Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Three Little Letters

Tonight's session of my D&D campaign fills me with a heady mixture of anticipation and fear. Anticipation because tonight is the big payoff, the throwdown with the Big Bad. Our own little Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, as it were. Will our heroes prove victorious, or will Oerth overflow with a diabolic horde summoned by the forces of the despicable Red Claw Cult? Truly, this has been one of the most epic plot arcs I've ever run, right up there with the Return of Doctor Wu in my old Bandit Kingdoms campaign. Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

But I'm also a tad bit scared, because the party's safety net is looking pretty threadbare. The previous two (three?) sessions were a nonstop orgy of violence, with no opportunities to rest and recover. The final dustup will be tough, even for a full-up party. All the players will need to have their A game on tonight or the whole thing could end up a Total Party Kill. As a DM, I try to remain calm and aloof. I don't go gunning for the PCs. The same can't be said about the evil bastards lurking on the other side of those massive enruned stone doors. They're not gonna let four or five rat-soup-eating, no-business motherfuckers ruin their evil master plan. Not without a helluva fight, at least. These guys will pull ever lowdown dirty trick in the book to keep the party from stopping them.

It ought to be glorious. But times like this really underline the inherent conflict in my approach to Dungeon Mastering. On the one hand I am totally rooting for the party. I want the good guys to win and the players to go home happy. On the other hand I can't reach a satisfactory payoff without doing my darnest to make life hell on the PCs. And there's no better way of making a win credible than by setting up tough opposition and letting the dice fall where they may. The problem with this approach is that sometimes the whole thing goes down the toliet. I don't allow do-overs. If the dice go sour or the PCs screw up, then they're dead. We may joke about it, but if they all die Thor isn't going to materialize and give the party some 1-ups to finish the job.

But even if every member of the party croaks, we will honor the dead as heroes. For ten levels they have fought tirelessly to stop the Red Claws. And I can think of no better way for a PC to check out than with his hands clutched around the throat of his greatest enemy.

...that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

--Lord Tennyson


  1. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Ah, "Ulysses"! My favorite poem! Good choice. :)

  2. Anonymous12:39 AM

    ...and yet victory was ours tonight.

    Wither died on my blade, and fiends fell before us all.

  3. Anonymous8:24 AM

    Can you really say 'on my blade' with a halberd?

    Inquiring half-orcs want to know.

  4. The relative ease with which you dispatched the opposition is blowing my mind. That throwdown was approximately EL 18 and you had spent a fair amount of resources in the lead up to it. I'm going to have to try much harder next time, I guess.

  5. Anonymous9:35 AM

    Do you doubt that my halberd has a blade? Do you think it to be blunt?

    Perhaps I simply ought to stop using weapons. Would that make you happy?

  6. Yeah - that was easier than it could have been.

    Some of it was a lack of tactics on their part. The fight might have gone very differently if:

    (1) Skullshank threw up the barred cage version of the Forcecage around himself and Wither. They could spellcast out, but they'd be protected from melee - and I wasn't about to try disintegrating Wither again (though I was toying with the idea of disintegrating the pedastel they were standing on...)

    (2) The Bone Devils used their wall of ice spell-like to slow down Angus or Eberk.

    (3) The half-orcs were buffed with Greater Invisibility... or even if they ambushed us with readied attacks as we came in the door flatfooted.

    (4) They could have also set something up in front of the door - Mind Fog would have been nasty. We'd have to go through it to get to them... That would have made the Devils' Fear Aura rather effective, and would have set us up for a number of horrid spells.

    why do I give you ideas?

  7. Anonymous10:50 AM

    The module didn't assume a flying partymember capable of doing real damage. If you take the floor traps and also make them spherical energy walls with the same effects, it would protect them enough to give us some fits.

    I think Jeff will have to review his upcoming major fights to make sure that flight doesn't short circuit the fight.

    Another thought was that they should have focused to lobbing fireballs on top of the group while it was fighting the devils. It's no secret our fighter/cleric combo is a lot more vulnerable to reflex saves than fort/will saves.

    In retrospect, there's no way we can't give the dagger to Greyson. He totally ruled in this adventure.

  8. Good points all around, gentlemen. I shall endeavor to make better use of the foes in the future. And I agree that Greyson deserves the MVP award. He made fantastic use of both the shifting and his spells.

  9. Our foes certainly weren't acting stupidly... but we have a fairly significant advantage in that we tend to be both built and coordinated in more optimized fashions.

  10. On a related note, I heartily sympathize with your frustrations. When GMing, I have a very difficult time NOT making encounters too easy. I don't want to kill the PCs. On the other hand, sometimes the players get frustrated when things are too easy - your game certainly isn't so easy that I get frustrated or anything (Angus did almost drop in that last fight, and Uther died - for the second time in the adventure - in the fight before that...), but I understand that pegging us at the appropriate level is a lot harder.

    I think that one thing we are seeing with the Gestalt PCs is that - in addition to being about ECL +2ish - they have many more resources to spend. I know that with Darwane, I can cast a bunch of spells... but I can also cast a buff or two (or none) and hold my own in melee. The multiple roles that a Gestalt PC can play mean that they can shift to a secondary role once their resources for their primary one are depleted... or they can shift between roles to avoid depleting their resources.