That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

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That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ArcticFox » Mon Nov 07, 2016 7:12 pm

As a DM, the thing I dread most is hearing a player protest a judgment call I made on the grounds that it shuts down some design decision they made when they created their character. I mean, I really hate that.

Case Study 1: The adventuring party has come upon an ancient ruined city in the middle of a haunted forest. One character decides to use the Ancient History skill he equipped his character with. I tell him the roll automatically fails. He demands to know why. He demands that I honor the result if he succeeds. He goes on to tell me all about how I'm shutting him down. He specifically chose that skill for exactly this kind of situation and I'm not letting him do what he designed the character to do, and now he feels the choice of that skill has been wasted.

Well let's look at the situation to see how this player has failed to see the forest for the trees. The ruin in this case was not what it appeared to be. It was an ancient city, but it had been entirely separated from the world around it through magical means, and thus its existence wouldn't have been recorded in any source the characters would have known. That, in itself, was intended as a clue to its true nature. If I had allowed the roll and he failed, he'd not have had a way to realize that there was something very special about this place. If he'd somehow succeeded, like by rolling a natural 20, then it would have ruined the mystery of the city and undone the point of the adventure. The simple fact that his character, having studied history, couldn't identify the ruins was itself a very important clue! Thus, taking the skill wasn't a waste because it helped to create the feeling of mystery. That thought never occurred to him, because he was too busy worrying about having his design decisions vindicated.

Case Study 2: he adventuring party is walking down a dungeon corridor and triggers a rolling ball trap (Think of Raiders of the Lost Ark). the characters each get a saving throw to mitigate the damage they'll take. One player fails the save, but wants to use a reaction spell to blink out of the path. I didn't allow it and I got to hear about how this was exactly the sort of scenario he chose that spell for, and now it was wasted.

Well, the problem is that the rules simply aren't structured to allow that. A Saving Throw represents the character taking some kind of action to protect himself. By failing the save, the character's efforts were unsuccessful. Since the outcome of the save, in the game world, is only known after the impact, there's no time to try something else. Also, if I were to start allowing spells to be used in reaction to a Saving Throw, the potential for abuse is staggering. Why bother rolling a saving throw to avoid a dragon's breath attack if you can just use a reaction spell to banish it away? The Saving Throw is not a free action, however instant it may be.

In both of these cases, the players made certain assumptions about how things would work during the game that turned out not to be what they expected. That isn't my fault as the DM. Creating a character is an exercise in trying to do the best you can to anticipate what situations might arise and how you would handle it as the character. It doesn't obligate the DM to present you with situations to reward you for your design choices. If you designed a good character, they'll succeed more often than they fail, but sometimes they WILL fail. Just like in real life. When I hear someone complain that a choice they made when creating the character has been wasted, it sounds to me just the same as when someone gets a Bachelor's Degree in Medieval Women's Literature and complains because they can't find a job that uses their skills. I never told Player 1 to go get ancient history as a skill and I never suggested to Player 2 that a spell could be used to escape the result of a failed Saving Throw.

I'm not looking to stifle and shut down characters. I want people to feel good about their characters and to feel like they did a good job creating them. It's just that I'm not going to bend and break the system or the adventure narrative to give them a cookie for every little thing they put on that character sheet.
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ccgr » Mon Nov 07, 2016 8:01 pm

Ever have damaged friendships after the game ended? If so, those people need to lighten up. Or stick with consoles and blame the developers instead :P

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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby Chozon1 » Tue Nov 08, 2016 7:30 am

OK, the city thing I get; that was actually my first thought. "If I am an expert in history, and I have no idea what this is...what is it?"

But the blink spell...I don't know about that one. I would get disgruntled over it too, I think, unless he tried to make a saving throw, failed, and then wanted to blink.

If he wanted to do it instead of making a saving throw...seems like what the spell is for. Unless the saving throw would be, in the game, the mage casting the spell and failing it, thus failing the throw.

Either way, I wouldn't rant at you about it; ranting at the rule system, maybe.

Unless you chuckled maliciously at their impending doom/ignorance. >_>
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ArcticFox » Tue Nov 08, 2016 1:11 pm

But the blink spell...I don't know about that one. I would get disgruntled over it too, I think, unless he tried to make a saving throw, failed, and then wanted to blink.
That's what happened.
If he wanted to do it instead of making a saving throw...seems like what the spell is for. Unless the saving throw would be, in the game, the mage casting the spell and failing it, thus failing the throw.
Yeah I had considered making a house rule to allow for something like that, but as I thought it through, I decided it would be a bad idea. I wrote about it on our gaming club forum, and here's the relevant excerpt:
So could we house rule the Misty Step thing? I'm inclined to stick with no, because I don't want to open up that can of worms. if I have time to cast Misty Step to avoid the gaze attack from a Medusa, I have time to cast Power Word Kill at it. Right? I mean, why hold your breath to avoid a green dragon's breath attack when you can just kill it outright, instantly? If you can argue for Misty Step, you can argue for Power Word Kill. And now suddenly we're talking about a limited sort of free action whenever a character is called upon to roll a Saving Throw.
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby Deepfreeze32 » Tue Nov 08, 2016 4:06 pm

I tell him the roll automatically fails.
I suppose this also comes down to how you said it.

If you said "Your roll fails automatically" in a deadpan tone then yeah, I'd be pretty miffed too. If you said it with some embellishment (like "You cannot roll because this looks wholly unfamiliar" with an air of mystery to your voice) that clues me in beyond the knee-jerk "Uhh, what did you just say to me" reaction. Now admittedly, this feeling comes from a little story.

So in one of my earlier games, we had a similar situation. I asked if I could roll a check, the DM said flatly "It auto-fails." We end up pushing the topic after the session (and since moved on from the area in question), and he spills the beans that he wasn't prepared for us to make that kind of check and used auto-fail as a way to get around his lack of preparedness.

So in my D&D mind, literally saying "Your roll fails" with no embellishment or with a deadpan tone is a watchword for "I didn't expect you to make that check." That clearly isn't the case here.

tl;dr: How you choose to describe the roll failure is important. It is possible your player pressed the issue because (Like I would have) they misunderstood the implications of what you said because of how it was said. Not trying to justify fighting with the DM. That never ends well.

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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ArcticFox » Tue Nov 08, 2016 5:05 pm

I suppose this also comes down to how you said it.

If you said "Your roll fails automatically" in a deadpan tone then yeah, I'd be pretty miffed too. If you said it with some embellishment (like "You cannot roll because this looks wholly unfamiliar" with an air of mystery to your voice) that clues me in beyond the knee-jerk "Uhh, what did you just say to me" reaction. Now admittedly, this feeling comes from a little story.

So in one of my earlier games, we had a similar situation. I asked if I could roll a check, the DM said flatly "It auto-fails." We end up pushing the topic after the session (and since moved on from the area in question), and he spills the beans that he wasn't prepared for us to make that kind of check and used auto-fail as a way to get around his lack of preparedness.

So in my D&D mind, literally saying "Your roll fails" with no embellishment or with a deadpan tone is a watchword for "I didn't expect you to make that check." That clearly isn't the case here.

tl;dr: How you choose to describe the roll failure is important. It is possible your player pressed the issue because (Like I would have) they misunderstood the implications of what you said because of how it was said. Not trying to justify fighting with the DM. That never ends well.
Yeah saying it flat like that isn't my way. The DM is as much a showman as a referee, and I like to make it sound mysterious.

In that first case, we're also talking about one of those players who has a very clear idea on how he thinks things should be done, and isn't above wasting everyone's time trying to argue the DM into agreement.
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby Chozon1 » Tue Nov 08, 2016 5:33 pm

That's what happened.
In that case, as a noob, I would say that's an order of operations error: if you have a split second to react, you either choose to magics or jump out the way; failing one, you cannot try the other. Boulders don't stop for slow traffic.

That said:
So could we house rule the Misty Step thing? I'm inclined to stick with no, because I don't want to open up that can of worms. if I have time to cast Misty Step to avoid the gaze attack from a Medusa, I have time to cast Power Word Kill at it. Right? I mean, why hold your breath to avoid a green dragon's breath attack when you can just kill it outright, instantly? If you can argue for Misty Step, you can argue for Power Word Kill. And now suddenly we're talking about a limited sort of free action whenever a character is called upon to roll a Saving Throw.
Clearly, at least in my mind, I would say this is a flaw/slip in the rules system, and not on your shoulders. It's the question that has been plaguing gamer's since games were born: why should I make my way through a perilous hallway when I could just shoot through the floor and avoid the whole thing?

Because that's what the designers want you to do.

I would also agree that you can't really change it without breaking the whole system; I'm not familiar with D&D, but is there a casting time on spells? That could end the whole argument. If a boulder is about to hit you in 1.2 seconds, your spell which requires 3 seconds won't help very much.

Unless you allowed it only for defensive spells? In that case though, I would imagine you would have people saying magic missile could be used defensively. XD
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ArcticFox » Tue Nov 08, 2016 7:31 pm

Clearly, at least in my mind, I would say this is a flaw/slip in the rules system, and not on your shoulders. It's the question that has been plaguing gamer's since games were born: why should I make my way through a perilous hallway when I could just shoot through the floor and avoid the whole thing?

Because that's what the designers want you to do.
Yeah the thing is D&D is the granddaddy of roleplaying games, and it shows its age here in come very outdated mechanics. The Saving Throw is an abstraction to avoid bogging the game down, but as the other game mechanics have evolved this part is still conceptually the same as it ever was. Naturally that's going to start causing problems as other parts of the game get to a point where they no longer fit together the same way.

Also, a certain amount of abstraction can be a problem. It's like the hit point system. A very generic way to reflect injury and fatigue. D&D doesn't have the ability to do crippling injury to a limb, for example, except under very limited circumstances. It's never been a combat simulator, but it doesn't necessarily have to be.
I would also agree that you can't really change it without breaking the whole system; I'm not familiar with D&D, but is there a casting time on spells? That could end the whole argument. If a boulder is about to hit you in 1.2 seconds, your spell which requires 3 seconds won't help very much.
Sort of, though it's much less of a thing than it used to be.
Unless you allowed it only for defensive spells? In that case though, I would imagine you would have people saying magic missile could be used defensively. XD
And that's the problem. The game is complex enough that there will always be exceptions, which is why you need a DM in the first place. The downside is that if you change one thing, unintended consequences will bite you...
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby Sstavix » Tue Nov 08, 2016 10:19 pm

I think that, one of the challenges with being a DM, is being able to think quickly on your feet and come up with a way to indicate automatic failures (or even better, hilarious failures) when they occur. I hate to disagree with you, but this is what I probably would have done in your situations.
Case Study 1: The adventuring party has come upon an ancient ruined city in the middle of a haunted forest. One character decides to use the Ancient History skill he equipped his character with. I tell him the roll automatically fails. He demands to know why. He demands that I honor the result if he succeeds. He goes on to tell me all about how I'm shutting him down. He specifically chose that skill for exactly this kind of situation and I'm not letting him do what he designed the character to do, and now he feels the choice of that skill has been wasted.

Well let's look at the situation to see how this player has failed to see the forest for the trees. The ruin in this case was not what it appeared to be. It was an ancient city, but it had been entirely separated from the world around it through magical means, and thus its existence wouldn't have been recorded in any source the characters would have known. That, in itself, was intended as a clue to its true nature. If I had allowed the roll and he failed, he'd not have had a way to realize that there was something very special about this place. If he'd somehow succeeded, like by rolling a natural 20, then it would have ruined the mystery of the city and undone the point of the adventure. The simple fact that his character, having studied history, couldn't identify the ruins was itself a very important clue! Thus, taking the skill wasn't a waste because it helped to create the feeling of mystery. That thought never occurred to him, because he was too busy worrying about having his design decisions vindicated.
Player: I want to make an Ancient History roll to see if I can recognize this city.

GM: OK, make your roll.

Player: (rolls) Yes! A natural 20! So that gives me a 32!

GM: You can tell nothing about the city.

Player: What? But I rolled a 32! I should know everything about this place!

GM: You're correct. You should know at least something about this place. But you don't know anything about it. In all your research, there has been nothing ever written about this place. Everything you've read about this forest indicates that there are no civilizations here. No one has settled here because of the nature of this forest. As far as you know this city should. Not. Exist. Yet here it is. What do you do?

Case Study 2: he adventuring party is walking down a dungeon corridor and triggers a rolling ball trap (Think of Raiders of the Lost Ark). the characters each get a saving throw to mitigate the damage they'll take. One player fails the save, but wants to use a reaction spell to blink out of the path. I didn't allow it and I got to hear about how this was exactly the sort of scenario he chose that spell for, and now it was wasted.

Well, the problem is that the rules simply aren't structured to allow that. A Saving Throw represents the character taking some kind of action to protect himself. By failing the save, the character's efforts were unsuccessful. Since the outcome of the save, in the game world, is only known after the impact, there's no time to try something else. Also, if I were to start allowing spells to be used in reaction to a Saving Throw, the potential for abuse is staggering. Why bother rolling a saving throw to avoid a dragon's breath attack if you can just use a reaction spell to banish it away? The Saving Throw is not a free action, however instant it may be.
I have read instances of these kinds of reaction spells - called "contingency spells" - but they are high level (likely higher than what your players are, I would imagine) and they trigger automatically before a saving throw takes place. They are spells that are cast in conjunction with another spell - often "teleport" so that when X condition is met, Y spell will trigger. Thing is, once the contingency spell is in place, the player has no control over it. Once the conditions are met, the contingency fires automatically. The player isn't casting a spell when the contingency is triggered, so it happens instantaneously. Whether they player could have made an easy save or not. And once it's spent, it doesn't come back until the player casts it again.

So it gets down to the nature of the spell. Did he cast it in the morning (or earlier) so he would be prepared for the eventuality of "being flattened by a rock?" Because if he's casting it now, when the rock is coming down, he doesn't have enough time. He's squished.

Another thing - when the rock started rolling, I would imagine that you asked all the players what they were doing. Did the player say "I'm dodging" or did he say "I'm casting a spell?" Because he can't do both, and no tap-backs.

Finally, if all else fails, to the best of my knowledge the caster has no control over where the "blink" spell takes them. So it's possible they could "blink" out of the way of the boulder... and right back into the path of the boulder again! :lol:

Just out of curiosity, what was the spell he cast? Could you provide a link to it?

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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ArcticFox » Wed Nov 09, 2016 3:33 pm

I hate to disagree with you
Oh no you do not. :P
GM: You're correct. You should know at least something about this place. But you don't know anything about it. In all your research, there has been nothing ever written about this place. Everything you've read about this forest indicates that there are no civilizations here. No one has settled here because of the nature of this forest. As far as you know this city should. Not. Exist. Yet here it is. What do you do?
That's similar to what I did, though not as elaborate. The problem is that this particular player was arguing that the rules entitled him to roll with a nonzero possibility of success. He was a MASSIVE rules lawyer.
I have read instances of these kinds of reaction spells - called "contingency spells" - but they are high level (likely higher than what your players are, I would imagine)
Yeah Contingency has been around since 2nd Edition. The party is about level 8, so not yet high enough to have access to it.
Another thing - when the rock started rolling, I would imagine that you asked all the players what they were doing. Did the player say "I'm dodging" or did he say "I'm casting a spell?" Because he can't do both, and no tap-backs.
Not in this case. It's a published dungeon that simply called for a Saving Throw. The specifics of what the characters were doing to avoid the damage didn't matter from a rules perspective.

Just out of curiosity, what was the spell he cast? Could you provide a link to it?
Misty Step

The tragedy here is that even if he could have cast it, it wouldn't have mattered, only delaying the inevitable. The party was in a long, straight corridor. Because the place you're "teleporting" to has to be somewhere you can see, it would have meant he could only go 30 feet down the corridor, still in the path of the boulder.
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby Sstavix » Wed Nov 09, 2016 6:02 pm

Hmm... it says that it can be cast as a "Bonus Action." According to that Web site....
You must use a bonus action on Your Turn to cast the spell, ....
Was it the player's turn? My guess would be, since the player needed to make a saving throw, the answer is "no." Therefore, the player was not allowed to cast the spell. His argument is invalid.

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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ArcticFox » Thu Nov 10, 2016 7:18 pm

Hmm... it says that it can be cast as a "Bonus Action." According to that Web site....
You must use a bonus action on Your Turn to cast the spell, ....
Was it the player's turn? My guess would be, since the player needed to make a saving throw, the answer is "no." Therefore, the player was not allowed to cast the spell. His argument is invalid.
The party wasn't in combat, as it was a trap, so that reasoning, while valid, doesn't apply in this case.
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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby Sstavix » Fri Nov 11, 2016 1:13 am

Exactly my point. The "Bonus Action" specifically applies to how it works in combat. Since the action of the game wasn't a combat action, then the idea that he could cast the spell as a response to failing a saving throw is completely illogical (as well as against the rules in pretty much every game system I've seen). And if it could be argued that it was taking place in combat (like it could if 3rd Edition rules were in effect), then when the boulder struck, it had the initiative, rather than the player.

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Re: That's Your Fault: A D&D Rant

Postby ArcticFox » Fri Nov 11, 2016 2:58 am

Exactly my point. The "Bonus Action" specifically applies to how it works in combat. Since the action of the game wasn't a combat action, then the idea that he could cast the spell as a response to failing a saving throw is completely illogical (as well as against the rules in pretty much every game system I've seen). And if it could be argued that it was taking place in combat (like it could if 3rd Edition rules were in effect), then when the boulder struck, it had the initiative, rather than the player.
Yeah and he knew that too. I think his thinking was that since it's such a quick spell and since the rolling ball is non-instantaneous, then it should afford the opportunity. He said in his own game, he has a houserule that allows it and I think he just sort of forgot himself.

But yeah no. The rolling ball DOES count as instantaneous for game mechanics purposes.
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