Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't Cross This Line. Okay, Don't Cross This Line.



When I first started running Dungeons and Dragons I wanted to be the best Dungeon Master that anyone had ever played under. I read what blogs there were on the subject, scoured forums, and listened to all the Dungeon Masters I knew as they told me their 'secrets.' I hoped that by doing all of this research that I would be able to be as great a Dungeon Master as I imagined all these others were. 

After spending nearly two years researching different styles of Dungeon Mastering I discovered what I thought was a hidden truth. The best and most exciting games I had been involved in, and read about, all had Dungeon Masters who seemingly never said the word "No." When the realization hit me I decided that I would never refuse my players; and like a fool I announced my decision to my players. They smiled at me and I had the sinking feeling that I had just fucked up.

The next night the gloves came off. They murdered and tortured their way though the underground kingdom of Goblins. It was a game within the game with my players attempting to find something that would force me to stop saying yes. 

In the end, as a group, we discovered that the lines none of us would cross should have been obvious to all of us from the beginning: rape and harm to little kids. Since that time there have been a few other points where I didn't like what was going on and stopped it - like the time one of the players was getting picked on through the game - but in general those are the two lines that none of us are willing to cross.

What about you? What things in your games are the lines in the sand that you won't cross?

25 comments:

  1. Like you, rape, hurting any kids, human, demi-human or monster even, sex, romance. As I've said before, I've played in games that have all of that, and to me, it just makes me uncomfortable. Not so much that it affects my senses, but I know that some of those topics will be affecting someone in the group. I want everyone to have fun. Everyone. This is my number one rule. If I allow anything that reduces the fun for me or just one of my players, I feel that I've failed as a DM.

    I think the best DMs are the ones that say "yes", most of the time. But like you just related, letting your players know that you'll say yes to anything, then they will do their best to run roughshod over everything you've worked hard on. So yeah, say yes, MOST of the time, but don't freak out over saying no every now and again.

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    1. "If I allow anything that reduces the fun for me or just one of my players, I feel that I've failed as a DM."

      Absolutely!

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  2. Yeah... Obvious acts of true depravity just aren't fun. Sexuality isn't for my game. Romance is more of an "off screen" back story element. I allowed a character to date an NPC because it could be beneficial to the story, but it was all outside of game play. He defined the parameters of the relationship with the NPC and let me know out of character what the connection would be. That was fine by me. She became an ally/patron of the party.

    I did throw a Kobold nursery into a lair to see how my players would react. They actually released the mothers and children. It did start a bit of a "are demi-humans evil (nature) or is it upbringing (nurture)" debate. I don't do that kind of thing often, but sometimes exploring the grey shades can be interesting.

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    1. I think that grey areas are only fun when you have clearly defined areas of good and bad. When those are just as grey then it all just becomes blah.

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  3. On a somewhat related note, I had a game where two players were picking on a 3rd player "in character". I didn't realize it was getting bad until one night the 3rd player got really irritated and snapped at the others out of character. It should never have gotten to that point and I should have intervened privately with the other two well before then.

    He eventually quit the game due to life / time constraints, but I think it was in no small part because of my other players. I specifically asked him about that, but he said it wasn't that. I feel guilty to this day that I didn't do more to make sure my game was a happy space for all my players.

    In character party tension is fine as long as everyone is actually role-playing that tension (that doesn't exist out of game) and it's not just bullying in disguise.

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    1. I had a similar situation developing once back in '06 when one of my players elected to play a dwarf he named "Meat Shield." He made himself a target and while the first night was fun for everyone - him included - the next night when it started I stopped it before it could become a regular thing. He might have been looking to be a joke for one night, but nobody deserves to be one every night.

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  4. It seems to me that there's a disconnect between the question you're asking [As a DM are there character actions I won't allow?] and the body of the post where you discuss your players' reaction when you did allow them. The question isn't so much what actions I will allow, as what actions will my group tolerate? As part of normal social processes, people violating the group norms will become marginalized and eventually excluded from the group. My groups, like yours and Jim Haltom's, don't put up with that behavior because it's not fun for us.

    I'd really be curious to hear from someone, whose group accepts that behavior, and find out what sort of mechanics they use for it. Do they have tables for butchery and read off gory descriptions of the die roll? How do they role play violence against defenseless creatures? What's the player getting out of it?

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    1. I haven't really heard from anyone that accepted it. A few people told me that they've never had it come up and then opined that they couldn't imagine it bothering them - which is odd to me.

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  5. I had a group decide to play evil one time. My plan was to have an NPC hire the group to recapture some lost slave children, whereupon I figured the group would rebel, kill the NPC, and start ridding the city of other crime figures. Surprise! They took the job and went through with it, and for awhile after that, I kept throwing them into murkier and murkier water, looking for some hint of in-character moral limits. Oddly, market forces intervened. The group did take over the city, after which they quickly realized treating their subject well was more profitable than the reverse. In the end, the campaign became something of a Stronghold game, with the PCs essentially running a police state that enjoyed widespread but not universal popular support.

    My need to work economics into everything is probably not healthy.

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    1. I have to admit, that sounds like it would be one of the best campaigns! I love games like that!

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  6. explicit sex scenes,... other than that I am all good

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    1. The explicit sex scenes are a bit of a drag . . .

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  7. The best advice when it comes to knowing when or when not to "crossing the line" comes from the old Vampire Storyteller's Handbook (2e):

    "A good Storyteller shouldn't assail her players; she should be reluctant to offend them, because that changes the whole landscape of why we play the game in the first place.... It sometomes works to give a game a rating system, namely, 'Hey, everybody, tonight's installment is going to be very intense, I'd give it an NC-17. Do you think you can handle that?' (Not 'be comfortable with,' handle).'"

    Then, when a certain scene comes along, you give the player a chance to duck out for bit.

    While not perfect, this guideline has worked for me over the years.

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  9. This is very interesting.

    There are no stated lines my players and I won't cross. That is to say, nothing has ever been discussed to that effect, and the subject has never come up. Ever. In 37 years of gaming.

    I think part of the reason for this is that I tend to game with people who share the same sensibilities, with me and with each other. As GM I wouldn't mention or bring up some of the taboos you and others have mentioned, mainly because I have no interest in making them a part of my game. Likewise, my players and their PCs don't engage in any of those behaviors because they have no interest in those sort of things either.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that may be because I run and play mostly Superheroes and Science Fiction of the Star Trek and Star Wars variety. Those things just don't come up.

    The one area I find particularly curious to hear that people avoid is romance. While graphic sex is not something we address, romance has played apart in my campaigns, in pretty much every genre, dating back to the early-to-mid 80s.

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    1. It could be that your area is different as well?

      I've been thinking about this a lot since you and I have been talking about these sorts of differences between our play styles. I don't think it's just the games we prefer. It could be the communities that we come from? I don't know. I just think there has to be more to it than just the games.

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  10. None of the group I play with have ever gone to any of these places but:
    explicit sex just doesn't come up.
    Rape or or by a character will never have a place in my game.
    Neither will violence against children.
    Players picking on players has never really come up luckily, though I have seen it as a player and it sucks> I used to have a friend that would always find ways to kill another friends characters.. always.. it was stupid and annoying, but it was not in my game.


    That's for player actions.
    I woudl imply that a very bad guy might have done very bad things, but it woudl be off screen and it woudl be an implication not a role-played descriptive scene, There are times when nuanced inplicationof evil is just as effective as a description of evil.

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    1. Oooh! Off screen violence is the best kind because your players will always come up with something worse than what you had in mind! It's the best. :D

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  11. Imaginary lines that can't be crossed? I don't think there are any. Yeah some things might get the "fade to black" treatment because the people I play with aren't terrible people but sometimes the characters they play are. I suppose reveling in and joking about the fake sick stuff would be a line we don't cross.

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  12. That's an interesting question. I like it when there is romance in the game but I don't want to hear any lurid details. I'm perfectly happy when the GM just briefly describes you have a great night together. One GM had a percentage roll to see if you had fathered a child which I thought was neat.

    Recently I ran a virtual table top game where the scenario was a very bloody horror story. I was able to put in images of corpses and blood splatters. Since I was GMing for people I didn't know well I let them know it was R rated. I wanted to give them a chance to bow out if they were uncomfortable with that. Only a couple people questioned me, one said R rated for what? Which I thought was an excellent question so then I told everyone for blood and gore which everyone was fine with.

    One time the GM had my hot female Cyberpunk character raped by the bad guys. He didn't go into a lot of detail but I was very unhappy and stressed out. That character already had a history of mental problems so I decided it pushed her over the edge and she shot herself in the head.

    I find PVP very stressful in a regular game. Once my goody goody halfling Paladin tried to destroy an evil dagger (which he wasn't able to because he couldn't do enough damage). But one of the other players thought I was destroying their treasure and attacked me. That caused them to lose their character because it was against the rules which made me really uncomfortable.

    Phil

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    1. Really?

      I always find PVP to be something more of a necessary evil that can be entirely too much fun.

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  13. Maybe the "crossing the line" question goes back to your previous post about evil characters. Maybe the reason we get wussified BoVD "evil" is that players have the knowledge, even unconsciously, that to play a *truly* evil character you'd have to cross lines.

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  14. I tend to have very few lines I won't cross with the right method- Fades to black, avoiding PCs as targets for them, background info, fakeouts, or even just keeping it to the enemy as a method of fostering a sort of righteous rage against them.

    The real surprise is when the players of a campaign I run for villian PCs turn antihero when they get power- Taking over places in brutal ways, then turning those places into prosperous, mostly happy, but walled off communities. One of my favorite things the PCs did in such a campaign (steampunk arcana) was when they took over a town and then decided that services could be used to pay taxes in exchange for keeping 100% profits in a community.

    The end result was great. I decided that Service guilds and sellers of goods would flock to the town for it's tax policies, which let them keep large amounts of profits for themselves, while the town militia that they started recruiting ended up with whatever gear the merchants and craftsmen were able to make from materials they either had allocated to pay that tax, or which had been found by the group's player characters.

    Ultimately this campaign got really kicked into high gear when I started having the players have to alternate between defenses, town management, and linking mana nodes to the town's own to enhance the town's arcane resonance (which took the form of dungeon crawls into sacred places where these nodes resided). The players put a priority on scouts, militia, and trade for the town before their own characters needs, because it was a sound strategy. I have a feeling that if I'd stayed in washington to host this, they'd have gotten to the point of making an empire that would eventually have annexed the game's "big bad" empire and plot device. Luckily by this point I'd mapped the linked planes to this game's setting, their traits and their reasons for existence.

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