Player vs Reader

Yesterday I hosted one of our periodic Saturday D&D sessions. They are always fun, with way too many salty and sugary snacks to munch on and ruin our dinner, which we eat even though we are still ninety percent full. In general, it is always a good time had by all, with enough breaks to satisfy our need for generic conversation between bouts of role-playing. 

My books came up at some point (yay!). I am happy to report my alpha reader is “enjoying the fourth book so far.” The combination of discussing my books and an article my partner is reading about the art of game mastering set us thinking about the different approaches needed for a player audience compared to a reading audience. 

I believe the article he is reading was written by The Angry GM, as he follows that creator for TTRPG content. The article referenced how the GM should present the facts to the players: what their PCs (player characters) sense or perceive. However, they should not provide what the PCs intuit. My second-hand understanding is that the argument for this is that a TTRPG, by its nature, can only challenge the players mentally. Making intuitive connections for them takes away from that challenge. 

Writing for my readers, I am presenting the story and the characters. My characters must figure out the puzzles and face the challenges thrown in their path. The reader joins Annalla on her journey, perceiving the world through her experience and thoughts. They might figure something out before her and feel proud when their assumption proves correct, or they could be surprised by a curve I throw their way. Perhaps my character’s thoughts or actions reveal a twist to them that they did not intuit with the meager literary breadcrumbs provided. 

For writing my books, it does not matter as much if the reader catches those clues or not. My cleverly laid trail will reveal itself eventually. Perhaps the books deserve another read-through to find all the little pieces missed on the first pass that become so clear at the end. Some of my favorite books include this aspect, and it does not even need to be a massive twist. Sometimes the smallest reveals are the most memorable. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to my D&D game, I need the players to put the clues together, and the task is made more challenging with a boxed campaign. With a homebrew campaign, I could utilize common references, but with a pre-made campaign, I must try to translate to our common references where I can or hope they do at least some investigation. 


I told my players multiple times they should not treat this dungeon like a run-and-gun, first-person shooter. Each level is like a little town with factions, social dynamics, the town proper, and the outskirts. If they run through the place fighting everything and everyone they come across, they will end up with a total party wipe and effectively lose the game. 

After facing a large group of hostile Drow in the prior session, they started the day by scouting to get the lay of the land. They found the river and some rafts, evidence of fighting, evidence of Drow killing troglodytes, more Drow watching the river, and a good size hobgoblin patrol guarding one area. Their eventual decision is to lure the hobgoblins into an ambush so they can get past them. It’s not a bad decision, and I liked the planning that went into the approach and thinking about using their scouting and the terrain to their advantage. They also had some hostile encounters with hobgoblins on prior levels, so assuming hostility was not unwarranted. 

However, there are two lingering concerns in my mind. First, they did not really interact much with the breadcrumbs left for them. The biggest oversight was the evidence of fighting throughout the tunnels. They asked if they could discern anything from the blood on the floor, but only once when they peeked at it from around a corner, down the hall across the room. “No, you are too far away.” They did not ask again. 

DM: “You see a fork in the road with a signpost between the paths hidden behind some brush.”

Players: “We go to the right.”

Part of the problem was the troglodytes. Their presence likely pushed an incorrect assumption on the players. While they are perfectly fine questioning me at every turn, they firmly believe their assumptions are infallible. I can try to minimize the troglodyte red herrings, but the other issue is for them to address before I stop beating them over the head with the breadcrumbs and start leaving the trail as intended. 

The second concern came when the attempt to lure the hobgoblins out failed. Instead of chasing, they called out, “Who goes there?” When the unexpected happens, you often have three options: fight, flight, or freeze. In reaction terms here: attack them, flee to regroup, or hold your ground and have a chat. In my opinion, you can always attack. That should generally be the last course of action because it effectively eliminates your other options. After attacking, you can’t talk to them, you limit your ability to escape, and potentially add another enemy to a growing list. 

Any conversation, no matter how short, is an opportunity for information gathering. Rather than talking, though, the players effectively said, “Well, the ambush is off. Charge!”


We only play once a month, so I cannot expect them to follow the long, meandering trail of information without some guiding lights from me. However, the immediate, in-session breadcrumbs bear a reasonable expectation of being gleaned and followed. 

I will not remove this aspect and nerf the levels to allow for a run-and-run playstyle, as I don’t think that kind of game is fun for long. The little clues make the world more alive and engage the players’ minds. As the article (as told to me) said, rolling a fourteen on a D20 is not a challenge for the players. It’s the little puzzles and discoveries making up the meat of the game. If we don’t find the happy balance, the Half-Pints will become lost in Undermountain forever, disappearing as so many adventuring parties before them. 

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