You only need to remember things that benefit you

I’m not a cheater (not a conscious one, anyway) but in 3rd edition, I often forgot to keep strict track of the duration of Haste, Rage and similar effects. My group tracked these durations by keeping a d6 face turned to the number of rounds remaining. Often a turn would go by… or three… and it wouldn’t occur to anyone to decrement the die. We’d finish a grueling battle and the Haste counter would still be turned accusingly to 6.

If I had a negative condition on me (blind for 4 turns, for instance), it was a different story. When I took an attack, I’d think about my blindness and about how I wanted to get rid of it, and I would decrement that die.

In the stark watches of the night, the time when, traditionally, good men must come to grips with their ethical failings as D&D players, I tell myself that I’m no more dishonest than other players; it is my subconscious that is a cheater. I think this is a universal human trait.

The brain is wired to be good at keeping track of potential avenues of advantage. They are exciting, and we like to dwell on them. The brain is not so good at keeping track of all the occasions on which we should step up like a man and take our medicine. Those are boring, dull, forgettable, and stupid; best forgotten.

Game mechanics should work with the human brain. I propose this game-design principle: “You only need to remember things that benefit you”. Players should have to remember their +2 to attack from the cleric, but not be counted on to volunteer that they grant combat advantage. Same with the DM: the DM should have to remember all the monsters’ situational bonuses, but the players should chime in with all the monsters’ relevant penalties. NOT THAT THIS HAS EVER BEEN A PROBLEM. When I’m DMing, the players won’t shut UP about all the horrible effects they’ve applied to monsters. “Don’t forget the orc is Weakened.” “Do you remember that every time you make a dice roll, the gnoll takes 5 damage?” “Did the yuan-ti just move? Every time the yuan-ti moves, I get to steal one item from the DM’s house.”

4e generally works well with the “You only need to remember things that benefit you” principle, although it was never an explicit design goal, as far as I know. I forget to make my saving throw occasionally, but not often (and if I do, a friend reminds me). Ongoing damage is a different story. I often forget that unless the DM says, “Did you take your 5 poison damage?” None of my fellow players ever prompt me, either; you feel like a squealer reminding another PC about ongoing damage. It’s like turning a fellow prisoner over to the mean warden.

Ongoing damage conveys no advantage to the PC; and it happens at the beginning of the PC’s turn, interrupting all the exciting plans the PC has formulated for his or her action. It’s in the way. It’s forgettable. I wish that inflicting ongoing damage were part of the attacker’s turn. I think it would be remembered more often and feel more like an attack, and not like irritating bookkeeping.

An advantage of the “You only need to remember things that benefit you” principle is that forgetting carries its own punishment. If you forget to make your saving throw or add your extra damage, there’s no need to try to backtrack and figure out what would have happened; you simply lose your benefit. It’s annoying, but you’ve only cheated yourself. It’s more palatable than having your character killed because the DM forgot that his monster was stunned.

4e has far too many unique effects to institute this rule across the board, but I will remember it when I design my own game, “Quest for the Crown 2: Quest for the Ruby Emerald: The RPG”

3 Responses to “You only need to remember things that benefit you”

  1. Rory Madden says:

    There are a few annoying conditions that EVERYONE has to remember, namely:

    MARKED: I as the DM better not forget or the player will get a free wack at me. And the player better not forget or they won’t get a free wack at me.

    MISC.: The avenger has some annoying at-wills that allow them to do extra damage when an enemy moves away or hits someone else and of course wizards have all their zones to keep track of. If the DM forgets these things, their monsters get hosed and of course the players want to stick it to the DM at every opportunity.

    As much as the “remember the thing that helps you” philosophy works theoretically, I also kind of like anything that makes the DM’s job easier, so I’m hesitant to say the DM should keep track of all the players’ negative effects. I kind of like the idea of a player who handles that sort of thing, perhaps with note cards or the like.

  2. Claire Claire says:

    I like this idea. I actually think that in the case of being marked etc, it’s to the DM’s advantage to remember that a guy is marked for the very reasons Rory describes! so it would count under the rule.

    I tend to remember all my negative effects and so on because I have a super good memory, but it’s annoying because then your super-good memory works against you. You’re playing D&D with a bunch of people like Paul who have a terrible memory! and they’re just sawing away at that orc with the +5 to hit that only was supposed to last until the end of the minotaur’s turn or whatever, and I’m like, “um, I guess my defenses are at -2 now guys.” blub blub blub. I always try to take my ongoing damage at the end of the term when I get it–b/c you know there’s no way you can save before the beginning of your next turn–and there has been at least one time where everyone was like, “Wait, you didn’t take your ongoing damage” and I had to take 2 ongoing damages in a row. PUNISHED for being on top of things.

    Also I kind of feel like if you told the DM the conditions at the beginning, he should remember them. Like that time I was fighting that horrible growing monster, I used some crazy feat that gave me +5 to hit but lowered all my defenses by like 5. I totally don’t think he was taking that into account when he calculated whether the thing hit me the next turn, and I was kind of like, “eh, I’m not going to bring this up.” It wasn’t like he asked what my AC was. He was just like, “That misses.” Anyway, I think in a normal game this would make me feel guilty and sad and like my guy is really actually dead, but in this case the DM was totally nerfing his guy anyway because he thought I was going to cry or something, so I felt not super invested in anything anyway.

    That’s an interesting topic! To nerf or not to nerf mid-game, and how to do it without making your PCs lose all interest in the outcome of the battle.

  3. 1d30 says:

    “When the DM touches his nose I get to steal one of his dice”

Leave a Reply