Yesterday, over on his gameblog, Jeff was talking about a game he ran last night and the possibility of a total party kill. I’m a player in the game (and the TPK didn’t happen by a long shot), but that wasn’t what really hit home about his blog entry. What really made an impact was when he said:
But times like this really underline the inherent conflict in my approach to Dungeon Mastering. On the one hand I am totally rooting for the party. I want the good guys to win and the players to go home happy. On the other hand I can’t reach a satisfactory payoff with doing my darnest to make life hell on the PCs. And there’s no better way of making a win credible than by setting up tough opposition and letting the dice fall where they may. The problem with this approach is that sometimes the whole thing goes down the toliet.
I completely understand this. When I GM, I want the PCs to win. I want the players to be happy. Most players are happy when they overcome challenges. This means that, as a GM, I should pose them challenges designed for them to overcome.
The problem that I run into is that when designing challenges for them to overcome, I tend to concentrate a bit too much on the overcoming bit and skimp on the challenge bit. I know that this was an issue in the Exalted game that I ran… after I almost killed a group of Solar PCs with a single starting Dragonblood I tended to underestimate the strength of the PCs and send fairly weak opponents against them. When truly serious opponents showed up, assistance was nearly always available (though not forced upon them).
I think what it boils down to is that I want the players to feel like their PCs are being challenged and that they are in danger. I don’t necessarily want them to be in danger. Perhaps what I need to do is seriously consider the resources of the PCs. If I build challenges that are specifically designed to drain their resources, rather than kill them, will that simulate danger enough? I don’t know.