I think my previous post missed the point I was trying to make: as a GM, sometimes you and your players have a different perception of how hard, dangerous or tedious something is. I’m very sympathetic to that last flaw, because there’s never really a time when grinding is fun. Unlike complex or dangerous, however, tedium is never a design choice. I don’t know any GMs that say, “Man, I bet my players would enjoy doing the same thing for four hours.” One of the signs of a good GM is that he or she recognizes tedium and corrects for it at the table.
It’s very important to remember that difficulty and control are degrees of fun. I like fights where I’m challenged and my style as a GM gravitates in that direction as a result. In fact, the hardest fights for me to design are the throwaways, despite knowing that including them is part of a well-balanced encounter diet.
While I was noodling over this issue, I decided to make a chart, a-la the Terrorism Threat Level nonsense put out by DHS.
As I assembled this, I realized something about myself. I tend to do my situational assessment more from the perspective of my situation and status, as compared to what’s being done to me. Last night, some of the players were saying “we’re getting railed” (and they were) and I was replying with “but you have a lot of stuff left” (and they did). That’s a communication error that I’m going to have to work on.
I wish I had the technology to set up those approval dials they use for the presidential debates. It would be very interesting to see in real time how challenged my players feel.
I happen to think that the “sweet spot” of encounter design oscillates between “We Have Hostiles” and “Danger, Will Robinson!” More challenging encounters are fine, but they’re definitely a sometimes food. I also think that encounters at either extreme are generally bad for the game. It’s one thing to craft an encounter to push the characters. It’s quite another to do so with the expectation that a character will die.