Monday, February 6, 2012

More Death in the Maw

You and your party are standing on a stone outcropping jutting out over a hole deep like the Grand Canyon.  You notice three grey, legless things climbing silently but deftly towards you.  They are fifty feet below.  There is a rickety wooden elevator you rode down in, another rickety elevator going down farther, and a door into the cliff face.  The door's inset handle has two inscriptions.  One on the left, one on the right.

What do you do?

My players dithered around talking about the door.  One mage threw a vial of bees at the creatures.  He scored a critical hit, but they were just normal honey bees.  I had the creature save to see if the bees made it fall but, no.  Finally after the magic-user freshly rolled up this session was eviscerated, one of the fighters decided going through the door might be a good idea.  His hand was amputated when he turned the sunken knob the wrong way.  Things went down hill from there.  A newly bought gazehound critically missed and fell to its death, a fighter critically missed, failed a dex check and fell to her death. The beloved hireling Pita, twice saved from death, was brought down again, and Weegie the magic-user with fresh scrolls scribed, spells freshly inscribed in his spell book, and a new custom crafted rope ladder died in a split second.

The one player and two hirelings left limped back up out of the maw.  Everyone was bummed.  To say it cast a pall on the evening would be accurate.  Part of the problem is our infrequent playing makes the events of play disjointed and it is hard for them to learn as players.  I mean, I think most of them had missile weapons.  Why would you not use them in this situation that seems the reason you'd carry them around for?  One of the magic-users even had magic missile memorized and didn't cast it!

Part of the problem is that one of my players has a strong personality and wants to make the decisions.  I think he's driven at least one player to playing Tiny Tower on her phone.  The magic user with magic missile was also on her phone but that's a first, maybe it was just some really exciting texts.

If I sound kind of defensive its because the usual happened "I killed them" they said in half-joking terms.  "Were these boss monsters?" they asked stunned.  The ghouls were randomly encountered.  I rolled their targets randomly.  I don't think ghouls would be considered impossible for 5 fighting types in plate and shield, 2 war dogs, and 2 magic-users.  Especially when you encounter them 50 feet away and have time to prepare.  Some of the party got into a shield wall,  but on an outcropping, with backs to a wall that these creatures were climbing, it didn't do much good.  The creatures flanked them and hit the mages behind the wall.

I'm not sure that I would have done as a player.  An earlier party had a similar bad battle at this same spot with a cleric losing his hand too.  I think only one party ever thought to rope themselves together (and that after losing someone over the side) even though traveling around the rim of this sheer, rail-less cliff face.  There is no real set plan for if they are attacked by stirge which they know live in abundance in the Maw.  Oh well, I hope they can come back from defeat feeling more hungry rather than giving up.  I'll try to give them some tips now that I've reflected on Friday's session.


  1. Well at this point, lesson learned, you can go and just say to them ,out of game: Hey, missile weapons! Hey, Magic Missile! Hey, Loudmouth isn't always right!

  2. The door seems like an obvious choice, but you would think that they would be more cautious trying to open a door with a mysterious sunken handle and two inscriptions... it suggests to me that it could be a trap, but then again, maybe I am paranoid.

    As for the ghouls, it seems like it could be a fight that goes either way, depending on how they act. magic and ranged weapons would have done a lot to wear them down before they even came into contact.

  3. @Zak: Hey, thanks for the comment. Yeah, I had planned to. I think my Maw, while a nice idea for making all levels of a megadungeon accessible at high level may be too dangerous because of the falling risk and lack of manoeuvrability. I might have another dungeon entrance be discovered nearby that is more traditional.

    @Lasgunpacker: For the door, it is new in its deadliness, most of my stuff has just given them temporary negative effects. The player was completely flabbergasted, didn't expect that. But, yeah, this game is not as predictable as other versions that's for sure. I think every single one of my players rolled their Big d30 and still missed, even critically once. I've thought for a while to write a post on Courage vs. Caution. Because I think the game sends mixed signals. It's hard to know when to run and when it's safer and more lucrative to whack the foe.

  4. Farting around with a door while unknown hostiles are approaching? The party deserved to have a hasted black pudding come bursting through the open door...

    They should have sent a volley of ranged attacks at the the ghouls while preparing for a retreat up the elevator.

    Play like a punk... die like a punk.

  5. Also: You earn the right to be listened to by being right, not loud.

  6. What would I have done? I have to agree with Blair: shoot away, cast the magic missile, use the elevator to retreat.

    As a player, I don't see any GM fault here. There are just too many mistakes that an experienced player would never make:

    Never try to open an unknown door with an enemy approaching, unless you've got no choice.
    Never fiddle with anything that looks at all "non-standard" without first examining it carefully.
    Never dawdle and dither. Ever.
    Never dismiss retreat (or fighting withdrawal) as an option.
    Never retreat into the unknown, unless you have no choice.
    Never forget to consider all resources at your disposal.

    If the players are inexperienced, I think the GM helping them out with a "lessons learned" discussion (given the right tone), could be very helpful. We all make mistakes sometimes as players. It gets our characters killed. The important thing to be able to say is "I made that mistake. Once. I won't ever make it again."

  7. Ghouls are so powerful...

    But they made a lot of mistakes.

    I think it's important to not punish the players for when their characters die. Their character already died, you know? In order to make that first bit work, you need to know what the players want from the game and make sure that their character death doesnt too heavily impact that.

    "Oh well, I hope they can come back from defeat feeling more hungry rather than giving up."

    So to make that happen, you need to give them a reason to be hungry and excited. I don't know what that is for your dudes, but maybe it will help? If theyre that disappointed, then they don't really care about overcoming interesting tactical problems on an equal footing.. they probably care about the stories of their characters. Maybe?

    I don't know. It's late and im at work and im thinking aloud.

    You didn't do anything wrong as DM, don't worry about that. What you do now is important though. =]

  8. Thank you all for the great comments. I especially like the rules of experience you provide Bard, and your idea TrentB that the DM's job starts after the fiasco, helping players learn from it, and easing them back into something fun.

    I don't think this group has any problem applying stories to what happens in the world, it's just hard with a shifting roster and meeting irregularly for them to learn the kind of things Bard lays out.

    I think they may have convinced me to allow for resurrection in my game, I wasn't going to, but hey, if they want to play that wizard that bad, why not. Plus I can attach some strings and incorporate some costs that will come with coming back from the dead.

  9. Why was someone carrying around a vial of honey bees?

  10. The magic-user likes gathering potential spell components. The party ran into a mummified monk in the abandoned monastery that had a hive inside. He collected some of those bees.