Confessions of a Care Bear

So ever since I’ve picked back up D&D 4th edition, I’ve been trying to heed the “leave them bruised and broken, but still alive” philosophy, however apparently not broken enough. It’s been about 5 months now since our campaign has started, due to scheduling and other elements my players are only level 4 now and I’m starting to see the errors of my ways when it comes to fudging one too many dice rolls. My players are outright shocked if a monster or trap deals them too much damage, fail a skill challenge or drop to zero hit points – well that’s just unheard of! I always try and make sure my players are having a good time and honestly I don’t want to kill them off, so I always make sure that doesn’t happen. After explaining my style to a good friend (and boss) who is relatively new to D&D aptly termed this “Carebear DM’ing”

It’s one thing to let something slide now and then but I think I’ve just gone too far, they feel too safe. Recently a friend of mine DM’d a session for us while I played and he by no means went easy on us, two of us managed to drop to zero hitpoints yet we still succeeded and no one died. Afterward we talked and I came to find out that he fudged a total of 1 die roll and that’s when I realized I need to rethink my DM’ing. His encounter was far more intense feeling than anything I’ve ever ran, and now I feel I’ve been missing out on a vital element to our game. 4e combat is so lengthy after all that I may as well make it count instead of just fudging everything in their favor. I recenly once had a monster crit a player 2x in a row and I gave him an ultimatum instead of just beating his character to a pulp….I know, shame on me. ๐Ÿ™

Next session I’m going to let the fate of the dice fall as they may and see what happens, hope I don’t piss too many people off. What do you guys think? Are there any other carebears out there? Should I start a carebear DM support group?

8 Comments

  1. I like the term, nice writing also. I think it’s okay at some point to let your players sweat. The dice are there to decide the outcome. Even if someone dies outright because of bad luck, well – it’s a game and I don’t think you’d spoil the fun by playing what the dice decides.

  2. This all falls HEAVILY on group dynamics but I warn you, don’t do a Joss Wedon and kill off Wash just because the fans are getting comfortable with the characters.

    Here’s my rule of thumb, if my players are getting too comfortable. I kill one of them. Not randomly by letting the dice fall where they may, but by setting up a no-win scenario for that character, giving their death meaning, and making their character feel appropriate (be it brave, badass, a redemption, or whatever their character’s gimmick is)

    Of course, this all comes down to group dynamics. My group doesn’t want arbitrary death by a bad or lucky die-roll. Some groups like that. Poll your players, ask them, straight out, how they want to play. If they don’t want to worry about death, focus your game on other things. Sure, they can survive… but what about their family and friends? Muhaha

    • It’s been said that suffering is good for the soul. I’m not entirely convinced of that, but it IS good for your campaign’s story.

      Since you clearly don’t want your players to suffer (we’re all at the table to have fun), their characters should suffer for them. That means that sometimes a character will fail a skill roll, be knocked unconscious, or even die. Just make sure that you turn it into a memorable event. If a character dies it should feel like a pivotal moment in the battle. If a character fails a skill roll, well if your group is anything like mine that’s when hilarity will ensue!

      The bottom line, for me anyway, is that in all my many years of gaming I don’t remember how many kobolds I slaughtered, or stealth checks I succeeded at, but I will always remember the time my adventuring party went down in a blaze of glory between an army of Drow, a red dragon, and a village of angry farmers .We had been spectacularly stupid, and we deserved it.

  3. I try to only fudge dice when the party’s really doing badly. Let them feel like they just scraped by, but I don’t know if I could honestly TPK a group unless I had something in mind.

  4. @Rob “Hereโ€™s my rule of thumb, if my players are getting too comfortable. I kill one of them.” <– I lol'd pretty hard at this on first read, I've got to hand it to you man – thats a rule I think might be hard to adapt to for most. I think Vicky’s opinion of you being lawful evil is quite accurate ๐Ÿ˜›

    @Vicky it's all about the fun, I agree. As long as things stay light hearted and realize it's just a game after all. It is human nature to remember bad things much more than good – which can't be a bad thing! (See what i did there!?)

    @mrfb Yeah, I think this is the method I'm going to lean towards, as long as they don't always think there will be some circumstance that allows them to escape by the skin of their teeth. I'll have to avoid getting into that habit as well.

  5. I used to be exactly like you. I even smiled knowingly at the “CareBear GM” title, because I used to have it. I realized somewhere during my second 4E campaign that this is what I was doing, and consequently, the players were having less fun. Even though they didn’t realize it, the stakes were never really in question for them. So I decided to do one simple thing:

    I took away my GM screen.

    I put all the tables and charts I used from it in the first few pages of my GM notebook, and literally rolled the dice in front of my players’ faces. All of the dice. Every attack roll, saving throw, power recharge, and most *especially* damage roll– right in front of them. And you know what? They got scared. But in a good way, knowing that the gloves had come off and that not only was I not fudging rolls anymore, but that I physically *couldn’t*. It freed me up, really, to not shoulder the burden of keeping them alive, and I still had the choice of altering a monster’s decisions or adding/removing creatures if I really wanted to change things, but I found that so long as I kept to the 4E design theories, VASTLY more fun was had by all, myself included.

  6. Jason,

    That’s a pretty inspiring story. I might give this a try in my campaign that I’m kicking off very soon here, I’ve already warned the players that the care bear in me was gone. I’m just hoping I can stick to my own promises and not lapse back into captain cuddles the dungeonmaster. I’ll be reporting back on how things are going as things progress. Thanks for stopping by and commenting ๐Ÿ™‚

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