Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Veteran Advice

A huge thanks to Treebore over at the Troll Lord forums for resurrecting an old thread from the Necromancer forums. While some entries pertain mainly to 3.5, there's some great advice. I'd urge you to check out the entire thread, but I'm going to post some of my faves (feel free to post your own favorites or reactions to these):

1. Always do your legwork. Investigate the town before moving into the surrounding areas. Knowledge is power. Use Gather Information and use your Rogue and Bard to get the inside scoop on what is going on. Have your wizard make magical inquiries. Have your cleric visit the local temples. (Orcus)

4. Don't overlook your low level spells when you get higher level. Sure, it is tempting to focus on the big boom spells you can cast at higher level, but things like low level divinations and low level buffs like bless and things like that are very effective. (Orcus)

7. Avoid head on confrontations. (Orcus)

12. This isn't Diablo. You don't have to clear the level. In fact, playing like that will lead to death. (Orcus)

13. Players need to understand that in dungeons designed by people with a clue, there will be monsters of varying power levels. Guess what, monsters don't nicely divide themselves by "CR". Sometimes a den of dire rats is near a den of trolls. So don't metagame things and say "this is the first level of the dungeon, so the DM will only use first level monsters." WRONG! (Orcus)

14. Use tactics. Don't charge, retreat to a more tactically advantageous position. Generally small rooms or doorways are good as you can limit the number of creatures that can attack you. Large open rooms usually suck for the PCs. In fact, you can even strategically retreat drawing the monsters into an ambush. (Orcus)

20. Don't be afraid to run away. (Orcus; Fortinbras 48)

32. Never underestimate the power of information. At low levels, this is usually limited to talking with townsfolk about local problems (what's marauding around the countryside today?). They live here, they sure know what's happening better than you. Maybe one of them has seen somebody else in town acting somewhat shady; a link to a nefarious plot, perhaps?

Don't forget to stay in contact with any organizations your PC may belong to. As Orcus said, priests have temple superiors, wizards have academies and masters, rogues have guilds, and fighters may have trainers. All of these people are important for knowing what's happening in your world.

As you get higher in levels, your skills and magical abilities will improve. This will garner you different ways of gathering info. Your wizard becomes an incredible scout with arcane eye and true seeing, the cleric can gain divine insight through spells like augury and contact other plane, and the rogue and the fighter make an effective good adventurer/bad adventurer team when interrogating prisoners.

There's something else to think about: when possible, don't kill all the bad guys. Subdual rules are in the game for a reason. Take as many prisoner as possible, then question them, mundanely and magically. The more you can get from them, the better. In a dungeon situation, the odds are already stacked against you. Every ounce of information you can get improves your chances for survival. (Mistwalker)

35. Expect the DM to play the bad guys with creativity and intelligence. The guys in room 5 will not just sit their patiently while you mop up their mates in room 4, then give you a few minutes breather or hold off battle until "you've got your wind back." (Stormdale)

65. Players: never underestimate the value of good notekeeping and organization. Be sure to have someone with good spatial sense do the mapping, someone you can trust keep track of the undistributed loot horde, and someone who's meticulous keep notes of important NPCs, clues, etc.--keeping a regular campaign journal is even better. And whoever keeps the journal should review it every so often to remind themselves of any clues or information learned many sessions earlier that might come into play. (Damien the Bloodfeaster)

76. You're friendly neighborhood DM is a volunteer. He's not paid for doing his job and their is no reason he should take crap from you just because you disagree with him. (gondolin)

82. Players and DMs should communicate with each other outside of the game and give each other constructive feedback. This will help make the game more enjoyable for everyone. (Guido 1999)

83. If you somehow find a secret door that was almost impossible to discover, or enter into an antechamber covered with unholy writings that send chills down your paladin's back, don't whine to the DM when you press on and your party gets slaughtered. See the references for "knowing when to run" above. (Damien the Bloodfeaster)

85. DMs: be sure your new players know of any house rules before you begin playing. And be sure to get their approval before introducing any new ones. You may love critical hit/fumble tables, but your players may not... (Damien the Bloodfeaster)

90. Sometimes you CAN parley with the monsters. Particularly if you note something of "residential politics" going on in the dungeon, you may be able to work it to your advantage. See if you can negotiate. It may win the day, and it'll also give your bard a chance to shine. (Ragathor)

92. Be specific in your actions! It may depend upon the DM, but I will award circumstance bonuses for specific actions. If you are specifically searching "under the bed" for something, you may get a +2 or so to your search roll to find something there as opposed to someone who's just 'searching the room'. It also helps roleplaying, and visualizing the action for everyone. Just so long as you don't slow down the game with your detailed actions, it's a great thing to do, and helps keep the DM entertained. (Ragathor)

101. Do not whine. Do not whine because the monster attacked you. Do not whine that the trap went off. Do not whine because you thought you were hiding. If the DM is good, they are playing by the rules, and the only time that they are bending them is in YOUR favor. Whining about anything bad happenning is usually making everyone else hate you, and making them wonder why they invited you to play in the first place. (Fortinbras)

120. Dungeons etc. have tons of neat things you can use. Those wall sconces can hold your torches while you investigate the room. Those moldering old books make great tinder. As do used up scrolls. (mythusmage)

124. For DMs, please try to give the party a personal reason for doing whatever you want them to. This keeps them focused on the prize and generates more interest than the standard "Undertake this action for the good of the Barony, blah blah blah." Further, players are much more likely to contribute to the "created storyline" when the plot hits them hard in a personal spot. One good way to do this is to create and keep up continuing NPCs which become dear to the PC's hearts. (sessestophelzine)

125. For DMs, most of us need a home - a place to prop up your feet and relax for awhile. We PCs don't like being 'on the run' all the time and just need a haven every so often. So provide one for your PCs. They will appreciate it. (sessestophelzine)

135. For PCs, not all your dungeon denizens need be fought. In fact, it's much much more fun to play them off of each other, as if you were playing a game of Illuminati or Diplomacy with them as opponents. Strong divinations before entering could alert the PCs as to who the main power brokers are in a dungeon, and often it doesn't take a genius to figure out how they can be manipulated for fun and profit. (sessestophelzine)

137. If you are getting burned out, take a break. If your DM is getting burned out, give him a break (not a physical one, as in no arms, legs, ribs etc..) (Fire Mephit)

138. Have fun. If you're not having fun, find out why, and talk to your group. (Fire Mephit)


Gleichman said...

Some of these are rather campaign specific, and others don't make much sense.

Item #14 falls into the "oh really?" camp. It assumes that your foes don't follow the same advice- and it also gives the Initiative to those same foes.

A likely result of 'fall back to a good choke point' in many causes would be the same as waiting for the arrival of more foes (and allies of the foes) leading to a siege that in general cannot favor the players who without a doubt would end up with far more limited resources.

There are however some good common sense suggestions in there.

Zachary The First said...

@Gelichman: There's certainly some on the larger list I don't agree with or seem counter-intuitive to how I see things, but by and large, I think there's some good, common-sense suggestions for players to treat a tabletop RPG situation less like a video game and more like a thinking quest for survival.

As for the choke point, I would agree that it is situational, but I think a lot of GMs would be thrilled to have their players at least begin to think tactically. :)

Gleichman said...

Somewhat off subject, but it's interesting to me how many online people reject the idea of their players thinking tactically...

In any case, one has to start somewhere. And choke points are a good place to start- if that choke point threatens the foe or if the foe *must* have the choke point NOW.

And of couse, not every foe is smart and wise. In fact I think GMs often make them too good in many ways.

Battles are lost much more often than they are won. And I think the GM should have that fact reflected in their games.

Dave "Joyd" said...

Not going to lie. Not especially impressed. I'm frankly not convinced that all that much of the advice linked to is born of actual play experience with humans rather than an idealized sense of how things "should" be.

A lot of the advice seems to be stuff that would be excellent advice if RPG adventures were the real world, but no matter how hard a DM tries, they just aren't, and in ways that go beyond "the real world hasn't got wizards in it." Your DM is only going to make up so many interesting things for random townsfolk to have to say. Get the dang adventure moving. If your DM wants you to know a specific clue about something, he'll give it to you at the first sign of you looking for extra information. Almost no DM is going to withhold information that they want to give out as contingent on the players launching an extensive fact-finding expedition. That encourages players to tool around in town forever instead of seeing the sweet adventure the DM worked hard preparing for.

Some of the advice is also stuff that is either obvious or thoroughly ingrained into any modern gamer's head (protect vulnerable characters!) or else stuff that nobody playing under the 3e rules (the rules mentioned) would ever do. (Don't charge a monster alone just to get XP! Fight it as a team!)

There's also advice (33) about fighting some specific kind of brown ooze I can't identify that will steal your fighter's sword and is utterly impossible to defeat, and is probably proof that your DM is some kind of jerk.

The advice also seems to come from an assumption that the players are not all friends or something and they're in some kind of business relationship with each other and the DM.

"Never die with unused items" (50) is rotten advice. If you're carrying around a niche item for an improbable contingency, you shouldn't go out of your way to use it just for the sake of having used it. If the time when your best option is to use your bow never comes up, then you never use your bow. No big deal.

Dave "Joyd" said...

Getting attached to characters interferes with good roleplay? (78) In the real world, people roleplay better almost always if they care about the character.

Advice like number 80 makes it abundantly clear that the list is ancient.

Don't die because you weren't keeping track of your hit points! Don't attack the other PCs when you're in a dangerous area! Don't get smacked with an opportunity attack because you forgot to 5-foot-step away before casting!

To be fair, I can see why this is "veteran" advice; much of it is advice geared towards players that might have ineffective behavior as a holdover from old systems. Most of the non-poor advice on the list is stuff that modern gamers take for granted. (Except for things like "assume your DM is a conniving weasel who wants his game to degenerate into nothing but searching for traps because he's made the players incredibly paranoid about it.") At least for me, stuff like "the DM and the players needn't be antagonists to each other" is like "the wizard can cast magical spells!" - a basic assumption.


Just so as to not be strictly negative, here's what I would add -
Players and DMs - don't assume the other people at the table can read your mind. This is especially important for DMs. If you're going to spring something on the players, it's best if they either have the chance to stop it or at least feel like they did. If an orc they've been beating on slips away and gets reinforcements, that's one thing. If an invisible imp who was hiding around the corner does it, that's not as fun.
In general, players don't really want to hear "you could have avoided that by [performing this action that nobody would ever think of.]"

The broader form of this advice is that if you're the DM, you only get to be tricky so often, especially in certain ways. You want to fastidiously -avoid- the sort of traps and tricks that will instantly make your players extremely paranoid. Encouraging your players to go through crazy rituals every time they want to move forward a bit just bogs things down.