Ask Angry: I Gave Too Much Loot!

Ask Angry time again! If you want to ask The Angry GM a question, send an e-mail to and put Ask Angry in the subject. Remember to tell me how to credit you. And be brief. Get to the point. I’m the wordy one.

Frank P asks:

How would you recommend that a DM deal with a player that continually plays in essence a clone of the same character over and over again regardless of what system you move to; and encourage them to try something new.

The best way for a GM to handle this situation is to wait until the player generates a new character. Then, take the character sheet out of his hands, rip it into pieces, throw the pieces on the ground, and jump up and down on them yelling “stop having fun wrong, stop having fun wrong, stop having fun wrong, stop having fun wrong.” And then, if there are any players still left in the room, generate a character for the player and say “you play this because I said so.”

Do you hear what I am saying?

This is a non-problem. But it is a very standard sort of non-problem that lots of GMs try to solve. It’s the problem of “comfort zone.” GMs have this idea that their job is to shove people, kicking and screaming out of their comfort zone “for their own.” GMs think that when players limit their experiences, they are missing out on all sorts of wonderful things and denying themselves all sorts of fun. But the truth is, some people just like to stay in their comfort zone. Some people like the familiar. They enjoy it. Those people often like to play the game just to relax and turn off their brain and do something familiar and easy. And there is nothing wrong with that. That’s why some people play MMOs or turn-based RPGs or whatever.

If the player is having fun and enjoys playing that character, leave them alone and let them play it. Or better yet, build games with that character in mind. It’s actually kind of nice for a GM to have some motherf$&%ing constancy to plan around. Eventually, the player may get bored and start branching out on their own. Eventually they won’t.

As a side note, the player may be trying to tell you change systems and games too often. Some people like to get into a character for the long haul. You may be denying the player a satisfying character arc if you change systems and campaigns frequently. And you might want to check to see if other players feel that way too.

Lord Dipeshyte asks:

Lord Angry, God King of Gaming,

I’m currently GMing my first ever campaign, and am currently three sessions into it. As you might expect, I fucked up here and there. Not so much with the story, but all the more with the mechanics. Everyone on my table had very little experience playing D&D, and even less actually DMing it. When I asked for advice from more experienced DMs, it boiled down to ‘Just homebrew it, man!’ which has led to me doing everything based on my feeling, from monster stats to loot to prices. Now, I can always change the stats of monsters, and the fact that this setting has a completely different monetezation system is something I can work with, but the loot is an issue. In the first session, I have given my players what turned out to be immensely powerful items. I do not wish to turn my game into an arms race, but I -do- want to correct my mistake and make my PC’s a bit less OP. What do I do?

You may credit me as ‘Lord Dipeshyte’. I am not kidding.

I left that last part in just so everyone would know I wasn’t making fun of Messer Dipeshyte.

First of all, yes, I totally expect every GM who isn’t me to f$&% up their first campaign. No one is good at something the first time they do it. I’d be shocked if someone DIDN’T f$&% up something. I would also find them and eat their heart so that (a) I would gain their strength and (b) so they would never try to challenge me for the title of best damned GM in existence.

I’m also going to say those other GMs gave you s$&% advice. Stop listening to people who aren’t me. Remember, everything is easy to an experienced GM and most GMs are too dumb to realize that. ‘Just homebrew it’ is TERRIBLE advice for a first-time GM. But, okay, how do you fix it?

Here’s the thing: there are some mistakes that are really HARD to fix because they persist from game to game. Magical items, skills, feats, powers, and spells; basically, anything you GIVE to a character sticks around and keeps f$&%ing things up. And any way you try to fix it other than the honest way is a screwjob.

Now, I don’t f$&% anything up ever. But some of my best friends are f$&%-ups. And from watching them, I have determined what I would do if I ever f$&%ed up anything like that, which I will never have to do because I never f$&% up and I’m not totally speaking from experience right now because I never certainly ended up giving out some really overpowered blessings and powers in a religious-crusader type game because they seemed like really cool story ideas and only later did I realize how utterly broken they made everything. That never happened to me. Which is fortunate. Because a really awesome campaign would have been at risk of being completely broken and ruined.

What I would do (hypothetically) is admit flat-out that I f$&%ed up. I f$&%ed up big. And the only solution is to remove the f$&% up OR start over. Because the campaign was going to rapidly spiral out of control if I didn’t take a hand in fixing it. And then I would just retcon the stuff. I might (hypothetically) swap out the offending powers or gear or spells or whatever for something similar but far more balanced. Or give some sort of consolation gift.

Now, since you are a new GM and I assume your players know that, you should have no problem saying exactly that. And apologizing. And fixing it.

Now, here’s the thing. I always advise new GMs to run a one-shot or short adventure as their first game. No matter what, no matter how cool, you end the thing in a session or two and then start over. And I advise that for exactly this reason. Because new GMs are going to f$&% things up and that mandates that you clean the slate once you get the big f$&% ups out of the way.

And, if it’s possible, my advice to you would be: start over. If that’s at all possible. Start a new game. And before you start tweaking all the stuff in the setting, use that stuff first so that you understand why it’s there and what it effects. Changing the value and availability of various items seems cool, but that sort of thing can ripple through the game, as you’re now discovering. A rock dropped into pond can grow into a tidal wave after a few miles or some s$&% analogy like that. So, if you can manage it, scrap it and start over. Homebrew a little less and get to know why D&D works the way it does before you make big sweeping changes. Maybe target a mini-campaign. Agree to play a simple D&D game for three months by the book. And then revisit building your own game and world. Get the players to buy-in to that plan.

Otherwise, own the mistake, confess it, and fix it through the magic of retcon.

13 thoughts on “Ask Angry: I Gave Too Much Loot!

  1. The first question was interesting to me. I felt completely guilty of thinking I should push players out of their comfort zone. I don’t think that comes out as much in real play, but whenever I’m theorizing I always seem to come back to thinking everyone should expand their engagement with the game.

    So, unless they are doing something disruptive, should GMs really just be leaving players to interact with the game as they like? Should I not be trying to draw out the quieter players a bit? Should I not be encouraging descriptive narration more than once or twice if they don’t seem to bite?

    Perhaps more to the point, am I misunderstanding the intent of co-operative play in an rpg? Is it really solely my job to present the entertaining sandbox, and then just leave them to interact as they wish? I’m self-aware enough to know I’m an entertainer type at the table, either side of the screen, and that not everyone else is. But when I think that players could have a richer experience doing X or Y, or perhaps even nudge them a bit here and there, am I really telling them they’re having fun wrong?

    I’m not sure how I feel about that, but worth thinking about. Thanks for getting the wheels turning.

    • Let’s be clear here: pushing someone out of their comfort zones means “deliberately making someone uncomfortable.” RPGs are still just games in the end. Things people do for entertainment. And people engage with games for different reasons and they have different desires. Some people do want to expand their horizons and experience new things and some people discover they like something they never expected after they are exposed to it. But the downside to that is that when you push people out of their comfort zone, you make them uncomfortable, and that means you may rob them of their fun.

      And there’s a bit of ego at work when you say “I’m going to push the players out of the comfort zone for their own good.” It implies you know better than they do what they will enjoy. It implies you know the “better way to enjoy RPGs.” And that’s a dangerous assumption to make.

      If the player is having fun and isn’t disrupting the game, then what problem are you actually trying to solve other than “the player isn’t engaging the game the way I think is the best way to engage it?” And that falls into the one-size fits all ego problem.

      Honestly, as a GM, you should be trying to engage the players in the way they enjoy being engaged most. But that’s an act of listening first, not talking first. Pay attention to what your players want and what they like and give them more of that. Of course, if that leads to you not having any fun, the real problem is you’re running for the wrong players.

      Now, that said, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally throwing something new out there to see if people bit. Offering the opportunity to engage the game in a different way is fine. And it’s good to take risks now and again. But that’s not what this is about. This is about viewing player comfort as a PROBLEM. And that is a dangerous attitude.

      If you throw something out there (like the descriptive narration bulls$&% some GMs are so f$&%ing obsessed with), and the players don’t bite or don’t engage, STOP IT. They don’t want that. it isn’t going to work. And they are going to get tired of you harping on it.

      As far as the quiet player at the table, some people are like that. And they are happy like that. I’ve had my share of wallflowers. You can offer them a spotlight, and they may or may not take it. But if you force them into the spotlight because you can’t imagine how anyone could possibly have fun by being a wallflower, all you’re going to do is put them on the spot and make them miserable.

      Now, if you want to take all of that and read me as saying: just run a sandbox and let the players engage however they want, that’s YOUR baby getting thrown out with the bathwater, not mine.

      • Well, I don’t think anyone is doing it wrong when they play an rpg. I’ve never done anything for a player’s ‘own good’ at the table. But it was good, and useful, to have those things put so squarely out front for examination.

        I did not interpret the idea of moving someone out of their comfort zone as actively making them uncomfortable when I read your reply to the question. I certainly hope it’s the truth when I say I don’t believe I’ve ever done so. While you could rightly respond that a player may not speak up, I can hope that the same crop of players regularly returning to play together with me is some affirming evidence. Displeasure is the antithesis of what we’re all aiming for on game night of course.

        I agree that listening and adjusting is key as GM. (as is waiting your turn as a player, and then not taking too long before passing it). What are they building their character to do? What questions to they ask? What actions do they seek out? What makes them sit up straighter or lean into the table? That’s the wolf you feed, of course.

        What this really made me realize is that my theory and practice may not line up. It isn’t so much at the table that I worry. It’s when I’m sitting around in my own mind or dispensing opinion into the digital ether, considering rpgs as a ‘thing’ rather than an experience, that I’ve come to wonder if I have a series of unexamined, preconcieved notions of the ideal. Or, perhaps what I am unintentionally doing is making statements about what I enjoy most about the rpg experience, without always including the caveat that your mileage may vary.

        So, it was an interesting read. It’s always nice to have cause to stop and re-evaluate from time to time.

  2. Here’s a thought: If too much loot is given out, why not just LET the players be overpowered? Let them enjoy their fancy new toys, maybe have people come to them with problems that would ordinarily be out of their league, until they level up to a point where they’re of a more appropriate level.

    Mind, judging CR and ECL and XP budgets and oh my god is daunting enough as it is without adding another factor in there.

    • I was thinking on the same line too… if the players want to continue with their overpowered characters, wouldn’t it be advisable to match the player’s power to an appropriate scale of conflict? Mere adventurers who have stumbled on to great power and wield it vicariously are soon noticed by gods and demon lords…

      You could pretty much just let the mistake guide the scope of the rest of the campaign.

      • Its a problem when it makes it difficult to plan encounters. There is a point in the Monty Haul campaign where the line between encounters that are too easy and encounters that are fatal becomes extremely thin. This is because the powers granted are rarely balanced. For example, you may have the attack and defensive bonuses of a character x levels higher than you, but you rarely end up with similar bonuses to your hit points. At level monsters can’t hit you, but level+x monsters will one-shot you when they do hit. Or you can one-shot a handful of level+x monsters with an AOE, but if they win initiative, they each get a swing at you first, and each of them can one-shot you if they hit.

        And that assumes you don’t get to the point where nothing can challenge you, unless the GM custom-builds monsters.

    • It can be tough for a new GM to work with all those new unbalanced factors. That’s why when I think of giving players a powerful or magic item, I’ll limit the number of uses it has. A potion can just be used once, or a wand will gradually lose its power until it’s just a piece of wood. When I introduce some more permanent items there will probably be some adverse side effects, hopefully to give the item some personality instead of a straight up “+2 to attack.”

      Then again I’ve been a GM for 3 sessions so I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.

  3. @ character clones:
    Everything is autobiographical. How is it possible to live outside of yourself? Anything we do is also a testifying of yourself. If a creator makes something that pretends to be very objective, it is the autobiography of a man who is very objective…
    Federico Fellini

    • If it’s the “autobiography of a man who is very objective” then he’s not actually PRETENDING to be objective, is he? 😛

  4. good read, thanks
    i share the thought that so long as everyone is having fun there isn’t a problem :p

    however being a new dm can be daunting, you want to keep to the rules, but you did play the first session adding +18 to attacks or you gave out that wish scroll at level 2 because you thought the 00 on the 2d10 meant critical loot. opps. learn the right rule :p

    rather than look at it as your mistake, look at it as an opportunity! perhaps a (insert plot or quest hook here) caused this random change in ability. i mean why did that little goblin have a wish scroll. wait what do you mean he stole it from hunter MC snooty man. uh oh pc’s better do something before his (generic low paid bounty hunter with robot/shark/dogs CR 3) get here.

  5. About the second question, MMOs have to deal with this problem all the time. They have to give people new and exciting stuff all the time, but they have to keep their game interesting. They usually do it through what’s called “incomparables”. Things that might have the same feel of power, but aren’t necessarily broken.

    For example, you accidentally give your fight a sword that deals +6 damage to every hit. At level 1. This sword is definitely breaking the game for everyone else, so something needs to change.
    Your next session, your fighter gets Medusa blood on his sword, and it starts to hiss. It is no longer a +6 sword, but instead a sword that heals a little bit of damage on every hit. The fighter thinks that’s really cool, and now the rouge feels better that his hit-range is at least within 10 hitpoints of the fighter’s

    There’s an even better explanation of this by Extra Credits on YouTube

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