Karma in Gaming

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 12, 2013

a-to-z-letters-kKarma, the idea that what goes around comes around. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Live by the sword, die by the sword. The notion that what I do now will have some consequence on what happens to me at a later date. The power of Karma is a big part of the gaming experience. Call it luck or coincidence, in my mind it’s Karma at work.

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. In today’s article the “K” is for Karma.

Dice Karma

How many times have you rolled a bunch of 1s and then bam! You roll back to back 20s? This seems to happen to me all the time. Usually one night I roll like crap and then the next I roll amazing. Despite reason and rational thinking that simply tell me this is all an exercise in statistics and probability, I believe that there is Karma at work. I know that no matter how poorly I roll I will eventually get a good roll at a very opportune time. Conversely if I roll really, really well I’m bound to get a 1 when it’s least helpful. Again, some call this the laws of probability; I like to think of it as dice Karma.

Healing Karma

For many adventures I’ve been the leader in the party. I’m the medic, the one responsible for healing wounds and keeping the other guys alive. But even when I’m not playing a leader I still do my part to help a fallen ally. Why? Because it sucks to be the guy who gets knocked out in round 1 and then rolls death saves for the next 40 minutes of real time. Plus, from a role-plying point of view in game, I don’t think I’d let my friend bleed out. So I’m usually the guy willing to give up a standard action to heal a fallen comrade. It’s common sense and good manners.

When I sacrifice my turn to heal a wounded ally I find that good things tend to come of it. First of all the guy who was revived will remember that you helped him. Although I don’t expect compensation for my deed I’ve found that when I’m the guy on the ground making death saves, the ally I healed last time will often go out of his way to return the favour. I also find that it sets a good example for the rest of the table and suddenly everyone is concerned for everyone else’s well being. This is always a good thing in D&D and in real life.

I’ve also seen many example of Dice Karma and Healing Karma overlap. The player who did everything right but was the victim of a lucky roll by the DM. The player who happened to roll the best initiative and got blindsided by an unexpected trap. In scenarios like this you pull for the nice guy to finish first. This is especially true if their character fell unconscious because of forces beyond their control. I’ve witnessed more than my fare share of these situations when the player in question makes their first death save and rolls a 20. Maybe I just think I remember seeing more 20s than any other number because it’s such a big deal when it happens, but I’d like to believe that it’s the power of Karma throwing the unfortunate player a bone he desperately needs and likely deserves.

Player and DM Karma

One of the most popular gaming mantras is Wheaton’s Law: don’t be a dick. If you treat me with respect and curtsey I’ll do the same for you. You’d think that this is common sense but I’m amazed at how many people I’ve played with at cons, at my FLGS, and even on rare occasions in a home game that think they’re better than everyone else. They bring an unexpected and unjustified attitude to the game. I’ve seen players intentionally screw over other players, refuse to help fallen allies, hoard treasure, even laugh at their in game misfortune.

I’ve had DMs cheer every time they knock a PC unconscious, I’ve seen DMs post a Kill Count on the outer side of their screen to intimidate players, I’ve even played with DMs who tell players their character or his actions are stupid or wrong. In these circumstances I tend to see the players roll a lot of unexplained 20s as well as other consistent rolling when it’s needed most. Karma, dude, karma. You reap what you sow.

Whether you believe in Karma or not, the idea you get what you give is a good one to follow. If you treat others decently it’s fair to assume they’ll treat you in a similar way. This applies to real life and it applies to your game. It may only be a fantasy role-playing game, but curtsy and respect should exist no matter what world you or your character happens to play in.

End rant.

Do you believe in Karma? What are some examples of good or bad Karma that you’ve witnessed at your gaming table? When you see the scales balancing do you acknowledge it as Karma (I know I certainly do) or just chalk it up to good/bad luck?

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1 Vernon April 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I’ve used the “karma” you describe to encourage the type of gameplay I like. When a player is attentive and constantly participating, things seem to go their way more often. NPC’s miss perception checks or are more easily convinced. While distracted and detatched players have a harder time doing what they wish. Not for long mind you otherwise the negative attitude will just compound itself.

2 Vernon April 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm

The most important thing to remember is that, for the most part, players have fun when they beat the DM. This means the DM must be willing to lose, most of the time for the sake of the party. A DM who trys too hard to win does so at the expense of the players. If not kept in check this can easily spoil a session.

With great power comes great responsibility.

3 Liz April 13, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Although I am not an avid gamer, I do like how you brought Karma into the game. After all, isn’t life a game? Doesn’t everything we do in life pass on a ripple that affects some aspect of someone elses life? I like this post. It isn’t a rant. 🙂

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