Sunday 10 March 2013

Should Players Know the Rules?

So, last session, I had difficult GMing moment.  I stat up my own monsters, even ones which WFRP has stats for.  There are a number of reasons I do this:
  1. Anyway, the monster descriptions in WFRP are impractically long, so anyway I write my own shorter stat-block in my spreadsheet, so might as well tweak them
  2. Even veteran players won't know what to expect, which adds tension
  3. New Tilia is far from the Empire, so monsters tend to be a little different
  4. It's fun to make your own stuff

Anyway, last session I rolled up a random encounter with Giant Scorpions.  Now the Giant Scorpions I made kill with a successful tail-hit, as opposed to WFRP 1e's Giant Scorpions which take two doses.  I made this change because I think that PCs should be terrified to come within striking range of the things, and because I think that an occasional PC death adds a lot of excitement to the game.

Anyway, the character failed his poison save, despite being a tough Dwarf.  I gave the Herbalist a check to see if she could improvise an antidote on the spot, which she also failed.  So I said, "Sorry, you're dead--better use a Fate Point."

What followed was 10 minutes of rules debate, which concluded with the player looking up the WFRP stats for Giant Scorpion(which I wasn't using) and pointing out that it says the first dose doesn't kill.  I gave-in to this argument.

Now I think that's fair. I'm willing to be flexible, within-reason, about the rules.  Especially in a rotating-DM game such as this one.  But I still wasn't happy with the result, which detracts from the sort of atmosphere of tension and terror I'm trying to create.

At that moment, I suddenly felt that I understood noisms's recent lament about GM authority as an enabler for art.  Now I know why he likes to run homebrew systems like Pendragon-Mechwarrior, or WWII CP2020.  Because when the players don't know the rules, and by-definition can't look them up, since there is no authoritative text, then the GM has a greater freedom to craft a truly-unique game-world.

The Other Side

Anyway, having made that point, let's wrap this post up with a foil.  WFRP 2e gives 5 "Golden Rules of GMing".  Here are two relevant ones, which are often at odds with one another.  "Lay down the law" is about giving the GM the authority to do his job well.  "Give them a chance" is about giving players the freedom to experience real agency and thus feel invested in the game.


  1. Obviously you need to get a real scorpion and that player and see how things work out. Admittedly, it's not a Giant Scorpion, but he isn't a dwarf, so it evens out.

    Or, just change it to a Giant 'Striped' Scorpion, which I'm guessing isn't in the book and therefore not the same as the book version, but deadlier.

    1. That's a simple and elegant solution--thanks! I need to go though my bestiary and do that...

  2. What SAROE said. And with 2 chances (three, if you count the use of fate points...) to avoid death, you handled it pretty generous, in my opinion.

    In the end, it should be your decision. If you say, those scorpions are more deadly than the ones in the book, than you're within the rules. Players don't like to die, I get that. But it doesn't help to show them they could argue their way out of it. Because, in the long run, you undermine your authority as a DM that way.

    1. I didn't actually make the "these scorpions are deadlier" argument since I hadn't given any indication that these giant scorpions were "special", and I was worried the players would think that I was just being vindictive.

      You may be right about the undermining the DM's authority. One of the players seemed to hold the implicit opinion that PCs should never be killed. As such, it is likely that this argument will resurface later.

      Anyway I made it clear that I'm happy to let PCs die if that's how the dice fall. That should give next session the kind of tension I'm trying to create, if less than if the PC had actually died.

  3. No killing PC's in WFRP2E? Heresy! Burn the witch. I have players roll up 2-3 characters when we play WHFRP, just to make the expected outcome really obvious.

    I prefer that my players know how the basic rules/mechanics work - it's a pain otherwise. During play, if a rules discussion comes up - I make a quick call on it "this is how we're going to play it tonight", we can review the rules after the session and make a decision on how it will play in the future. If they want to discuss it, it happens after the game.

    Ultimately, that's what Fate points are for.

    1. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of opening books during the game either :)