Hey DCR could you talk about this on your show? We are a small gaming group in Calgary and could use your insight.
Also we just have to say we love the Ed & Double D special!
So here is my question.
How do I deal with overly cautious players?
Recent encounters with hard to hurt opponents have left the party pretty beat up. Now the players are now seemingly scared by similar encounters and prefer fleeing.
I'm GMing a game of Pathfinder for friends, using a premade module. They plays a team of four characters and it's been going great so far. Recently though, the group has started facing harder opponents with various immunities or high damage output. Result: the party has taken a beating but is still alive. My players confidence though? Went down for the count.
The party had a series of encounters with creatures that displayed unusual powers and immunities. Some of them were more dangerous than I think the module intended, and others would have been less dangerous but the party didn't react the way the module expected (not least because they were spooked by the earlier dangerous encounters). The party also didn't get any mental breathing room by being given fights they could simply smash in between these more dangerous or unusual encounters.
This resulted in the players quickly getting spooked, feeling like they were in over their head, and so we spent the session with the characters running away. It did not make for a fun session on either side.
How do I reassure the players and make the fighting something to look forward to rather than a frustrating experience of hide and seek?
Should I start adapting the scenario to manage the player's fear level and put a few easier encounters to show their party is not inept? Or should I push some tools that could help against those opponents?
• How do you reassure your players when a new encounter brings back an unexpected previous-encounter trauma?
• How do you reconcile the fact the encounter is meant to be scary, is indeed scary to the players, but you suddenly wish it would not be?
The issue has been discussed with the player right after the session since it was obvious we were both disappointed by these few hours. He admitted being gradually scared by multiple things:
• A previous encounter with a creature which required spending more resources than usual to defeat. The problematic encounter is meant to look like that creature at first, so... trauma.
• The description of the new creature (it is eerie and menacing in various ways)
• The legend one of the PCs remembered, which seems linked to the creature (legendary creature?!)
• The problematic encounter's secret true nature led to alarmingly unusual and apparent rule-breaking effects when the party didn't figure out the truth quickly.
The player actually enjoys combat, quite possibly more than roleplaying encounters. He is not yet knowledgeable about all the tactical possibilities of the system though (nor am I, really).
Gamer Forge Response:
Holy guacamole! This one was a doozy! Its a bummer when your heroes get their day wrecked, but when it comes to climbing back on the saddle, DCR says:
1. It's okay to stroke their ego a little. That's the importance of henchman. Not every battle or conflict needs to be epic-sized. If "epic" is the norm, then what becomes the new "epic"? When the players are having a problem getting their confidence back, throw them a bone. Give them a battle or two with some puny goblins or something. But when you throw them a bone, DO NOT throw them a curve ball. If they find a five skeletons, then they find ONLY five skeletons. No swerves. What they see is what they get. The bridge of trust needs to rebuilt, and it won't happen if they don't trust the one responsible for telling where the bridge leads.
2. Introduce an NPC to accompany the heroes to give them a boost of confidence. But friends don't let friends play NPC's willy-nilly. An adventuring NPC should never outshine or outperform a player character in any statistical manner. The NPC is there to act as cheerleader, or worst case scenario, as training wheels. If the players grow attached to the hireling or henchman or whatever the NPC ends up being, just have it handling things non-specifically in the background. Let the players have the spotlight whenever possible. If you want to hire a mercenary or henchman to carry your adventure gear, remember that players should have to pay or share the spoils of battle, including experience. This opens the door for when the players wish to separate from the NPC by not letting them get too attached. On the other hand, if the players do get attached, they won't mind so much sharing the spoils and can be there to cheer on the players once the training wheels come back off. This is about getting their confidence back, after all.
3. Now, for the hard part. And we all three agreed that this one is tough. But some lessons need to be learned the hard way. If your players drew the conclusion that the creature was legendary because the words "legend" and "creature" appeared in the same sentence, then they deserve what happened. If the DM gave them ample chances and clues to keep them on a certain path, and they still arrived at that conclusion, then they deserve to be running. They bit the hand that fed them. But now that that part is over, now its time for both parties to move on and learn from the mistake. Hopefully, the players can take a hard, objective look at the problem and the outcome, and take back an experience of growth. And laughter. If you can't laugh after learning, then what was the point of learning anything?
Bonus XP: For the penultimate NPC, look no further than Star Wars. C-3PO was annoying, eccentric, droll, and flat-out hated by fans. But there were a few moments where the heroes would not have succeeded without his help. Yet, he was out-classed physically by everyone else, including R2-D2. When it came time to fight, he scooted neatly into the background, and helped set the mood for the entire film franchise. He was endeared just enough to keep him around, and filled just the right niche when the time was just right. Most importantly, he was right beside the heroes during their greatest moments and welcomed them home, not do the work for them or take credit. Perfect. Simply perfect.