cursing the thoroughness of the caller

This entry is part 10 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

REFEREE: The chest with the poison needle is full of copper pieces – appears to be about 2,000 of them.
CALLER: Empty out all the copper pieces and check the trunk for secret drawers or a false bottom, and do the same with the empty one. Also, do there seem to be any old boots or cloaks among the old clothes in the rubbish pile?
REFEREE: (Cursing the thoroughness of the caller!) The seemingly empty trunk has a false bottom…

OD&D, as described in the sample of play, is unique in that the DM seems to be TRYING TO HIDE HIS CONTENT FROM THE PLAYERS. It’s not just adversarial, it’s gnostic. The DM gets some kind of joy if they miss the treasure – but he still places the treasure.

I’m not convinced that this is really what OD&D game was like. When I played with Mike Mornard, I never got the feeling that Mike was rooting for us to ignore treasure. He might have created lots of treasure we never saw, but but he’d be happy if we were smart enough to earn it.

Trying to twist this example around into something I can understand, I can see playing OD&D as a game more like the Descent boardgame than the D&D I’m used to: the DM is bound by certain rules of fair play, but is actually in competition with the players. If the PCs find more than half of the treasure, the players win. If the DM manages to outsmart the players by concealing more than half of the treasure, he wins.

Naturally, at the end of such a game, the DM would reveal all the hiding places of treasure, and cackle. “There was an onyx in that desk in the Gnoll room, but you walked right by it. (cackle). The pile of discarded rubbish contained Elven Boots, guess you should have checked that out. (cackle)”

Onwards, friends, to more and better loot!

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7 Responses to “cursing the thoroughness of the caller”

  1. I’ve contemplated before the idea of playing with two DMs, one more adversarial than the other. Because normally combat with monsters has the peculiar property that the referee and the opponent are the same person, and that’s kind of weird, an invitation to abuse of either the players or the rules. Letting one DM be the enforcer of the rules against both the players and the guy who’s role-playing the monsters seems like it would be in some way more pure.

    But this is the first time I’ve thought that the same separation of powers might have a use outside of combat. I guess traps are another case.

  2. OtspIII says:

    The way I generally spin this is that the ‘cursing the thoroughness of the caller’ is all theatrics–of course the DM wants the party to excel, but a healthy dose of faux-antagonism (faux-gnosticism?) makes the triumphs of the party all the more fun.

  3. Rory Rory says:

    In a lot of dungeons, the DM could NEVER gloat, right? If the PCs could ever re-enter the dungeon, the DM must keep his victories all to himself. This is great; it’s like a crueler version of completing a secret spy mission that keeps your country safe and being unable to gloat about it!

  4. Philo Pharynx says:

    I play up the faux-antagonism during combats. I love joking about TPK’s and playing the monsters smart. I don’t really want a wipe, but it gets the players engaged and eager ot keep the game moving.

    As for treasure, no, I’m not upset when they find it.

  5. Tavis says:

    Here is Rob Kuntz on playing in the original Lake Geneva campaign:

    “Now transfer [Gary’s wargaming] mindset into the D&D game with him as DM. His opponents were the players, we all knew that, and he did too… This was a game of strategy and tactics, and that meant, on both sides, that outwitting the opponents involved was now at hand…”

    This is a fascinating essay, lots more to see at that link. I find it easier to understand when thinking as a player. Paul, one time when you were DMing you broke out of your role to say “If you go into the tomb, you’ll face a substantially above-level for but with treasure to match.” This fit the 4e ethic of transparency of rules for all participants in the game, which reminds me of Descent, but it robbed me of a little of the enjoyment I would have had if you’d simply said “There is a chill air coming from the tomb, and your captive goblin sets himself in fear. What do you do?” A certain adversarial relish that you know something I don’t know and my guy’s life depends on making the right deduction adds spice as a player. Even though as a DM it might feel like bullying since I hold all the cards, things like rolling dice in the open and using pre-planned encounters can help me feel like I am playing fair even as I use mind games to throw my player-opponents off guard like Kuntz describes.

  6. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    Yeah, what Rob said about it being a wargame, plus what OtspIII said about Gary being melodramatic. Remember “Curse You, Kuntz!” when Rob corrected Gary’s map? Gary didn’t REALLY want Rob to be actually cursed.

  7. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    Also, about Rob talking about ‘misdirection’ by taking a whizz or whatever: It was also a game of exploration. If we hit a teleport room and Rob had suddenly stopped and turned several pages in the binder of Greyhawk castle levels, we would have known something is up. What the heck fun is that?

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