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I'm currently in a campaign run by a friend, and so far, I'm having a great time. However, he does do one thing that has been irritating to me, he makes all of the important allied NPCs far more powerful than our party. Now, I get that some NPCs will be more powerful than us, but when every single one is able to crush a party member without a second thought — and does, when we disagree — it's starting to feel a bit railroady. How am I supposed to deal with this DM, as I want to continue playing, but I'm tired of having my life threatened by everything I meet?

To clarify, the overpowered NPCs are not villains, they are allies. The villains are beatable, but it's our allies who are too powerful.

For Example: We found a changling spy among us, and eventually knocked him out, which the DM did not expect. We decided to keep him for questioning, but suddenly, an ally of ours, a magical-rogue NPC, who has been stalking us shows up and attempts to drag the changling away to have it killed. I attempted to stop him, arguing that it could lead us to its master, but the NPC merely used his power to knock me out in one shot.

For another example, we needed to save a girl from a fortress, but lacked the equipment. The (same) rogue suggested we uses a guarded back door and merely fight off the guards, but we decided to go in from the underground and planned around that, but the rogue forced us to take his suggestion.

This rogue is just one example, but he is often used as an intervention wedge between us the players and our goals. The DM follows the rules, but the NPCs are often so powerful that its indistinguishable from DM fiat — he decided they were that powerful after all.

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The only real thing you can do is talk to your DM. Explain to him why you dislike his way of playing. The only way to get him to change this behavior is to talk to him AND show him a better way. I know this probably isn't the answer you're looking for but sadly it's the only thing you can do.

Furthermore, realise that DMing without railroading tends to be difficult even for experienced DMs. A lot of DMs don't like to see all their preperation go to waste because players went in a totally different direction than the DM anticipated. An experienced DM can usually better predict what players are going to do and are better at thinking on the fly. If he is inexperienced, give him tips, tell him what he did well and what he could have done better.

Another thing you could try is DMing a few sessions yourself in which said DM will be a player. If anything you'll get to understand each other better.

Lastly, just in case it is relevant. If you're playing a prewritten campaign, your DM might have issues with unanticipated results because the module will probably not instruct him on how to react. If that's the case, he just has an extra incentive to railroad you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Second paragraph is by far the most relevant, I think. I suspect that the DM knows that he is "railroading", but doesn't know how to (and/or isn't comfortable enough to) go off-book (even if said book is his own prep notes). \$\endgroup\$ – Tin Man Sep 29 '16 at 18:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seems like the DM could also be better at hiding his railroading. The party has captured a changeling to question him and you don't want him to give anything away? Huh, turns out your interrogation techniques don't work. The party wants to go in the underground route and you don't want them to? It seems that path is blocked by an adamantine grating that has no way to be opened. What do you do now, party? \$\endgroup\$ – Shufflepants Sep 29 '16 at 20:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Shufflepants exactly. It's an easy explainable-in-universe reason to force the PCs to stay in "charted territory" and it gets the job done, so he's falling back on it. While some amount of railroading will help the campaign go smoother (especially for an inexperienced DM or one who's not good at improvisation), he just needs to find more creative ways of doing so. Perhaps in the case of your changeling, he utters a command word that triggers a fifth-level "inflict wounds" spell (on him) in that plain-looking magic ring he was wearing -- after 7d10 damage, he won't be very talkative! \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Sep 29 '16 at 21:16
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There could be any number of valid reasons for being outclassed several times in a row, ranging from simple bad luck, to an attempt by the DM to introduce recurring bad guys who aren't immediately murdered. It could also be that the DM is setting up a campaign where these people will be the main villains in a major storyline, and doesn't want them removed from play immediately. In other words, perhaps these early encounters are intended as a "meet and greet", so that you'll have reason later on to feel good about victory over them.

Or it could be that the DM simply has little experience with dealing with players who throw a monkey wrench in their plans. Instead of ruling with the unexpected and improvising, some DMs will do whatever they can to get the action back onto the adventure plan they may have spent hours developing. Dungeonmastering is a difficult art.

What I'm getting at: The obvious answer of course, is talk to your DM and discuss the problem. Stress the points you outlined above. It's obvious that this style is impairing your enjoyment of the game. You are playing in a heroic fantasy and need to feel like heroes. The DM could toss a few more beatable opponents your way, keeping the more powerful ones on the sideline or behind the scenes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer, and it avoided my gut response which is "why are your trying to micromanage your DM?" My only caution on this answer is that last sentence. The heroic comes from not beating "the beatable," but beating the dangerous, and the deadly dangerous. (1) I killed a bear isn't quite as heroic as (2) I killed a grizzly bear using only a bowie knife (3) which isn't quite as heroic as (3) I slew the fire-breathing dragon. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 29 '16 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ The corollary is just as bad though. "We were beaten by a kobold" is not very heroic. Being beaten by all of the things you mention isn't much better. Heroes do need to win often enough to feel like something other than schlubs and victims. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Sep 29 '16 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note the clarification added to the question - the too-powerful NPCs are actually the good guys. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Sep 29 '16 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I saw that. I'm considering if the answer really needs amendment, or if the advice itself stands. The purpose of the allies still seems to be to preserve the DM's plans and NPCs for whatever reason. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Sep 29 '16 at 23:59
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Ultimately, the DM has the power to do anything in the campaign.... but the players have the power to walk out. The most important rule is that you're playing a game to have fun. If you're not having fun, talk to the DM. He may not know that you'd prefer more freedom. (Converse view: My players periodically complain that I give them TOO much freedom, so they're left wondering what to do. They want to be railroaded a bit, until they know where they're heading.)

For inexperienced DMs, I would strongly recommend avoiding having any NPCs in the party, partly to dodge this kind of problem. Experienced DMs can do what they like, but everything has consequences - and if you stifle players' creativity, they'll be less inclined to come up with creative solutions to problems in the future.

How skilled is your DM? Is it possible that there's some massive plot twist coming, like that the rogue in your party is actually the emperor who (through a third party) hired you in the first place? With some DMs, anything that "seems weird" becomes a plot hook. Talk about the rogue's overbearing behaviour in-character with the other player characters. Consider what it'd mean to rebel against him. (And be prepared for the rogue to have been listening in all along!)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your first paragraph is a pain I share. My current campaign is set up to be quite sandbox-ey - there are no rails. Turns out that at least one of my players is currently feeling somewhat unfulfilled because there's no sense of the way things are "supposed to go". \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Sep 29 '16 at 21:37

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