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The session

We just arrived in a village and one of our member got ill and puked in the inn, so we went to the village doctor for help and he told us to go to continent Y where they could know how to heal the illness. Unfortunately the priest of the villager had learned that we were ill so he wanted to burn us. As the doctor hid us and was brought to the stake, we decided to help him by undermining the priest's autority. Thanks to a perfect roll we told the villagers the priest was the one corrupted, so the villagers released the doctor and wanted to burn the "corrupted" priest (who ran away). However, since we were ill, they still wanted to burn us, so we flew and ran for 2 hours and then walked for some hours before stopping to camp.

The GM told us it was night and we were in some fields with a village in sight. A bit later he told us there were torches coming our way from the village, so I asked how many of them were coming and he told us there were two torches. We decided to stay here and see what the villagers wanted from us. A bit later the GM told us they bumped into us because we were in fact near tall wheat so we didn't see them coming at the end and both the villagers and us were surprised.

He didn't told us there was tall wheat near us and that we stopped seeing them (and how could have we seen the torches if the village was hidden by the wheat in the first place?). Anyway, then the villager asked us what we were doing here and if we could leave, and then he dramatically described the priest coming out of the wheat with some archers and telling us "We meet again," and that was the end of the session.


My thoughts

I understand that he wanted to finish the session dramatically and maybe cause a battle since we didn't have one since the beginning of the session, but I personally feel like I've been cheated because there were important elements that were hid from us and that the GM only wanted to make his plot no matter what. I'm wondering if it's common practice, if it's our fault for not asking or if it is the GM's for not telling us important elements.

For example if I knew there was tall grass and we couldn't see the villagers approaching, I would have probably suggested running away so that we couldn't risk an ambush. I didn't constantly asked if we were still seeing them or asked how many of them there was if we could now see them under the light of the torches.

I thought that was obvious that we were still seeing them as there wasn't any change to the narration, but now I'm wondering if it's really the case. I'm now wondering for the next session: Should I ask meaningless questions all the time in case an important element escape from us? I'm afraid that this would be boring for me, the GM and the other players, and I'd like to know how to deal with this kind of situation.

I've only done a dozen sessions of RPG so I'm not very experimented, but that's the first time I feel fooled by the GM like this. I didn't bring this to him (yet) as I know he doesn't like to have his GM techniques called into question. (e.g. asking him during the session "But you didn't told us there was tall wheat on their way to come to us, I thought we were having a clear view of the village?")

Maybe it's just a lack of experience and I should have asked "Do we have a clear view of them all the way to us?", "Do we still see them?", "Do we have a clear view of our surroundings?", instead of just "How much of them are there?". It's not exactly the first time it happened with him but I never had this problem with other GMs (they told us obvious things like "someone is approaching you in the street-", maybe make us roll the dice before, and not tell us directly "someone has approached you while you were talking and he attacks you" because we should have asked "is someone coming our way?") so I feel like it's a bit odd to me. I don't want to mistrust everything the GM is telling us and other than that he's a great GM who wants to push us to take decisions quickly and have dynamic sessions.

How much should I put into question what he says and ask additional questions?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want to make your point to your GM, maybe say that from where you were standing as players this happened: youtube.com/… (Lancelot's charge from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and it's funny because it shouldn't happen. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Jul 10 '15 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ You only state one situation here, but does this happen often? \$\endgroup\$ – Joninean Jul 11 '15 at 7:12
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No, you shouldn't have to ask about everything.

One of the good practices of GMing is remembering that nothing exists until you narrate it into existence. Your GM should have told you everything that your character can immediately spot without difficulty. This is one of the most important aspects of player agency that you have the capacity to make an informed decision. Information should only be withheld when it's deliberately obscured (e.g. true intention of a traitorous NPC) or you character fails to notice something difficult to spot (e.g. you failed a Spot Hidden Door roll). If you are in tall wheat, you should be told so, because there is no way your character missed it. The reason why he didn't establish that (pretty major) circumstance is either because he forgot, he does not understand that premise or that he wanted to railroad you into doing what you did.

Give GM some feedback

And ask him why he didn't tell you straight away that you're in wheat and say that you would act differently if he did. Say that you have nothing against ending the session with a dramatic scene, but you feel that this is not how you would choose to act, given whole view of the situation. Try to be polite and casual about the thing - he might get offended or upset, which is the opposite of what you want to achieve. If he does, say that you wanted to make sure you understand his intentions correctly.

Continue as normal

This might have been just a one-time slip. Don't worry too much, unless it happens again. If it does, then you have to talk to your GM with other players about your social contract. You might learn that in fact the game you're playing is more of a competition between the GM and the players, and you need to be on lookout - which is fine, but might not be what you want to play. In the end, you vote with your feet and if you fail to reach consensus, you can always walk away.

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As the GM for my own group of friends, all I can really say is that it is possible that your GM forgot to point it out to you, or thought that he had already made it clear in some way. If he's as good a GM as you say he is, it is likely he didn't intentionally mean to exclude that bit of information (having a group of adventurers miss an entire corn field is a little bit silly).

So my advise is, don't overthink it. Ask your GM if he meant to intentionally leave out that bit of information, or he had simply failed to mention it. It's probably just a minor oversight - don't get paranoid so soon!

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Problem 1: Different expectations

If the GM and player have different expectations, either about background details not narrated (how tall the wheat is) or which bits of the setting can be handwaved (no, we don't need to roleplay buying supplies), or the rules (can you auto-kill a tied up enemy out of combat), it's easy for the player to feel cheated if they assumed "wrong".

Experienced GMs head this problem off by:

  • Learning when their description may be insufficient and filling in the details in advance
  • Adjusting things on the fly if a player got the wrong assumptions, not because they made the wrong decision but because they had the wrong information
  • If it's unavoidable, apologising, moving on, but saying the confusion will be resolved somehow.

A generous GM will do the same if there was some description and you missed it, a harsh GM will say "you should pay better attention".

cf. “Random GM Tips – Are You Sure You Want to Do That?” (The Alexandrian)

Railroading

Probably the GM had a cool idea for how the session would end, in addition to having a different impression about your character's actions. If that's a confrontation with the priest, an experienced GM could have manipulated that in various ways:

  • You sensibly retreat, avoiding a massive mob—and stumble into a smaller party led by the priest
  • You sensibly retreat—and discover how wise that was, the priest's lynch mob is hot on your heels!
  • You sensibly retreat—and have to choose the best way to go, likely falling into an ambush
  • Two villagers come and beg for your help, but they've been forced to lead you into trap
  • You sensibly slip away. At the next village, intolerance is riding even higher and you walk straight into a mob!
  • Sometimes, if the players are really cautious, it's clear the GMs plan doesn't work and she/he should shelve it for another time. A good GM will have several plans in mind, so whatever the PCs do, he/she has a cool adventure for them.

Fixing the Problem

Not all GMs are experienced! Many people have cool ideas and are still learning how to put them into practice.

Partly, just accept it sometimes goes wrong, the GM makes some mistakes, it's hard to avoid, and you have to decide if the game is fun enough to play anyway, or not. If the GM planned a confrontation, assume your characters were sensibly cautious but got unlucky—and also that it was perfectly reasonable to be scared of a harder encounter, but if you're railroaded into it, it will be appropriately dramatic and challenging but not deadly to fight.

Partly, you can help by asking well-chosen questions, but it can be hard to tell what's missing from the description. Some GMs are ok if you go up a level of abstraction "can my character tell if they're at risk of ambush?" others want you to be more specific.

You can ask about advice like the above to your GM (either a casual specific suggestion during play "maybe this happened because X" or a longer explanation outside), but be careful many people find unsolicited advice too pushy even if well-meaning.

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The GM made a bad mistake here, probably because he had a plot in mind and wanted to force the issue. I don't think any reasonable person would have felt that the characters would not have noticed the torches disappearing into the "tall wheat" after they had already seen them approaching. The PCs were clearly watching what was going on, so there was no need to ask for further information, IMO. And certainly no justification for surprise!

Railroading players into an "exciting development" is one of the easiest mistakes to make as a GM. Depending on how badly you feel, leave it this time and if it happens again tell the GM (after play) that you feel that your characters are not being allowed to function properly. If it happens again; find a new GM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the focus on the bad decision on the GM's part. I had a DM "hide" four 15' hydras in less than 3 feet of water less than 10 feet away from my character once. The anger a player experiences when the DM pulls things like that breaks the game fairly quickly. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jul 10 '15 at 14:36
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If this is recurrent problem with this GM, you should probably help them do otherwise. This is the GM's problem, and the first step is to talk to them about it. Afterwards, though, you can help them improve by temporarily changing the way you play a little.

When you go to make a decision, frequently ask "Is there anything else my character would consider important to this decision?". This reminds the GM that your character has some world knowledge and a certain level of common sense, and the GM is responsible for giving you the information you need to have to roleplay that. Asking it on literally every decision will look like you're trying to be passive aggressive rather than helpful, so try to limit it to once per scene plus once per important decision in order to avoid offending people. As time goes on and your GM learns to give that kind of information out without repeated prompting, ask the question less and less.

Even if the GM does a much better job, asking this kind of information check, or the related "What does my character think is relevant to this decision?", is a good way of dealing with a situation where you are having trouble tracking details or don't understand what's going on in a scene.

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It sounds like you didn't bring this up to your GM, which makes it hard to say why this happened.

Given my experiences as DM, I would assume he forgot to mention it. I forget to mention stuff I had planned to mention all the time. Every session.

Then, when he got to the part where this detail he forgot to mention mattered, one of two things happened:

He thought that he had mentioned it.

If this is what happened, and you didn't say anything, then there's no reason for him to question this conclusion. He'll just proceed as if there is a field.

He decided to continue as if he had said it.

This is a problem.

The players don't know the GM's plan beforehand. All they know is what they've been told. They make their decisions on this, and this alone. Once the GM says something about the world, that's reality (fantasy world, whatever).

As the GM, you have to simply accept when you've described something differently than you've intended, and continue on with this altered version of reality.

If this is a serious problem for some reason, like maybe you've got a dramatic scene in mind that requires this forgotten fact, then a good move is to have a conversation with the party about it. I will occasionally have to do this:

DM: Oh... uhhhh, so, did I mention there's a door in this corner over here?
Party: What? No. Why, is there?
DM: Well, there was supposed to have been. If there was one there, would you have done anything differently?

Then, one of:

Party: Uh, no, probably not.
DM: Okay, good, cause there's a door there.

or

Party: Yeah, actually, we would have checked out there before doing the ritual.
DM: So... this room only has the one entrance. Yep.

This has happened to me before when a dramatic scene was involved, but when revising things to include what I forgot would have seriously changed the previous encounter.

There was a time when there were supposed to have been prisoners in cages during a fight, and I completely forgot to mention them. The scene I had envisioned during the fight never happened, but I made up a secret trapdoor under the expensive rug I had mentioned, and put the prisoners down there, allowing me to continue more or less as planned.

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You may have one of two issues.

Miscommunication

You knew you were in a field. Maybe he did mention the wheat and you didn't hear it - that happens. Maybe he forgot to mention it, or figured "I said fields, it's late summer, no duh there's stuff growing in them." No, it's not your responsibility to ask about everything, but it's also not the GM's responsibility to kill himself making sure you remember everything - take some initiative in understanding the world and give him feedback when you feel like you're not getting enough information and meet halfway, it's not complicated.

Disjoint Play Styles

Or, maybe he was forcing that scene. Well, so that's a playstyle choice. Simulationist players call that "railroading" and don't like it. But it can be part of a narrativist playstyle. "Of course, let's have the interesting things happen anyway." Some games recommend this, and GMs and groups play this way.

You should have a discussion about how you all want the game to go, understanding that there is no "right" or "wrong" answer - I'm a little disappointed in many of these other answers that simply label it wrong/bad without understanding of the scope of extant playstyles. Note another question that is a mirror image of your own question that wants more narrative guidance, not less - How do I help my group stop derailing our GM’s set-piece battles?

I have played in and run both styles. And it does cause conflict - I remember once I got a bunch of players with your kind of experience in a superheroes game, and the first time we did a "scene cut" from fighting bikers inside a house to an on-bike chase scene they tripped out. But this is a common device in dramatic games. I understand that in a more sim game this can make you feel "robbed," but remember that not everyone has the same playstyle assumptions that you do. If the issue at hand is playstyle and not communication you should discuss through it, respectfully.

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