Too Much of a Good Thing

Players of Dungeons & Dragons have a lot of grand reasons to enjoy the game. Escapism, social interaction, lots of shiny colorful dice, opportunities to solve problems and expand your imaginative creativity; the list is nearly endless. Probably one of the most frequently cited aspects that makes the game appealing is the idea that you can ditch reality and immerse yourself into a story. Escapism is a wonderful thing and given the reality most of us face it is only going to gain in popularity. Take a long steaming look at how the President of the United States rage tweets about comedy shows and his sacred financial records and then just try and fight the urge to grab a sword and take a few whacks at an ogre. I double direwolf dare you.

With that in mind it should be noted to all Game Masters and aspiring GMs to not overwhelm the players with too much minutiae. There are all kinds of players out there so every GM needs to know what sort of players are running in their campaign. And I cannot stress this enough: extra work in game (or out of it) is entirely optional. Sometimes the details of a game can become onerous and cumbersome if players feel like they have no choice but to adhere to tiny details. This is especially true at higher levels when players have begun to settle in to being local or national heroes and are given ever greater responsibilities in the story.

Let’s run through an example. Say a character, perhaps a bard, has decided to take over and run an inn and tavern in a town that the players have decided to make their overall base of operations. Nothing wrong with that at all. Owning a business, especially a socially engaging one such as a pub, is a terrific way to keep the players informed through NPC interaction as well as serve as a springboard for more stories. How many games start out with the GM saying “You are all in your favorite tavern when suddenly…”? Answer; basically all of them. There are unlimited possibilities to a player owning a place like this in the game. So naturally the GM will say yes and the story moves forward.

This is where things can go in a million different directions. If the player doesn’t care to delve any deeper into the topic than to say “I run an inn” and proceed without a second thought that is fine. A good story doesn’t need more detail than that. But maybe the player wants to go into more detail. Maybe they want to draw out floorplans for their fictional inn, complete with secret rooms and a hidden kitchen or a tunnel to a nearby pawnshop. Perhaps they want to sketch out or find pictures on the internet of furnishings they want for their inn. They might even want to seek out NPCs in the game who can find them the finest wines and ales to serve, or arrange for fresh fruits and vegetables or exotic meats. They might want to keep a ledger for expenses and profits and do a little fantasy bookkeeping to make their fictitious inn feel more like a vital and living element intrinsic to the campaign.  There isn’t a template to follow because it is Dungeons & Dragons. You can add or subtract as much as you want.

And this is the crux of it; don’t overwhelm your players and never insist on more detail than they want to do, and conversely never disasllow a player from adding more detail than you want to hassle with. You are the Game Master. That doesn’t mean you have to do every little thing. If a player wants to run their fictional inn in a mind-boggling amount of detail then let them. When they ask “how much profit did I make this past month?” all you need to do is roll some dice. Come up with a simple chart to make it easy every time they ask, and just roll with it. Most importantly, award their efforts with experience points. Rogues of all types are natural business operators so giving out experience for successfully running an enterprise is not at all against the rules. And if the players go above and beyond in the details they want to create, then the GM has to award bonus experience or risk being accused of pulling a “dick move.” Don’t be that GM. If your players are so dedicated to the story (or stories) that they want to add even more delightful background material on their own then be respectful and honor their work accordingly.

Conversely it is just as important to not punish a player who just doesn’t have the time or energy to go beyond the “I want to own a tavern” step. Players seeking an escape probably aren’t looking for a second career doing fantasy accounting for a fake business. Their reality might be tied up in buying a house, fighting for custody of their children, looking for a new job that doesn’t crush their very souls with the oppressive jackassery that literally is the wholesale HVAC trade, or fighting being indicted by a justifiably hostile congressional oversight committee. That’s life. As the GM accept the “I want to own a tavern and inn” statement, figure out an initial cost, and let that be that. I wouldn’t award any terrific experience points for the endeavor but nor am I going to hold the player back because they refuse to sacrifice what is left of their sanity playing pretend. It is all ok.

A loosely hemmed-in game style can permit players of many different methods coexist just fine. Players get out of a game what they put into it, but sometimes a player just needs someplace to go for a few hours a week to roll dice and raise a little havoc. No matter what their motivation it is imperative that the GM cater to their whims as much as possible to keep the game engaging and fun for all. There will be things the GM has to say no to, but being lazy or industrious are not those things. I mean come on, key character or not, did anyone really miss Tom Bombadil not being in “The Fellowship of the Rings” movies? Of course not. Leaving that detail out was lazy and perfectly fine. The story was still good. Would it have been better with Tom Bombadil left in? Maybe. That would have been an issue of casting. Leaving it out was a creative choice and not, as some might argue, a dick move. A dick move is making “the Hobbit” into a trilogy of ghastly crappy movies with extra sub-plots that adds nothing worthwhile to the story but does succeed in making the entire thing an obscene cinematic monstrosity that doesn’t even make for good MST3K fodder.

Just saying. Too much of a good thing. In this case, orcs.