Kill Em’ All and Let Strahd Sort Them Out

Time to End It All

I think it’s time for a bit of purging by fire, or in the case of my campaign: vampiric slaughter. When I first started my game things were relatively simple and everyone was happy with their character. Sessions were met with anticipation and enthusiasm, plot points were pondered and everyone had a strong character concept. This isn’t the case anymore, and it’s becoming very un-fun for my two most important players: my wife, and myself.

I’ve sat down and had talks with my players, I’ve tried to remedy things both in and out of game but nothing seems to work. I’ve taken cues from some of the smartest, most experienced DMs I know. Still, results are just getting worse. I didn’t expect great things to happen overnight but I didn’t foresee them going further downhill. No one quite cares nearly as much as they used to (not that some seemed to care that much to begin with).

No one seems to appreciate the work I put into our game. Sure I get a “thanks, session was fun” at the end of the night but it’s nothing beyond an obligatory courtesy, like tipping the pizza guy. If it weren’t for me leveling up and printing everyone’s character sheet and pestering people about our next game, they’d all still be level 5 and we’d have played a handful of times. No one looks or thinks about our game in any of the time in between sessions (or during?) but myself it seems, and I’m sick of it. Aside from what I’ve just mentioned here, read my lamentations below.

Points of Contention

[info_box]Disclaimer: Mention of “everyone” is a generalization and not literal in all cases. Also, be warned: overuse of profanity lies ahead.[/info_box]

  • Loot has gotten out of hand and coin has been disregarded entirely. All loot given to my players is met with mild shrugs or “oh that’s cool” and not much more (even fourthcore armory items), no one really keeps track of how much money the party has until just recently and it’s still fuzzy at best it seems. The coin my players come across is hoarded anyway, so why give them any? It’s fucking Ravenloft, stock up on survival supplies right? Nope, healing potions are completely forgotten and the vistani are bargained with in attempts to save a few coin. Boy is that going to have horrible repercussions for my players in the very near future.
  • To top it off, no one knows what items they have, and if they do, no one knows who carries them. From character sheet to character sheet, the record keeping is piss poor. I used to keep track of all their loot so they could easily reference it on OP, but getting anyone to read anything I put on there is like pulling teeth.
  • Everyone is either “Unaligned” or “Good” in my game, yet everyone’s character is rather morally gray leaning towards being chaotic asshole. Every other living being is killed, coerced, tricked or stolen from and in a world full of evil I understand most people are not to be trusted but it’s a bit unreasonable at times. Deeds like these have to creep into your soul at least a bit yeah? Dark power checks for everyone! If snuggles the fucking bear came waddling along they’d not think twice about plundering his plushy innards for coin (which in turn they’d never goddamn use)
  • I have to special request or put out multiple grumpy-DM cues just to get the TV turned off when we play. The chance of having everyone paying attention simultaneously is slim to none, maybe that comes with the territory though. I allow all sorts of custom rule-bending on behalf of everyone having fun but now it’s just expected of me and I kind of feel like I’m being walked all over.

What’s in the Cards?

I’m running the wrong game, possibly with the wrong people. Ravenloft is a setting probably far too serious for the play group that I have. I should just make a generic setting where there are drunken dwarves all over the place and people who need you to save their flock of sheep from the orc bandits or some other such generic bullshit. It’s mentally taxing being so invested in something that so few people could honestly seem to give a shit less about. The game I envision is not the one they are envisioning, thus this is not working.

Have I given them too much loot, or too many beneficial circumstances so that they somehow manage to steamroll every hard encounter I put them up against? Perhaps. Perhaps it’s partly because 4e is structured around PC’s having the softest, most cozy toilet paper life has to offer them. You know, the kind with the little butterflies embroidered on it?

Have I overdone the sense of dread or futility that Ravenloft emanates? Possibly. Or perhaps all of my players have murderous paranoia etched deep into their psyche somewhere that compels them to kill anything that moves. Regardless of placing fault, neither of these elements should really make my players lazy sods who don’t care much about what I’m spending precious hours of my life preparing for them though, right? I could be playing video games, taking naps, playing with my kids (who appreciate my DM’ing mind you) or spending time with my wife who is far too beautiful and awesome to even humor me for a few hours, let alone spend the rest of her life with me.

All Is Well That Ends…Well?

It’s time for an encounter so insanely ridiculous they’ll either have to expend every last drop of their consumables, every coin their copper pinching fingers can rub together, every last healing surge, daily power and all the player knowledge they can muster or die horribly. Mangled, exsanguinated, demoralized and completely taken by surprise – then and only then would I feel somewhat redeemed.

Perhaps then we can  start on a fresh slate, with knowledge of the setting and what lies ahead of them making for characters involved in the setting instead of all being strangers cast into an uknown land. It might make for a DM/Player leveled playing field once again where everyone is on the same page with expectations.

Either that or I’ll run a beer and pretzels game with a totally gonzo plot. Hell, maybe I’ll run Gamma World. Maybe I’ll say fuck it and go back to playing video games, at least when people are assholes there I can just mute them or find a new game in a matter of seconds.


  1. Man, do I feel for you.

    I’ve been the DM of games like this, and a player as well. What I finally learned (and what you seem to have caught on to, based on your post) is that if you want to DM to a responsive crowd, DM the game they want to play. A healthy discussion beforehand can’t hurt, and it will help align your likes & dislikes. If you can possibly move the game to an area free of distractions (a basement, an office conference room somewhere, etc.) that might help as well. I’ve met you & your wife, so I have no doubts that you can run just about any kind of campaign and have a blast with it (even if the subject matter isn’t your favorite).

    Hopefully, you can make this change without your players feeling any ill will. When you end it in fire, you might be open and up front with them. You might say something like, “look, obviously this isn’t working, and while I appreciate you guys being polite, I don’t think we’re having as much fun doing this as we could. How do WE (note, not “I’) change that?” Remember also, that if all else fails, you can always find some other players.

    I do hope it gets better for you guys. Best of luck…

  2. I have definitely been in the shoes of the players never think about the game except when they sit down at the table. I have been frustrated when all attempts to involve them with the campaign’s Obsidian Portal resulted in absolutely zero response and half-arsed excuses. Its frustrating, and sometimes you have to say it or they’ll never realize you’re feeling under-appreciated.

    “I have to special request or put out multiple grumpy-DM cues just to get the TV turned off when we play.”

    By that statement, I take it you don’t host at your own house? Because in my house, TV goes off the moment the dice come out. Frankly I wouldn’t bother with hints, I’d go with loud, obvious announcement, something like: “Ok, as soon as the TV is off, we’ll start!” and then cross my arms and look serious until TV is off and everyone is looking. Gotta take a zero tolerance stance on TV and similar distractions.

    • Yeah I drive about 25 miles to run the game, but I honestly don’t mind. Gets tiresome at times but hopefully that will change soon when we get our new place I’ll just host at my house, at least alternate or something. Thanks for stopping in!

  3. First let me say that today is the first time I’ve visited your website, and I’ve enjoyed going through it. After reading this post, and your one about 4th edition, I think there are some things that may be able to address some of the issues your players are having.

    What does gold get you in WoW? You get your equipment from drops. Gold is used for buying new abilities (which are free in D&D), armor repairs (free again), and pots (not free). If your players have nothing to do with gold, then do what WoW does, and invent something. Put in an auction house, or in this case a speciality trader for the Vistani. Have they been too liberal killing people? Then they need to do some palm greasing of some of the local authorities, otherwise there is a realm lord that will be paying them a visit.

    If they can’t be bothered with keeping track of their loot, then they shouldn’t be bothered to keep it. It’s Ravenloft. Theives, crooks, and miscreants are abound, some of which are powerfull. PC’s been rolling around, strutting their stuff, and killing monsters? Any number of NPC’s would be more than happy to drink an invisibility potion, sneak into camp, and make out with a backpack or two. If they weren’t wearing the item, and they have one bag of holding, then everything else is gone. Its amazing how quick players are to appreciate their items and think of hiding places for them once they lose a lot of their stuff.

    If everyone in their party is frequently killing people, then I’m not sure why they are still PC’s. Even killing people that may be evil in Ravenloft has repercussions, and doing it on a frequent basis should have some serious effects. They do it once, they get warned, they do it again, its a powers check. After that, its a dice roll or five later, and then the character becomes an NPC as the dark realm claims them.

    Ravenloft can be a lot of fun, but the players have to be interested in playing there.

  4. I DMed my normal game last night and one of the PCs attacked a lady that was fleeing monsters because he didn’t trust her.

    She was going to be a major source of information to the players but the callousness of the player caused her to become a penaggalan (spelling?) and do a good number on the party.

    At level nine, my players have bought about 25 healing potions, silvered a weapon, and bought five vials of holy water. Any time they stay at an inn, they bitch relentlessly if they’re not offered a free night’s stay.

    That said, a few people have expressed dissatisfaction with their PCs and when we roll over to paragon, the final heroic battle may kill a bunch of them. (I’ve killed a few PCs; never unfairly, but I don’t shy away from it.) I think this one big bad will probably have every advantage the DMG offers.

    Anyway, the change in tier is going to give us the chance to start a lot of stuff over. I’m shooting to have a big discussion with them about a lot of these issues.

    It’s great to hear another DM talk about these issues that isn’t the Angry DM. (I don’t dislike him, but he shouldn’t be the only voice of DMs.) Thank you for this column.

  5. Not sure I have much to add after all this good advice, but I do hope you get it sorted out! My first bit of advice would’ve been to sit them down and ask what kind of game they want to play, but that doesn’t always work because sometimes people are bad at articulating what they want. I agree with deadorcs in that there needs to be a connection there, though. If people aren’t interested, regardless of whether its gaming or TV or a lecture, they’re going to tune out or be disruptive.

    Like TheSheDM, I have the same problem with getting players engaged on Obsidian Portal, too, and I’ve given up. Some people just don’t care enough or have any motivation to put in the extra time and effort between games, no matter what kind of rewards you offer. I think part of that is due to the same thing that makes certain people want to DM and others are content being players: the desire to create.

      • I asked my group once, after trying a couple different things, if I could offer anything to get them to contribute to the OP wiki and got a lot of excuses that basically boiled down to “no” in response. I have to content myself with knowing that my players at least sometimes visit and read it, even if they never add anything to it beyond what’s already there.

  6. My Encounters group is totally different from my home game. My home group is very committed, and plays serious D&D. (Whatever that means).

    My encounters group isn’t interested in that, so I had to search for something that we both liked.

    Some of the behavior you describe (The TV especially) is out of line, but surely there’s some area of agreement/overlap between you and your duders?

    If there’s no overlap it’s better to weed out players who don’t fit or else scrap the game and gather a new group together.

  7. I’m currently working on storyboarding my new 4e Raveloft campaign which I’ll start in a few months after my current 4e Age of Worms game ends. I’ve sketched out a few ideas so far that might be of use to you:

    Campaign Type: Completely episodic, one dark realm should be vastly different from the next and have few if any ties, traveling with Vistani caravan who are the only ones who can cross between realms; Vistani are the campaign’s continuity, so there should be some good subplots during interludes, politics, intrigue, etc.; in media res at the beginning of the episode if appropriate. One dark realm’s story per level. Probably about 3 sessions per episode/level.

    Treasure/Loot: Use inherent bonuses and completely abstract loot. “You find a few coins or gems” or let players decide what they find in context (and within reason). If they want to buy things, they can as long as it’s interesting in the context of the story. Low magic campaign, can’t buy magic items. (If you have inherent bonuses and can’t buy magic items, you won’t care how much gold you have.) Rarely will items be found and if they are they will relate heavily to the current story and are most effective when used in the context of that story – e.g. the wooden stake carved from the divine tree, the bullet crafted from the silver of the relic of St. Cuthbert, etc. Magic items will require moderate skill checks using a skill appropriate to the item’s theme to activate.

    Monsters/Encounters: Big, complex set piece encounters for all. No dungeon crawls. Abstract that somehow. Classic Gothic scenes to the point of ripping them out of a movie and making them into D&D so players have a frame of reference. Occasional camp to break the dread. At least one huge set piece per episode with the villain/dark lord. The encounter should be very deadly (but possibly survivable) if they haven’t gathered the information and items needed to face the threat. If they’ve done their due diligence, the encounter is hard but doable. All encounters will make sense in the context of the story and will add to it in some way.

    As far as your players not paying attention or participating outside of the game, it makes me wonder what style you’re using to run the game? How many decisions are left in the hands of the players and are those decisions based upon knowing a lot of details about your campaign/story? If so, break away from that. Try going episodic. There will be less detail to remember to accomplish each story goal and since an episodic game infers that the beginning and end are already sketched out, you can use set piece encounters to drive action in a way that will be exciting to the players. Sure, they’re making less meaningful decisions, but it sounds like they may be overwhelmed with their choices currently. Put them on the rails a bit until they get back into the game – then ease up a bit on the handholding until you find their comfort zone.

    • These are great ideas, thank you! In response to your last paragraph the players have a lot of sway in the story, this is a very sandbox campaign and not a whole lot relies on knowledge of what im crafting here, or already implied Ravenloft info so I don’t think that’s detracting them from the game. I’m sure that perhaps they’d like a more light-hearted game though, but I don’t. Conflicts need to be resolved though, all of these people are close friends of mine and we normally do have a lot of fun gaming together. Maybe I just need some time in the players seat to recuperate.

      • Sometimes some player-time is just what the doctor ordered, provided it doesn’t appear outwardly that you’re bitter. I know your situation exactly. I decided to run a sandbox campaign for Dark Sun when the 4e version came out. It was an unmitigated disaster and I had to end the game as well. Some players aren’t very good with a lot of choices or with the empowerment that comes with helping to govern the plot. They’d rather follow a storyline. My campaign ended one night when I realized that not only was it becoming painfully hard to get a coherent choice out of the group, but that getting to that choice was tearing the group apart with arguments.

        So I opted to end that game and move on to something else. It was the best thing really – and I will never run a sandbox game again. Not with that group, anyway.

  8. A few things that I’ve learned which may help here…

    1) If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth it. If you’re not having fun as the GM, then the whole game will turn into a chore for you. Your players will pick up on that in a heartbeat and start checking out. Figure out a way to make it fun, or do something else for a while.

    2) Control your game space. TV? Seriously? Human beings can only focus on one thing at a time. Multitaskers are very good at switching focus very fast, but they’re still only doing one thing at a time. If the group wants to watch TV instead of game, fine, but competing with the Box Of Pretty Colors that was specifically designed to get people to look at it? Don’t bother. We had an issue with young kids in the house causing too many distractions, but we’re trying again now that everyone’s a bit older.

    3) On Loot. You can make the prettiest, most intricate list of loot and nobody will care – UNLESS the players can use it to control the game somehow. Are those the cufflinks that belonged to the First Earl of Grognardia who mysteriously disappeared years ago? If so, what are they doing here and can we find out what happened to him? And didn’t he make the Crystal of Endless Day which will burn the undead, and wasn’t that lost with him? If the party finds a generic pile of loot, what can they buy with it? Can they fund a local group of monster hunters or endow an underground school for Paladins? Uncovering or changing the game’s story is interesting. Coins typically aren’t. Keeping track of loot that has no value as story currency is just busy work that detracts from the awesome heart of the game.

    4) Talk with the group. If you’re running one game and they’re playing another, your group will implode – the only question is when. A clean slate may be your best option at this point. Though if you do it with an eyeball-meltingly awesome Strahd-level balls-to-the-wall bloodbath, they may want to immediately roll up characters who will pay more attention to the setting and eventually avenge their fallen alter egos. Point is, it’s not just your game. That’s a design-time attitude appropriate for writing supplements that will never see the light of day. During run-time, the game belongs to everyone at the table, and everyone needs to sign off on how the game will work either explicitly with a pre-game discussion, or implicitly by getting into the game/character/story/whatever. If you start getting “Cool game” and nothing else, that’s a warning sign. You want to hear your players retell the encounters you ran – that’s my yardstick of GM success, anyway.

    Man, I can drone on, can’t I? Hope this helps.
    Good luck in figuring out what’s next!

  9. I can’t help but agree with that saying that I heard from none other than your dread self: all show is no show. Maybe its about getting back to that kernel that drew your players around the table in the first place and dispensing with all the trappings until you reignite that spark that set the heroes ablaze in the first place.

  10. Well, I don’t have much more to offer but a heart felt, “We’ve all been there, man.”

    I’d also suggest you and everyone else read Vornheim:The Complete City Kit. Seriously awesome stuff and it’s all about making everything “F-ing Metal” to avoid the hurt over your prep being ignored or marginalized. After all he credits Black Sabbath album covers as inspiration.

  11. After reading this post I feel I understand what you and your wife went through — my wife and I (we are @epersonae & @olybuzz respectively) went through the same thing (even the 25mi drive part 😉 until…

    …I told my ‘friends’ to shove-it…

    …explained that they are ‘too dumb’ to play D&D with me anymore –now my buds aren’t really dumb or bad people, just dumb about the post-d20 D&D game and inconsiderate to the effort involved to play D&D *well* as opposed to half-hearted…

    The key for me was going back and looking at the game and making my own call on ‘nesting’ the various rules editions/versions into how I play D&D and also taking exception with the meme that the DM is the person ‘responsible’ for developing the whole game with ‘all the fix’ns’…NOW the players draw the map, build the models, and generally contribute as much (if not more) than I, the DM. Remember, the DM is the person with the KEY and FINAL CALL, but in no way should that be interpreted as director, designer, or sole-creator…and this is even more applicable for folks that play the game ‘out-of-the-box’ and don’t write campaign-specific material.

    I also reached-out to gamers in my community (ala Gamerati tour style) and engaged with a group that now hosts our game at a great company space in downtown Olympia, WA (thanks to ‘’ for sharing a great space and enthusiasm)…being there seems to create a focus and desire to game that I have not seen in years…even started my 1st dnd blog to help track/celebrate the game =)

    So, space and place matter as much as players, and above that all is the message to ‘go back to the basics’ and really look at the original game and player/DM roles/dynamics while you ponder your next adventure

  12. Hey as a GM, I’ve been here and felt this way, a couple of times. I’d offer you the idea of taking a break and freshen up. If your around Atlanta, you could even come game with us for a month or two just to shake up your holdings and make it easier to sit back down with your gamers and try to find something they and you can enjoy. I hope you find what your looking for and some respite from the feelings you have now.

  13. The Dungeon Masters Guide says to have fun if the other players arent having fun than it’s not going to work. I believe everyone has had those experiences where your players do everything in their power to piss you off, in my experience having a few ‘surprises’ prepared can set your players on the right track, such as rival thieves guilds or fellow paladins watching your paladins actions prior to them taking action (I have to use the attonement threat particularly amongst the younger players frequently).

  14. One quick solution that may have been suggested in the comments (tl:dr) is to make the players themselves do their character sheets, choose loot, etc.

  15. Sounds to me like you care too much about what the players do and they’re not invested at all into the game.

    You do too much for the players and you plan too much, keep your trusty binder at your side and let the players tell the story you simply play the world.
    How fleshed out are the characters’ backgrounds? At the start of every session I ask my players questions about their characters and if they can’t think of anything I might assert something like “how did you get that scar?” and another player might help.
    It’s great fun I’ve started with a simple question like “what did you do on your birthday” and kept probing more into what happened on his birthday and why; after a half dozen questions or so I ended up inquiring about the expropriation of his family’s farm.

  16. Geez…hate when that happens, and right now im having a similar issue… however its more a ¨prima donna¨ problem. Last time i had to deal with your problem ( also in Ravenloft and I hope you solved BTW) i gave them a hellish scare. (Nightwalker coming from the cavern wall and grabbing the most precious item of each pc during the fight and crushing it to nothingness) …I even make one of the guys cry while I describe how his favorite ¨metal of the gods sword just turned into stardust¨. He cried cuz he came back to the game and focus on how his sword was no more… cruel, but totally worthy. later he went on a quest to find the metal and craft a new sword. I mean, you don´t need to make your players cry…haha but a kick where it hurts sometimes bring them back to the game.

    • Wow! That’s pretty hardcore dude I’m not going to lie. Since I wrote this piece I also did a follow up that’s probably worth reading if you have the time. Its about how I got back on track, fixed my game, and stopped having such a negative attitude.

      How to Lose Friends and Alienate PlayersThanks for stopping by and sharing your torment!

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Haste – Episode 16 with NewbieDM: Tome of Horrors, D&D Miniatures Skirmish Playtest, Group Implosion and more | Words in the Dark
  2. How To Lose Friends And Alienate Players
  3. You Got Your MTG In My D&D
  4. Adventuring In D&DNext

Shoot An Arrow At It