View Full Version : The Glance and the Comb: DM Philosophy

2007-01-31, 03:09 PM
So an issue came up in my campaign where a player had accidentally undercharged him/herself 20,000 gold in his/her item list. Most DMs have probably dealt with this problem at one time or another, but to me it brought up the point of "Why hadn't I caught it sooner?"

The answer is that it falls back to my DMing philosophy. I like to be surprised by my PCs, I like every encounter to be a sounding board. Challenge Ratings are nice and all but depending on how the DM uses the monsters and how the PCs react a situation can be vastly skewed to one side or another.

So I approve the character sheets of my PCs at a glance, and then go back later when they pull the trick out of their sleeves to figure out how I've been one-uped. Granted, sometimes this comes back to bite me when I find a PC who has stepped over the line, but for the most part it makes my campaigns a lot more satisfying for the PCs and a lot more interesting for me.

So I pose this challenge to you, my fellow DMs, do you bring out the fine-toothed comb when approving a character sheet or do you just give it the glance so you can be surprised later?

Fax Celestis
2007-01-31, 03:13 PM
I cover my PCs sheets with a fine-tooth comb, so that I not only determine any discrepancies and gauge power level, but also get a feel for what the player is trying to do with the character. Even distribution of ability scores says something about what the character is intended to be, as does gear selection, skill selection, and feat selection, almost as much as a backstory does.

In all, I don't examine the sheet to determine errors; I examine the sheet to determine the character.

2007-01-31, 03:24 PM
Fine toothed comb here I have had a couple players over the years that have selective memory and try to get away with stuff.

Dairun Cates
2007-01-31, 03:26 PM
A little of column A, a little of Column B. I don't like to know EVERYTHING my players can do, but I do have to catch the horrible unbalanced things players do occassionally. This is especially worse in most of the systems I run.

2007-01-31, 03:28 PM
Much closer to fine-tooth-comb, though surprises are not unwelcome.

2007-01-31, 03:30 PM
Less than a comb, more than a glance ... kinda of a skim to make sure the right number of feats are there, any unexpectantly huge modifiers, "player house ruled" unauthorized options.

I improvise mostly with a status quo encounter design, so the PC's decide the plot mostly while I adjudicate likely obstacles and outcomes.

2007-01-31, 03:35 PM
I like to be surprised as a DM but not by items and feats that magically appear I like the ingenious use of legal stuff.

2007-01-31, 03:37 PM
Maybe its the RPer in me, but so far almost every game I've run the character sheets a rarely a true guage on the character itself. Yes, they tell you what the character does and eventually maybe what the character wants to do but... Its really how the players play the characters that is telling.

A really funny coincidence happened in my Evil campaign. Four of the six characters in the game are female, and two of the four are these big sex symbols (One of them even used the words "Sex Drive" in her post, made me laugh). Thing is, of the two guys, one is a death cultist and the other is a shaggy barbarian and both of them have pretty much stated that they're going to ignore the existence of the rest of the party for now. Additionally, the campaign is set in the middle of a wasteland and there won't be much of a chance for "diplomacy" or even standard interaction with anyone besides their party members and eventually minions. (Unless they change the situation, which could happen)

So I'm curious how those four are going to play this out, I can see where they wanted to go from a glance, but no amount of reading the character sheet is going to tell me where they will go.

2007-01-31, 04:41 PM
I tend to go over the initial sheet with a fine-toothed comb. I double check every detail. Part of it is because my games usually have so many house rules that even experienced players are likely to slip up. Part of it is becuase I usually work with the player to build the character, suggesting feats and prestige classes that match the concept, filling in the character's backstory with details from my campaign world, etc.

Once the game starts, though, I rarely take more than a glance at the sheets, unless the character does something rather unexpected (such as using a feat that I never remembered them having). Then I'll usually check that everything adds up.

2007-01-31, 04:51 PM
Characters are created together, possibly in a separate session. Me and - preferrably - all the players. One player (the one who actually hits the books on his own) does builds on his own, and often throws stuff my way outside of the game, and I comment. (It's great. "That's a bit overpowered." "You're right? How about this?" "That's better. Did you consider that?" "Oh, neato.")

This means I have a very precise idea about the characters and their abilities. Since I know the rules best, I tend to give feedback and suggestions to my players. ("Straight paladin? Are you crazy? You want to get into one of these prestige classes here as soon as possible...")

Everything they have is something I OK'd or gave them during play, so any surprises they pull on me have been earned, and are a positive thing.

2007-01-31, 06:25 PM
I like to be surprised as a DM but not by items and feats that magically appear I like the ingenious use of legal stuff.

I guess glance is a bit too... "brief" of a term. I do check their sheets, read the items, and save the submissions (Ninja editors get slapped in the jaw with an anchor). What I'm saying is I don't go in and figure out what all their stuff does when they put it together, or find all the angles they could come at me from.

As for items and abilities, I'm intimately familiar with most of the standard stuff (both mundane and magical) so a glance is really all it takes to solidify it in my head or raise a red flag that something may be wrong.

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My problem with making the characters work to surprise the DM is a matter of time. With most online groups you're meeting these guys for the first time, and you're looking to hook them into the campaign. Letting them surprise the DM through their initial creativity is a good way to do that, otherwise it just seems like work.

PCs get real bored real fast when the DM is always three steps ahead occasionally offering little tidbits for them to show off their individual talents on. Most people like to think of things in terms of how they can be useful in every situation, rather than sitting back for the solo work to commence.

2007-01-31, 06:42 PM
seeing as im the only one with the books i am atleast present for charater creation. if its not core they have to run it by me, any questions, if they're not sure exactly what something does they can ask, im there.

when they finish i look to make sure they don't have anything silly like the hand of vecna or a rod of wonder at first level.

when it gets silly i get a notepad and make a stat list and item list for everyone, so i know whats going on. my bro in law had his spell pouch stolen, so lately he thinks he has all kinds of wands.

2007-01-31, 06:43 PM
Not exactly what I meant.

As I said, anything that my players' characters have has been OK'd or given out by me at some point. Any surprising or creative use they make of it has therefore been earned already (either by thinking up the choices or earning the stuff in-game). The main thing was that I don't mind the surprises; I don't see anything negative about the players suddenly pulling out a bunch of special abilities I'd forgotten they had and using them to completely decimate an encounter that was supposed to be grueling. Good on them! I bet it feels pretty damn cool for the players, too - "Wow, he wasn't expecting that! Did you see the look on his face? Man, that power/ability/item sure proved worth the trouble we went to!"