Monday, April 6, 2015

Checking Out Instead of Checking In

This morning I was reading Killing Off Raise Dead by MythicParty (MP) from the blog Dungeon Mastering. In the article MP wrote:
“Ok guys, just bring me back when you’ve Teleported us to the capital city and found a high enough level caster.  I’ve got enough money in gems to cover the costs.  Sorry for that dumb move, I always forget about AoO.”  Darwidian’s unperturbed player then closes down his license of the group’s Hero Lab software, opens up a pinball game on his iPad, and proceeds to quietly occupy himself for the remainder of the evening while the rest of the group goes right on with the adventure.

So this more or less literally happened in my last gaming session.  Our party unluckily was fighting not 1, but 2 glabrezu thanks to their 20% summoning ability.  The Rogue tried to protect the Cleric & Wizard, but in the process of moving to engage the enemy, instead got sliced/diced.  He died pretty early in the night, then nonchalantly played a video game the rest of the time.  Why?  Well he knows his character is coming back, and, after a few thousand extra GP, with no worse the wear.  No reason to break a sweat, let alone be upset about it.  And a rather routine revival of characters is pretty much the case for every edition of D&D. (Killing Off Raise Dead)
At this point MP begins to lament the ease with which players can be brought back into the game and how doing so makes death meaningless. For MP the solution was to take the game into a 1 life and it's done situation which, the theory goes, would increase the tension and attentiveness of the players. Yet that doesn't address the central problem of the article: that once Darwidian was out of play that they checked out of the game. 

Keeping your players involved in the game, even when they're out of the action, is the hardest part of being a Dungeon Master. It's too easy to get wrapped up in Micheal's exploration of the ancient tomb while everyone else has to sit around twiddling their thumbs. For years I struggled with this problem testing out lots of solutions that I read online, heard from my friends, or was told at game shops by self-important clerks who were convinced that they knew everything that could happen or would ever happen in a role-playing game.

It was suggested that I eliminate certain spells, limit players to a single life, make the players pay more money, treat death like a joke, forget about people's spacial relationships, prevent players from exploring as they wish by manufacturing reason why they must stay together, and even make dying a timed thing where they players automatically come back after an hour or so of real time. In the end none of these worked for me as none of them actually address the problem: what do you do with the kid sitting there with nothing to do.

I've mentioned before (see It May Be Easy, But That Doesn't Mean I Can Do It Right for more) that I like to use my Arneson Rule for players out of the action and the more I've used it over the years the more I'm convinced that it's the best solution for keeping players out of the action involved. 
The Arneson Rule:
When combat occurs any player not involved in the encounter is given control of the monsters involved. If multiple players are not involved in the encounter than the monstrous group will be divided up among them as the Game Master decides.
One of the things that I really enjoy doing is allowing the players to push things in directions that I wouldn't normally take them by letting them play NPCs involved in the action. I can't tell you how much fun it is when one of them plays a guard and takes a notion to tell the King (played by me or another player) that the thief has been spotted doing what thieves do. Or when they play rival Guild Masters battling to hire a player character for their own nefarious ends.

The more I've used this rule since I first made it the more firmly I've become convinced that it's the best way to keep everyone engaged in the action and preventing anyone from checking out at the table. It's a fun, easy to implement change that pays off big dividends. Try it out for yourself!


  1. In my best Graham Chapman "hollywood director" voice impression: "I-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i love it!"

  2. In my best Graham Chapman "hollywood director" voice impression: "I-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i love it!"

  3. Don't forget: in the earliest games the monsters were played by PCs. Only later did DA run out of volunteers to play the bad guys.
    The DM wears several hats: scenario builder, judge and controlling the monsters. I feel like a good case could be made that DMing should always be a 2 man job!

    1. I would love to play in a game with a 2 man team running the game!


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