Monday, May 27, 2013

Theoretically Optimal DMing

Been a while. But I have a degree now. Anyway, we’re still waiting on one of our writers to sober up, so in lieu of our SUE fare, have a totally unrelated story.
Our DM here was not the SUEthor. In some ways, that might have been at least a departure from the monotony. Rather, we had an expert in D&D 3.5 theoretical optimization for our DM, and we were running through a first-level D&D 3.5 module.
One other player was really of note here. He’s a great guy, really, but he has a habit of playing absolutely ludicrous character concepts and really playing them to the hilt, which can get a bit disruptive. Here, for example, he played a low-Int Darfellan Paladin who carried two shields, because he chose to Bite Evil rather than Smite it, and being a Paladin of Orcas had Detect Evil Sonar rather than the normal version—and was all too happy to RP this. Loudly.
Our other players were a complete newbie who was handed a Crusader as “the most optimal martial class” and someone who, given it was Level 1, felt justified in playing a Truenamer. It wasn’t like it made him any less effective. I played a Cleric, because Cleric is my go-to 3.5 class for when I really don’t have a good idea for a one-shot and nobody else really wants to dispense hit points. Crusader can apparently heal everyone infinitely “by punching a wall” by RAW, though.
As I said, we were level 1. I know low-level play can be fun, but I’ve always found it to be much more so when there were things like a story and intriguing NPCs to distract from the mechanics. Here, we had none of these; there were kobolds in a mine and we got hired to turn kobolds into dead kobolds for literally dozens of gold pieces. Darfellan Man was hugely annoying during this part, shouting his way through talking to the widow of the mine supervisor and getting the guards down on us.
Now, the DM here has this thing he does where, on anything sufficiently technical, he’ll just start…talking, as rapidly and monotonously as possible in this perfectly regular singsong voice until everyone else shuts up. He usually does this about either computer science minutae or the finer, more agonizingly pedantic points of finance, regardless of what anyone else is talking about. Just…imagine a trial like that. He insisted on RPing through the entire thing; I, representing the defense, tried for a plea bargain: throw us into the kobold-infested mine, we all die, and you get out of court early today. The judge (who was also the mayor, the bailiff, the sole witness, the sheriff, and the prosecutor) was blathering on about how he’s decided to raise interest rates by 400000% so maybe he’ll make the one-day sentence a  4000 day sentence who really knows, and he did this for a real-time hour while no one else paid attention. I think we missed learning something about a burning plague, maybe with a priest? It didn’t matter. Plot, for this guy, was just that thing before the killing started.
We eventually got shanghaied into the mine, and we got ambushed by kobolds. I nearly died, and spent literally the entire fight taking two damage, dropping unconscious, being healed for two, and missing a nearby kobold, before the process repeated. The Truenamer actually got one of his not-spells off, which was the highlight of the “fight”. Eventually the DM decided the kobolds just got bored, called the fight off, and pointed us in the direction of “the person you’re here to kill”. Plot Arrows, for your convenience.
We saw some more stuff, but I was still unconscious for all of it and no one checked, so I didn’t really pay attention. Then there were zombies, I turned them, and “a random guardsman comes in and kills them all to spare me rolling more dice.” Thanks, GM!
That was most of the dungeon. There was a boss…I think… we bull rushed him off a pillar and the Darfellan held him underwater until he died. Then we went home and got paid.
Sort of. We got paid 10% of what was promised to us on the grounds our employer had decided to hire the kobolds to mine instead of clearing them out. This caused the GM to launch into another long lecture about some financial trickery or other related to wages, and me to mutter “well, yeah, you’d have to be stupid NOT to hire the awesome miners living in your mine.”
And of course the GM mishears this, decides I called the rich NPC stupid, and declares my name will be blackened throughout the land, I will be barred from all cities ever, etc. Naturally, I figure I have nothing to lose (and the adventure is over anyway) so I start whaling on him.
At which point the GM decides that, rather than a 6th level Expert, he is a 6th level Sorcerer. With PC-level wealth, already distributed in custom magic items. The rest of the party got in on the act before he Mage Handed us a book full of Explosive Runes, told us what they said, and we all nearly died. We fled as pariahs, while the GM explained how the new Sorcerer was hanging around purely to manipulate ore prices with something to do with trading of stock. In total, about half of what he said during the whole adventure was unrelated, disjointed, esoteric financial blather. Immersion? What’s that?
So that’s my story. It sucked, and in a way worse than the SUEthor’s idiocy; just a boring march of numbers until no one cared. There’s really nothing to say about it, except that this is the kind of thing people were willing to play with the SUEthor to avoid.


  1. So, I've played the module he ran three times past, once while running it. Every time it managed to be interesting, since each consecutive instance featured a different twist, courtesy of Rule 0. But this... yeah, this. I smelled trouble as soon as I read "expert in D&D," and knew how this would go at "theoretical optimization."

    Where do you find these people?

    1. To be fair, I was under the impression he thought the dungeon was so easy it wouldn't matter if we played low tier classes like the truenamers (and i love their fluff). I was not expecting the 'these guards are actually guards' so they fix all the problems and own you due to breathing funny etc. I really didn't expect much from the plot, I was just bored, since this DM has shown that plot is the lowest priority and clever rules lawyering/exploits is the only thing that matters in a game.

  2. In case anybody's wondering, the module name is literally "The Burning Plague". It's a 1st-level pdf for 3rd edition D&D that was released for free on the WotC site.

    1. How many jokes do people make about "you ought to get that looked at"?