How to deal with creative Players in D&D

Creative players

Every dungeon master wants creative players in D&D? What do you do when your players start asking to ‘dodge’ attacks? Perhaps your players always try to blind every enemy that they encounter. Whatever crazy thoughts your players have for you, you are not prepared.

To deal with creative players in D&D you need to keep your responses within reason, follow the rules, and make sure that you keep your pre-established precedents.

How do you prepare for the unexpected? How in the world will you answer if a player tries to do three backflips and then attack an enemy while ninja jumping away? Today you will learn how to deal with these crazy types of situations and be able to encourage players thinking outside the box.

Rules

Obviously you should be a master of the rules but sometimes we do not quite remember every obscure rule that the players want to use. When this happens you need to do two things.

  1. Think about what you know.
  2. Use what you know to think of what would happen.
  3. Don’t look at the rulebook

That is it! A very simple set of rules but important to adhere to. Let’s go over an example to illustrate how these rules are applied.

‘A player tries to do three backflips and then attack an enemy while ninja jumping away.’

In this example the player is attempting to do three backflips. Backflips are part of movement so that can be incorporated into their movement. Backflipping is an acrobatic, so they should roll acrobatics. Should the player roll acrobatics for each one or separately?

This is where you apply what you know. Whenever a player does an action you make them roll for success or failure. Are these three acrobatic flips one action or three? You have to make that call based on your world and past precedents. Now if the player succeeds the one or three rolls for acrobatics you make them roll to attack possibly at disadvantage, advantage, or normally. It is in the end your call and depends on the players acrobatics roll/rolls.

Lastly, do not look at the rulebook mid game. If you need to make a call use methods 1 and 2. Using the rulebook detracts from your authority, opens everything up to a debate, and is just a bad idea. Do not look at the rulebook in order to make a call. You can however look at the rulebook afterwards just to check : ).

Your call

You noticed how in the rules section I didn’t tell you what to do right? Every world is different, and every dungeon master is different. Mary may make the player roll one acrobatics check because Mary thinks that this is one weird maneuver while Jim the realist wants the player to roll for every single acrobatics check.

Jim is not wrong. He wants to take into account every action and make the player reconsider the ridiculousness of what they are proposing. Jim wants his world to be more realistic and not become a power fantasy. This is why Jim makes the player roll for all three backflips. Once the player knows this they may reconsider and take the game more seriously instead of just goofing off.

Mary is not wrong. Mary thinks that this is hilarious and wants the players to have fun. If the player is discouraged to try something like this that player will possibly feel shut down and not be as creative. Worse, that player will not be having fun. Mary likes to play fast and loose with the rules so one roll for this epic feat seems fair.

I will tell you how to deal with some common issues, but in the end you must consider your playstyle, group, and world. If you make a call that is different from an idolized dungeon master that does not mean that you are wrong. This just means that you have a different game, and that is perfectly okay. Apply the two rules in the rules section and you will do fine.

Setting a precedent

When you want players thinking outside the box you have to set some precedents. If a player rolls once for three flips every time a player or monster should roll once for three flips. I am a big advocate on letting enemies do what the players do. This makes the game more alive and less like a modern day video game where enemies stand around a corner waiting for the players to  come around and kill them.

Dungeons and Dragons is a living breathing game that has many precedents. If you a monster is hit on an 18 it will always be hit on an 18. If all of the sudden an 18 misses with no expliantion your players will get confused, possibly angry, and you will have a lot of explaining to do.

There is no difference when you set these fast and loose calls. If you say that only one roll is needed for 3 acrobatic flips in one turn stick to it. If Player A can do it but player B has to make two or even three rolls they will not know why and possibly accuse you of favoritism. Don’t let this happen. Stick by the rules that you have set and if you really need to change them talk to your group and tell them why this rule is being changed.

Explaining to the players

“I want to dodge an attack instead of relying on armor!” This is a common thing that new players ask and it makes sense. Why would you just rely on armor instead of trying to get out of the way? In game we do not just rely on armor. The static number called armor class does not convey this message properly though so you have to talk to your players.

Explain to them that armor class factors in you trying to get out of the way and the armor that you wear is just in case you cannot get out of the way. A great way of explaining this is by saying 10 is the default armor. Since the player’s dexterity modifier is +2 any number below ten is a miss on the enemy’s part since, well, they suck. 10-11 is where your player dodges to get out of the way, and anything after that is based on what armor is worn to deflect the enemies attack.

In that explanation I told the player how their concerns are already addressed and explained it to them. I did not tell them to just accept it. Players want to know how things are working when they ask about them. Explain to your players how systems or actions work narratively. That is what a dungeon master is supposed to be great at!

If you ever make a mistake and the player does not get it or says that your explanation is just plain wrong, ask your player how they think it should be explained. Most of the time the player will give you a great explanation. Go with it as long as the player does not gain an advantage. If the player is still curious and doesn’t have an answer tell them that it is an interesting question and that you will look into it.

Balancing

“I go for his eyes!” Players thinking outside of the box almost always try to gain some combat advantage. “I break his knees!”

While it is nice to get players thinking outside of the box, you need to reel them in. Do not give players combat advantages for these types of attacks. If players get in proper position or pull off some stunt that takes extra actions, it is up to you. If the player just wants to get a combat advantage from rolling a normal hit do not let this happen.

Remember how we talked about precedents? If a player is allowed to gain combat advantage from a normal attack you can bet that they will try and gain that advantage again and again. Instead, explain to your players why this is a terrible idea.

When people are fighting they do not just stand there like their figurines. People try to dodge, block, or parry blows from an enemy and are in constant motion. A good exercise is to hold out your palm and ask the person to tap your index finger. Once they try to tap it move your hand. Continue to move your hand at a fast pace, rotating your wrist, and even if the person touches your finger they will get the point.

Picking a small target to hit on an enemy in combat is nearly impossible. If the enemy is extremely aware of that weakness like we are about our eyes, throat, etc. then they will take precautions to defend these areas.

Make your players have to set up a situation to hit these areas. Make your players use resources, and keep the balance when you have players thinking outside the box.

Wacky ideas

When players think outside the box they come up with some crazy ideas. New players get into the blind debate while veteran players try to fill enemies lungs with water.

“A person is a container and I am going to fill that creature’s lungs up with water so it drowns.”

No. Just… no. You will have to leverage every skill that we have talked about in order to deal with these types of players. Balance wise a player is instantly killing enemies for a low-level spell. This is not how the spell is intended to work and should not work. There is nothing wrong with this idea from the player’s point of view so you will have to explain to them why this thinking just won’t work.

Focus on a flaw in the player’s idea. If a player is trying to gain some ridiculous advantage from something that they should not be able to, the player’s argument will be flimsy at best. Let’s use the above example. What is a container? Can you shove some trash down the player’s throat? If not put some trash in a box and show them that the box is a container and a person is not.

If you don’t want to be that mean about it, just show your knowledge of the rules. You know that some spells target creatures and specifically state that they do. A container is not a creature, therefore the water spell doesn’t work on a creature.

When players think outside the box to come up with these wacky ideas explain to them with logic, the rules, and help them understand why this misuse of spells or other abilities will not fly. Do not set a bad precedent, and always keep balance in mind.

Good wacky ideas

We always want players thinking outside the box because amazing situations can occur. Illusions are unfortunately almost always considered bad cheats, but you have to take into account what the player is trying to accomplish. Let’s look at some examples.

“I cast major illusion of their god who tells the villagers that we did already killed the bad guy.”

This is amazingly creative. The problem is that the players are completely skipping the content that you made for the reward. They are players, nothing is wrong with this. Think of the rules and what would happen. Perhaps the player who conjured the illusion should make a deception check and if they roll extremely well the players will get rewarded. Does that mean they get free loot? Oh no. Nothing is free. Read the article on consequences to help give you an idea on what comes next.

What if a player uses phantasmal force to make an enemy think that acid spilled into their eyes and they are burning/unable to see? Phantasmal force is a second level spell like blindness, but it does damage. Instead of making the creature blind just give the creature disadvantage on attacks. Blind is better since it gives the players advantage to hit the creature as well, but this way the player’s creativity is rewarded.

When you have players thinking outside the box in a positive creative manner, reward them. Always keep in mind balance and use your knowledge of the rules to make fair rulings. Don’t just shut them down.

Conclusion

Players thinking outside the box can be tough to deal with and make your world a headache. If you make a ruling stick by it and use your knowledge of the rules along with what type of game you are running to set a precedent which you stick by.

There can be bad creativity and good creativity. Make sure to keep balance in mind when making a ruling and explain to the players why you made that particular ruling. We may not always get it perfectly correct, but we can still make a good ruling.

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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