[RPG] DM is playing mind games with us!


We are playing modern day campaign with high pressure on realism. Our DM in not very experienced, but appears thoughtful and planning. We played just one session, but there is one glaring thing: Every decision we take is opposed by a more or less probable counter example. It might be better exemplified in actual play.

Our mission was to break into warded warehouse. We had planned route which would not tip any automated alarms, but we needed to sneak past guard booth. I asked if we're safe, then answer was "You're moving behind his back, if he doesn't turn around it will be safe". We decided that it is expected of us and we went on. We passed, no roll required.

Later another question was asked: "Can I silently open that locker?" "If it doesn't have hidden alarm, easily". It was in staff common room with already deactivated alarm, point was made that the idea was silly. He shrugged.

In front of massive door: "I guess I won't be able to kick down that gate." "Well, it might have damaged hinges." We didn't try.

The visibly fed up guy once asked "What should I be wary of when I'm taking a leak?" "In some places you need to check your shoes for scorpions before putting them on" was the non-answer.

"I'm just answering your questions" he commented. (Oh, the irony)

In my opinion the game had pacing problem, but other players didn't think it was. However, during one prolonged in-character group chat our DM spontaneously rolled his trusty Munchkin d10. Apparently, nothing happened, it was just another way to plant doubt in us.

I can't shake off the feeling he just waits for us to forget to ask something, or just disregard his answer one too many times. After the meeting I approached him with my concerns and I was not-really-comforted with vauge response.

I can't really pinpoint how exactly that attitude is wrong, but it definitely is. It falls short of manipulative, he would not really explain himself what it brings to table. I'm looking for examples how and why this doesn't work, best backed by some article.

Best Answer

This is a valid way to run a game.

The problem you are having is that you're asking questions that your character wouldn't know the answer to. So an equally valid response to your questions would be: "How is your character going to figure that out?" or "What skill are you going to use to try to know that answer?" or simply "well, your character isn't sure, and I as the DM am not offering free out-of-game information".

(When I get this sort of question in my own games, I usually give the "how is your character going to figure that out?" answer. That seems to work pretty well, and I haven't had anyone be unhappy about it.)

The DM is, in his mind, is being even more helpful than the above answers, by telling you what your character can understand about the situations you're asking about.

As you play more adventures, it's possible the DM will get bored with managing all the low-level details, and he'll start answering some of your questions with free information just to keep the game moving. (Like, he probably won't ever say "you'll be safe moving past that guard booth, I promise" but he might say "opening the locker seems pretty safe here".)

On the other hand, as you keep playing, it's possible that you'll start to understand what sorts of things your character might know the answer to, and you'll learn to either rephrase your question ("what are the obvious risks in sneaking past the guard booth?") or to learn by doing ("I open the locker, trying to do so silently.").

Let me elaborate on the "rephrase your question" thing. Here's a sample dialog from your group:

"Can I silently open the locker?"
"If it doesn't have a hidden alarm, easily."

Here's how this would go in most games:

"I search the locker for traps."
"Roll your Search skill."
"You don't find any traps."
"I open the locker silently."
"That's very easy and you don't need to roll for it. It's open now."

This illustrates the following idea: if you're trying to understand something about the game world, don't just ask the DM. Instead, describe what your character is doing to learn the thing.

Here's another sample dialog:

"Is it safe to sneak past the guard?"
"You're moving behind his back, if he doesn't turn around it will be safe."

Here's how this would go in most games:

"We sneak past the guard."
"He's watching the corridor, so sneaking past him will be really hard. Are you sure you want to try this?"


"We sneak past the guard."
"He's not watching the corridor, but roll your Stealth skill to see if you can avoid making noise."

This illustrates the following idea: rather than ask if something is safe, most DMs will expect you to go ahead and do the thing, and they'll give you a warning if the thing is obviously unsafe.

Of course this doesn't work with all DMs, and if you're feeling paranoid it's still a good plan to ask "is there any obvious reason why this plan wouldn't work?". But I try to always give my players a warning if they're about to do something that's obviously a bad plan, and most of the DMs I've played with have done the same.