If D&D Play Styles Could Talk, the One I Hate Would Say, “I Won D&D for You. You’re Welcome.”

As I wrote last week’s post about players who gamed the Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League rules, I feared misleading folks. Years before I started participating in organized play, players told me stories about the Living City and Living Greyhawk campaigns. Sometimes they boasted of their character’s unbeatable combination of magic items and the ingenious ways they won their gear; sometimes they complained about another player’s overpowered cheese and the metagame exploited to collect it. Either way, I drew the same lesson: Don’t join the campaign, because the play style won’t suit you.

I drew the wrong conclusion. If I had only played, I would have had fun.

I have played and run 100s of Dungeons & Dragons organized play sessions in third though fifth edition and even in the Alternity Living Verge campaign. Gamers seldom talk about all the game sessions where a bunch of strangers sat at a table and enjoyed a few hours playing D&D, but those sessions come almost every time we play. No, we talk about the unusual: The rare games spoiled by an annoying player. The characters that stretch the rules to the breaking point.

The new Adventurers League campaign rules aim to reward more styles of play, to give characters a better selection of magic, to level power between characters, and to free players from bookkeeping. The Adventurers League is already fun and welcoming. If successful, the changes will make the league a bit more of both.

Despite all the ways gamers play the campaign rules to win, I have never seen this metagame spoil my fun as a player or DM.

In all those organized play games I have joined, another character has only interfered with my fun two times.

As a DM for the fourth-edition Living Forgotten Realms campaign, one player brought an optimized, high-level defender. In this edition, defenders filled their role too well. This character featured maximized defenses that no level-appropriate monsters could hit on less than a natural 20. With an action, he could mark every foe on the map. His mark imposed such severe penalties that the monsters could only target him. So for hours of play, the monsters could only paddle uselessly at the defender while serving as bags of hit points for target practice.

If his play style could talk, it would say, “I won D&D for you. You’re welcome.”

For me as DM, none of those combats offered enjoyment, but I can also draw fun from players having fun. Did they enjoy being an audience for one player’s 4-hour character demonstration? I couldn’t tell. Maybe they enjoyed target practice.

Fifth edition no longer enables characters who can lock down every foe. I still see characters with armor classes or hit point totals that say, “no one can hurt me.” If a player enjoys a sense of invulnerability, they can get sell out for it. But still, every fifth-edition character suffers some weak saves. And no defender can shield every ally.

The second bad game came years later, when I played a fifth-edition convention session. One wizard brought a simulacrum, a duplicate able to act as a second wizard. The double meant that one player effectively took the turns and actions of two characters. Normally, such a character makes a minor nuisance. This time, the monsters proved badly overmatched. Meanwhile, my plodding cleric kept rolling low initiatives. Through every combat in the adventure, my character never contributed. The wizard and simulacrum blasted, and then the battle would end before I reached my first turn. Obviously, the DM could have dialed up the difficulty, but the wizard’s player drew my ire. Every fight, he played two turns for my none.

“I won D&D for you. You’re welcome.”

DM Tom Christy has run over 300 Adventurers League sessions, more than half for strangers on the Internet. “I ask that players avoid bringing extra, action-consuming creatures.” This helps grant each player equal time to act in combat. The request extends to simulacrums, golems, shield guardians, and charmed creatures, but not to class-feature-specific sidekicks like familiars, animal companions, and mounts. By league rules, the request is purely voluntary. “So far, all players have been understanding of that and happily agreed.” The new adventurers league rules bar shield guardians and slaad control gems, but such restrictions need to go further.

I wish I had more stories of other people’s characters ruining my fun, because a post filled with such tales would draw readers. After years of Adventurer’s League, I just have two accounts. Mostly in Adventurers League new and experienced players, strangers and friends, optimizers and storytellers just join at a table and have a great time playing D&D. Oh well. I suppose non-bloggers prefer it that way.

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14 Responses to If D&D Play Styles Could Talk, the One I Hate Would Say, “I Won D&D for You. You’re Welcome.”

  1. So what your endorsing is wide sweeping changes that change the way the game is played because you had a couple incidents that they will not fix. First, one is in the last edition and is not affected. The other involves a spell that is not affected. If there are specific broken incidents that reoccur we should use specific rules that pinpoint the problem. Regarding the simulacrum that is a seventh level spell that takes 12 hours to cast and requires snow to build your duplicate. The player can only do it rarely and the stars have to align for him to cast it. Let him have his fun.

    • I think context is really important here. Stuff like this in a home game with friends is a very different experience from a random game of pickups, with players who don’t know each other. I’ve seen this happen as DM, where one player gets the short end of a stick and another player(s) dominate with their unique, demanding builds (in various editions). In home games, those players who can’t compete with the guys who are engaging in system mastery eventually drop out….they came to play a different game than the one the system mastery dudes were playing, one where everyone was working together. My guess is DMDavid’s examples were people who were clearly and specifically hogging the limelight at the expense of the other players’ enjoyment. It does happen.

    • David Salleng says:

      Plus simulacrums can be killed and requires all that work to malm again. Its only a real problem if the dm is unaccostomed to dealing with mid to high level casters.

  2. Junkyard Druid says:

    This has been my experience at the table every time I sit down with our normal group. Admittedly it’s because I made the poor decision of playing a ranger with s group of people who have a passion for warlocks. Sadly 4 years later I’m finding myself making up excuses every week to get out of playing.

    It is comforting to see I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

  3. JulesNorling says:

    A couple friends and I accidentally created this situation for others once. We played in PFS, in an open game, but it was often just the four of us. And since our characters levelled together, they developed together as well. Our characters ended up becoming 3 man hit squads with absolutely horrifying battlefield proficiency. (I played a hex witch, and my support locked that shit down.) And we could swap two of the players out (someone had to DM) with little change in efficiency.

    This made it hard for new characters to jump in, unfortunately, often leaving them feeling like they were making the wrong choice or playing wrong. Luckily we realized what was happening (it was never intentional!) and semi-retired those characters to only play in games that no one else showed for.

  4. 1bsdad says:

    In terms of D&D, winning, is having fun. Let me be clear, if you have fun you win. Even if you beat up all the monsters or gained all the treasure, if you didn’t have fun then it is your loss. Say your fighter goes down in a blase of glory… or Your Wizard gets hit with Stupidity, if you had fun you won. I want to put another stipulation on Winning at D&D. You can only win if others have fun too. I want to be that player that can say, “I won D&D for you, because you had a blast taking down that baddie after I charged into the fray and got clobbered.”

  5. Wrich Printz says:

    Every class has abilities which can also take other players out from their optimal responses to an enemy. Blaming simulacrum, or Banish, or Hold Monster, or Great Weapon Mastery, or any other spell or feat is not going to fix what is wrong with Public Play.

    It could be the person playing the wizard just got lucky. It could be they are just unhelpful showboats. It could be they didn’t like you. They obviously had a different idea of fun.

    I will share with you that as a player, over 40+ years, I have never, once had the feeling that my team’s victory were less, or more mine due to may actions or lack of. It’s a team. Sometimes others do more than you. You do not need to be the star of every show, and sometimes, the only line you get is “Hailing frequencies are open, Captain”.

    The DM, as the shows writer/director absolutely should step up to make sure everyone gets some screen time….but you will not always get to be the star. In a continual group, everyone gets to step up, but in public play, you may just be a “With” or “and” when someone else is the Special Guest Star.

  6. dryxis says:

    I honestly just got back into dnd, only 2 games in of al in 5e (used to play 3.5) So far I’ve noticed that it seems relatively balanced, but then again I’ve only ever played in the tier 1 al games. I played a fighter and at level 1 ran in and sacrificed him so that the wizard could push the boss and 2 demons into a pit of spikes. Welp I miss my attack, get one shot and sh*t went south, but damn did we have fun. everyone was laughing at me, but it’s okay, cuz I had fun too and at the end of the day made some new friends. It’s all about how you look at it. If you are having fun and trying your best to make sure others are too, then that’s a game I want to be in.

  7. Meanwhile in the game that I DM, my friend is trying out a homebrew summoner class we designed which, as the name suggests, is entirely made to bring out player controlled minions. So far at low level it is a little overpowered – partially by design (the CR caps for the creatures by level are low, beyond that which ones he can get is up to my discretion, and the number he can summon doesn’t rise drastically, so it doesn’t get to be overwhelming later on), and partially because we’re basically play testing and readjusting as we go. The other players don’t seem to mind, especially since his character is also a giant Goliath whom I can justify enemies picking on, and all of the players are overpowered to an extent because optional rules (feats) + Homebrew.

  8. S'mon says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on looking out for Simulacrum, it definitely looks abusable, though less so in a home game with continuity than in a public game where a player just rocks up and claims to have made it earlier.
    The original fairy story idea of the spell that Gygax I think copied was to make an apparent duplicate person with no real combat ability, useful for putting a puppet on a throne for instance. I don’t think Simulacra should be able to cast spells or have more than minimal combat power. Half the CR/level and no casting looks like a reasonable nerf.

  9. Pingback: On the motivation behind the Public Game – Crossing the 'Verse

  10. Just a personal story here…

    In one of my campaigns, I had a player that wasn’t extremely invested in the game. She liked hanging out and hosting the games, but I always felt she was there to see people first and play the game second. She enjoyed being a rogue and doing her sneaking around, but combat bored her (and with good reason, we were running a six-person game and that left a lot of time between player turns).

    However, I knew that she loved pets and companions, so I bestowed upon her a Shield Guardian, which she happily painted a face on and named. Now, she was able to take two turns per round in combat, which kept her more engaged with the game. And honestly, six players vs seven “players” wasn’t that much more to handle.

    Sometimes, I think these situations/allies can be useful tools, though I agree that players who use them to “win” the game are disrespecting the DM and their fellow players.

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