DM Imagination: Lacking

Aug 17 2009

(Note: I haven’t forgotten about my previous plan to post about my finances and books! I’m just having trouble collecting the data. Should have something up here in a day or two. Meanwhile….)

While I was at GenCon, I went to a panel on higher-level adventure design. I noticed a disturbing trend: The DMs asking questions lacked a certain imagination.

They had great adventures. Neat stories. But they played the game completely by the book. If the book said that a good challenge for a party of X adventurers was Y monsters at Z level, they’d throw exactly Y monsters at exactly Z level at their players.

One person complained that one of his players claimed some way to defeat the most powerful creature in D&D 4th Edition, Orcus, with a 21st-level wizard (out of 30 levels) using a certain combination of abilities. And the D&D designers running the panel paused for a moment, then replied that the players aren’t going to face a demigod as a lone opponent in an empty room. Orcus will make sure they slog through half a dozen other tough enemies first, then halfway through the battle will teleport out for a bit, rest, and come back recharged with a new weapon.

The DMs in the audience spoke as though adding an extra monster halfway through a battle was an indication that the system was inadequate. Like a role-playing system has to spit out a precise number—size of enemy group, type of monster, whatever—for any given situation.

And, granted, there was a lot of self-selection going on there; confident DMs with no problems improvising a high-level situation probably didn’t attend that panel in the first place. But it was sad to see, in a fantasy game where everything’s made up anyway, people running it as though the rules are legally binding.

If the game’s not working, change it.

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