Monday, October 31, 2016

GM Rule #1: Always Review Characters Before Starting A Campaign

I'd like to tell you a story I came across on a Reddit page a little over a year ago. Players were giving advice, and telling stories of the dumbest moments they've seen at a table. One fellow brought a dwarven warrior to the table. He was deeply religious, as many warriors are, and he fought for his faith. The game had been going for some time, when said dwarf opted to crush an enemy's head with his hammer, rather than accept what he suspected was a dubious attempt at surrender. The DM then went into a big song and dance about how he felt his connection to his god slipping, and how the powers Torag had granted him had deserted him.

There was just one problem... the character didn't have any paladin levels. He was just a fighter.

Who, me? Nah, mate, I just work here.
This story was amusing, in that, "lol, the DM got so caught up in trying to make the paladin fall that he didn't even check to see if he was a paladin," kind of way, but I kept seeing other stories like this. Players who just show up to the table with no prior discussion of what they're playing, and who start rolling dice without once talking to the DM. I've also heard stories of DMs who just tell their players to, "bring whatever," and start a session without so much as glancing over the characters who were participating. The storyteller, in these cases, is finding out about the PCs at the same rate the rest of the party is.

Now, if you want to do that, more power to you. However, you're setting yourself up for serious problems.

Know Thy Challengers

The idea of just starting a game without talking to your players about their concepts, and looking over their sheets, is ludicrous. At the very least, running a game means you should make sure everyone followed the character creation rules you discussed in Session 0. This session is, of course, where you tell your crew what game you're playing, what limits are placed on character options and available books, and make suggestions on tone, styles, etc. More on why you should have one of these intro sessions can be found in The Importance of "Session 0" in Your Tabletop Games.

Goddammit, Steve, why are you playing an awakened bear?
Beyond checking everyone's math, and making sure no one decided to play as a frost giant or a mongrelman without permission, you also need to get a sense of what it is you're working with. This is true in a story aspect, since it pays to know that the alchemist has no interest in money, but he is something of a sucker for saving defenseless innocents, but it's also true in a mechanical aspect. For example, if you are planning on ambushing your party with a band of orcs, and there's a ranger with orc as a favored enemy, then you might need to alter the fight to ensure it doesn't end in two rounds. Maybe that means adding an extra ambusher, or using a template on the leader so he can stand up to the ranger, but regardless, you need to know what characters are starring in your story.

Can you run a game just trusting your players to abide by the rules, do their math correctly, and have them reveal to you the types of characters they're playing piecemeal? You can. You can also drive a car blind-folded. Even if you think you know where you're going, and you've driven the route a thousand times before, there's a much better chance that you'll plow into a wall if you can't see where you're going.

So why run a game with a blindfold on if you don't have to? Especially since you, and your players, would likely enjoy getting to the end of the campaign a lot more than you would crashing and burning due to unexpected circumstances in the third session. Plan out the long-game, and you're a lot more likely to get where you want to be. Incorporate the PCs' stories, abilities, and achievements into the game, and your players will never want it to end.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. I don't think this is a controversial position to take, but who knows, I've been proven wrong before. As always, if you'd like to get more content like this, why not support Improved Initiative by putting a little bread in my jar? Just go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and become a patron. As little as $1 a month goes a surprisingly long way. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet, well, why not start?


  1. this is why i tell my GM's up front about my reskins. such as Reskinning a half-elf as a childlike half-nymph because the racials are similar enough, that the half-elf mechanical package could be used to represent a half-nymph.

    if you didn't ask me what character i was bringing, it would be safe to assume, but not guaranteed that i am playing a childlike female member of a humanoid fey species.

    however, for most players, you can't really make such an easy assumption, nor can you make assumptions of me when you ban me from playing children, fey, or women.

  2. DM: *Doesn't check what everyone is playing*
    Player: *Brought a Level 10 Storm Giant Arcane Archer with a Magic Quiver*

    1. my problem isn't that it is an arcane archer that isn't an elf or that it has a magic quiver of bottomless arrows. but rather, that it is a storm giant among a party consisting of members of much less powerful species.

  3. Vampiric Eldritch Knights, Goliath Barbarians, Drider Rangers, and naked Half-Orc Monks. I've seen some thing.