Despair

I don’t think I’m ever going to get to run / play in the kind of game I want. Maybe it is a case of ‘grass always being greener’ or my desired ‘perfect game’ doesn’t exist… may I’m just a malcontent and a ne’er-do-well… maybe I’m just getting too old for this hobby and ought to take up golf or heavy drinking.

Currently I am playing in 3 games:

1) A ‘Savage Worlds’ Game: The guy (whom I will call K.) who is running this is a friend, and, for his sake I don’t like to slag on the campaign he likes or the style of game, but somehow ‘Savage Worlds’ just does not catch fire for me. It seems entirely too easy to succeed for the players — eleven sessions and only 1 PC death (which was reversed by someone playing a ‘mulligan’ type card. As far as I can tell, most of the campaign seems to come right out of his brain as we play — conceptually not a deal breaker, but somehow I don’t feel like we are really solving problems when we are confronted with an obstacle and everything we try just seems to fail until we light upon some randomly chosen solution. I don’t really want things to be that easy for us — maybe I’m just jaded, but it feels like as a group we succeed on quests too easily.

I confess that I am also having ‘DM’s Remorse.’ I was running a campaign earlier with the same players but ran out of time/energy because I was on the job market and trying to finish my degree. I handed over the reigns to him and said, “do with it what you will” and suddenly he kept enough of my material to make me feel like I couldn’t re-use some of that material in the future but changes it so much that I can’t see myself incorporating the changes he has made in any future campaign either.

Plus, and I hate to harp on this, but I have trouble maintaining my ‘suspension of disbelief’ in the reality of the world when all of it is being generated on the fly and does hang together… “Ok, the mayor’s name is, uh, Frank… and he says that his, um, sister, Jane, has a problem…” I’m not expecting (or hoping) for a Tolkienesque level of detail, but I’d like something that at least makes a gesture towards consistency and verisimilitude. One of the pleasures of working through an adventure that has been designed beforehand is that the DM will hopefully feel resonably constrained by what is recorded — i.e.: I suspect that K the DM often pulls his punches in the game simply to make sure we don’t get wiped out — which dampens the feeling of victory somewhat.

After playing it a while, I don’t like ‘Savage Worlds.’ It just seems kind of cheesey. It’s less of a ‘thinking yourself into the situation’ game and more of a ‘confine yourself to activities in which you have good dice rolls’ game. RPGs with ‘search’ rolls and ‘notice’ rolls just get my goat.

This game meets about 1x every 2 weeks. The DM of Savage Worlds, K., and A., the DM of game 3 (below) don’t get along.

2) D&D 3.5 using Goodman Games adventures: This is run by another DM I’ll call J. Now J. is sometimes/usually a pretty good DM (however, on at least one occassion, presided over one of the worst game sessions of my life — a story for another time), but his campaigns tend to run very sporadically — we will meet once every two weeks for a while, then months will pass before we meet again. Half of the people in this group are people I normally play with. We are also joined by folks who really test my patience — and maybe that’s my failing. In the current group, there are 2 guys who ‘chat’ the whole time about everything except what is happening in the campaign we happen to be playing in at that time… a bad habit which drives me nuts (since I really attempt to pay attention and interact with my fellow players in terms of what is happening in game at that time).

I’ll be honest. I don’t like D&D 3.5 and D&D 3e, etc. Again, explaining why the post 2e D&D leaves a bad taste in my mouth is probably another story for another time. But the guys I play with love 3.5e. Le grande sigh.

One of the more ‘chatty’ players is a complete power gamer — which turns me off. Another one is a complete freak — and I like most freaks — but this guy is just too freaky for even me.

3) A’s Game: The third game, which meets once every blue moon (or more often) is run by a guy named A. Again: D&D 3.5. Ugh. The problem with A. is that he does not have a creative or improvisational bone in his entire body, but he also is never prepared. He is that species of person who really wants to DM, but runs only prepared adventures based entirely on what is written in the material that someone else has created… but usually has not read over the material before we sit down. So you get the worst of both worlds. If a player says, “I’d like to steal the doorknob from the temple door and sell it,” he will spend 15 minutes trying to look up a rule in one of his books about doorknob stealing, then will flip through the adventure to see if they have a price on the doorknob listed, and, when all of those things fail, simply tell the player, “You can’t.” And I find that approach frustrating, not because I think the players should be allowed to do whatever they want, but the player characters should at least have some measure of control over their characters.

One of my fellow players is still fuming because we found an abandoned Wizard’s Tower, overcame all of it’s traps and then rented wagons to haul away the 1000s of antique books about magic (academic works; NOT spellbooks) that we found within the tower. We hauled them to the nearest city where we announced we wanted to sell them, but since A. could not account for this action within the published pages of his adventure, he simply dissallowed it. “No, you can’t sell them. No one wants them.” After long experience in A’s campaign, I begin to realize that he simply does not want the players to do anything that he did not anticipate beforehand. If we had managed to sell the books for 100 or 1000 or 10,000 gold, we would have been able to try to buy passage on a ship, or buy a ship, or hire mercenaries, or do one of a thousand things that he could not account for beforehand and this would require A. to make a decision of the fly which is something he simply cannot bear to do.

Instead of being ‘Monty Hauls,’ his adventures are screwjobs where we fight monsters that run away before we can defeat them (thus we get little or no XP) and we get treasures which are worth less than the calories, torches and crossbow bolts we expended to win them. We defeated a young Black dragon and got a pile of copper and silver, some damaged mundane armor and a wand (which ended up having 0 charges) for our trouble. At the same time, no one died and no one got a lot of XP even though we The problems with A’s campaign often boil down to the DM limiting player choice to such an extreme degree that the players are frustrated and bored. One of the players actually fell asleep during the game.

A. also makes wierd and dumb mistakes. On one occassion my character tried to climb a ladder… and, since this is 3.5e, of course it was not sufficient to just say, ‘I climb the ladder.’ I had to roll a dice to see if I could. My character failed and fell something like 30 feet, and I mentioned, “OK, my sorceror has eight hitpoints — he’s probably a goner…” at which point A. mentions that I only took “temporary” damage from the fall. “Okayy…” says I… even though something seemed really wrong at this point.

The rest of the party tried to follow me down the ladder and all or most of us fell. I’m not the world’s biggest 3.5e rules expert, but this sounds really wonky — first, climbing what seems like an ordinary ladder seems strangely difficult for a character of at least average strength and agility (I don’t think my character had “ranks” in “climb skills” but it was a ladder for crissakes — unless she is in a wheelchair, a 90 year old granny could climb it!). Second, I’m pretty sure that the old D&D chestnut, “You take 1d6 damage for every 10 feet you fall” should apply… and yet all of our low level characters survive the fall without taking any serious damage… which seems statistically unlikey since this fall should have inflicted an average of around 9-12 points of damage. I can’t imagine that everyone rolled a 1 on a 20 sided dice on their climb check so obviously something is, well, askew.

Now we are all puzzled and asking, “We search the ladder; is it trapped? Are the rungs loose? Is it greased?” Nope, nope, nope the DM replies; we are assured that it is an ordinary ladder — “What did you roll on your climb check? 14? OK; you fall…” Despite many questions, the DM cannot or will not expand on why the entire party failed on their attempt to climb an ordinary ladder. Things like this make me wonder why we have ladders in A’s fantasy world at all; wouldn’t they just be a waste of wood since no one can climb them anyway? But now all of us are at the bottom so we just decide to ignore it and press on…

I guess I don’t mind that A plays fast and loose with the rules… but in a situation like that, which is periodically repeated throughout the game, the player eventually feels like what one attempts or decides will make no difference — and player interest in what happens drops like nobody’s business.

I’m guessing the games I have DM’d in the past are no great shakes either… but I took pretty thorough notes on what seemed to work (and what didn’t) and tried to improve. Plus I tried to write my own adventures. But I hated DMing 3.5e or 3e, especially when players wanted the whole suite of feat and skill ‘splat’ books… so I was always trying to push the players to more old school editions and/or Hackmaster 4e. My games seemed to be popular, however, when I was running them. But whenever I mention that I’m thinking of dusting off the old DM dice, some of the people running the existing games seem kind of down on it.

I guess I’m just fated to be a player for the forseeable future.



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