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Last session we had a particularly convoluted climbing challenge. There was a 50' tall cliff and we wanted to scale it to get to cut out a considerable section of the road. The DM had each party member make an Athletics check per 10' section, with a Dex check on failure to avoid slipping/injury. We were using ropes to mitigate the circumstances, but with 4 party members this ended up taking over an hour of RL time. I'm of the opinion this could have better been handled with just a few skill checks per character instead of well over 20 rolls per person.

I'd like to talk to the DM about this privately, to avoid needless mechanic slogs in the future, but I'm not exactly sure the best way to approach this would be.

I'd especially appreciate suggestions for general phrasing/approach here. I've been gaming possibly longer than my DM has been alive, and I don't want to come off as "I know better than you" or that I think he's a bad DM for engaging the mechanics a little excessively.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I seem to be a little math challenged. Can you explain why you rolled 20 rolls per person when you should have rolled 5 (50' / 10')? \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Jun 22 '16 at 10:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ We had to go back down the other side... When we got to the top he discovered it was a ravine, but we'd already spent half an hour and so he retconned the map that it was a steep hill up and then back down. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Jun 22 '16 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, it was about DC15, and each failure lead to two more rolls, the Dex save followed by a new attempt. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Jun 22 '16 at 20:18
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Like this:

"Hey, that the climbing challenge may have been a bit extreme."

Having broached the subject you need to talk about agency, for which a short definition can be:

Players making informed, meaningful decisions that have foreseeable consequences.

To reiterate my answer from How do I make engaging Man vs Wild encounters that aren't excercises in rolling dice? (which is close but not an exact duplicate):

To qualify as a informed decision there has to be:

  1. Two or more alternative actions the players can take that move them towards their goals (whatever they are)
  2. Each of which has a risk/reward/cost profile known to the players
  3. None of which is obviously superior to the other(s).

The problem with this challenge is that you had no alternative action that moved you towards your goals - you could persist in going forward and take damage in pursuing your goal or you could go back and abandon your goal. There may have been others but perhaps you or the DM were not imaginative in finding them - in my opinion there should always be 3 ways the to overcome an obstacle, the obvious, the not so obvious and the downright crazy.

Since you have no choice then this is just a single obsticle to be overcome: one Athletics check with damage if you fail. Move on to the next real decision.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point on the lack of alternatives. "Finding another path" or "going back to town for a scroll of levitate" are generally not bad options. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jun 22 '16 at 0:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Except, you know, the path they were taking was an alternative. OP stated that they were climbing the cliff as a shortcut to bypass the direct path of the road. They could easily have said "That sounds like a lot of dangerous checks...lets just keep going down the road" (which is probably what the DM wanted in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – Doc Jun 23 '16 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why do there have to be two or more alternative actions? If there's only one alternative to the decision I made, isn't that still an informed decision? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 23 '16 at 17:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Doc a choose that is obviously inferior to all the others is not a choice \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jun 23 '16 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM it's not necessarily inferior. Climb over, it's faster, but you might fall. Go around, it's slower, but probably less chance of breaking your neck. Or, out-of-game, climbing has the disadvantage of burning through 90 minutes with dozens of ability checks. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 26 '16 at 23:55
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Before you talk to the DM, look for a root cause.

To my ear, it sounds strange for a game to devolve into a hour-long series of Climbing checks. When I'm DMing, I hate that sort of slog more than the players do. So take a moment to ponder why a DM might do this.

There are a number of possibilities.

  • It might just be his sort of fun. My wife plays Bunco with her girlfriends every other Friday and she thinks that's a blast!

  • He might think that it's your sort of fun. Maybe my wife is the party and he knows she loves Bunco.

  • He might have simply underestimated how long it would take, and lacked the flexibility to change at the table. This is a common problem for DMs who lack confidence. They stick to their notes (or the published adventure) for fear of screwing up at the table.

  • He might really value the simulation and playing it "straight" by the rules (and he might have a misguided idea of just how hard it is to climb 50').

  • He might have been put off by the idea of the party leaving the road. He may have had encounters planned that you were bypassing. The hour of rolling might have been a hint for you to go back to the road where the fun stuff was. It might be a bit of passive-aggressive pushback for ruining his plans. Or he might have been stalling until he thought of some new challenges for you.

There are other possibilities, of course. Based on your account, my personal wager is that he knows that my wife is not in your party and that no one enjoyed the slog. Be prepared for a conversation about how to balance the players' "free will" with the challenge of preparing interesting adventures.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another possibility could be that there was something interesting or important hidden on the cliff face. The DM could have been keeping you on the cliff as incentive to look behind you and see a fire, or look to your right and see a hidden weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – Jon Jun 21 '16 at 22:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ooh, +1 for realizing that may not have been the plan - I missed that the PCs were taking a shortcut, which may have bypassed the intended adventure. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Jun 21 '16 at 23:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ While there are some interesting notes in this answer, it doesn't really help the asker with his aproach or give phrases when confronting his DM. \$\endgroup\$ – Tijnkwan Jun 22 '16 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Maybe my wife is the party" - I had to reread that a couple of times to make it stop sounding like a very different sort of game. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 23 '16 at 17:35
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Just talk to the DM privately. Express your point of view as a party member. You wouldn't be doing anything wrong by doing so, the only direction this could go is in a better direction and a better experience for all. Possibly help bring DM's attention to possibly similar situations in the future, and he/she could change them to streamline the process and better it for all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @aslum +1 Most DMs will be very happy to hear your suggestions and feelings about their sessions, as long as you are not adversative, but rather offer your opinion tactfully. Certainly, I am always open to suggestions about how my games might be improved. Talking to your DM about this should therefore benefit both of you. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Jun 21 '16 at 19:08
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I would begin by simply asking your DM the question. "Did you intend for that challenge to be an hour long?".

If they say yes then their idea of "fun" may not coincide with yours. Let them know that.
See if the other players Enjoyed that. If so, perhaps you may want to find a different group to game with, that shares your definition of fun? If they did not enjoy it, then share that with the DM.

If they say no, give them the opportunity to rectify the problem on their own for future challenges. The act of simply asking the question should be a strong enough hint. They will likely say some thing like "It was a bit long wasn't it?". Then simply agree with them in a pleasant way, and smile. Give them some time to fix it on their own first so they can feel the improvement is their accomplishment and not a result of player scolding. If this kind of thing persists then is the time to present more expedient alternatives.

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I learnt a technique to face that complicated situations:

1.- understand - 2.- explain - 3.- alternatives

1.- Understand: Show that you appreciate his efforts and he always makes a great job. For example, tell him that you have to talk to him about the last day. Tell him that you understand that he worked hard to make us to enjoy with the game. You also understand that is important to apply the game rules.

2.- Explain: Explain him the problem. For example, tell him that the last time, climbing was too extreme and it wasn't so funny than other days.

3.- Alternatives: Offer him solutions. For example, you may explain him that maybe reducing climbing roll less difficult to keep fun would be a solution. Or you would may simplify the rules. In all RPGs masters may make changes to keep fun. Or you could think about it, maybe you have one of your great ideas.

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Try an approach that starts off making it clear that you're generally happy with the big picture of how things are going, and him as a DM.

That cliff climbing part of the adventure was cool, but all that dice rolling took a lot of time. I have some ideas for how we could handle stuff like that differently, if you're interested.

That makes it clear you're not going to ram your suggestions down his throat, and makes listening to your ideas something he's doing voluntarily. Also, "how we could handle" suggests that you want to work with him to make things more fun for everyone. You might choose a different phrasing.

I used to play World of Warcraft, and usually found that starting off with "I have a suggestion for you" as an opener, and waiting for a response, was a lot more likely to get a good reception than to start off with the actual suggestion directly. Without that, it's all too common for specific technical suggestions to come across as "you're bad because you didn't do ...". Especially if you're socially awkward like I am.

That phrasing I suggested also gets the focus onto exactly which part was less fun for you (the time spent on dice rolling) right away, as a technical issue.

If you want to suggest that there'd be more time for RP based on results of rolls, instead of being just a mechanical simulation exercise, maybe get that in early, too.

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I do find it refreshing that at least you HAD the problem of a session being designed around gritty non-combat skill checks. For me, actually, as a pretty die-hard simulation-focused gamer, "a few rolls" wouldn't have done it; 15 or 20 minutes of rolling would be entirely appropriate for a major challenge like that. It should, handled appropriately, also give lots of opportunity for tense and dramatic roleplaying. Even so, I admit that an hour is a bit much.

So, I sympathize with your problem of wanting to give that feedback without making it into a complaint. How about leading with the good parts? Did you get any good RP in? Were there good dramatic moments? Could you just say in general that a skills challenge was a nice change of pace? ...and then suggest that maybe it could be tightened up a bit next time. Perhaps blame the rules -- say "Yeah, the problem with that sort of thing is that, the way the rules work, it just becomes one die roll after another after a while." Let him off the hook somewhat, since he already knows he was partly responsible.

Or, if he really was keen on it as an adventure component, maybe give him some tips on mid-cliff encounters that could have livened it up!

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I do not know how to approach the DM. It all depends on the situation. However, an interesting thought came to mind an hour after reading this question:

You are climbing the wall, because I presume you wish to skip past everything, right? You do not wish to fight or ingage in battles, perhaps? Alright, then what is to stop you from doing this over and over? In fact, why are you even playing dnd if you are just going to find ways to skip everything!

Idk if this is the best comparison, but have you ever played or heard of the game undertale? Now this isnt the best comparison, but early in the game there are a series of puzzles. You can, in effect, skip them. This is great if you cannot solve them, but if you keep it up, the game no longer gives you puzzles. In fact, if you keep killing things, you won't even find it difficult in battles. This keeps going in a snowball effect. Eventually there is no story; everything is dead. You do not even have fun anymore. The game even cranks up the difficulty at the end to the point that very few can even handle it let alone enjoy it.

I believe this is the sort of thing the dm wanted to avoid happening. If every obstable were bypassed it would simply make the game boring and not fun for anyone. Sure, he could just continue as if you never climbed up, but that would be pretty sneaky of him.

Plus, most important of all:

ARE YOU CERTAIN THAT THE AREA ON THE CLIFF WAS EVER MEANT TO BE INCLUDED? MAYBE HE WAS TRYING TO PREVENT YOU FROM DERAILING EVERYTHING!!!

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