Dms, let me paint you a picture.
“The party was traveling on the road in their cart, another cart up the road is traveling in the same direction but keeping a wide berth, nothing strange; the roads are dangerous and you never know who might attack you. Suddenly, the team sees the face of a young woman poking their head out of the other cart and frantically waving for help before being forcefully pulled back in. This is an npc the group knows and it looks like she is in trouble. They hurry along and pull over the cart. Some shady people come out, the frontman is charming and tells them nothing is wrong. But the party is smart and they send a few members out in preparation to sneak around and surprise the enemies. They are in position as another member of the party distracts.
Now, one of the players informs you that he is going to use Mage Hand to disarm one of the enemies of their crossbow. You spent last Saturday building this encounter and you know if they disarm that one enemy, whom you built specifically to be a master of crossbow usage, of their crossbow…then the encounter becomes so much less challenging; in fact it means that the encounter is already downright decided and the players will undoubtedly win. You really wanted to challenge the them but….they reacted quickly and effectively. What do you do?”
How many of you have been in this circumstance? At this point you’ve worked hard to design a tough encounter for the players, to challenge them and yet they somehow just managed to circumvent it with a single idea you didn’t think they would take? It should be stated that I am the type of DM to usually work with the players rather than against them. I know some feel that you should be impartial or at times even antagonize them but I personally just don’t agree with the latter.
You know when I have the most fun? When my players have fun. Seeing and hearing those joyous faces means the world to me, and yeah sometimes that means making them cry too…don’t judge me. There’s nothing I want more as a Dungeon Master than for them to experience the world like real life, ups, downs, and everything in between.
When this situation came along I had two options; come up with a reason why the plan to sneak around didn’t work or let it happen and let the encounter become much easier for them. I took a few seconds to decide as my brain went back and forth between both choices before ultimately realizing one thing; it didn’t matter that I wanted to challenge them or that I put a lot of work into it. There will always be a next time. You know what is important? The fact that the group had come up with a great idea, that they had worked well as a team, and, ultimately, that they would have fun carrying out their plan.
At the end of the day, it turned out that the encounter was still challenging enough. The barbarian enemy rushed the backline player, the enemy caster hit a decent radius fireball, and the enemy that was unarmed was able to spend their turn running to their cart to get a melee weapon (trust me when I say they were not designed for a melee weapon). The group felt a sense of accomplishment and we even had a memorable moment when one of your players was mortally wounded!
The point here is, don’t screw your players out of their plan or their fun, instead try going along with it and you’ll be surprised how much more fun and successful it can still be. I wish this didn’t have to be a topic but unfortunately I’ve seen it happen too many times. The DM vs players mentality is a warped, vicious , and unfun perspective that, unless agreed upon by all players beforehand, can really be a campaign killer.
That is not to say that there is no place for it, however; there are dungeons and one shots completely built to be exactly that, a meat grinder. Any kind of game can be fun with the right group and with the right communication. And remember DMs it isn’t just your world, and it isn’t just the player’s world, it’s all of yours.