GM doesn’t stand for “Genius Minderreader”

Angry wrote about tips for players and they’re almost all decent. (I recommend that players do look at their character sheet as they make a decision, only to figure out if that’s how their character would behave.)

There’s one I’d like to reinforce though:

Don’t Make Your GM Guess. The more your GM knows about what you’re trying to do and how, the better off you are.

AngryGM

The contrary advice for this is “Trick your DM into letting you do something cool.”

I’ve been at tables – and may have even done this myself, come to think of it – where a player is asking probing questions of the DM, clearly fishing for something. Maybe they’ve got Heat Metal trigger finger and are hoping the DM will say, “yeah, I guess they do have a family medaleon on them, what I strangely specific question!”

This comes from a mindset that the DM is not a player, but are actually an adversary.

In reality though, when the Secret Society of DMs inducts another we all take a sacred vow: remember your players are Heroes and let them do cool shit. “No, that doesn’t work” is not a fun thing for a DM to say. It shuts the scene down, kills the energy. It’s only a reasonable thing to say when you’ve asked for something that doesn’t fit the internal consistency of the world.

DM’s love it just as much as the players when a sneak Heat Metal disables The Big Bad. (We can always make a new Big Bad.)

Instead, Angry’s advice should be followed: let your DM know what you want to do. I don’t know if you know this, but the DM can literally make shit up. “I’d like to do a cool freerunning thing to catch up with the bandit – are there any footholds along the buildings?” “Absolutely there are! Do an Acrobatics check for me and we’ll see how you do!”

Should we be making quest logs?

Some things in video games are only possible there and would become a slog if we had to do them with pen and paper. We should sometimes have a think about features in video games that could be easily ported to tabletop, and see how they impact our games. The one I was thinking of recently was the quest log.

A few reasons why they’ve super useful in video games: If I don’t play the game for a month, I usually forget my objective. They can offer a story recap of previous bits I’ve done, and who for. They let me keep track of multiple goals at once if the story is complicated and weaving around multiple threads.

Well, those perks all seem great on a tabletop game too. In one of the games I play, we typically play every other week. Sometimes we have to miss a week because of reallife obligations, and that’s A WHOLE MONTH between sessions. A reminder and clarification of what we’re supposed to be doing wouldn’t go unwanted. In Lost Mines and more so in Rhyme there are tonnes of side quests. Did anyone take a note on who was looking for the hideout of the Redbrands, you remember, that quest from six months ago?

Players’ should be keeping their own notes. It’s incredibly rewarding as a DM when your players connect two dots – something they won’t do without notes. Not to mention, it’s super useful for players to be a second reference for information. I play with a DM who gives inspiration for offering NPC names before he has time to flick around the book to find them – something which speeds up the game a bunch. However, I think there’s a lot to be said for the DM keeping a list and saying “just so you know, you’ve started on the Blacksmith’s Son questline”.

Part two of this idea is that maybe DMs should break immersion just a little bit more and list what the reward is on this sheet of paper. Not just the gold reward the blacksmith has promised, but a hint at the magic item they might find along the way. If the players ever get stuck on their main quest – maybe they feel they’ll need some silvered weapons before they can take on the werewolf – a sidequest might offer it to them.

Some sidequests would of course be competing. Do you go after the Blacksmith’s Son now, or Root Out The Goblins first, risking the trail going cold? Blacksmith’s Son hints at those silvered weapons, but Root Out The Goblins cryptically suggests there might be a whole box of potions of invisibility available, which would be cool as heck.

“Enhanced Interogation”

As a player or as a referee, I can do without torture happening in my games.

My line goes as far as “lets tie him to a chair, and wave a dagger around to intimidate them”. Anything more than that and it gets kind of icky for me. The immersion is broken and the situation snaps into clear focus: I’m sitting with a group of adults whilst one of them describes ordinarily unmentionable ways of compelling someone to hand over some information, and they push it and push it in the hopes of getting advantage on their roll.

I’m happy to say that this almost never happens. It’s happened a couple of times, and when it has most people have understood and found another route. On one time though, the DM said, “well, you need to find another way of getting him to tell you the information then.” It didn’t feel like there was another way – the bandit was steadfast and cared for nothing but the end of Chult. We didn’t get the information – I expect we weren’t supposed to capture the bandit, but a dice roll got out of the DM’s control.

On a few occaisions we’ve chosen “the scene fades to black as you begin your interogation” method. This is largely fine! (Your mileage may vary.) Nothing is described, other than the character’s intent, and then an intimidation roll is made. This is fine.

However, you still have to journey with adventurers who were willing to do that. (This awkwardness only extends to the character – I’ve never played with genuninely sadistic people, I assume.) In world, I’m not sure how that would sit well with everyone. Rarely are there consequences.

So, as a general houserule for games I run in the future, I have this:

Torture will never yield beneficial results, even in “fade to black” scenes, or off-screen scenes by NPCs. You will only ever hear lies. The lies will be uninteresting. There’s no point in trying. My promise in return is that there will always be another way to find the information you’re after. If it’s not obvious what that way is, talking to another NPC will point you in the right direction.

There are other tools and you should start each campaign by checking in with your group for them. The “fade to black” option is similar to ‘lines and viels’ that is commonly used. It’s not just about super grim stuff like this: double check if your group are okay with fighting spiders, as you don’t want to be kickstarting anyone’s phobias.

An Engorged Chthonian

I made a fun encounter to run for a game I forgot to prepare for. I liked it so much that I decided to write it up and maybe write a few more D&D 5e Lovecraft bits.

Today, I’ve ran out of time! So here it is so far.

If anyone fancies having a go at drawing art for it, please do get in touch. I have always have a small art budget!

I like the idea of a bad guy that doesn’t just want to kill everything. This dude specifically needs the characters to remain alive, which means his combat style needs to change.

I’m playing through Baldur’s Gate 3 at the moment, which may have nudged me into reading through the Call of Cthulu rule books and inspired this. That game’s opening scenes are delightfully creepy.

You can grab the encounter here.

Hey. It’s so artless that I forgot to draw even a basic map. Here’s what it looked like on roll20.

Icons from 2minutetabletop.

Lady Nine-Bone’s nine bones

I haven’t thought about The Medusa in a little while, so I’m unsure how much of this is homebrew and how much canon. Your mileage may vary, I suppose. It’s fun to share though.

Lady Nine-Bone’s fingers allow her to read the surface thoughts of the original owner. The fingers grow back quickly after being taken. She carried a device – The Stripper – to do this.

  • Psathyrella. The Medusa. [Cells. Stoney, snake fangs.] Has one charge of Flesh To Stone per day, which persists as long as the finger exists. (She is usually thinking of how lonely she is, or admiring a piece of art which she finds either boring or fascinating.)
  • Torgos Zooth. The Selenian. [Almery. A slight glow of moonlight.] Has one charge of Compel Truth Or Lie, which lasts for one hour. (He’s looking for ways to find his children, or chasing off Critics or Pelory.)
  • Xanthoceras.The Obsessed Lich. [Gardens. Dripping wet.] Has one charge of Gain Lich Immunities, which lasts for 1 hour. (He’s trying to decide what his next bounty should be in an attempt to impress Zamia.)
  • Seeme-no-more. The Invisible Lizardman. [Archive. Flickering between visible and not.] Has one charge of Greater Invisibility, lasting 1 hour. (He’s cursing those that know his name and wondering how to break that particular part of the curse, or he’s considering new alchemical agents.)
  • Kinxys Ziteki. The Last Saurid King. [Gallery. Bones. The flesh rotted away.] Has one charge per day of Regenerate Limb. (His thoughts are slow and old and mutters only of being hungry. She’s not listened to them recently, as they were boring. After all, he’s dead.)
  • Torcul Wort. The Gold Boy. [Wedding. A golden digit.] Has one charge per day of diving the provenance of gold. Aurem Spectors avoid her. (His thoughts are of the machine and how fantastic it is, or cursing his mother for being a traitor.)
  • Milo DeFretwell. Psycopath. [Gallery. Dripping blood.] Has one charge of Detect Intentions each day. (She does not read his thoughts. She only has the finger to ensure he’s still locked away.)
  • Quatri-Glotta. The Elephanine True Teller. [Cells. Tiny elephant foot.] Has one charge of Detect Secret per month. (He’s quiet when alone, only wanting food.)
  • Dendro Blackpoll. Severed Hands. [Almery. Blackened evil.] Can open any of the doors in the Almery at any distance. This is how she makes her way through. (Dendro suggests a way of the Medusa dying, and Blackpoll disagrees. Drendro always thinks he can save her. Blackpoll is unsure.)