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Author Topic: Funny little anecdote - the players surprised me (GM)  (Read 1330 times)
Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« on: May 21, 2009, 01:11:47 PM »

I'm using this anecdote to demonstrate a point I made in the "Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)" . I can't circularly link, and since that response already links to this post, you'll just have to find the place it was spawned from yourself. (Sorry :P )  Anyway...


In reference to the original thread .. I made a mistake while I was GMing a game. I was getting a bit tired of the PCs winning combat flawlessly, as in, barely over a couple of rounds and with few to no injuries. Maybe the PC's had min-maxed enough to throw off the CR's or something. In any case, I wanted to put a little fear in their hearts by giving them a challenge that would almost kill them (but not enough for a TPK).

SO, I invented a clever, obnoxious little Gnome, working in partnership with a Troll, to rob lots and lots of money from passersby. (The troll should have been slightly out of their range, enough to at least near-kill two or three of the PCs). Anyway, one of my players also occasionally liked to make friends with the meat-puppet monsters that didn't appear to be posing a threat, and release them "back into the wild" so to speak. Rather like releasing the little fish back into the pond? I don't know, in any case, that PC opened dialogue with the Troll, and by doing so, fell for the trap.

Here's how the trap worked. The Gnome had built a mechanical device sized for the Troll that would literally rip off it's limbs after a certain amount of time, including it's head, but reattach those limbs back to the stump after another short period of time, supposedly to torture the Troll and keep it in constant pain. However, the machine is set up with a remote control, so that the Gnome could hide in a bush nearby (in a position to lay down some ammo-fire from nearly the other side) and release and reattach the troll on command. The idea is that the troll would scream in agony whenever anyone would pass on the road nearby. The Troll would beg the passersby to be released, since he is obviously being cruelly tortured. When the passersby got too close, the Gnome would release the Troll and start pegging off people with arrows, while the Troll would take out everyone else.

My plan misfired. The PCs easily levelled the Troll and set fire to him. The Gnome got away but he and the Troll didn't do as much damage to the PCs as I'd hoped. The PCs got a heavy amount of XP, making them even MORE powerful. However, I decided to simply try giving them an even harder challenge another time rather than take away their valid and well-fought victory. They didn't get any gold mind you, because theoretically these are in the Gnome's possession in some secret location, but the XP seemed to satisfy the PCs anyway. Given the recent fight, the PCs didn't follow up and moved on.

*******

Later in the game, I had the PCs on a quest. I forget the goal of the quest now, but in order to progress towards one subgoal, the PCs needed a sort of underwater submarine built by the Feral Tinker Gnomes (yes, tribal Gnomes that worship mechanics; I liked the idea because it's cute). Gnarfarblan, the King of the Feral Tinker Gnomes, would lend the PCs one submarine each if they were willing to bring him a functional kind of machinery that he had never encountered before. The PCs immediately thought of the Troll-popper, which is, of course, as I had intended. I expected that they would grab the Troll-popper and come back but gain some additional quest-hints on the way, which is my way of channeling the game in a subtle way. (They could have opted to go for a different subgoal, or abandoned the quest entirely, but they had already invested a fair bit in it at this point so I figured that was unlikely.)

Now, here's another thing I didn't expect. Instead of just going to get the machine and come back .. it turns out they were itching for vengeance against the Gnome. I imagined what the Gnome would do after his trap was permanently sprung, and decided he'd retire for a while while deciding what to do next, living off both his share and the share of the dead Troll. I also assumed that he'd likely still be living in a hidey hole he'd originally built in case of a double-cross by the Troll, since the actual amount of in-game time between the Troll attack and the meeting of the Tinker Gnomes wasn't very long. (I had time between sessions to build the hidey hole, and spared no expense on deviousness. The hidey-hole was built with lots of traps to slow down and deter intruders, as well as an alternate escape route door, around a corner and not visible from the entrance.)

With some hunting, they found the hidey hole, but were leery about approaching due to the possibility of traps. By coincedence (i.e. the hand of GM), they caught the Gnome popping out of the hidey hole and catching sight of them. (No, I didn't cheat "Spot" rolls. It simply didn't occur to the PCs to hide after they'd found the hidey hole entrance.) They were dying to give chase and couldn't agree on what to do next, so without waiting for a group decision, the Monk PC went first (since he could dodge traps most easily), and the Fighter PC went next (since he could absorb the most damage from traps).

What happened next was absolutely glorious! The Monk dashed through lightly, ducking these arrows, dodging those spears, jumping those grease stains, like a freakin' gazelle. The Monk made it to the corner of the hidey-hole tunnel. Turning the corner, he discovered it was a dead-end, finished by a deep pit with spikes at the bottom. The Gnome had escaped! (Yes, I rolled a secret spot check for the hidden door, which failed.) Meanwhile, the lumbering fighter came through, setting off this, being stabbed by that, slipping on those. It was a bloodbath! Lastly came the piece de resistance. The fighter was charging around the blind corner and failed his last Dexterity check. (Even for a fighter, he'd been rolling just AWFULLY. The Monk could have warned him, but that possibility didn't occur to him fast enough so I ruled that the fighter charged in.) For the first time in the tunnel, the Monk also failed his Dex check. The fighter tumbled into the pit, taking the Monk with him. (Actually, we were lucky that the fighter wasn't outright killed, because he came bloody close.)

*****************

Despite the fact that it was one of their least successful ventures and that it happened a while ago now, the players (and myself) still talk about it. They talk about the event as if it was entirely the fault of the Gnome, or at least as if "it happened out there" and not as if "the GM sure got us good," (though technically you could say that, because I designed the traps.)

All this from a PC-spawned side-quest that it never occurred to me might happen. The Gnome and the Troll were originally intended just to lay down some bruises and take their circus elsewhere. Incidentally, the PCs never did catch that Gnome. I'd hoped to give them a chance one day but schedules began conflicting and the game died.

Daniel
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2009, 01:44:19 PM »


The charge through the traps by the monk and the fighter sounds a lot more interesting to me then what I've heard of most old school play.  Deciding to risk the traps and having a chance to succeed is hugely at odds with the typical take 3 hours to move 30' down the corridor while they poke prod and otherwise examine every possible surface in case there is a trap that will most likely kill you in one shot.
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LandonSuffered
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2009, 08:14:46 PM »


Quote
The charge through the traps by the monk and the fighter sounds a lot more interesting to me then what I've heard of most old school play.  Deciding to risk the traps and having a chance to succeed is hugely at odds with the typical take 3 hours to move 30' down the corridor while they poke prod and otherwise examine every possible surface in case there is a trap that will most likely kill you in one shot.


Sure does sound like a different game, all right.  Of course an old school group could likewise "decide to risk the traps and have a chance to succeed."  But the two games ("old school" and "new school") facilitate very different types of play. I think Daniel's anecdote aptly illustrates the latter.



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Jonathan
Will Grzanich
Member

Posts: 34


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« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2009, 06:03:59 AM »

Hi Daniel -- awesome story.  Sounds like loads of fun!

In a similar vein, my friends and I recently completed a long D&D 3.5e adventure path.  At the end, we basically had to storm the wizard's tower (apologies to Mr. Baker), and the penultimate session ended with us about to confront the Big Bad.  We had a whole week to discuss options, tactics, etc., and it was actually a lot of fun going through all the high-level wizard spells and trying to think of ways to counter them. 

What we came up with was kind of cool.  The party wizard and my character (a warrior-cleric type) would close with the enemy, so we're all bunched up together.  Then my buddy would cast antimagic field, disabling any buffs the enemy would surely have up (including, we figured, freedom of movement, either in spell or ring form, which would prevent the next part of the plan from working).

Step 2:  now that the wizard is helpless -- well, both wizards, actually, my ally included, but that's fine, as you'll see -- my character would rush up and grapple him.  Any freedom of movement-type effects and strength buffs he might have had up are now nullified, so my 20 STR brute should have no problem.  Then the third party member, a warrior-rogue, would join in and stab the guy in the face until he stopped moving.

No plan, of course, survives contact with the enemy.  Things didn't go quite that smoothly -- the wizard was smart, and smacked us with meteor swarm, time stop (for buffing), and horrid wilting before we could even fully close with him, and a wall of force slowed us from ganging up on him as well.  Then there's the fact that he managed to possess my wizard buddy for a little while...oops.  Oh yeah, and there was a wail of the banshee that I very luckily saved against.

It was a rough fight.  But, eventually, we broke the possession effect our wizard was under, got the antimagic field up, and dogpiled on him as planned...and it was beautiful.

I'm not all that wild about 3rd edition D&D these days, but the sheer number of tactical options available to high-level characters spellcasters certainly can bring the fun from time to time.  :)
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Frank Tarcikowski
Member

Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2009, 06:19:04 AM »

Hey, I'm just musing... if the Monk went in first, didn't he set off all the traps already?

- Frank
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BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English
Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2009, 12:35:27 PM »

Hey, I'm just musing... if the Monk went in first, didn't he set off all the traps already?

- Frank

Auto-reset. These traps were designed to keep a TROLL slowed down.
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
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