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In past campaigns, the DM has had a habit of stealing from our characters while they sleep impulsively without any sort of story reason. And not just regular stealing either, they manage to remove all our items, including worn such as clothes and armor. All based on beating our listen check minus 10 in one roll. The party find this entirely crap since we can lose everything for no reason, and have very little way to get it back.

We have just started a new 3.5 campaign, all of us level one base races, and the DM has made it very clear we are following the rules to a T. Our characters however, are entirely being trampled because he is making all the encounters 3 levels higher than our party would be able to handle. After 2 failed encounters, we arrived at a village with about 20 people, all level 1s, and decided to all go to sleep there. After waking up, 2 of us woke up with no armor, no clothes, no starting gear at all. The other 2, who went to sleep outside the village, woke up with all their items missing and being carried away by animals.

We were not drugged, and there was nothing special about the NPCs that would have allowed them to do this. Are there any rules, or anything we can show to the DM to prove these actions to be impossible and completely unfair?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica May 10 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Closing this for a minute. Some answerers are new and don't understand our answer requirements here on RPG.SE. We expect answers not to be just opinions - they need to be backed up either via citation or game experience. He "could" do a million things. Have you had this or a similar problem, and if so, what did you do or see done that addressed it? Most of the answers here do not meet our site requirements for a valid answer. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica May 10 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the GM your friend or just someone you play with? I ask because you clearly have played multiple campaigns with them and my advice would differ based on your relationship. A friend who you like and is generally a good person is probably worth spending some time figuring out what is going on here. Otherwise, it may be more expeditious to find a new GM. \$\endgroup\$ – Barker May 10 at 19:55

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The only rule for this that I'm aware of is the one you're already using: you can make a listen check at a -10 penalty and you wake up if you succeed.

My group, and most other groups, interpret this rule to mean that you make this listen check to wake up in response to noise. If something jostles you, you still automatically wake up regardless of what you heard. But I don't think this is written down anywhere.

The obvious solution to your problem is to sleep in the same place, post watches, and sleep in shifts. This is a standard thing that most adventuring parties do routinely. Your group should do it too!

(A more extreme solution might be to play an elf, since elves don't have to sleep.)

The other potential solution to your problem is: in D&D, if you feel like you're not having fun playing in a given DM's game, sometimes you need to drop out of that game and find a different game. For my part, if my group lost two encounters in a row because the DM made the fight too hard, I'm pretty sure I'd be dropping out. But that's a decision you'll have to make for yourself.

Good luck with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The other answers point out the flaw in this approach. This DM is bound and determined to steal stuff from the players, he will simply structure the theft to bypass whatever countermeasures the players come up with. \$\endgroup\$ – asgallant May 8 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer and addresses the problem fully, but the original poster should definitely have a talk with the DM about this. While this solves the sleep problem, it doesn't even come close to solving the inappropriate encounter level problem (which the rules do give guidelines for) and doesn't solve the fact that the DM is putting together scenarios that are not fun for the players - which is the real problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz May 8 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @asgallant - However, if the DM is instead bound and determined to get the players to set up a watch rotation, like a normal party does, this may be exactly what is needed. \$\endgroup\$ – T.E.D. May 8 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.E.D. When my oldest brother taught me how to play chess, he played Scholar's Mate against me over and over until I learned how to defend against it. That seems to me like what the DM is doing here. "I'm going to have keep taking your stuff until you post a proper watch to defend against it." They're lucky it's just thieves and not assassins who would slit everyone's throat while they're at it. \$\endgroup\$ – Monty Harder May 8 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ For those suggesting that the DM is simply teaching them a lesson by putting them up against an insurmountable obstacle until they 'learn to adapt' - I'd like to point out that they didn't learn to do this, and only now know what to do because we told them. This isn't an effective teaching strategy, and I think it gives too much credit to a DM who could have simply suggested this to them after the first time they got robbed blind and all died. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz May 9 at 13:13
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I'm just going to rip the band-aid off: Find a new GM.

This is weird, off-putting, more than a little creepy ("What's your fixation with stealing our clothes, dude?"), borderline abusive, and probably more descriptors in that vein.

A lot of the ways players and GMs can get crosswise with each other involve mis-calibrating or misunderstanding what the other side considers to be "fun" and can be resolved by talking about it. But I can't even grasp how anyone would find having their character wake up naked and defenseless again because a raccoon stole their armor again to be fun.

That is a GM whose sense of fun is completely out of alignment with mine, may not even care about my fun as a player, and-- judgment call from here, as it is a ultimately judgment call for you-- is probably not worth my time and effort trying to educate him.

My spidey-sense was tingling all through your post. I would walk and not look back.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanfaeScotland The most generous interpretation of the DM doing this to motivate them to set watches still indicates a DM who has no qualms about punishing the party for not reading his mind. If setting watch is a crucial plot device for the DM, then having occasional minor thefts, or even waking up to a surprise round of combat from a weak wandering monster, is a more appropriate means of communicating the need for a watch. Even better is the DM simply asking "are you setting a watch?" when they make camp. The punishments described in the OP are major red flags. \$\endgroup\$ – Beofett May 8 at 19:36
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"Unfair" is the wrong way to look at it. The right way to look at it is that the players and the DM want to play different games, and you need to stop,and talk, and come to an agreement on what kind of a game you're going to play.

Specifically, the DM wants to play a game where he gets to dump on the PCs at whim with no real justification, taking their stuff without warning or recourse, and repeatedly throwing them at fights that he knows they can't win (while at the same time apparently not having it kill them). He also wants to be able to claim that he's totally following all of the rules while he does it. The players don't want to play this kind of game. Catching him in a rules contradiction won't help, even if you can pull it off (which, I guarantee, won't be easy). You'd be able to call him out for it once, and the next time he'll just make sure that the thieving animals have a few fae along who can cast sleep or whatever. You need to convince him to not run the game this way. Talk with him about how this is not the game you (the party) want to play, and it's making things significantly less fun for you. He knows what he's doing, even if he likes to pretend that he doesn't. It's entirely too blatant for it not to be in some way deliberate. You can call him on it.

But before you go into that discussion, you need to figure out for yourself... what if he says no? You'd rather have a game where you're not being thrashed by overpowered encounters, and where you're not randomly stripped naked by squirrels for the DM's amusement. If he insists that he won't change, though, is that kind of a campaign worth playing at all? Normally I'd say no, but apparently you've played that kind of a campaign with him before, so maybe it is. If he holds fast on this, is there anyone else who might be willing to DM instead?

Knowing the answer to that question will help you know what tone to go into the discussion with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps a watch will discover a thief who can involuntarily aid the group to beat or bypass the high level monsters. \$\endgroup\$ – Cees Timmerman May 8 at 17:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CeesTimmerman "The other 2, who went to sleep outside the village, woke up with all their items missing and being carried away by animals." This is no longer just about not setting a watch. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden May 8 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FrankHopkins ...but the result is entirely implausible. Getting robbed naked while in the inn? Having every piece of your gear stolen by animals? At that point, best case, it isn't about trying to do the things that make sense in the situation. It's about figuring out whatever magic rituals the DM has in mind ("set watch", "search for traps every 10 feet", "sense motive on everything every NPC says ever", or whatever) and following them religiously in order to ward off ill fortune. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden May 8 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Not setting watches and not starting to after such events gives me the impression that the players are inexperienced. It's not far fetched to assume the GM is equally inexperienced and trying to get a message across with more and more over-the-top results. He may have gone up the wrong tree by now, sure thing. I'd do reasonable countermeasures and if that suffices, everything cool - one can have a relaxed talk about over-the top teaching methods that can break immersion. If that doesn't do it, a serious talk over wtf is going on might be in order(ie bringexpectations in line) \$\endgroup\$ – Frank Hopkins May 8 at 20:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd at least complain to the innkeeper. \$\endgroup\$ – Cees Timmerman May 8 at 20:21
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Your DM is trying to teach you something

Building off of @DanB's answer and its comments, and assuming good intent rather than malice, there are quite possibly two things your DM is trying to teach you.

1. You should set watches/shifts while sleeping

As @DanB said, watches are not an uncommon thing - far from it. Most any book that showcases some of the more mudane aspects of adventuring, such as camping, will almost inevitably have someone on watch - and oftentimes, a spooky event/mysterious visitor will appear!

2. Running is a viable option

Something I haven't seen anyone mention - D&D is not like other games! You don't have to fight/defeat everything in your path - if the Tarrasque shows up to the party, RUN!

I can see how it might feel frustrating for the players, but from a teaching standpoint I can appreciate how illustrating the consequences of an action is more effective than just telling you something's a bad idea. Your party may be stuck in a one-track mindset, trying to do the same things over and over again instead of looking for creative solutions to a demonstrated existing problem. No creativity from the players usually = a boring adventure.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect you're probably right. However, the fact that the DM is using such heavy-handed punishments for not setting a watch is evidence that there is a problem with the DM's approach. Setting a watch is common, but not necessarily when sleeping in the security of a village. Stripping 100% of their gear, without providing a fairly clear path to retrieving it, is a very poor way of teaching a lesson. Much better would be very minor penalties (perhaps a few missing items) that might increase if the kept making the same mistakes, but a simple prompt of "are you setting watch?" should be enough \$\endgroup\$ – Beofett May 8 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Beofett both DM and group might be inexperienced, and he might have started slow and just gets more ridiculous as his message seems not to get picked up. Not perfect DM behaviour but a valid analysis of what he might be intending and how to resolve it. A little talk out of character of whether that's the kind of game that in principle is fine for both might be appropriate as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Frank Hopkins May 8 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FrankHopkins True. There's a definite learning curve for both DMs and players. I mentioned what I feel are better approaches because they might be useful things to mention during a conversation with the DM. Preferably the outcome is that the players pick up on the fact that they're missing out on some things the party is expected to do, and the DM picks up that his approach has been frustrating for at least some of the players. \$\endgroup\$ – Beofett May 8 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me this is the correct answer, more so than the accepted answer because it tackles both complaints, although the GM could be a bit "nicer" and after the second or third time of them losing their gear, maybe hint at what they should be doing. Regarding the fighting, use your imagination - not everything needs to be a straight up hack-and-slash. Can you sneak past? Create some kind of diversion? Hire some mercenaries to help? Negotiate with the enemy? Find a way around them? Do you use good tactics when you do fight? (e.g. Standing waving a sword at a dragon's toenail is pretty pointless) \$\endgroup\$ – colmde May 10 at 8:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure you can assume "good intent" alone, without assuming massive incompetence (or inexperience combined with... a bit less incompetence). Even if the DMs true intention is covered by this answer, similar "you need to learn to read my mind" approach is to be expected in future as well, and should be addressed now, if they want this DM to continue as DM. \$\endgroup\$ – WakiNadiVellir May 13 at 7:20
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Short answer: No, those rules probably don't exist

I'll admit that I am not familiar with the rules of 3.5, but even so, nothing that he's doing sounds like it's actually breaking any rules I've ever heard of. Abusing them, maybe, but it does look perfectly legal. So give up on that approach - it won't work.

That's not the real problem here

The real problem is that your GM is doing something that, by your own admission, nobody else in the group enjoys, enough so that it is actually getting in the way of the players' enjoyment of the game, and that the GM apparently didn't care when you told him so. You've tried telling him that, and it didn't work. He said he'd change if you showed him rules saying he can't do that, but you're not going to find any such rules. Assuming that these statements are accurate, you have a GM who isn't that interested in the players' fun, and who is not open to feedback. You've already tried the usual solution of talking to him, and it's not the kind of situation that can be resolved in game. So what do you do?

Talk to him again

But first...

Talk to the other players

Since he's already rejected your feedback and agreed to change only on a rules-based solution - which, again, you won't find - you don't have any leverage on your own. You need the other players backing you if you want to see any change. So talk to them. Spell out what you think the problem is, and ask them for their thoughts on it. If they all agree, try to convince them to back you up when you talk to him again. Let him know that, rules or no rules, none of his players think that it's any fun, and none of you want him to do it anymore. Remind him that the point of the game is for everyone to have fun, and that what he's doing is actively getting in the way of that.

If he hears you out and actually enacts a change, then the problem is solved. If not, then this probably won't be the only problem your group runs into. So, be ready to back your words up with action.

Be prepared to act on your words

If you're not willing to put actions behind your words, and he calls your bluff, then you end up with a worse problem than the one you have right now, because now none of your feedback to him will have any weight behind it. This is the other reason I say you need to talk to your party before you talk to him again.

If he's not willing to change this even when the whole party confronts him, then he will probably not listen to any other feedback you guys give him either. If this is the case, then the only way to solve this situation would be to either leave the group or get a different GM. By talking to your party, you can find out whether they'd be willing to (forcibly) change GMs or not. Then, if he doesn't accept the party's feedback, you either change GMs, or you leave the group. And remember that no gaming is still better than bad gaming.

I know this might sound like an extreme solution, but your only other option if he doesn't act on the party's feedback is for you to accept that this is how his game will be played, and it doesn't sound like you're fine with that.

What if he gets angry?

To be honest, there is a reasonable chance that this will happen. After all, just about anyone would feel like they're being ganged up on if their whole party is coming to them to tell them what they're doing wrong. You'll probably want to be careful how you approach this. For example, instead of saying "Hey, you need to stop doing this or we're leaving", you need to say something like, "Hey, I've talked with the party and none of us are enjoying this part of the game. It's not the game that we want to play, and we're not going to play it that way anymore. It's nothing against you, we just don't like that style of game. You can adjust your playstyle to fit that, or we can appoint a new GM instead." This should make your intent clear without accusing him, and it doesn't leave room to argue the point.

Even so, no matter how carefully you choose your words, there is always a chance of something like this ending in a fight. If it comes to that, DO NOT fight back! Unless it turns into a physical fight, in which case, yeah, physically defend yourself. But do not let it turn into a shouting match. If he gets loud or angry, keep your cool. This is the part where you really don't need to lose your temper. Don't retort if he taunts you. Don't defend yourself if he makes accusations. Stick to the facts, and add nothing else. It won't necessarily help in the moment, but it is crucial if you want to patch things up later.

And of course, stick to your guns. If you're set on changing the game's playstyle, don't let his emotions sway your decision. In my experience, it has always been easier to patch things up after a fight than to remain friends with someone who can step all over you. A fight might hurt, but resentment is a poison that affects both sides for far longer. I don't know if that's where you are, but if it is, then I think it's much better to get it out now than to let it build.

Maybe it's not that big a deal

It's possible though that this problem you've described isn't actually that big a deal to you or the other players, in which case it's not worth a fight. But then if that were the case, you probably wouldn't be asking about it here.

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Have someone play an Elf.

They don't sleep, and are immune to sleep effects. Even when they meditate, they are aware of surroundings.

Also consider setting watches and take turns sleeping. Keep at least two people awake at all times.

If you still get robbed blind, then it's probably not a game rule problem, it's likely a social problem.

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The bottom line here is that if you and the other players aren't having fun, and it's mostly traceable to the DM's handling of theft while you sleep, and if he's like most humans in that he'll tend to do other things the way he does that -- the only solution is to change DMs.

The best path toward this is for the entire group to approach the DM and explain that the game isn't fun if it's played adversarially -- DM against the players -- and if it's not fun, there's no point in playing. Either the DM will agree (at least on the final point) or he won't. If he does, then you have to work out as a group what kind of game you want, and if the DM is willing to assist in playing that kind of game, you can go forward -- otherwise, you as a group need to find another DM, whether from among yourselves or otherwise.

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I assume you're continuing to have him DM for a reason: he's the only one who will, or perhaps his adventure's actually pretty interesting or something.

If so, why not do what you can to make it work? First off, doing shifts makes sense. Why not just humor him by doing that religiously?

Second, if an encounter's too tough:

  • maybe you have to run. That's realistic. Maybe he's trying to educate you on that? Actually sounds like an interesting facet: a world where you have to leave others to take on the ringwraith while you simply bring a rapist to justice?

  • Alternatively, maybe he doesn't realize that the encounters are unplayable and will get the message when you simply can't find any way to proceed.

  • maybe he's hoping you'll use more discussion or logic instead of walking into the room swords drawn and start stabbing anything you see? Maybe talking is in order (lying? being honest?) A level 3 character doesn't realistically want to throw his life away fighting 4 level 1 characters, which could totally be the result.

  • or fighting dirty or creatively? Luring an orc through a door and backstabbing them from a shadow or letting them fall prone in some oil? Throwing sand in their eyes? Setting stuff on fire? Maybe instead of sleeping at night, YOU need to go roll the bad guys while they sleep? If the DM has established a tough savings roll for being physically manhandled in your sleep, that cuts both ways! Brainstorm crazy ways to use the spells you have available.

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All based on beating our listen check minus 10 in one roll.

I don't know about you, but I've never run into a thief that has managed to steal every single item in the room in one single action and only making 1 single noise.

Claiming that you've lost all your items because you failed 1 listening check while you were asleep, in my opinion, is like saying that you've missed every single attack in an encounter because you rolled badly on your first attack.

Theft and Burglary, much like fighting, take time and can play out in lots of different ways. Unless the thief is some sort of magical master burglar that can steal everything within a 10 meter radius with a single shuffle across the floor, this should take time- sometimes hours.

As well as that, there are different factors other than listening. Sure if you want to determine whether or not you heard a thief at the other end of your room steal your coinpurse from the table could be you listening for a rustle or clink in the darkness, but unless you actually become clinically dead while you're asleep i'm pretty sure you'd be able to feel someone unbuckling your armor and stealing your clothes.

Also... depending on where you are resting, thieves will be searching for different things. In a sleazy inn and a small village you'd likely just run into run-of-the-mill thieves looking for coin or expensive items to fence. In the wild, most animals will mostly only be looking for food, and bandits may as well just kill you in your sleep.

The other 2, who went to sleep outside the village, woke up with all their items missing and being carried away by animals.

Goddamn raccoon stealing my Claymore again...

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On the specific issue of removing armor from a sleeping character without waking them, I suggest checking whether there is a Society for Creative Anachronism group in your area. If there is, try to recruit a fighter to help you. Ideally, the fighter should have armor of a similar class to some of the stolen armor. Have the fighter put on their armor and lie down. Now ask the DM to demonstrate removing the armor from the "sleeping" fighter in such a way that the fighter could plausibly go on sleeping.

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    \$\begingroup\$ and then see if he can have a bunch of woodland creatures do it... \$\endgroup\$ – VerasVitas May 9 at 21:44
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Update your character sheet

In D&D, you have one major advantage over the jobseeker: you don't suffer any real consequence for dropping one campaign before you have your next campaign in play.

Also, D&D has no standard expectation of "If you're playing decently you'll show the courtesy of two weeks' notice." Two minutes' email notice is adequate.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this for this question? \$\endgroup\$ – Barker May 10 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Um, I was attempting humor that apparently didn't work. The game master is amusing himself by doing whatever will frustrate the players. The player (OP) should drop the game cold, and at leisure find another campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Christos Hayward May 17 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Barker Some of the intended humor (see previous question) played on the fact that in the world of jobseeking, it's easier to get a job if you have a job, and the strong advice given someone looking to leave a position is remain employed during a jobhunt, get an offer in writing, and offer an irreversible resignation (rejecting any attempts to keep you longer), and quite specifically not quit one job and only then start jobhunting. \$\endgroup\$ – Christos Hayward May 17 at 16:23

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