The Perils of Human Nature. > DND 3.5 > DM - Jeff > The Perils of Human Nature.
Perils of Human Nature

Sitting in an IT security meeting and thinking how this slide is really applicable to events in a DND game. A lot of times DMs overlook these facts: it is hard to maintain an objective viewpoint and remember some of the aspects of human nature. The brunt of the presentation was from a penetration testing company and how they used freely available information off of the Internet to assist in gaining access to a secure building and to its network and computer resources.

The points listed above can work for the player character; and against them just as easily if not safeguarded against.

People want to be helpful. How many times in a game does a player character walk into an establishment and ask for the room or location of another player character to have the innekeeper, barkeep, or serving girl immediately reply the person is not in or they are in room 4, etc. People with less than friendly intentions can just as easily find that information out too.

People want convenience: the party is just in from an adventure. They all pile into the local inne; sometimes all staying in the same room as strange as that may seem. Then they want food and wine brought to the room while they count their loot and check out magic items. Or when was the last time a player character emptied their own bedpan? It is assumed it is all taken care of for them. Who takes care of it? The staff. Who is on the staff?

People strive to avoid confrontation. Depending on the stratification of the society, even the police and town officials can be easily cowed from properly doing what is their job. One of my favorite stories on this subject happened in pre-WWI Germany. An unemployed man, Wilhelm Voigt.  purchased a used army uniform and walked into an army barracks and ordered four soldiers to follow him to the mayor's office where he "arrested" the mayor for stealing from the town. He "confiscated" a sum of money and walked out. If you look like you are supposed to be somewhere and have an air authority most people will recognize it without checking. (But you best look the part or have a high bluff.)

 People can be messy: A left open gate that is supposed to be locked, a guard who leaves at nine bells though their replacement has not yet arrived. There are thousands of examples ranging from the easily overlooked trivial to the 911 terrorists who were tagged on government lists but still went on to kill thousands.

People are curious: How many people see a party of characters laden with sacks or chests walk into a town? From the town guardsmen, to the idlers by the gate, to the opportunistic rogue who figures sooner or later someone may appear with something interesting. They may not know what is in the sack or chest: but most people do not closely guard a bag of dirty laundry like player characters guard their loot.

And then the last quote on the graphic from the presenter: this can work for and against a player character or party of characters. What steps have you taken to minimize the risk of theft or reduce the visibility of the party or their possession?

Armor in the bar

The party is back from their latest adventure; they have been out in the wilderness for several days and living with the high stress of never knowing when or what may be attacking them. They find some rooms in the local tavern, and go get something to eat and drink. Yet without fail someone will tell me their character is still in their armor and carrying all of their gear with them.

Does that sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? How many real life situations have you seen this or even fantasy-themed movies? And then a player will add insult to injury by saying something like, “I try to fit in with the crowd.” Sorry, not even the towns guardsman who stepped inside to get a cold beer is dressed ready for combat and camping. And yes, your character does get the attention of every person in the Inne.

I think I will have to create a rule that states that if a player does not state every time that they are carrying all of their gear then they put it down in a room or something like everyone else. Or slow the gaming sessions down by asking where possessions are at any given time when the character is not in the middle of an adventure.


As a DM it is your job to set the scene; to try and dissuade the party members from going in over their heads as it were. Running an open campaign can range from sessions where the party becomes bored when they decide to go take on jobs they should have done six or more levels ago to episodes where they are pretty much outclassed and should run. But never seem to figure that part out.

Then there are times when the “good” party members decide to embrace evil and set upon rationalizing their decision to turn to the “dark side.” Giving hints to a player or a group can be hard. You don't want to sway them from their chosen path but you do want them to know what they are embarking on may too  much to handle and lead to player character terminations and hard feelings. I mean you can't put up signs at the beginning of the adventure stating what the challenge rating may be or a “a character must be this high (in level) to participate.”

If you are at a gaming table and your party hears about a dragon, and you are all fifth or sixth level, you may hesitate as something similar to Smaug may be flitting about in your imagination (or your imginary characters' imagination.) But looking through the Monster Manual (3.5) you see that dragons start at CR1 and work their way up. So it is important to note the size of the beast, if it used spells, and any other tidbits of information that can be used by NPCs so when player characters roleplay encounters with them, or use Gather Information, they can get a decent idea of the threat such a winged lizard may hold.

By the same token I have seen a pc or even a complete party wiped out threats far below their level. Bad planning, no planning? Off the cuff reactions or even indecision. Other times I have seen a determined pc or party overcome and destroy threats higher than what the book would say they should be interacting with.  Just another day in an open campaign.


Why do so many parties set forth for their destination just to discover they forgot to bring along some small and trivial item.. that there life may well depend on? The “avalanche effect” is one of the things I see all the time when DMing. Players will rush into a situation and may or may not notice they have forgotten something. The need for that item or service builds sometimes to a point it is a life or death situation. Then the game devolves into a mad scramble to find an alternative or perish in the attempt.

When it's time to saddle up and ride don't say later that you meant to get the hammer and iron spikes. Or you thought the NPC you had spoken to weeks earlier is riding with you to watch your back. So many catastrophic endings have their roots in small even almost meaningless details. During the game I stress to people I would like some idea what their daily routine is on the campaign trail. Food, watch order, camping, care of gear, etc. Folks will say they check and sharpen their sword or ax. But how many of them have a whetstone and oil listed on their sheet? Often I will gloss over what rations or water a player character is carrying; especially when they are in an area with abundant sources of clean water. But it becomes critical if say lost at sea in a small boat or out in the middle of a desert or for that matter in the dead of winter. Sure, I'll let a Ranger or Druid off a bit easier though the DC check will still be higher.

Or one of my old favorites: the player character is going to cook their food. I ask how, and am told over a fire. I ask how will they cook it over a fire? Any utensils available? A pot or pan perhaps?

Yes it is all high fantasy and heros are supposed to die in combat with terrible foes: and not from forgetting extra oil for their lantern and getting lost underground till they weaken and die. But it still happens...


Not long ago I read this news story online:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — They left their two young children with relatives and set off to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary at one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in the Southwest.

But just hours into Monday's trek, 27-year-old Elisabeth Bervel died of cardiac arrest, becoming the third hiker in a month to succumb to the brutal summer heat and disorienting open country where no marked trail shows the way.

Hikers are given plenty of warnings about how to survive. They also get pictures of prominent landmarks and access to eight guides who can lead the way.

"It's not like going to Zion National Park and hiking on an asphalt trail," said Kane County sheriff's Sgt. Alan Alldredge. "Once you hit the slickrock, nothing distinguishes the trail."

Hikers are given plenty of warnings about how to survive. They also get pictures of prominent landmarks and access to eight guides who can lead the way.

"It's not like going to Zion National Park and hiking on an asphalt trail," said Kane County sheriff's Sgt. Alan Alldredge. "Once you hit the slickrock, nothing distinguishes the trail."

"It seems to go well for people going to The Wave," he added. "But for some reasons on the way back, they end up getting lost."

The Bervels, of Mesa, Ariz., lost their way on a three-mile cross-country route back to a trailhead, forcing them to spend extra hours under blazing sun in 90-degree temperatures and humidity, he said.

On July 3, Ulrich and Patricia Wahli of Campbell, Calif., were found dead in 106-degree heat.

About a year ago, a 30-year-old California man who spent much of a day at The Wave and tried to return after nightfall died after falling into a slot canyon, officials said.

"It does come back to personal discretion, and making choices," said Rachel Tueller, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Strip District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which controls The Wave. "Anytime you go out on public land, it's a risk. You have to know your own capabilities."

That made me think of how much water a person needs to survive in the heat of a desert. I looked in two places, the Army Desert Operations Guide and a Hiking site.

Army, desert operations

A man requires 4 gallons of water per day for drinking. 2.5 gallons of water per day for personal hygiene, and 1 gallon a day for food preparation.

 Walking requires 1 gallon of water for every 20 miles covered at night, and 2 gallons for every 20 miles covered during the day. Without any water and walking only at night, you may be able to cover 20 to 25 miles before you collapse. Shield yourself from excessive winds. Winds, though they feel good also increase the evaporation rate.

Hiking site:

Bring lots of water: a half gallon a day is a bare minimum, and it's quite possible to dehydrate even with that much. If you sleep during the day, and walk all night, you might make 20 miles per night, assuming you know where you're going; so if it's 60 miles to the next town, you'd better have 1.5 gallons of water minimum. DRINK your water, don't hoard it--people have died of dehydration with water still in their bottles. If you run out of water, process your urine using a condensation pit (see Make-Water-in-the-Desert). Urine contains toxins - do not drink directly.

Remember, if you are lost in the desert and you took a vehicle, try to use it as a shelter. Don't leave your vehicle, and use anything within your possession to aid your survival, until you are running low on water; at which point you must move on to survive.

Obviously you need a lot of water to go walking across any sort of arid and hot terrain. And that leads me to the age old probelm of players always wanting to quote the rules, or their understanding of them, or just wishful thinking. It's hard for me to recall how many times I've let players slide on things like this. It just doesn't sound all that fun to say the player characters ran out of water in the middle of the desert and perished. I can only recall one time when a player character was stranded out in the middle of a desert and died. That was in 1981 I believe.

Yet at a recent game a group of intrepid adventurers set forth across several miles of desert with but three waterskins for four player characters. The 3.5 rules do not specify the capacity of a waterskin but I've seen examples of 1 quart to 1 gallon. Their trek across the burning wastes is maybe seven to eight miles of relatively flat sand and rock and then a climb up a gradually worsening incline to the height of perhaps ninety feet. They were more focused on the threats at hand, as they should be, yet still went walking off across a desert with little to no preparation. So it caught my eye that experienced hikers here and now have died in similar circumstances. And that is without wearing armor, heavy robes, backpacks, and weapons.