In today's show, our hosts talked a bit about the use of utility items. However, it seemed like they spent a good deal of this time talking about the abuse of these items as opposed to their honest uses. In light of this, I think it's best to dig down to the core of this issue, rather than looking at this single manifestation of it.
Abusing magic items is a symptom of a greater problem. And contrary to what you might think, this problem lies more with the GM than with the players, though truly both are at fault here. The simple fact is that roleplaying games are about freedom. GMs are free to create an endless world and compelling narrative, and players are free to explore it in all of its endless possibilities.
So the GM creates the context. The desire to circumvent everything and use a "master key" to get past everything means that the world or narrative likely aren't compelling for the players. Sure, you could Passwall your way through a dungeon, but think of what you might miss if you just go straight towards your supposed destination? Think of all of the treasure left behind? The creatures and environments you'll never get to see? The players need to enjoy the journey. TTRPGs aren't really something you win, it's more about having fun with your time during the game. So if the players want to cut through all of that and game the game, that's possibly because you haven't presented them an enjoyable experience. If your dungeon crawls are stale with the same tired combat encounters where you kick in the door, fight the monster, loot the room, rinse and repeat, that will get old quite quickly. It's best to set a precedent at lower levels, before things like abusable magic items get thrown into the mix. Before the players get a hold of anything resembling a "master key," you should make sure that you build their trust by creating fun and interesting experiences that are rewarding for the players and their characters. In doing so, you will greatly reduce the likelihood that they'll use a "master key" if they ever get their hands on it. Because they won't want to miss out on all of the other cool stuff you have in that dungeon.
Of course, there are other reasons why a player might want to "break" a GMs game, but they're rarely good. The case may well that you have bad players. This is especially true if you express your concern at their abuse of these items and they respond by not making any adjustments. The players should be looking after the GM's fun just as much as the GM should be looking after the players' enjoyment. If the players abusing magic items runs contrary to the fun of the GM, players should be considerate of that and do their best to limit the use of this item.
In short, if issues like this crop up, it's because there is a fundamental breakdown in communication and in the way everyone at the table is enjoying the game, if they are enjoying it at all. Both sides should begin in good faith. The GM shouldn't try to shut down players in game with ridiculous or impossible situations. Having a powerful item removed from play for no reason and with no recourse for the players is patently unfair, and should be avoided. So don't shut your players down. By limiting their freedoms, you only foster bitterness, and generally bring down the enjoyment of those at your table. Likewise, players should approach in good faith by giving the GM the benefit of the doubt that they're going to make sure the players have a good time.
Bear in mind, some people have different ideas of what makes the game fun, and these should be communicated ahead of time. Some players might enjoy trying to "win" at a TTRPG, (which is something I don't personally enjoy,) but if that's something they want, it needs to be discussed how that can be accommodated, or if this will clash too heavily with others enjoyment of the game and if you will be compatible in a gaming group. This sort of competition might be fun in good faith, but it shouldn't turn into a contest to break the game for one another. GMs shutting down their players and players trying to break the game will create this very problem. As always, communicate, be flexible, and do what you have to do to enjoy the game. The players should be your allies in that, not your enemies.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For a more on this topic, check out the post "Saying Yes to Your Players" on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.