will receive answers. But they won't generally receive additional information. So if a door is boobytrapped with explosives, the DM will not tell you that. If there's a pit up ahead, the DM will not tell you that, but they may have you make passive skill checks to perceive the pit or the trip wire, etc. If there's a giant army in a room, the DM has to tell you that, but they don't have to tell you the army is illusional unless your character can detect such things.

If you come to a big gate, the DM should tell you if there's a reasonable apparent chance to open it, because its unlocked, weak, or can be forced open, but they don't have to tell you if its actually adamantium painted to look like wood, or a hologram you can pass through if only you try walking through it.

The DM you are dealing with is trying to communicate the fine art of perception, and the DM while aware of the truth, doesn't want to spoil the surprise. Their whole role is like that game show host on Let's Make a Deal. They don't want to hint what's behind door #2, but will be happy with whatever choice you make, win, lose, or draw.

\$\endgroup\$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.