Good DMing or Unfair Favoritism

In the campaign I am currently running I noticed something I was doing, thought about it, decided it was wise and consciously doubled down. As I have thought about it more, I can see how some Players might not like a DM doing what I am doing. So, I want to write this out to help me think about it critically and see what other DM’s might think.

Ok, basically I decided to reward Characters for the Player’s effort away from the table.

Specifics: I’ve had a lot of Bard type characters in my campaigns over the decades (in systems that formally bard classes and systems that don’t). Most want to use their use their powers to become famous and spread the word of the party’s greatness far and wide. I’ve had player build their character around this idea. As a DM my response has always been; great, let’s role some dice. If you spread some money around maybe you get a bonus. Maybe it works, maybe not, maybe it has a big impact on the campaign, maybe it doesn’t.

But in this campaign, I have a new player. Her character is a fighter archer type. No skills or special Bard Powers. After one of her first sessions, she said her Character writes a drinking song about the party’s resent heroic exploits. I say, great you spend the night drinking and singing at the tavern, the villagers have a great time.

A few days later I get an email from the Player saying, “Here is the song Freya wrote”. It turns out the Player is a writer and the email has the lyrics to the in-world song Freya wrote.

This is cool; this shows that the Player is thinking about her Character and the world outside of game time. That’s the kind of engagement all DMs want to encourage. I post the song on the campaign website; all the players love it.

Next session (days later in game) I mention that as the party is walking, they hear Freya’s song spilling out of a tavern as they walk by. The Player keeps writing songs, and I keep having them affect the game.

Freya attracts a famous Bard who offers to teach her. The party is in a distant town doing something that looks shady and when they try to convince the guards its not shady the guards say, “Wow you’re THE Roland from Freya’s song “The Horrible Cave” and the guard believes they are the good guys (they also have a writ from a distant magistrate, but the guards can’t read). The party has a baron that is a political enemy—Freya writes an embarrassing song about him and public option turns a little in their favor.

I never rolled any dice, I just leaned into what the Character was doing pretty hard because of the effort the Player was putting in, away from the table. I wouldn’t have been this ‘generous’ to a Player that used the perfect Bard-build (if such a thing existed in my game) or a character that had a million percent in the song writing skill.

As a point of comparison another one of the Players told me her wizard was looking around for an apprentice during off time and I decided that she had a 2-6 chance of finding one each month. But Freya got a mid-level ally without any dice roll just because I wanted to reinforce and reward the Player for writing songs (and it made sense-in world).

In retrospect I see this is something I have always done. I will have a Character that wants to build a stronghold have an easier time if their player maps out the stronghold ahead of time then if they just say they want to build a stronghold and expect me to make it up. Like-wise a character that wants to make a magic item will have an easier time if they come up with an interesting thematically appropriate specific idea with suggestion on components, then if they just say a want to make a super-sword that’s cool and kills people.

Is it fair to give benefits to a Character because their Player has some skill like writing? Hopefully I am rewarding Player effort not unrelated Player skills, but is even that ok? Is this some kind of favoritism or smart DMing?

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Great topic-- a lot to unpack-- I think I’ll give it a read on-stream today! :grin:

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Update: We had a session of this 18 month long campaign on Friday, and… We had a TPK. So now I have bigger fish to fry then if I was treating a player too nicely : )


:face_with_symbols_over_mouth: Well, you can’t leave the story off there! What happened, man?

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Its a tale as old as time, the party knew they were in rough shape and tried to do just one more thing, then just one more thing, then just one more thing…

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@DMMC What was the last thing that finally got them?

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Ok, the party was on a dangerous journey to a hidden village. Things aren’t going great. They think they are near the village when they are attacked by some spectral undead, so things are a little worse.

The party talks about how things are going bad, but they decide to try and find the ‘lair’ of the undead (for treasure). During the search they encounter another group of undead, this one much bigger. The fight goes better then could be expected, but several PC are almost dead, the wizards are cast out, and one has a critical injury making his left arm useless.

The party talks about how bad things are, almost decides to try and hole up somewhere but instead the wizard uses his last spell “Fly” to scout for the village and finds it. They enter the village, it is very isolated and things are clearly weird, they barely eke out a non-hostile reaction. They find out more about the village, something is up with the Baron in charge, and the town has an unknown but endemic “Night Sickness” going around.

The party talks about how bad things are and that they need to rest up before engaging with any of this weirdness, but the healer decides to go check on a girl with the Night Sickness real quick right before bed. AND… the girl that has Night Sickness has two fang marks on her neck. The healer literally runs back to the party and screams “He’s a fucking Vampire, the Baron is a Vampire”!

The party talks about how bad things are and how they can definitely not fight a vampire and they will be skipping town and hiding or taking their chances in the wilderness. Butttt, maybe the priest can do something for this girl that is being turned into a vampire on the way out of town. So they go back to the house. Remember how this was happening right before bed… right after sundown? They open the door to the girl’s room and VAMPIRE. The Count is there feeding on her.

The party talks about how bad things are and that they can not defeat this vampire, but instead of running immediately they stick around for 4 or 5 rounds and by the time they actually try to flee it’s too late. The last character left alive is the wizard that cast Fly to scout the town, who might have been able to escape with that spell, But instead, TPK.

The campaign is west marches style, so even though there was a TPK, their are 3 PCs that weren’t there so there is some uncertainty about what the players want to do next. Make new characters, start a new campaign, mount a rescue/revenge mission, etc.

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A classic tale indeed! You push your luck far enough, you will encounter a Whammy!




I tried to post the above by itself, but the forum is not a fan of posting 2 words over and over without punctuation and in all caps. Will it work with extra added text on the bottom? Lets find out.