Monster Manual: The Lost Soul


The great gamers who bear the title Gamemaster are responsible for the constant flow of the adventure. They must make sure the players get every opportunity to succeed and ensure the game is consistent. For some, this means tossing dice until someone dies. For others, it involves tossing the rulebook out the window. In the end, we strive to run a smooth and exciting adventure for all who sit before us.

The great gamers who bear the title Gamemaster are responsible for the constant flow of the adventure. They must make sure the players get every opportunity to succeed and ensure the game is consistent. For some, this means tossing dice until someone dies. For others, it involves tossing the rulebook out the window. In the end, we strive to run a smooth and exciting adventure for all who sit before us.

Unfortunately, there is a strange anomaly which occasionally inflicts our Gamemasters. It floats in through door cracks and hides under the bed. It bides it time well, waiting patiently as the GM starts to prepare an adventure. Then, with vicious intent, the horrid spirit known as "The Lost Soul" attacks!

The dice are thrown. Andrew and Kim anxiously lean closer with clenched teeth and white knuckles. The two odd shaped dice bounce a few times, and then stop dead on the greasy pizza box. The nervous players glance up at the Gamemaster as he concentrates on his Adventure book. The GM quickly flips the page to interpret the roll. Then he thumbs through a few more pages. Andrew and Kim both moan in unison as the GM fumbles in and out of four source books and a torn binder. The Lost Soul has struck again.

Struggling to create order in a realm of chaos is a key element in running a game. A mismanaged session is often frustrating for players, and even worse for the GM A little preparation can usually separate the good from the great when it comes to Gamemasters. Thankfully, there are a few tricks a GM can use to ward off the Lost Soul.

Rules, rules, rules

Memorizing the rules can be difficult for any game. It requires hours of concentration and review, but it can be very rewarding. For most of the population on the other hand, memorizing is more like a root canal. When dealing with many books and supplements, rules can cause headaches, stress, and often drop the GM's self-confidence. While this was not the intent of the game company, additional source books and editions will always cause confusion.

The experienced GM will often use a Gamemaster's Table. This is usually a laminated or pressed cardboard foldout of updated rules and charts. Bought or made, this is an invaluable tool of any Gamemaster. It is also a good practice to read the adventure in advance, looking for any extra rules which might be used. Some GMs photocopy specific pages, or house rules, and then attach them to the foldout with a paperclip.

What in the world... ?

Role-Players play games that interest them. Science fiction and fantasy top the list of categories, but there are many fascinating genres of gaming (like Gothic, Mystery, and World War genres). In the end, it usually comes down to the reality of the game world.
More is often better in gaming. Countless computer downloads and magazine articles have been integrated into most gaming worlds. It is for this reason a GM must make: The Book. Often a binder or scrapbook, this is where the game conforms to will of the Gamemaster. For every new city, combat rule, or pantheon of gods, The Book must be informed. The Book can be as vital to the GM as the rulebook or adventure sheets, featuring custom histories, legends, and maps. The Book will grow and shrink as new ideas replace old ideas, thus forming the unique character of the gaming world.

Where am I?

Some gamers can recall every detail of the adventure, and others forget their characters' names the moment the pizza arrives. Two essential aspects of all campaigns are the Session Notes, and the Adventure Log. While many supplements come with a basic outline, it is important to mention all of the events which didn't work out as planned. Weird encounters, unorthodox actions, or even an unexpected twist should be noted in the Session Notes. Many of these exciting sub-plots and improvisation are the heart of a well-played character, and lead to adventures of their own. Once the adventure has been played, the Session Notes for a specific group of characters should be kept together. This creates a great big journal of stories and a great reference tool.

At the end of the day (usually the next morning), the gamers all stretch and groan with content. The gathering is over and players leave, chatting about what they want to do next time. The GM closes the books and heads for bed. Before slipping out of those sticky clothes, update the Adventure log. Use the Session Notes and dig out the permanent information that may influence future adventures. When a player meets a nameless non-player character, such as a villager, the GM has to think quickly to instantly build a profile. Sometimes, the players will befriend this character, or maybe even kill it. Relationships have to be consistent. Dead characters should stay dead, unless it is undead. Have a list of characters in your Adventure log.

Even veteran Gamemasters can be vulnerable to the wicked powers of the Lost Soul. There are many who believe much of the extra stuff in role-playing is trivial. This assumption can be just as dangerous as inexperience. To a Gamemaster, there are two adventures in every session: The expected, and the unexpected. To a player there is only the unexpected. The extra stuff is often the best stuff.

As long as there are dreams, there will be gamers. As for those daring enough to weave these worlds of fancy: you need to be ready. Tell a great story, keep good books, and vanquish the Lost Soul from your gaming.

"To a Gamemaster, there are two adventures in every session: The expected, and the unexpected. "

The first (the expected) ends the moment your players start talking and making choices. In my experience the "expected" part of the game means: "I expected the bastards to do... but instead they...."

So now, I expect them to surprise me and I create non-linear adventure where all that is prepared are locations, character profiles and some not so random encounters. The rest is all improvised on the fly and many rules get bent in the process because I don't know all the rules by heart yet.

The best GM's are those who can whip up the illusion of a cohesive adventure out of the chaos the players create out of what he/she "expected".

The gamebinder is a great tool. I will soon have to buy a palm for my job, guess what secondary use that little gizmo will serve?

Nice article by the way.

I keep a binder for each group, and it works pretty good.

Jabberwocky: "There are many who believe much of the extra stuff in role-playing is trivial"

I love fact I can keep track of the "exta stuff", they add depth to the game and turn into great spin-offs.

Any tips to help a more experienced writer?

oh, BTW, I liked the analogy with the ghost :)

"Any tips to help a more experienced writer?"

Do you mean 'writer,' or GM? I'm sure Gamegrene readers can give you plenty of advice on writing, playing, and/or gaming. However, your question does seem to lack clarity.

Sorry, I do mean gm. Not writer.
I must have done a froidian slip. I want to be a writer, artist, musician... but I'm not good at any of them (yet).
I wanted to ask Gamegrene writers if they had any organizing tips. Maybe if there is organizing computer programs or something.

Sorry for not responding right away, long weekend fro me.

The Game Binder should have:

A quick PC reference chart (including spot checks, saves, Damage resistances etc.)
A campaign calendar (birthdays, religious holidays, certain events)
A few npc names.
Names of the Inns and other locales the PCs go to.
Loose ends that can become adventure hooks later on.
Ready to use "not so random encounters".
Premade players handouts and monster / room / artifact / NPC renderings.
All the premade strategies you have thought up for your vilains and allies.
All those campaign notes you scrible on pieces of paper and loose later on.
All the extra xp awards you note down to give after the session or the adventure is over.
The adventure you are running.
All the home made rules and judgement calls that have been accepted as law on your table. ex: Monty Cook's version of the Ranger replacing the bland and unexplained free feats version of the original 3rd edition.
Whatever YOU and YOUR players need to run a smoother game.

For the binder I strongly recommend those that are made into a simily leather holdster that has a zipper that enables you to close it (this way no pieces of paper fall out).

God is in the details.

More players get a tangible taste of a locale through a simple throwaway line about what the weather is like (strangely GM's forget it), than they do in 5 pages of backstory that the players will never see. What season is it? Are there festivals? It's nice to do this because it gives a bit of local flavour for a campaign, and makes these places come alive. So much of the game is spent in the dungeon battling demons, it's nice to contrast the horror against the light, so players understand what they are fighting for.

I like to keep a list of NPCs too, and what they are like. If the party met Grillo the Skillet at the Saucy Wench Inn last time, I'd like to have him cooking his victuals there next time, with maybe a different story to tell.

Also, I don't allow anything but the 3 core books and their errata anymore. There's enough choice within them to keep us busy for a long, long time. Cross referencing all these other texts is just tedious. Lots to know, for very little gain.

Actually I use somewhat the same restrictions as Nephandus except I (underline the I) select what is taken from each book I allow (usually only the class books and the specific campaign books. No Ravenloft outside Ravenloft, same goes for Greyhawk, FR and Sword and Sorcery.

I like what Nephandus said about weather and festivals.
I like using weather to symbolize certain moods (oh, like you never tried). I also like to keep stuff like famous theater players, or fables around. Anything i think up on the fly really.

I don't allow the classbooks anymore. Kaput!

-I don't think they are balanced, either with monsters or with players who don't use class books
-they requiremore cross referencing, so I have to trade pace for choice
-there are already more combo choices in the core books already than we will ever be able to play
-nobody buys all the class books, so those who buy more end up getting advantages over those who don't
-nobody reads all the books, and if you do, it's way more rules than you need to know to play the game

I like to keep it simple. I'd rather everyone bought their own Greyhawk or FR supplement to help them get to know the setting, rather than wasting money on 'extra rules' in classbooks. I find players to be very tedious when they close the PH after the first enthusiastic read, using it only as a guide of what *not* to play.

Actually Nephandus I half agree with you on the class books. Most of the classes therein aren't much use (except as NPC's) although some of them are very nice. In our Monday Evil Campaign, the DM has made the Fists of Hextor into the Fists of Bane an elite order of bloody maniacs in the service of the church. becoming one has become the focus of one of the player's character development. It adds life to the campaign just as having a calendar and festivals and recuring NPC's do.
The Inquisitor is soooo nice as an NPC we've faced some of these zealots when we were playing good characters and are very nervous at the prospect of meeting one now that we are evil…
I for one have all the books I allow in my game. Never have I refused to lend a book to a player (except for the monster books and other DM only books) Some prestige classes are barred others aren't (hey some of them are even from the DMG).

I even disallow some multiclassing when I think it has no logical basis, especially if I suspect munchkinism is afoot. Actually that is the main reason why I don't allow the official version of the Ranger and only the one from Monty Cook's site.

I don't agree with your assessment that the players who have more books have an edge over those who don't, well unless they don't even have the PHB. Unlike the Clanbooks of White Wolf or the Army Codexes of WH 40K, the class books don't give an edge only to you. They actually give one to all the players since they don't apply only to your class (many things in Defenders of the Faith are good for anyclass just as the feats in Song and Silence or Sword and Fist).
In Vampire, for example, where only certain clans can use certain exclusive disciplines or use common disciplines in a certain way, the feats are often available to all player classes. Also, many prestige classes are more easily attained if your are multi-classed.
But most of all the main ballance factor is that most prestige classes aren't as versatile as non-prestige classes. Rogues lose some abilities, casters progress more slowly or gain some restriction on their available spells. Also, having all your feats and most of your skills focussed on becoming a certain prestige class while another player devellops his/her own custom fit character that his/her style of play can be seen a major drawback. Which is why becoming some of the most powerfull prestige classes (like the Guild Mage, the Red Wizard and the Stormlord) are hard choices to make.

Anywho, to each his own I guess.

Chaos and joy be with you

My players have always had a range of investment in the game - both in time and money. I enjoy having a mix of people who are and who aren't familiar (actually, I prefer people who have little nostalgiac investment in previous editions - few arguments as people try to invoke outdated rules and habits).

As such, certain gung ho players are always more apt to be first to ask for the "extra books", to discover more options. In the past, when I've allowed them, the new abilities were at best grudgingly accepted by the other players, who were challenged enough just learning the core rules. In practice, despite the fact that the books were available to anyone for borrowing, most players agreed that we should all be playing the SAME game, and -especially for character generation - we should all have equal and simultaneous access to those rules. Loaning books out didn't cut it, and requiring people to buy them didn't cut it either.

As a DM, I want the fewest rules possible to make the game work, but I need them to be comprehensive enough to make it easy to rule on disputes. Extra books - filled with semi-playtested (if, at all) rules, grafted onto a meticulously crafted and sleek core system - it just isn't my bag. I don't have faith in them, and more importantly - I don't need them.

Are some of those mechanics good? I'll warrant that some may well be an improvement - but what do we have to trade to get to those nuggets? Cross-referencing, table searching, and rules arguments are a pace killer, and are more about redefining how to play a game, rather than actually just getting on with the playing.

I'd rather spend my precious finite time on a finely crafting a campaign, NPCs and adventures than spending it on learning extraneous mechanics. Seriously, they could go on ad finitum (and their business model says they will), grafting on new rules. At what point are you ready to say enough - we are happy with the game we've got?

What I want to see isn't extra rules. I want to see a quantum leap in the quality of materials for the adventures and settings themselves. I'd love to see campaigns that set adventures in sequential campaigns, starting small and ending big. I'd love to see 3 maps and illustrations in photrealistic quality. Remember the Tomb of Horrors? The gaming tokens are a great start. Let's see more of that kind of thinking. An initative tracker, modular player maps built to scale, displaying furniture and with the "secret parts" blotted out - anything that greases the pace by dropping downtime. Hell, even platicene molds to make Play-doh rats and kobolds, sold with the module they come with.

The problem is that they envision themselves as a publishing company, and not a gaming company. When 3e came out, they made a great deal about the philosophical idea of ripping out and deleting all the extra stuff and making the core stuff work better. My suggestions are right in line with that thinking.

Of course, new business pressures exist now - forcing them to publish more. The thing is, as a player and consumer, my duty is not to support WOTC and Hasbro; I'm here to play and to be entertained. It is their duty to support me in that endeavor. At the moment, I think they are supporting only collectors. I understand why they are pushing all this extra stuff, but that doesn't mean it helps me play better. On the contrary, I think it makes the game less fun, in the big picture.

But, as you say, each to their own.

I'm right there with I'd much rather have high quality modules and campaign suplements than more rulebooks, here here.

Speaking of neat products, remember the Night Below? That was a nice box, lotsa players' handouts, nice monster cards, etc. With Rod of Seven parts, probably the best Boxed module done for 2E.

Plasticene kobolds and rats… I'll ask my artist girlfriend, that is such a brilliant idea. Instead of having to buy all the figs or using counters… plasticine mobs… kind of allows you to rip em to shreds and squish them too, just like gummy bears but better for cavities.

I too woudl like to get: "An initative tracker, modular player maps built to scale, displaying furniture and with the "secret parts" blotted out - anything that greases the pace by dropping downtime."

Since I don't get them I make them… with what little time remains for that. I hope they get their act together before I have children otherwise my gaming tables are gonna suffer alot more.

Consistency is important, I think, but not quite as important as most GMs make it out to be. Nearly every inconsistency is recoverable, if the GM thinks quickly on his feet. For example, a dead NPC could be raised from the dead or been "mistakenly" determined to be dead. Spells can have variations or mitigating factors; weapons do different amount of damage based on the user's skill or lack of skill or some variation in the weapon manufacture. Wounds can appear very bad but later determined to have missed vital arteries. Most players will swallow quite a bit this nonsense, not even realizing that the GM made a mistake.

But, no doubt, binders and attempting to be consistent is very important. A game binder is certainly a good idea but your style will dictate whether it is large or small and what kinds of things you might have in it (although other comments have certainly provided good ideas). But a very consistent game does not necessarily mean a very enjoyable game.

I also think that many GMs over-emphasize providing uniform rules and approved books. An unorthodox alternative is to allow everything and just deal with the really heinous (or annoying) situations on a case-by-case basis. Lots of players have been GMs before; they will often police themselves. Players who have no sense of balance or are munchkins usually quit the game in a few sessions, anyway. Villains who are destroyed can easily be replaced and so on, too, if the munchkin disturbs the game. Again, it may not be for everybody but, generally, if players are told to use their own judgement, nothing bad usually happens. (Of course, a GM does give up some degree of control. He may not be pleased that some hither-to unknown class suddenly appears in his game and it is a little scary. But, a lot of times, these are false alarms. The unbalanced-looking rule may be unbalanced but doesn't cause much trouble because, often, individual PCs don't have as much power and influence compared with what the NPCs are doing, what the other PCs are doing and what the larger forces in your campaign world are causing.)

Yep, there's been a few times where I've glossed over a minor point of consistency if only to speed the pace. But players will never allow that kind of fudging in a mortal battle when their character's life is on the line. That's a big problem in climax battles, where players are expected to be more creative tactically. Too often, I've found that "creativity" involves retreating into obscure tomes and texts, rather than engaging the battlefield and the other characters. The game just hits a brick wall when this happens, and always at the most exciting moments.

It's ok to boot munchkins from a game, but isn't it just easier to restrict the booklist that caters to them? That way, you don't have to deal with the problem of telling a good friend that you don't want to play with her, or, at least she can decide before she's in if she wants to play "core rules only" or not.

When there are more permutations in the core rules than can be played, how is it better to bring those other books into the game?

Hmm, good points. I am only saying, "There is an alternative which may or may not work for you." That is, I'd caution GMs not assume that there will be a problem and leap into creating a solution.

In my case, my campaign seems to avoid problems without using the solutions mentioned.

Perhaps I've been fortunate. Nearly every player that I've played with recently has said, "I don't want to be a rules lawyer but here's such and such rule. I just wanted to point it out to you. But you are the GM and your word is law so if you don't agree, please ignore me." And, I usually reply either, "Let's try it out and, if we have balance problems, I'll let you know" or "I tried it before and I don't think that it is a good rule." If the player insists even though they can tell that I don't like the rule, I say, "Ok, go ahead." And, usually, after a session or two, they say, "This feels like cheating. I'm going to change back." It seems that, by making rules lawyering and cheating easy, nobody wants to do it. They seem to want to feel like they are getting away with something. And, when people first join, they tend to be quiet and, when they see that nobody else is rules lawyering, they feel self-conscious about doing so.

When munchkins come to the game, they show up for a session or two and then leave voluntarily without being asked. If a person is a munchkin, it is a real drag to play with non-munchkins. Once again, easily getting away with the behavior seems to make the behavior much less fun.

Maybe, as a GM, I'm a bit crazy. Forget about approved books, I don't even have an approved edition; I let players use whatever edition of the game that they want. When PCs arrive at a door and try to open it, some roll d20s (2nd Ed. AD&D) and some roll d6s (1st Ed. AD&D). If the roll succeeds according to the corresponding edition, the door is opened. So far, it hasn't harmed the game which is finishing up its 2nd year.

To new players, I try to stress that I have limited time: I can spend time improving plots/action or I can spend time organizing/approving/debating rules. I'd rather make the game good and let each player patrol himself. Dealing with a few troublesome rules after the fact is a good trade for the time that I save.

But, then again, maybe I've just been lucky.

You have great players dmhoward. My experience is that easy cheats cause will cause an arms race between players, where the only group that benefits is WOTC, and within a year, the game is a supernova Monty Haul. Mechanically minded players will sooner engage the rules than they will the scenario. I also found that those who didn’t buy into the extra books were quick to grumble afterwards that it wasn’t quite fair, even though they were too polite to mention it in game. It might correct itself if we played every week, but we’ve always had trouble even getting together once a month.
You and your players have agreed that your laissez-faire and somewhat arbitrary approach to the “game” portion of the activity works for you, and that’s great. It sounds like you have more than enough enjoyment from the story in which you are all participating.
The majority of my players, however, enjoy a strong tactical element along with the story, and that relies a lot on consistency within the rules structure – a belief that fundamental elements will behave similarly in similar situations. If this base structure is not predictable, it renders tactical decisions pointless. The rules are there to smooth away the incompatibilities in everyone’s vision of how the story should turn out, and to give players the power to predict likely outcomes, to some degree, judging whether one course of action is better than another in a fight. Without them, you have no game (which is fine, if that’s what you want to do).
That’s why, rather than organizing, approving, or debating new rules, I stick to the core rules. Our most enjoyable games have combined a zeal for core rules, while excluding munchkin players, especially those who continually resort to prior editions (which is really a different game that uses similar subject matter). In fact, we banned all other editions from the table.

But there are other ways to do this, and I have found that the loose approach works with some success in very loosely structured semi improv games, like Mage and Vampire. But it begs the question, if you applied a good game design to those settings, wouldn't they be even better?

I can really imagine those scenarios occurring. I don't know why they do not occur in my group.

I can only offer a few more details and hope that we can figure out why I have not needed the same solutions.

In general, I do emphasize that players should not concern themselves with other players particularly. If some other player "cheats", it helps the party, right? I ask. What does it matter to you if so-and-so does this or that? The point, I continue, is for the party to work together, not compete against one another. Don't look at it as "so-and-so did this" but as "here's my PC; what am I going to do?"

Some players do spend a lot of time on tactics. Tactics are still possible, although they often are common sense tactics than rules-based tactics. Many things can still be counted on. For example, a PC with great strength will more likely open a stuck door than a weak PC, even if rules from editions are different for each PC.

Could you give me a tactic that requires precise rules and that you want to encourage in the game? (I add the "you want to encourage" clause because tactics that rely on precise rules can involve heady calculations and protractors which are not exactly desirable in a game.) If I'm inhibitting my players by allowing lots of rules flexibility, I'd like to know.

Man either you have an IQ of 678 or you have great faith in your players'. I've had too many cheaters ruin it for everyone to allow as much flexibility as you (not even using the same system for all the players…)

But I do admit that your participative referee system seems nice and sound a bit like what I do. Some players propose rule changes to me from time to time and I accept or not depending on how it sounds to me. Attacks of opportunity, Rangers, sneak attacks and some feats have been edited to better suit the group's need.

But as far as whole new rules are concerned, they have to be essential for me to consider them. For example, psionics are banned from our games as well as the Book of Vile darkness and other books that should only be applied to a perticular game. Some other rules need only be applied if one plays in a specific universe or campaign, Ravenloft can hardly be played using the normal core rules, some things need to be added. City of the Spider Queen requires a "level of security" rule to work. Many of your home made adventures will require you to make things on the fly such as: intoxication levels or the effects of smoke on breathing, shooting and seeing, etc. What do you do if your wizard wants a rabbit, a newt or a poodle as a familiar? Do you refuse or make something up on the fly?

Nephandus is right though, stopping the mother of all battles to sift through the rulebooks is at best corny. I try to stop that, soo much that I've once had to fudge a character's resurection after the fact, because we had missed a rule that would have allowed him to survive. But all in all it still made a good story so…

Mind you, tactics aren't such a part of the game if you only apply core rules. Missile fire is plain stupid, your arrows don't hit anything between you and your target and don't continue to fly after they've missed. Shooting in a crowd is just as hard as shooting one person according to the core rules.
Predetermined synergy just doesn't cut it, unless you make it work like they did in Star Wars.
Fireballs don't expand anymore, lightning bolts don't bounce, it's just as dumb as Diablo. I mean encircling your ennemies and shooting at them isn't a risky thing in 3E core rules. But normally, every arrow that missed would likely have a chance to hit someone else no?

All that being said and some dumb rules asside, I've found that many players aren't so tactically inclined as I would like them to be. When the game gets too deadly they get discouraged and quit instead of trying to think things through.

Good tactics vs bad tactics is debatable. I mean with the amount of luck involved in the game, no matter how good or bad a plan is the dice will enventually decide the outcome more than the quality of the plan itself.
I also find that the least tactically inclined players are usually the luckiest ones and vice-versa.

Chaos be with you

I have to say that I've drifted more and more towards Nephandus' point of view over the years. As DM, I'll use any and all of the books that I own. However I tend to limit my players to the core books. I've spent to much time over the years with players asking if they can play x class from y book that can only be found at z store on the continent of Atlantis between the hours of midnight and one am on nights of the full moon when the wind blows from the south.


I agree wholeheartedly, still there are exceptions right?

There is a difference between taking the Quintessential Fighter and allowing the Magic of Faerun in your Forgotten Realms Campaign.

And even then, if you played an all dwarf campaign, a specialized book of dwarves could add flavour to the campaign.

I admit though that as a rule of thumb we tend to forbid the use of most extra rulebooks (especially if they are very obscure or from the net). As a DM though, I like to look at these things if only to contemplate possible ways to run my game

Dmhoward: If some other player "cheats", it helps the party, right? I ask. What does it matter to you if so-and-so does this or that? The point, I continue, is for the party to work together, not compete against one another.

Nephandus: I see the benefit of taking the wide-view on this, but perhaps I take wider view than is immediately apparent. Whenever a player exploits a cheat or a loophole to gain an advantage, rather than applying his tactical skill toward the scenario – using what is available to him, that it cheapens the victory for everyone (just as if a DM blatantly fudged or revoked a roll). It stamps a giant asterisk and fine print beside everything we do as a group. As with any game, does the pleasure of playing it come from simulating the end condition or appearance of a victory such as a puck in the net, a dead ogre, checkmate, no matter how it is achieved? Or does more pleasure come from the process of testing one’s self or one’s team against a challenge, even if one loses?

But the point you made above is a valid one, shared by many players including me to some extent. Most players want to have a special and unique contribution in a group, with an equal and valuable contribution. This is what teamwork in the game is to me. When some players are afforded more choices or advantages than others, I find that it upsets the team dynamic, causing some players to play second fiddle. Asking someone not to be upset about this is as futile as asking them not to laugh at a funny joke. It is how they feel.

Also, when two newbies joined our experienced group, they became frustrated because “fast and loose” rules style affords even more advantages on the experienced players. As she put it, it can be fun to cheat at a game of Euchre, but only if everyone is cheating and having a good time with it. If you are a new person learning the game, it’s frustrating because really – nobody is actually playing Euchre – they are playing another meta-game that has the appearance of Euchre. Really, the enjoyment of the new activity or game is to get away with as much as you can carry without being caught, and that isn’t fair to a new player. Nor is it fair to those who are investing a lot of time into playing it “straight”

Dmhoward: Some players do spend a lot of time on tactics. Tactics are still possible, although they often are common sense tactics than rules-based tactics. Many things can still be counted on. For example, a PC with great strength will more likely open a stuck door than a weak PC, even if rules from editions are different for each PC. Could you give me a tactic that requires precise rules and that you want to encourage in the game?

I believe the game mechanics should have some approximation of the story elements it is attempting to represent. In your example, the stronger person should be able to open the door. Or the larger creature should have a longer reach than the smaller one.

The level of detail or “realism” used in that approximation should be mitigated by factors of playability. While in 3e, they explored heady calculations for firing missiles into melee, they ultimately chose a simpler, faster penalty to represent the difficulty they wanted to acknowledge, knowing that gamestopping calculations were not appropriate for the context in which it would be used. Even if mechanics have a tenuous relationship to the real world equivalents (ie hit points), the mechanics themselves should have a strong and consistent relationship to each other. For example, in 3e the game mechanic for avoiding a dragons’ fire is consistently one single rule. In the older method, arguments could be made for Save vs dragon breath, roll under your reflex, and even some others, with wildly different results. The new and simpler fireballs we found work better, and help us avoid breaking out calculators to perform volumetric measurements of spherical and unusual spaces at a time when our story goal is a flash-bang resolution.

Character advancement in D&D rewards achievement through incremental improvements in abilities. These improvements vary wildly between editions of the game. If you value the idea of character advancement at all, then it should be important to make such advancements less arbitrary, with all characters moving up by the same scale.

As for tactics with precise rules, we’ve already addressed saving throws (which help a player weigh the risk of a situation against her characters abilities.) I can think of tactics that might involve swimming, bull rushing, intercepting someone who is trying to get past you, disarming, fighting defensively for oneself, or for another, non-lethal combat, using cover, elevation, available space, cooperating to divide an opponent’s attention, surprise and many, many more situations, in an infinite number of combinations. Without consistency in the base elements and actions, players have no reasonable way to anticipate how their decisions will affect the tactical scenario, especially since most game actions (in previous editions and new ones) don’t bear a direct correlation to how similar actions would be performed in real life. Players can’t play to their strengths if it all is basically up to the whimsy of the DM.

Dmhoward: (I add the "you want to encourage" clause because tactics that rely on precise rules can involve heady calculations and protractors which are not exactly desirable in a game.) If I'm inhibitting my players by allowing lots of rules flexibility, I'd like to know.

Neph: You and your players are the best judge of the activity you are doing, and whether it meets the needs your entertainment needs. A strong argument could be made that you’ve really transcended the game itself and you are now doing a form of moderated group storytelling. Many “gamers” regard this as a more challenging and more laudable activity. If this is your goal, then I would never characterize your style as an inhibition.

But I do submit that you are not playing a game, though it may have the appearance and semblance of one. At best, might say that each of you is playing a different game – like a combination football, soccer, and lacrosse. Many of the elements are similar enough that they might make some sense to a casual observer or even to the teams, providing a ref was arbitrating every play, throw, tackle, kick, hand-off, check, off-side, kick-off, goal, in real time, letting the players know who won each conflict, because they’d never be able to make sense of it on their own. Good mechanics make sense in context – consistency in results.

Precise rules needn’t rely on lengthy calculations, at all, as the 3rd edition proved. In fact, 3e is much more streamlined on the calculations during combat than any previous edition. Precise rules are just that – specific language about what you can and can’t do, so you can spend more time on developing a lush setting and characterizing your character’s actions, and much less time with the calculator, while still having a result that is much less arbitrary and ruled by the DM’s whimsy.

Nor do precise rules mean that characters should feel “boxed in” in terms of actions they take. A comprehensive rule set such as 3e allows players quite a wide latitude of actions, while removing some of the whimsical adjudication power of those actions from the DM.

More consistent rules = less arbitrariness and DM judgement calls, which means more opportunity for a player to exert influence through his character, to participate in the action. In essence, players get better control over their character.

DMs can spend more time preparing the story and the setting. Fewer hours wasted on negotiation how to play instead of actually engaging the scenario.

It is clear that some groups need to have approved books. No doubt about that. But some won't. I just propose that GMs implement those as they become a problem rather than assuming that they will (and spending precious prep time on it).

A lot of the arguments for deciding approved books before day 1 of the campaign seem to present possibilities as certainties. Inconsistent rules *may* cheapen victory; they may not. The appearance of 3rd Edition D&D did not cheapen every 1st Edition or 2nd Edition session ever played. Consistency in rules and rule application has certain desirable consequences although it can have undesirable consequences (e.g. players are forced to play under unfamiliar rules). A GM should not assume that rules consistency is a panacea (or even automatically desirable). In some cases, it may not be worth the disadvantages.

I did not imply that consistency required difficult calculations; 3rd Edition D&D involves less calculations. I merely pointed out that, as far as I could tell, the only kinds of tactics that I was preventing by allowing a selection of rules were the kinds of tactics that most GMs would find undesirable (that is, tactics based on precise readings). For example, a player that reads the rules precisely and knows, say, a fireball blast gives full damage at 100 feet but only half damage at 105 feet and moves from the 100 foot mark to the 105 foot mark before the enemy casts a second fireball at some object 100 feet away from him (for the explicit purpose of taking advantage of this knowledge) is certainly implementing a tactic that would only work under precise rules but, as it seems to me, is not particularly desirable. (Obviously, since the player chooses his own rule under my bizarre scheme, he will always know the precise rules of his own fireballs; only non-PC fireballs might be unknown.) So far, I cannot conceive of a scenario where knowing the precise rules that the GM is using enables a tactic that a GM would want to encourage. In all the case that I can think of, the rules-based tactics would discouraged by most GMs.

(I have the utmost respect for all the opinions presented here. Like I said, I certainly don't doubt that these are all valid concerns. Everybody is arguing in good faith.)

Just to reiterate, it *can* upset the team dynamic but it may not. (In my group, since players know that they can exploit loopholes at any time, they seem to make a great effort to behave responsibly and avoid doing it.)

I agree that the appearance of 3e did nothing to objectively diminish the value of the prior experience. I still remember fondly games played with my basic boxed set with the green dragon on the front, and the Isle of Dread. I also smile when I think of how my mouth watered at the prospect of playing Space Invaders on my friend’s Atari 2600. Those experiences were genuine, and I remember them in that context, but I can’t recapture that feeling by playing them again. Much as I loved the prior editions when I played them, they infuriate me now, feeling counterintuitive, arbitrary, incomplete, incompatible, and clumsy.

As for players being forced to play unfamiliar rules – they won’t always be. Most new players seem to find the 3e rules much easier to learn. It didn’t take too long for our group to pick it up. Nearly everyone loved them, except for a player that literally fetishized the first edition.

I’d venture that precise rules are necessary for nearly any tactical scenario. To use your fireball example (which is a simplified version of the 1st and 2nd ed rules), at its core, it shows that there is a point at which the spell is in effect, and beside it is a point in which you are unaffected. This may not replicate “reality” but it does approximate the basic idea of a magic user who knows the range and area of effect on the spells he casts.

In a similar manner, the grid-like movement structure may not replicate “reality” because medium sized creatures do not always occupy the dead center of a 5 foot square. However, in a game we treat them as if they do, because those 5 foot squares are tied into the rest of the gaming range, movement and area increments. Those increments help us decide whether a giant is close enough to take advantage of his longer reach, or if a character is squeezing too closely past a hostile monster in his haste to get to the door. It approximates the same effect of a player being able to gauge the general level of risk to his character to see if it is worth the benefit it might cause (sneak attack).

So far, I’m not sure what the disadvantages to rules consistency are, as long as the rules conform to a game logic and a story logic.

Your mileage may vary.

Absolutely, the mileage does vary. If I can use this opportunity to bring myself back on topic, I'd say that more comprehensive rules do not necessarily mean the game experience will be better. Since we dropped the "extra" rules, our games have gotten better, faster, simpler. for instance, Psionics were a disaster for us, though they were loved by the DM. Not only did they introduce an unnecessary and inconsistent rule mechanic into the game, but they also added an SF element to our swords and sorcery. Pseudo-science didn't make sense in the world we'd built.

But I'd stress overall that rules consistency and game logic are only important if you are playing a game. If you are doing an improv or group storytelling session, they may well get in the way of the most desirable dramatic results - which perhaps are best when they come from a moderator. As such, having such a dramatically loose structure (and therefore complex structure) reminds me of astrology, tarot, or tea leaves. There are so many complex factors at play, and so many generalities that everything hinges on the moderator (the fortune teller) to make sense of the story. It would have no coherance without her, and the answer would likely depend greatly on the the desires of the audience. But that argument touches on the old (and satisfying) "Gig or Game" thread.

Nepahandus you wrote:
"But I'd stress overall that rules consistency and game logic are only important if you are playing a game. If you are doing an improv or group storytelling session, they may well get in the way of the most desirable dramatic results - which perhaps are best when they come from a moderator."

Yes exactly. But who's to say that you can't do both? I mean a normal game will oscillate between the two right? So why not permit lotsa stuff that only has cosmetic effects on game mechanics (especially combat) but makes the storytelling sooooo much better? So what if your elven prince is ageless it won't have any impact on the game "effects", except maybe age inducing magic but it will add depth to the character. What if the DM decides all elves have 5 ranks in perform and elven history? What if all dwarves have 5 ranks in 1 craft skill? What if all characters have Knowledge Local (home region) as a class skill? Will it really change the game other than colour it a bit more?

Quirks and hobbies should be part of the game.

Your fortune teller analogy reminds me of a nice piece of roleplaying dimension I added to one of my characters. The guy carried around a Tarot Deck made of Magic the Gathering Cards. Every so often I'd check if we had the Gods' blessing in doing such and such. It got really weird when the actual players wanted me to consult the cards before some decisions were taken. It eventually made my character into a menace for the other players' superiors who were starting to see me as way too influencial on their underlings and ordered me eliminated... but it was nice while it lasted.

Instead of extra XP's I sometimes give free ranks in certain skills to my PC's it tends to keep a better ballance between the players and make the rewards more linked to the actions that produced them.

Chaos be with you.

Wow. Tons here I could address...

First off, although it should (and probably does) go without saying, I feel compelled to point out that all of the issues raised are highly dependent on the GM and players. Some people may want wargame-like tactical combat simulations; others might be obsessed with balance and fairness, while yet others like a fast and loose "interactive storytelling" style. Given the right group, all of these and more can work just fine.

In my own games, I tend to stick to a core set of rules. If a player wants to use rules from outside that core, I may allow it; it depends on what they are, whether they add needed features/tuning to the core ruleset or just serve as needless complexity, whether they're balanced, and so on.

Of course, this is perhaps easier in GURPS (a highly modular and despecialized system) than it would be in D&D, which tends to have separate rules for everything. If I were running 3e, I would probably clamp down a bit harder on new rules, spells, character classes, and so forth than I do now, and not feel bad about it; after all, people have to choose a system to play by, and when they do, they implicitly accept its quirks and failures. (I'm aware that there are people who take a system and modify it for their own use, sometimes almost beyond recognition. I applaud their effort, but question their judgement: if the system being modified was THAT BAD, why even use it as a base?)

I personally love "benign" rules lawyers, the ones who have a body of mechanics memorized and can dredge them up, not to argue with the GM over who's right, but to help him keep the game running quickly, smoothly, and consistently when his memory or judgement fails.. and will back off if the GM decides to ignore the official ruling for whatever reason. I think you'd have to be crazy not to; there's no index in the world better than one of those guys.

Likewise, I encourage feedback from my players, whether positive or negative (though not in the middle of play); in fact, I actively solicit it after any lengthy gaming session. This lets you fix problems as they appear and tailor games to better fit your players by finding out what they like or don't like. But more importantly, when players are encouraged to contribute ideas, it stimulates their creativity and draws them into the game. When pleyers' complaints are taken seriously, it builds trust between the GM and players.. a player who believes that the GM will treat him fairly and try to make the game entertaining for him will tolerate a lot more than a player who thinks he's just being shafted or ignored.

Really, there are two approaches. The most popular one is "nothing is allowed except what is spelled out in my house rules (or core rules or whatever)." The other is "everything is allowed from any source except what is explicitly forbidden by house rules (because, at some point, it was tried and caused a problem)." I've had good experience with the latter version and less success (but longer experience) with the former one.

I'd venture that you haven't really tried the latter version until everyone at the table was using 3e rules. Even if they were all using the same prior edition, those rules were arbitrary, inconsistent, and so required a large amount of on-the-fly game adjudication from the DM.

Whoops! Or rather, you haven't had consistent D&D rules until everyone was using core 3e rules, in my opinion.

Not that this next bit applies to you, but it is an interesting difficulty I noted for some people with the 3e. Our old DM was very steeped in the dogma of the first editions - and it made it very difficult for him. Because they were incomplete, he was forced to improvise any "curves" in the tactical scenarios - which he did readily (actually, I think it was a point of pride). Players could also entreat him for "extra special" attacks, which he would dispense at his leisure.

By applying his discretion so generously to the tactical scenario - for both his own NPC actions and for the PC actions, he was able to manage an appearance of close calls, while assuring the story turned out the way he wanted it to turn out.

The switch to 3e made it incredibly difficult for him because most of the "curves" he'd offered previously at his leisure (ie effectively cleave, bull rush etc), were now codified, balanced, and playtested in the rules, for everyone to use, rather than just him. There were more tactical parameters in play now, and less to negotiate and beg for (it is rude to beg for an ability you haven't paid for). When players began using the equal playing field in fights, his lack of tactical knowledge and preparation was very apparent. Where formerly he'd have managed the outcomes of these scenarios by forcing a discretional story outcome, players were now asking that he roll the dice - just as they had to, and that they get to use the abilities that they'd paid for in character creation. He ignored the new tactical considerations in favour of the old "attritional clash" model where combatants just stand and slug each other and his combatants were found wanting.

As a specific example (though virtually any combat can work), his monk villain chose to fight a climactic battle in the middle of a room, rather than on a narrow staircase which would have given him the advantages of 1 on 1 fighting, elevation, balance, jumping, tumbling, and would have prevented yours truly from inflicting a devastating flanking sneak attack. His Big Bad was down in 2 rds, with nary a point taken from anyone else. It wasn't our genius - it was his poor tactical sense and planning - which is heightened in the new game.

If you'd ask him, even today, he'd blame the lack of challenge in that encounter on the fetters of the "too specific" rules, which deprived him of the discretionary authorship he felt he needed to manage the story to a pleasant outcome. The level of his manipulation on the plot was never apparent until the 3e highlighted it so starkly. Whatever he was doing, which felt OK before, felt like bad gamesmanship in the new game.

As the 11:45 poster above indicated - we wanted BOTH game and story, and his manipulation just felt like cheating, like the "game" portion simply didn't exist even though he felt he was doing it for our benefit.

PC death was also interesting under his style. One player who left complained that nobody could die. I also encouraged the DM to kill - but because he knew only he decided the outcomes of these things, the activity was too personal for him. Overall players preferred my DMing style and that of another DM in our group. The games were more fun, with personal sniping non-existant, because the when bad things happened in the game, they were not personal.

It's interesting (to me). It's rare to get such diametrically opposite styles in the same group, with such an articulate group overall. It certainly made for a good learning experience (though I'd have traded it for fun any day).