The Alexandrian

It’s becoming something of a cliche:

Player: I jump down to the ground.
GM: Are you sure you want to do that?

Here’s the thing: If your players are suggesting something which is self-evidently suicidal to the GM, then there has probably been some sort of miscommunication. Simple example–

Player: I jump down to the ground.
GM: Okay. You fall 200 feet, take 20d6 points of damage, and die.
Player: What? I thought the building was only 20 feet high!

That being said, I’m not a big fan of the coy, “Are you sure you want to do that?” method. While it may warn the player away from some course of action, it is unlikely to actually clear up the underlying confusion.

It’s generally preferable to actually explain your understanding of the stakes to the player to make sure everyone is on the same page. For example–

Player: I jump down to the ground.
GM: The building is 200 feet tall. You’ll take 20d6 points of damage if you do that.
Player: Ah. Right. Well, let’s try something else, then.

Although the misunderstanding can just as easily be on the GM’s side–

Player: I jump down to the ground.
GM: Are you sure you want to do that?
Player: What? Is it covered in lava or something?
GM: No, but the building is 200 feet tall. You’ll take 20d6 points of damage if you do that.
Player: I’m planning to cast feather fall. I just want the princess to think I’ve committed suicide.
GM: Carry on.

This carries beyond deadly situations. For example, if you’re running a mystery scenario and one of the players says, “I inspect the carpet.” And you don’t know why they want to inspect the carpet, just ask them.

Player: I inspect the carpet.
GM: What are you looking for?
Player: You said it rained last night at 2 AM. If the killer entered through the window after 2 AM, there would be mud on the carpet.
GM (knowing the murder took place at 4 AM): Yup. It looks like somebody tried to clean it up, but you find some mud scraped onto the molding near the window.

If you don’t ask the question and you don’t understand what they’re looking for, you might end up feeding them false (or, at least, misleading) information.

Which suggests a general principle:

If you don’t understand what the players are trying to achieve with a given action, find out before adjudicating the action.

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5 Responses to “Random GM Tips – Are You Sure You Want to Do That?”

  1. Barad the Gnome says:

    Good points all.

    Using the jump example, rather than say the metagame “You’ll take 20d6 points of damage if you do that”, I would usually say something more like, “The building is 200 feet tall. That is a very long way down and a normal being would likely die from falling that far.”

    Although I suspect you are just making the point and wouldn’t actually use those words.

    Cheers

  2. Justin Alexander says:

    I might, actually. The situation here is that I’m looking at something which I (as GM) clearly interpret as a lethal fall. They aren’t. Why?

    Well, it may be that they don’t know how tall the building is. But it could just as easily be that they have some misunderstanding about how survivable a 200 foot fall is.

    A fall may not be a great example of this. But imagine adding in some other factor like, “The PC is a vampire.” The player might have an expectation that vampirism allows them to jump off tall buildings.

    My goal here is to clear up the miscommunication, and often the quickest way to do that is to make the mechanical stakes as clear as possible.

  3. Hautamaki says:

    I completely agree with your last two sentences :

    If you don’t understand what the players are trying to achieve with a given action, find out before adjudicating the action.

    My goal here is to clear up the miscommunication, and often the quickest way to do that is to make the mechanical stakes as clear as possible.

    Any time a player seems to want to take an unusual action that their character would patently understand is self-detrimental I definitely want both myself and the player to be 100% clear that dice are about to be rolled and what that means.

  4. AJ Dembroski says:

    By the same token: Players, don’t try to outsmart the DM by withholding information when he does ask for clarification.

  5. GM DON’T #1 : La Réalité à Géométrie Variable – quefaitesvous says:

    […] quand les joueurs proposent des actions qui vous semblent illogiques. J’ai longuement parlé de ça précédemment et proposé un principe général […]

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