Episode 134: My Sex Life is Cosmically Important

This month, Roger and Mike can’t get away from bashing dungeons, and consider the (sadly still-extant) adversarial relationship between players and game masters.

We mentioned:

Dungeon Fantasy RPG, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, Nordlond, Pathfinder, Cold Shard Mountains, the most important table not in GURPS, How to Host a Dungeon, Play Dirty, and The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues.

We have a tip jar (please tell us how you’d like to be acknowledged on the show).

Music by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com.


The most adversarial GM I ever had… we very rapidly learned never to discuss our characters’ plans for the next session in his hearing. For instance on the walk home from the game! So if we planned to recruit werewolves to assist us, then next week we’d get to the evil wizard’s house and discover he’d just redecorated with silver wallpaper and had a +10 staff of werewolf smiting.

He was also forever depriving us of our weapons and equipment. It would be stolen. It would be swept away in a flood. We would be teleported to another location/dimension stark bollocks naked.

And he never kept track of monster hit points. He just kept the fight going until most of the party were unconscious or dead. Then – to quote what became our gaming group in-joke – the monster would fumble and cut off its own leg. And our next blow would kill it.


Though an optional rule, Basic D&D had morale for monsters (and retainers).Monsters that fail their morale check “will try to retreat or use a fighting withdrawal.”

WHEN TO CHECK MORALE: In general, morale is checked in critical combat situations. Two recommended times for morale checks are:

  1. After a side’s first death in combat (either monsters or characters).
  2. When 1/2 the monsters have been incapacitated (killed, asleep due to magic, and so forth).

Monsters that successfully check morale twice will fight to the death.

AD&D also had rules for morale, but I can’t copy-and-paste them as easily.

1 Like

To quote myself (from my next A&E zine that won’t be out for a month),

The line between setting up a challenging scenario which will require good PC/player planning, tactics, and execution and being “adversarial” is not always clear, especially if such challenges are what the players (and the GM) find fun.

There is a difference being adversarial versus being an asshole, trying to catch players with “gotcha” moments and doing the ttrpg equivalent of pixelbitching.


Yeah, I was thinking specifically of the Pathfinder modules I’ve been running - a “Morale” section is a standard part of a monster writeup, explaining when they will try to retreat or whatever… but all too many of them just say “this monster fights to the death”.

We tried to get them to surrender, because we wanted information, and we claim to be a Lawful Good realm, but …


Morale is one of those areas where classic D&D was superior, perhaps. Some monsters will fight to the death, especially if defending their home, but some should/would try to escape or surrender. With monsters of “animal intelligence” (or below), not killing them and letting them get away is usually ok (provided that the PCs still get the full xp for overcoming the challenge), but dealing with intelligent enemies adds in complications that adventure writers can’t easily accomodate and having them fight to the death is easier to manage.


“when I think of adversarial GMs it’s the idea that the GM is out to kill the players”

Y’all have had some harsh times friend.

I’m surprised at the number of times people refer to players when they mean (player) characters.


Although you may wonder why adventurers appear and keep clearing dungeons, and wonder how fast dungeons are replenished, may I give the real-world example of the Al-Majalibeen (I think that’s how it is spelled) in Eqypt? The guild of seekers had a guildhall in Cairo and helped arrange expeditions into the desert to raid ancient tombs, and swap knowledge on how to avoid traps and curses. They seemed to think the ancients left behind a huge number of tombs to rob.