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We just started a group. The DM pitched the campaign as easier than his last campaign.

We were in a forest, and he sent eight giants at us, at once! We barely made it out alive. He then said there was a village just five minutes from there, so we started travelling up that way. When we reached it, he described it as partly destroyed. While exploring the village, he sends twelve more giants at us!

My team and I have asked him to stop sending so many giants. One of my friends quit playing because of the large number of giants he sent.

We had a party of five player characters, including me, all level 2, except a wizard at level 3. Two of my other friends said he shouldn’t DM anymore. One of my other friends said he could continue to DM but should have another player help guide him, so we let him try one more time, and he sent giants.

Why does he keep doing this, and how do I get him to stop?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Before I continue...let me welcome you to our stack! You can take the tour to learn more about how we operate and can also visit the help center for more information. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 5 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil May 5 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ If we are going to reopen this, then I think we need more information as to the encounters and the story. How difficult were those giants to kill? Did any of your party die? Something is odd about this and I don't think we can really help until we know. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 5 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DevilsbestfriendisLunar: how hard/accurately were these "giants" hitting and receiving hits. Was the problem that they were tough, or that they were too many of them, or both, or that they were giants? \$\endgroup\$ – sharur May 6 at 15:16
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How to help your DM help you have fun: Encounter Building

The basic rules offer some tools to help any DM create an encounter that will fit the group who is playing. It starts on page 165 and is freely available here. (The DMG has it also) It is apparent that the DM isn't fitting the encounters to your groups power level; that may be due to

  • Case 1: not understanding the encounter design model for this edition, or

  • Case 2: signalling to your party that being sneaky, or negotiating, is a way to success.

  • Case 3: DM is using the "realistic world" design concept that does not use "level appropriate encounter design" as an assumption.

If it's Case 1:

Step 1. Offer the link to him
Step 2. Ask him to make some encounters (easy, medium, hard, and deadly) that fits your character level (2).
Step 3. Play through them and see how it goes.

The DM is not bound to those numerical levels. They are a best estimate. The actual encounter difficulty varies with group make up, a bit of luck with dice, and tactical competence of the players. But if your DM does use that model to build encounters (they can all be deadly, sure) they at least have a good estimate and can increase, or decrease, the difficulty from that baseline.

As written, even if he's using hill giants, the least powerful giants, that first encounter is well beyond the power level of your 2d level group (4 2ds and a 3d). Using the table on page 165, a deadly encounter for 5 level 2 PCs is 1,200 XP, and a CR 5 Hill Giant (one of them) is 1,800 XP. (Between Deadly and 2x Deadly). Doable but challenging, and possibly some dead PCs. I've seen parties beat 2x deadly with good teamwork, but eight giants is over your party's head.

  • What if they were ogres, and you misunderstood?
    Ogre ~ CR 2, 450 XP, giant type, speak Giantish (Basic Rules, p. 147);
    The table has a multiplier of 2.5 for 8 creatures; eight ogres add up to 450 x 8 x 2.5 = 9,000 (adjusted XP) which is still over your party's head. Three ogres add up to 2,700 Adjusted XP (450 x 3 x 2) which is rated between 3x Deadly and 2x Deadly; dangerous but doable with a little luck and good tactics by the PCs.
  • If the DM is using 'awarded XP' rather than 'adjusted XP' to build encounters then any encounter with multiple enemies will tend to be overpowered. (Thanks to @sharur, who points out that the DM may be trying to throw a "Deadly" fight at the players (which is fair) but is overlooking the difference between the "calculated / adjusted XP" and the "awarded XP". For 8 half ogres, as an example, awarded XP of 1600 (a bit over deadly) is actually 4000 "adjusted" XP for estimating encounter difficulty).

See this Q&A for more details on Adjusted versus Awarded XP.

If it's case 2 (and your DM is not yet revealing the secret)

It is possible that the DM's aim is that the party avoid this encounter with these creatures, and that being faced by overpowered enemies is a signal to your party that confrontation is not how this quest/problem is solved. (I occasionally still do this as a DM). It's a blunt signal, but perhaps your party needs to try to be sneaky and use the Stealth / Hide skills to first scout out the area and avoid the big, bad giants to get to (something).

It is also possible that the DM is signalling that the first move by your party needs to be negotiation with the giants, not combat. Do any of the party members speak Giantish?

As a slight variation on this general theme, this overpowerful enemy situation can be the DM signalling that "going that way is too dangerous for your party now" (thanks, @Graham). That's a form of gating (RL analogy: "you need to be this tall" to go on this roller coaster ride at Six Flags). It's a method that some DMs use. (FWIW: I've seen it in a few CRPGs as well. When I played World of Warcraft, some instances required a minimum level to enter).

We can't know the DM's intention: we aren't your DM. But some DM's do this - place an overpowered enemy in front of the party - as a way to signal that being clever and sneaky, or that using negotiation and parley, will be rewarded and that an attempt to overpower the enemy will fail.

If it's Case 3, you're dealing with Expectations Mismatch

This kind of world is very dangerous, and has a very old school (OSR) and sandbox-type-world feel to it. In this world building theme, PCs can't assume that a given encounter is level appropriate or even survivable. (For example, Bilbo encountered Smaug in The Hobbit, but he had to survive that encounter by means other than rolling initiative and laying into the dragon with a weapon). In this kind of world, PCs have to make choices to engage, or avoid, a given encounter based on 'survival' as a prime motivation. Being willing to withdraw is a key element of this style of D&D. (Played it for years in older editions).

Games like this massively benefit from a Session 0. The playstyle is quite different from the base assumptions in this edition of the PCs having roughly level appropriate encounters as shown in the linked Basic Rules above. If this is the kind of world that you are all playing in, the DM and the group need to discuss that, agree on it, and make sure that you are all on the same page. The basic source of the disagreement and frustration at your table might well be that the DM is playing an open world or sandbox style and you all are expecting something closer to 'level appropriate encounters' as the game's premise. You need to discuss that with your DM.

I'd like to offer a big Thank You to @lfusaso, @OwenReynolds, and @Graham for your comments that prompted this addendum.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it also possible that there is some encounter the GM planned for when the party is defeated by the giants (knocked out and taken to a lair?) that they are reluctant to drop? \$\endgroup\$ – AncientSwordRage May 6 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage Yes, I think that it is, but I am already stretching the amount of speculation I am doing a bit here, and I need to keep this answer in scope. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 6 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I submit that if it's Case 2, they're also dealing with Expectations Mismatch: "Sometimes fighting isn't the answer, and you as players need to pay attention and think about when that might be the case" vs. either "You can fight most things you run into, and I'll tell you when that's not the case, or signal it fairly explicitly," or "every fight is potentially winnable." \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec May 7 at 8:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec Yes, there is some overlap in points two and three. Think I need to add point you make as a transition from two to 3, at the end? Creative juices are not great today. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 7 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Devils_Spawn Oh, yeah, an attempt at parley/negotiation looks like an option (which is why I asked) 😉 \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 7 at 17:31
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There is a fundamental problem here

You asked "Why does he keep doing this, and how can I get him to stop?" KS provided a detailed answer about encounter building, but I disagree that encounter building is the issue in the first place. Miscalculations and rookie mistakes do happen, but they don't usually result in eight giants, followed by the PC's running away (signaling that they're scared) and then getting hit with twelve giants. You've even said "quit it with the giants already" and he hasn't. At that point, there are really only two explanations that I buy.

Option One: The story calls for your defeat.

Many adventures (pre-bought or homemade) are "on rails" and call for certain things to happen no matter what. Many good stories involve the heroes facing significant setbacks - they're captured, imprisoned or forced to flee with their weapons confiscated, etc. This can be hard to pull off gracefully in an environment where the PC's generally expect to succeed and are trying to do that. It's possible that your DM has in mind a scene of this nature, and can't figure out how else to make it happen, and can't bring himself to just tell you directly out of character "by the way, just so it's not an unpleasant shock, I'm planning on having your characters lose a fight and get captured." (Personally I recommend direct communication over keeping things a surprise at all costs, but despite my best efforts, The Gift of the Magi remains a popular story.)

Option Two: Your DM isn't taking your needs into consideration.

You said "My team and I have asked him to stop sending so many giants." Then lo, he sends more giants. Maybe he thinks that's funny. Maybe he's trying to "win" because he's bought into the idea that the PC-DM relationship is an adversarial one (it's usually not, especially these days, but some groups do treat it that way, new GMs can especially be tempted to play that way, and media have been known to portray it that way.) Maybe you've somehow failed to impress upon him the gravity of the situation. His exact mindset matters less to your next decision than you might think.

Ultimately, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, none of us actually know why there are so many giants - only your DM. (If it turns out that it really is a mathematical error, we might be able to help track down where he went wrong, but we can't know from the outside if that's the case.) And no one can make him stop, because you can't control other people's actions.

The good news

Your choices at this time, as I see it, are pretty straightforward.

  1. Say nothing, keep playing, hope the situation improves. This is unlikely to work.
  2. Say nothing in particular, but stop playing D&D together. Not all good friends make good game partners, and not all people are receptive to feedback. If he's the sort to blow up and/or double down when his decisions are questioned, sometimes keeping the peace means saying "meh, I'm not really into this, let's do something else" and finding another activity without delving into what went wrong.
  3. Have a conversation where you say to him, point-blank, "We asked you to stop sending giants at us, and you didn't. What's the deal? Are we supposed to be running around like this, or getting captured, or something? Can you really not run a giant-less game, or what? Because right now, we're not having fun, and I don't want to continue under these conditions."

I favor choice 3. It offers him the chance to apologize and say "oh dang I didn't realize you meant it that seriously" (confusing "I'm inconvenienced by this aspect of the activity, but let's keep going" and "I don't like this and I want to stop" is a surprisingly common failure mode of humans.) Or "I know, I'm trying, but I can't figure out how to make this work" (in which case, hey, maybe he could review some of the advice here and ask for help.) Or "the giants are really important to the story, i promise," in which case you could press for more details about how this is going to turn into a fun activity for the group. Or he might brush you off with "Whatever, it's just a game, suck it up" or some similarly dismissive remark, which would also give you important information. But you know him best - if you can't imagine the conversation going well, you may want to go back to choice 2.

You may yet find a way to make this work (though my mind keeps coming back to "eight giants" and I have to confess a certain pessimism.) You may all try to work together in good faith, only to discover that you can't, but at least you gave it an honest effort. It may be that this group is not destined to play D&D with this particular DM. But if you talk openly about where you're at and what you need ("to not be surrounded by giants all the time", for starters, as well as the broader "to have the type of gameplay experience where we've got a good shot at success"), then at least you'll know whether he can, can't, or won't meet those needs.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer, in terms of how to set up the conversation with the DM. golf clap Up to you, but you might also point out that this can happen in a lot of different games (it can) although D&D via some traditions is perhaps more susceptible to this than some other games. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 7 at 17:26
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Encounter balancing is a skill.

Not everyone has this skill. Some people feel this skill is unnecessary. Sometimes they're using an automated tool or process that outputs dumb results in certain situations. Sometimes they don't think at all. Sometimes they decide that some theme or story they want to tell is more important than having encounters that the party can survive encountering (this is nearly universally false).

This can result in encounters that are too hard.

It can also result in encounters that are too easy, meaning you spend a lot of time rolling dice and computing numbers for what is effectively a pointless cakewalk.

You have described three problems here though. Not one. Your GM designed an encounter you consider 'too hard' - that's problem one. The second part is that you felt he was 'tossing' giants at you rather than that the giants were part of the world and naturally-occurring and part of the story - that's a lack of story telling, problem two. Third, you asked your GM to alter the game based on a lack of fun you were having, and they didn't explain what was going on, or alter the game, or otherwise interact with your complaint (from what you've said, anyway) - this is problem 3, lack of communication.

Overall this paints a picture of a low effort GM. Random monsters, not though through encounters, lack of communication. People can improve and get better at any task, but GMing is quite hard and often people are quite bad at it. It can be easier to simply leave games with bad GMs, or switch the GM to a different person, than to try to wait for people's skills to improve, especially if they have bad communication.

A method for doing this is often to simply 'leave' one game, or 'be busy' etc, and join another game (even if it's mostly the same people in the second game), so as to avoid arguments.

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Based on your comment under the question (especially the parts I emphasized):

[...] we tried to be stealthy (rolled really low) tried again (failed) and we saw the giants and tried to sneak away (we had to get past the giants to our destination) then the giants caught us. We couldn’t get past without a fight. We tried on the 8, we killed 4 we were very wounded, but we beat the other 4. Then he put 12 out there, knowing we were incredibly wounded! We all died to the 12 giants, one hit we were dead.

It is clear that this DM is, perhaps unintentionally, operating the campaign under the playing style of "the DM actively tries to kill the party", which some groups do enjoy (as it presents a serious challenge). There's simply no way this is anything else when you barely survive an overpowered encounter and, before you get to rest, the DM hits you again with another, even deadlier encounter than the last. Especially when you're so early in the game that you haven't had an opportunity to reach areas that would be level-appropriate (a first-level group would expect to run into a couple of goblins, a highwayman, or a skeleton. As Korvin's answer indicates, even a single hill giant is well over a "deadly" encounter for your group's level and composition. Even if you were all level 10, an encounter with 8, let alone followed by an encounter w/ 12, is still probably 'deadly').

You should talk to the DM and explain that this is not the game-play style you wish to play, and make it clear you won't be playing anymore unless the game-play style changes to fit the players' expectations (which I assume include having at least an even chance at surviving encounters).

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If they're a new DM, they could be having "new DM syndrome", where-by a person that assumes the power of DM gets on a power-trip.

New DM's may get it into their head that it's "them vs. the players", so, with an endless supply of monsters and what-not, just keep throwing things at the players to "beat them". Then the DM gets a quick rush of satisfaction, and a player group that never wants to play with them again.

Or, the new DM may get into "new toy syndrome", where there's so many new bells & whistles for them to play with, they think more about trying them all out than about how it's affecting the party.

Both cases are bad DM's.. and incredibly bad DM's are both (wanting to try our new things to keep destroying players).

Remind the DM that it's not "DM vs. players", because that isn't fair at all. You, the players, have a finite amount of resources you can muster. The DM, however, can keep pulling however much stuff he wants out of his/her a** to destroy you.

That's not fair. I mean, if the DM wants to go that far, why not just summon a magical god ray from the sky that smites all players. Why beat around the bush?

Oh, right.. b/c the power-monger DM wants to feel like they "beat you fairly". But, like I said, it's not fair. They will just keep throwing things at you to wear you down and prevent you from recovering until eventually the part wipes.

You'll be able to tell this kind of DM when they get all giddy at how badly the party has gotten their butts handed to them. Also, if the DM shows no remorse (or even a sense of pride) at PC deaths... those are huge red flags.

The goal of DM'ing is "it's all of us making a fun adventure", and the DM is the guide. The DM controls opponents, yes, but they are just part of the guided tour the DM is giving for the adventure.

The DM's role is:

story-teller ... get you interested in the adventure

cat herder ... guide you along when you're off the beaten path

flubber ... secretly flub die rolls that wouldn't provide enough challenge, or would lead to too much challenge

The DM is a shepherd. The players are their flock. A good DM remembers the goal is to make a fun & exciting experience, not to become a god that smites.

But, when new folks get into that seat, they can get so focused on the power or the fun stuff they can do, the players take a backseat. The players should be front-and-center to the DM's concern all the time, not disposable punching bags.

Another way to think of this... mobile gaming has created toxic game enviroments where whales or hackers create uber-characters. All they do is wait for fresh meat noobs to show up, so they can flex on them with their uber-characters. All this does is create a toxic inner circle of uber-players that run off new players, and the game dies sooner or later when it gets a reputation for having a toxic uber-player base that just meat grinds new folks.

A person can be like that as a DM, and that's bad. They may look down on the players and just think of them as punching bags to take their frustrations out on. That creates a toxic game environment that players soon leave.. unless the DM shapes up or someone else takes charge.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We had this problem with a new DM who was used to being a player, so they were still in the mindset of "winning" combats. We ended up beating their increasingly hard encounters and managed to level up multiple times per fight (you couldn't gain more than one level per encounter in 3.5, but we didn't know that at the time). Eventually the DM handed out a Deck of Many Things as treasure, which is guaranteed to destroy a campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard May 7 at 8:28
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You can't decide what your DM sends your way. You need to tell him to lower the difficulty. If he does not you should find another game.

Of course your DM has probably put a way for your party to overcome all the giants but you clearly don't detect it.

If your DM just tries to kill you without a way to win its a bad DM. Find another.

If you just don't find the things that could help you as a party ask him to lower the difficulty and even take some of the blame for not being experienced enough to recognize the ways you'd have an advantage.

It's not about being a super tactician, it's about fun. The game is clearly not fun for the entire party. That's the DM's fault even if he placed reasonable ways for you to overcome the giants. He should recognize that you don't get it and change the challenge accordingly.

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Just run from them. When you find more giants, if the other ones are still following you, let them interact.

Maybe they'll fight. They might know each other, and one of them is owning money to another. Maybe they have a past grievance, like called the other's mother an elf.

Maybe you get lucky and it is a group of giantesses instead. Then they'll get lucky.

RPG must not always be a dice rolling math's game. It is creativity based as well. Many DM's will probably be angry at your suggestions, I would recommend you and your party discuss why you are really playing, if not to have fun.

Anyway, if the giants decide to band together and hunt your asses down, just keep running for your life! Remember the previous group of dragons you fled from? Well, maybe you introduce those groups to each other now. Maybe it is a group of dragonesses, and then things will get... weird.

This could be a whole theme from now on. You keep running from your enemies and leading them to other monsters. And who knows, 9 months from now you might all be fighting Mantico-holders.


Clarification (as suggested by comments)

These "maybes" are meant as suggestions to your DM. RPG is a collaborative game, what happens must not always be subject to the whims of a tyrannical DM. At best, he should be let known that you will follow under his rule if he proves himself to be a good DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The maybes are what I’m worried about, we’re lvl 1. If they don’t fight, that would suck. If I don’t get lucky? Dangerous. \$\endgroup\$ – Devils _Spawn May 7 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ The maybes are suggestions to your DM actually. D&D is not the most storytelling friend RPG there is, but some RPG's actually encourage the games to be a participation between players and DM. You all create a story together, the DM God thing is an ego trip that many new DMs enjoy. It is normal, but ideally he should grow out of it. \$\endgroup\$ – icetbr May 7 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ That’s what I’ve been thinking. I just didn’t know about saying it. \$\endgroup\$ – Devils _Spawn May 7 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @icetbr If those maybes are suggestions to the GM, I suggest you rephrase to put them as such. This answer is being written for a player in this position, meaning you need to guide the player thorugh the acitons necessary, which includes the steps you advise for getting information into the hands of the GM that you think should be brought to them. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 7 at 14:16

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