What Would You Have Done?

By Shamus
on Aug 30, 2007
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

Reader Brassbaboon relates a great gaming story in the comments here. I really enjoyed reading this, and I think his question at the end is fun to answer:

[…]

On the subject of a single d20 roll deciding the outcome of a campaign….

So I was in a campaign where a bunch of first level characters ended up fighting an Ogre Mage. I was playing a gnome rogue, and I was playing him as a wholly unwise, but spectacularly confident character. At one point a group of kobolds had pinned down our fighter, our cleric and our wizard. The kobolds were behind a row of barrels. My rogue snuck down in front of the barrels without being noticed by the kobolds, which had managed to hit two of our party in spite of cover bonuses. My rogue tumbled over the barrels, landing amongst the kobolds and proceeded to single-handedly kill four kobolds as the rest of the party fought off a dire weasel. Barely. My rogue literally did not get a scratch.

At another point in the campaign my rogue charged up a 20 foot sheer wall on a rope while being shot at by a group of kobolds. He took some damage but managed to get to the top, where he engaged the kobolds hand-to-hand, allowing the rest of the party to climb up the rope where we dispatched the kobolds. After the campaign I counted up the kills in the campaign and that little rogue single-handedly dispatched 40% of the opponents we faced.

Now to the Ogre Mage….

So the Ogre Mage cast a darkness spell on the party. My rogue immediately scampered in a straight line as far as he could, eventually getting outside of the darkness spell limit. The rest of the party attempted to engage the Ogre Mage IN the darkness. My rogue searched around in the cave until he found a large stone pillar (sort of a huge stalagmite) he could climb, where he waited for the darkness to end. In the meantime the Ogre Mage dispatched every other party member, and was untouched in the darkness himself. When the darkness ended the entire party, except my rogue, was unconscious and bleeding to death.

As it happened, the pillar I had climbed was the Ogre Mage’s storage area. When the darkness ended, my rogue started firing arrows as the Ogre Mage as the OM had to work his way around the mound to get to a place he could climb it. As he did this I hit him with five successive arrows. As the OM climbed the rock pillar, my rogue hit him twice more. That was seven successive hits where I rolled above a 13 on my d20. By now the rest of the players were getting psyched. I had done almost 30 points of damage to the Ogre Mage, single-handedly. But it still came on. As it reached the top of the pillar, it’s move ended one square short of reaching me. My rogue, about 25 feet above the cave floor, decided to leap and tumble off the pillar, landing in a shallow stream. The tumble reduced the damage my rogue took enough to keep me alive, and I took as second move action to move 20 feet into the cavern.

At this point the DM announced that the Ogre Mage had dropped his axe and had picked up a crossbow from somewhere. He solemnly rolled a d20 for a shot from the crossbow, and then announced to the party, “A hit, right between the eyes. You are dead.”

Now, I will always have the memories of that brilliant, unwise, spectacularly reckless rogue and how he almost single-handedly dispatched an Ogre Mage while the rest of his party was bleeding to death on the floor of a forgotten cave.

But, putting yourself in the DM’s shoes in that case, what would YOU have done?

The people at the table went from total excitment to bitter defeat in one roll. More importantly, everyone stopped having fun. Since having fun is the point for the game, I would say this was a bad move, even if it was within the rules.

Here is the answer I gave:

If I were a DM, I would not have so casually crushed such a thrilling moment. Have the OM rummage through his gear to find some healing. He MUST be in pain. I still can’t understand why a MAGE would resort to a crossbow. Assuming he even owns one and has it close by (doubtful in my view) it seems more in character for him to try and use his mojo.

And if he was out of mojo, I would have him grab some healing, whatever valuables are handy and light, and run for it. He should be danged scared of this ninja that just perforated him, and it would make no sense for him to engage anything that “powerful” (he shouldn’t know how lucky the dice were) with no magic juice.

It would have been a thrilling moment when everyone lived through the encounter, and it would have been a lot of fun when the OM popped up later for a little revenge.

But there are a lot of different ways to handle this. The brute-force approach for a DM who didn’t want such a thrilling moment to end would be to fudge the dice rolls. That’s a risky choice, and likely to offend some gamers if they discover or suspect you’ve done it. I think roleplaying the OM is a great way to solve this problem. It’s still possible that Brassbaboon’s character would have died anyway, but if a little roleplaying can save the group from a TPK, then the GM had better have an exceptionally good reason for not doing it.

So… if you were running this game, what would you have done?

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  1. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    I would have sent in a red dragon to kill the OM. Then have have the rogue god ( his name escapes me) come in and give the rogue Gnome a gift from the gods. Then as the party is leaving the dungeon i would make a rock fall on all of them and kill them.

  2. baac says:

    You can’t forget you’re running the campaign for the enjoyment of the players – not yourself. I say you have to go with the moment, and the moment clearly indicated there that the player should have prevailed. Imagine the celebration – which that DM turned into bitter defeat for his own benefit. The DM isn’t playing – he shouldn’t have a stake in the battles.

    I remember one DM I had in high school who turned every adventure into a chance to kill everyone who played, over and over again. What fun is that?

    I would have let the players slide and celebrated along with them, but that’s just me.

    Brendan

  3. CJG says:

    Can’t ogre mage’s fly?

    Or are we talking an older edition here…

    I sent an ogre mage against my first level party once, the point being that they weren’t supposed to fight him. He was their “contact” (so to speak) to spawn the real adventure. If they had decided to fight it, I would’ve fought as best I could as the ogre mage, but let things go however the dice worked out. If the characters had managed to kill the ogre mage, so be it.

    Then again, my ogre mage wasn’t really important to the plot in any way. But even if it was, I ascribe to the Shamus Young version of railroading. If the players kill your BBEG, then it turns out he wasn’t really the BBEG after all and there’s another Ber-Ber-EG waiting to take his place.

  4. Rob says:

    After such a stunning display I would either have the OM run off (as you described) or attempt the same tumbling leap into the stream (in rage) as the rogue. Of course being an Ogre Mage he’s not quite as deft at tumbling and misses the stream by three feet splitting his head open. etc. etc. NO way would I kill the character for good role playing! I’ve come close to killing characters before who did something REDICULOUSLY stupid like charging into a dragon lair at level 3 but that’s another story! :)

  5. Mordae says:

    The fact that one player was smart enough to do the right thing would make me, as a DM, want the party not to die. It’s a rare opportunity to have an encounter that really challenges a party like this one; usually it’s obvious to the players that they can handle it easily or should run away. As Shamus points out, this was also a challenge for the ogre mage, and having both sides survive can add more depth to a campaign than just blinding following the DM’s notes and the dice.

    If the entire party had decided to be stupid, I would have almost felt obligated to wipe them out. If you can’t pull the trigger, the players will be less inclined to role-play their characters correctly in life-or-death situations because they know they will always survive.

  6. lightpagoda says:

    That story reminds me of a game a friend of mine ran. I played an ice based sorcerer with a kobold henchman. I swear there were times that kobold saved our party, taking out golems and zombies like nothin’ else. It was especially funny at one point because we were fighting some sort of golem that was energized by elemental weapons, and could only be hurt by magic stuff. Turns out my kobold was the only fighter with a magical, but not elemental weapon. fun times.

  7. Winged Ignorance says:

    First, I would have done my research and written down exactly what an ogre mage is capable of. I seem to recall abilities such as flight and turning into mist.

    Second, I would have fudged the roll, no question. I would have kept the suspense going by describing the arrow grazing his cheek and leaving a bloody line across it.

    I wouldn’t have given him the victory, no — assuming his plan was a clever one, I would have given him a chance to earn his victory.

  8. Will says:

    Hi all,

    One thing that nobody’s mentioned is that Brassbaboon never said “everyone stopped having fun.” I mean, sure, it was a TPK, so play couldn’t continue without making new characters, but I think if I were in Brassbaboon’s place, I’d have had a blast as it was. I think we all have fond memories of fallen characters. In fact, fallen-character memories may be our fondest. What do you think? :)

    Great story. :)

    -Will

  9. thark says:

    You know, it’s interesting that you say “at that moment, everyone stopped having fun”, because I totally didn’t read that into the post. Maybe that’s just my personal prejudices and preferences coming out; presumably, if this story happened at your (Shamus’) table, you would consider that to be the case, but it would be interesting to hear whether that was actually the case for brassbaboon.

    So, here’s what I would do.

    I would look at the players and conclude, well boys, if he does more than X points, you’re out, and he needs an X to hit.

    Then I would pick up my d20.

    Then we would all hold our breath in anticipation.

    Then I would roll the dice. And everyone would look at intently as it rolled… oh, now it’s on a two… now it rolled over to eighten… it’s on a four and it’s slowing down… come on, come on…

    BAM! You’re dead. Or BAM! the arrow whizzes by right beside your ear.

    Either way, it would be exciting and awesome, and in no way a letdown. And if it was a group or a type of story for which a TPK in that moment could only BE a letdown… I wouldn’t use a system which puts death constantly on the table to begin with.

    (So don’t get me wrong. I’m very much not saying that my answer is the universally right answer.)

    (Now, for us,the moment when everyone stopped having fun would be when the OM cast the Darkness spell. Fumbling for opponents in a cloud of darkness tends–for us–to be an exercise in frustration and annoyance and un-fun. But that wasn’t the point of the anecdote.)

  10. thark says:

    So essentially, while I was typing, Will said was I trying to say, except clearer and in fewer words. Dammit. :-)

  11. Telas says:

    Unless he’s talking “Ogre Wizard”, Ogre Magi could fly and turn invisible at will even in 1st edition.

    Sounds like there are multiple layers of bad GMing…

    1. The GM doesn’t know his material. See above capabilities of Ogre Magi.
    2. The GM presents the party with an overpowering opponent. An Ogre Mage is a CR8, which means that he’s an “equivalent challenge” for an eighth level party. This is way out of line for first level adventurers.
    3. Gets vindictive when someone manages to stand up to his overpowering opponent for a few rounds.
    4. Bends the rules, not to make it more fun, but to punish the player for standing up to his uber-encounter. Making some assumptions here: Did anyone see that last attack roll? Did you have the hit points to survive a x2 crit? Was the crossbow loaded (move equivalent action)? Was the crossbow the proper size for the Ogre Mage (Large)? How’d he fire it while climbing? (One-handed makes it a -2 on attack rolls) Was he accounting for cover, distance, etc?

    I’d handle this by wanting the Ogre Mage to talk to the party. They can do favors for him, in return for whatever it is he has. (Ogre Mage: usually Lawful Evil, so he could easily be Lawful Neutral.) As the party levels up, they discover that their patron is either not what he seems, or is involved in something much bigger than they suspect.

    Once the combat started, the Ogre Mage would defeat the rest of the party, then turn invisible and fly, telling the rogue that he can heal his party and leave, but that he has to spread the word, “Don’t mess with the Ogre Mage!”

  12. RibbitRibbit says:

    I think Will is right. In a good game you pit yourself against the odds, that’s where the group’s fun comes from (as far as I can see). But if the “surviving is winning, dying is losing” equation applies then what matters is just this – does the character survive? I personally don’t subscribe to this. I’d have a blast as it was.

    Also, if both the players and the DM agreed to abide by the dice, then that’s that, right there. Even going mano-a-mano with an Ogre Mage – instead of freaking RUNNING AWAY like they should have – says “I am willing to risk death”. Where’s the risk if the DM fudges when the going gets rough?

    An aside: I think the DM was out to get them. An Ogre Mage at 1st level? My bet is that he was tired of them slaughtering the opposition, and decided on TPK. What grates me most is the “shot right between the eyes, you’re dead”. Did he roll the dice where they could see them?

  13. kamagurka says:

    I think the answer is clear, had I been the DM. Rocks would have fallen. Everyone would have died.

  14. Arthur says:

    Killing a bunch of 1st-level characters with a way-too-powerful monster isn’t just bad GMing – it’s also baffling. The campaign’s barely begun and he’s already TPKing them? It makes me wonder whether the GM in question suddenly realised he didn’t have the time, or the inspiration, or the energy to run a regular campaign, and rather than being honest about it and backing out decided to kill everyone off real quick and go home. The fact that he didn’t seem aware of the Ogre Mage’s magical capabilities suggests he just pulled a big nasty out of the Monster Manual in order to smash the PCs without paying too much attention to the monster description.

    Gary Gygax, in the old 1E DMG, noted that GMs have every right to save a character from death if the player in question has done everything right, can’t be said to have made a mistake, and yet still gets screwed over by the dice – and that’s coming from the guy who designed the Tomb of Horrors. ’nuff said.

  15. Galaxian says:

    I regard 1st Level as something of an exercise in survival anyway. If I want an adventure with a lessened chance of TPK, I start DMing the story from Level 2. But there comes a point where a party – or at least a member of the party – does something so adept, so brave, so memorable, that they deserve to rise above the fickle nature of the dice, at least momentarily. This story is easily a case in point. Who cares what the DM secretly rolled – for the sake of a good story, TPK-ing the party at that moment wastes all the good work that went before. An Ogre Mage is supposed to be too powerful for a 1st Level party, so where’s the interest in the outcome being TPK? Part of the excitement of such a situation is the challenge of overcoming insurmountable odds – this is exactly the kind of drama many players are looking to be part of.

    The DM blew it. He had a truly dramatic situation right there. And he blew it.

    A DM has to have a sense of ‘moment’. Without that, he’s just a hand rolling a dice, and his players may as well be playing a computer game.

  16. Sharpe says:

    I’d play the Ogre Mage as getting annoyed and sloppy at this bunny hopping rogue. Maybe jump after him, getting some damage in the fall if the dice rolled bad. If the rogue continued to evade him, the Ogre would probably start with some hide and seek amungst the pillars.

  17. Gary says:

    I would say that the creature seems able to vastly outpower its opponents. Unless I’m looking to kill the party I’d hope I’d never put the players in this situation. My players might suffer for being consistently brash or stupid* but I’d try to give them a lot of warning first. Like you’ve said a party kill is a big thing, everyone re-rolling characters with none of them having any direct “link” to the previous events of the party, it’s not something I’d do lightly even in games that expect it more such as Call of Cthulhu (everyone insane or dead).

    So, as a GM who has all but one of the party bleeding to death and one character to hopefully save them all while taking out the enemy I’d make sure that character survived. You’ve got pretty much everything sorted, it doesn’t look like an deus ex machina, the ogre mage retreats or the next bolt kills him. He picks up the dying body of another character and throws it at the gnome, just missing before the gnome kills him off. Make the challenge feel real but a wise GM knows that your players will love pulling a victory out of the jaws of defeat.

    *Such as some times I want my players to know that their characters are breaking into a high security facility or whatever and, if they don’t get a move on then they will find themselves outnumbered and outgunned. I’ll let them off the first couple of times but if they proceed to just hang around while an alarm is going off I might well send in enough “muscle” to kill a character or two.

  18. Bärsärk says:

    >So… if you were running this game, what would you have done?

    Well, at what point? I think the OM is played rather reasonably up until the very last (pulling the crossbow out of thin air), and I would have continued it. What I assume has happened is that he engages the party with magic, kills all of them save the rouge which escapes his notice. His magic is spent, and suddenly he is pelted by arrows from this little gremlin atop a pillar. He becomes enraged and goes after it to smash it, which involves climbing. As he gets hit more and more he becomes angrier, and when the rouge escapes him atop the pillar he is so wrathfull he leaps after him. To his death.
    I am ignoring the “OMs can fly” part here, because he seems to have forgotten it when climbing, and it seems unreasonable to have him remember it in his fury at the top of the pillar.
    To add a final challenge to the rouge, I might say that the OM jumps down at him, forcing him to dodge or get crushed.

    That said, I think the actions of the GM indicates that he really wanted them dead. And unless that is a plot hook for an adventure as undead gnome rogues, it is really pathetic.

    In general, I make it a rule that if ever life and death depends on a single die roll, that roll is the player’s.
    I don’t shy away from PCs dying, but I see it more as the players failing to survive what I throw at them than me killing them. =)

  19. Cat Skyfire says:

    I am rather saddened by the DM. Admittedly, my first question is ‘was the die rolled in the open’? If it wasn’t, then I’m putting my money on ‘vindictive kill’ rather than a true 20.

    Pulling the crossbow that he didn’t seem to have a moment ago…that reeks of the DM not happy that he’s not ‘winning’.

    As long as the character is being played well, a DM should run with it. The Ogre Mage could have thrown his sword, pulled out daggers (those DO tend to be more concealable as distance weapons), or chased after.

    Heck, I think I would have switched the OM to being an adventure hook. Have the OM stop fighting, and start laughing. “Ah, you have proven yourself worthy…” blah blah blah…

    SO many possibilities, and the DM blew it.

  20. Madjack says:

    The player did a great job of fighting, he was smart and tactical, but against the smartest monster in the dungeon, at the end of the fight? It is do or die.

    Assuming that:

    * There really was a crossbow nearby,
    * The DM rolled an honest and true attack,

    Then the DM did the right thing. Don’t assume that “everybody stopped having fun,” either, those moments are tense and exciting BECAUSE of the risk, and I’ll bet you that guy’s friends still tell stories of how cool and brave he was during that fight.

    The old quote goes like this: If not for the bullet, who would fear the gun? The rest of the party played poorly and were slaughtered for it. The lesson learned here is teamwork.

    All of this, though, goes out the window if the DM was lying, fudging, or being vindictive. If that is the case, then the fucker doesn’t have the right to sit behind the shield.

    If not for the bullet, who would fear the gun?

  21. Gary's Friend Mike's Friend Jim says:

    The GM should’ve said, “Just after you leap clear, the ogre mage roars in anger, and you notice a crack appearing below him on the pillar… it’s going to topple, but the ogre mage doesn’t apparently know it yet!”

    Then give the little guy a chance to do something to cause the ogre mage to be crushed by the pillar and be a huge hero to the rest of the party. People would talk about that encounter for years, and would always look forward to playing under that GM again.

    Instead, the GM comes off as a complete douche. Shame.

  22. Mavis says:

    What would I do? Depends on the game. I know the example is from a D&D game but that has different genre expectations then say a Call of Cthulhu game.

    In fact I am reminded of a CoC game where a new player shouted “you run – I’ll take on the Gug” (http://www.ccgarmory.com/ctplgugct.html). Not being stupid -we took his advice…..

    A startling series of dice roles, and the only one winning was the character. However the poor fella’s luck ran out as he fumbled to reload his elephant gun while dodging and a single blow killed him outright.

    So should the GM have killed him? Course he should. It was Cthulhu!

    Equally players have to feel in danger – at risk – in order to treasure there victorys.

    If the GM did kill that character from spite – then he was a bad GM. Equally he was a bad GM for putting weak players up against something totally over the top for them.

    But there are many situations where that death, in that way could well be a legitamte part of a fun game…..

  23. J-rahm says:

    One of my rules as DM is ‘if the party can surprise me, they should get away with it’.

    I’d probably have it back off. They regenerate quickly, and have lots of spells, so it would be really cautious with those last few hit points, and very angry that such a small opponent made it retreat… And they polymorph – a vengeful creature like that is a great opportunity for long-term evilness.

    I’d also definitely fudge the rolls. If the party wasn’t scared earlier for their lives, someone wasn’t paying attention. All party members down but one… The little one… He’d live, either after a stupider OM jumped down after him, or a real one took his loot and disappeared. And now the rogue gets to prove his Heal mojo – who’s hurt the most, and can you make a DC 15 check? For each of them? In time?

    Like someone said, let the make-or-break rolls be in the players’ hands.

  24. Malachite says:

    Frankly, I would not send a 1st level PCs group against an OM. Then, if I did, I would not punish their bravery by killing the lucky gnome. Honestly, that DM must be a control freak who hates to watch players having fun. I, for one, always put de fun before anything when it comes to D&D. It’s a game, after all…

  25. Cenobite says:

    The arrow hits the rogue, but does not kill him. Instead it causes normal damage plus a hampering side effect: have the rogue’s movement reduced by half, let’s say, because there is a big ugly arrow sticking out of his gluteus maximus. Then let the combat continue.

  26. Zaghadka says:

    First level party vs. an Ogre Mage? Are ya’ serious?

    The CR of that monster has already been mentioned. For the love of God, it regenerates! (in 2nd ed. at least) It’s clear that either the DM didn’t realize it can fly too, or he had already cut the rogue a break by having him climb the pillar.

    What would I do? That’s a serious corner the to back oneself into. If I allow the monster to be dispatched then it’s Monty Haul time, folks. Too much treasure, too fast. Letting low level characters survive encounters like this is a foundation of any bad Monty Haul campaign.

    Assuming I wasn’t incompetent, then the party made a bad decision entering the lair of an Ogre Mage, and that outweighs any good decisions afterward. Everybody dies.

    Assuming I had made the mistake, I would, during an arrow hit while he’s climbing, have made a (DC infinity +1) will save for the Ogre Mage, looked downcast at the roll, and have him lose his grip and fall to his death (after a dInfinity damage roll from the fall), then fudge the lair treasure. That’s why you have a screen folks. It’s to cover your own mistakes. The big secret being screened is that the DM is fallible.

    Then I’d call the session early and make sure I hadn’t f!cked up so royally with any of my other encounters.

    Point is, someone’s made a serious error here.

  27. Issachar says:

    The adventure Brassbaboon describes is evidently a modified version of “The Burning Plague”, which was a free 1st level adventure that WotC put on their website soon after releasing D&D 3E. Instead of an Ogre Mage, the final boss in WotC’s version was an orc cleric. Even so, it’s considered to be a pretty hard adventure for a 1st level party.

    I wonder whether the DM was very experienced.

  28. If Ogre Mages are still anything like what they used to be, that one was amazingly badly run and should never have been fighting a first level party.
    I mean, I remember way back in the day running Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. The players had pretty tough characters, and they wiped the floor with the frost giants with very little difficulty–the whole dungeon seemed like what it was, a way station on the way to serious badness underground dealing with Drow etc.
    But there was a small group of Ogre Magi in the place. They gave the party more trouble than the whole rest of the place put together, and the group never did catch them–they got away. I mean, geeze, they’re invisible and they fly and they polymorph, *and* they’ve got a little bit of ranged damage magic. And sometimes magical items, which you bet they’d use, ‘cos they’re not stupid. Plus with regeneration, if they make a mistake and take some damage, they can play the attrition game very well–retreat and come back when they’re just fine. An even decently played Ogre Mage wouldn’t *fight* a first level party, he’d *toy* with a first level party.

    Frankly, I think any GM incompetent enough to run an ogre mage as basically a front line combatant is likely to be fool enough to still be thinking in terms of having fun by rubbing the players’ noses in the obvious fact that he can kill their characters if he feels like, get mad when someone seems to be beating his trap, and pull a crossbow and a natural 20 out of thin air. But that’s just me–a basic account never captures the whole situation, so maybe the dynamic was quite different.

  29. Taelus says:

    I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for with that group really. If they don’t mind character deaths at all and aren’t really invested in this set of characters, then killing them and generating a new party isn’t such a big deal.

    Personally, the crossbow stunt is the one that boggles me the most. Why would that npc have been carrying a crossbow, already loaded? How did he drop an axe, pull it out, and still fire it while hanging from a bit of rock? How did he climb the stupid thing to begin with holding an axe? That would be a hard roll for someone with significant climbing skill. Anyway, this has the scent of a DM fudge in favor of killing off a character that was killing off his bad guys too easily. Maybe that wasn’t it, but if it wasn’t, then the DM certainly wasn’t paying much attention to mechanics for his bad guys, implying that he was more about drama and less about mechanics. If that’s the case, then killing off the gnome was the wrong move anyway since it killed the drama of the scene.

    Anyway, I’d probably have had the Ogre Mage run away. He’s seen this little gnome fight effectively, and quickly, and hasn’t yet scratched him. The Mage doesn’t know how many hit points the gnome has and certainly doesn’t know his level of skill to understand that this guy is just getting lucky. So yeah, I’d have him try to run away. Now, if the gnome backs him into a corner and he has to fight for survival, then I’d kill the gnome for ignoring his fallen comrades for a silly kill, but maybe that’s just me since I’m a huge fan of the drama in a story over the mechanics of the game world.

  30. Woerlan says:

    It’s perfectly in character for the Ogre Mage to try and kill him. You can’t take 30 damage from something supposedly beneath your attention and not be pissed.

    The question is, is the rogue running away for his life? If so, the OM might relent and let him go. If the gnome is still fighting, then yeah. Kill him.

    The crossbow out of nowhere is a stretch though.

  31. Duckhunter says:

    It all depends on the group chemistry, but I agree that the DM screwed the pooch.

    I’ve been pretty lucky – I only had one time where the PCs killed the main character and completely shattered every thing I had planned for an epic plotline. In the very first melee.

    I just shook my head, said “Well, folks, I need to do some rethinking, so it’s over tonight. I’ll buy pizza.”

    Came back next weekend with a remade plan that didn’t undo anything they did up to that point. Fun was had by all, and all it cost was half an evening of play time.

    As much as I do so love the “Rocks fall, everyone dies” phrase, it’s pretty much the sign of a DM who has lost control – either of his players or his adventure.

  32. Woot Spitum says:

    I’m not sure the crossbow thing is even possible. From what I remember, only the rare, (except among the Drow) and light-damage hand crossbow can be fired one-handed. All other bows are two handed weapons.

  33. Davesnot says:

    I don’t understand the thought process in killing off the PC.. I understand allowing PCs to get killed.. there is a difference.

    I also understand being flustered as a DM.. but still .. I can’t understand being flustered and resorting to killing the PCs.. That DM had planned to kill the party from the start.. it was a DEAD end…

    Now.. I can see killing them all off so you could continue the campaign on another plane with the same PCs.. maybe even granting them something from their deities..

    Or.. have OM tie the party up.. heal them.. and lead them James Bond style to the real BBEG and have him spout off about his great evil plot.. then let the PCs have a chance to escape and foil said plot..

    Hell.. have them all dead.. and wake up in their camp wondering why they all fell asleep and had the same nightmare.

    Having the OM run away is a great solution.. even announce a morale check (do they still have those?) and run him away.

    Anyway.. hopefully these players realized that D&D is a great game and they went and found someone else to be the DM… what a great opportunity.. “Ok.. we’re all dead.. Your turn at DM is done.. who’s next?”

    Even at 14 they should be able to tell that guy sucked.

  34. David says:

    A TPK is never the end of the world. A LE creature like the Ogre Mage could likely heal up the party and charm them. He could use them as henchmen. Maybe the next time the OM leaves his base somebody’s charm wears off and the party can free itself.

    People have mentioned that the DM forgot that the Ogre Mage can fly, but there are perhaps more glaring errors unmentioned. Nobody has mentioned that it can also cast Cone of Cold, which would kill the whole party instantly. At any point while the gnome was firing arrows the OM should have made himself invisible. At any point while the gnome was alone the OM should have charmed the Gnome.

  35. Ping says:

    I’m a big fan of climactic ends for games. Unfortunately, they’re very hard to pull off.

    My very first game ever (I started “late” in college), the GM had this great climax, and it was really neat. The problem? The group actually had another semester to go! He’d climaxed too early. The rest of the game deteriorated rapidly, with one of the most disappointing and frustrating sessions I could ever imagine. (We were trying to be clever and not actually blow everything up, and the GM was shutting us down at every turn, so in the end we HAD to blow everything up in order to accomplish our goals. And in the end, it was an NPC who took out the villain we were hoping to capture. Laaaame.) And the final session? Baaaad.

    Other games I’ve been in just peter out, because people move or get bored or the GM loses their enthusiasm for the game.

    The best ending for a game I’ve ever been involved with was a Victorian-era superheroes game. One of the players was leaving, and so we were able to bring everything to a head and resolve the major issues and deal with the major villains. It was a really amazing experience.

  36. moonglum says:

    some theif just kicked my ass, and jumped off a 20ft piller wit hno ill effects….im running.

  37. guy says:

    I’d have had the OM charge into melee, as well as having remembered he could fly. It might well end in disaster for the rouge, but if he did well enough i’d have had the OM go invisible and run for it.

  38. Marty says:

    Assuming that:
    * There really was a crossbow nearby,
    * The DM rolled an honest and true attack

    Now, we only have the description to go by, but it appears that neither of those things happened. The story seems to end with the GM fiat critical hit.

    One way or another, many here seem to agree that the GM played badly… Even leaving aside the ogre magical abilities, there are a number of ways the ogre could get out of this jam alive without the TPK.

    Retreat is a commonly mentioned option. The ogre could run off to recuperate, leaving the rogue to try to revive his party members enough to stumble out of the cavern, barely alive.

    Keeping the party from looting the lair is easy enough — if they take any more time than just getting bandaged and getting out, the ogre can come back, nearly healed by his regeneration. The players would then only have themselves to blame if they were killed while trying to loot the place when it was clear they needed to retreat as well.

  39. Marty says:

    Oh, additionally, it seems that many here agree that the rogue should be rewarded, not beat down, for his intelligent play, even if it only means he escapes with little more than his skin.

  40. Kanthalion says:

    I agree with having the OM run away. If he must take a shot first, have it take the rogue to within a point or two of unconsciousness–heck, you’re the DM, as long as the players don’t see, the dice are merely guidelines–then it would be up to the rogue to stabilise /revive his party. If he fails, his reward is being the only player not rolling a new character.

  41. dtb says:

    Was the DM being to harsh? Three characters, unconscious, but not dead. I think the rogue should have died. He has given up a large advantage in his stealth, and could possible save the party without enganging a no-win battle.

    The crossbow, et al. is a little fishy. And we still don’t know if everybody had fun.

  42. Kanthalion says:

    of course, now that I’m thinking about it (if the crossbow and it’s crit was legit) I complain about my DM always saying “He hit you for a confirmed crit, it takes you to negative two.” when you know it should have taken you to negative 12. He makes it no secret that he will only kill you if you want to die or are spectacularly stupid, whereas I like the idea that if I don’t watch my ass, I just may be toast.

  43. Davesnot says:

    Kanthanlion.. your DM should have a running count of you hit points.. and tell you the number of hits done to bring you to -2.. and he shouldn’t be saying it was a confirmed crit.. he should be telling you that the sword found a gap in your armour and has deeply gouged your shoulder for x hit points… where you get to say, “Oh goodie.. I’m not quite all the way dead.”.. becuase you should thin that it you don’t watch your ass you’ll be toast.. but the DM should know where the toast is.

  44. Smith says:

    Sounds like a Dm who let refereeing turn into an “me vs. them” mentality where he had to have his monsters win.

    That is one kind of DM who sucks the life out of the game. Had I been the DM, the OM would have either retreated, or attempted to jump down to follow the rogue, likely getting killed in a spectacular manner. It would have been a major victory for the party against almost impossible odds, and the players would remember it for a long time to come as a triumph instead of a TPK.

  45. Ransforth says:

    How about this. ‘The Ogre Mage seeing the rogue leap from the pillar, drops his axe retrieves something from the storage at the top of the pillar, bows to the rogue and disappears.’ This brings up the questions of what did the Ogre Mage retrieve, how badly was the Ogre Mage really hurt, and when (not if) the Ogre Mage would extract its revenge.
    I’m never a fan of killing players unless it’s a situation that the play has stupidly brought upon themselves (exe most of the party, fighting the Ogre Mage in its lair, in the dark, with no tactics to speak of), and I have utilized a house rule of ‘for the first session your character is immortal, nothing you can do will kill them. Understand though that you can create a situation that will kill you on the second session.’ This allows players to get used to me, my style of play, and their characters, without worrying about having to generate a new character every session. I also seem to play with people that are new, haven’t played the system, or have not played for a long time and it allows them to get used to the system as well.

  46. Kanthalion says:

    Davesnot: I was exaggerating a bit for effect, but his “negative two” is a bit of a running joke in the gaming group.

  47. TalrogSmash says:

    you all do this to Shamus relentlessly so here goes…

    what does the color rouge have to do with this story?
    the gnomish rogue was kicking ass!

  48. Shapeshifter says:

    What is this, second edition? None of MY ogre magi are going to lose to a party that can’t even deal with a darkness spell.

    So the answer is that i would have killed them all. With mind flayers, assuming they survived that and it’s likely they wouldn’t have even if i went easy on them.

    But i wouldn’t have killed them like that. That’s just stupid. Maybe a realistic end, but not particularly… i don’t know… GOOD.

  49. Steve says:

    I wouldn’t have killed the whole party, but I would have penalized them for failing to accomplish their goal. I’d make the penalty appropriate, though — “Okay, rogue, make a Will save. You fail. You’re now Charmed. The Ogre tells you with a snarl ‘Little _thief_, you’re going to pay for disturbing my lair. You may bandage the wounds of the rest of your party to keep them alive, but you may not wake them up yet. You and your friends are going to do a little favor for me … oh, and put all your money pouches on that rock.'”

    This gives the party a “stay of execution” and creates a hook for the next adventure. The Ogre Mage can Geas the thief and others in the party to go retrieve some magical device he wants but can’t be bothered to go get. It also creates a recurring villain for the party, one they have a reason to hate. [Nobody likes being Charmed and/or Geased. Don’t let the fact that the OM may not have those spells interfere with a good story.]

    Later on in the campaign, after they finally find the Ogre Mage again when they’re better prepared to face him, it’ll be the culmination of a personal vendetta, and when they take him out they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. What could be a TPK instead turns into a source of excitement and pride in taking down a hated enemy.

  50. Namfoodle says:

    A DM who constantly pulls TPK’s for the fun of it has “issues”.

    I joined a group in college that was playing a long running rune quest campaign. The party consisted of one or two newbies plust a few characters that some of the guys had been playing for years. During some kind of random encounter, the party got jumped by a large force of Zerbra riding barbarians. They surrounded us and demanded we surrender and become their slaves.

    Naturally we refused. We’re PCs, that’s how we roll.

    The DM thought it was the wrong choice, so TPK. I guess he had a point, as we tried to buck some pretty steep odds out of pride or overcofidence. But I felt really bad for the guy who had been playing the same character for years.

    After that, the group stuck to board games.

  51. Namfoodle says:

    TalrogSmash:

    In our campaign, the Rogue is named Rouge because the player wanted to try to force the DM to learn to spell.

    But we’re old school. We could never understand why they got rid of the thief. It’s easier to spell – ‘i’ before ‘e’, except after ‘c’!

  52. Yahzi says:

    If a rogue did that much damage to an Ogre Mage, the monster should run. The monster doesn’t know that the rogue is 1st level, or has very few hitpoints left. The DM knows that, but the monster doesn’t.

    So I agree that the DM screwed up here.

  53. Jim Vowles says:

    Not enough info to make a real decision here. But here’s how I handled a similar decision. As background, I ran two VERY long campaigns in the same world with the same 6-10 players, from roughly 1991 to 2005.

    Early on in the second campaign (the first one ended with a spectacular finish and the adjustment from 12th-level world-shaker bad-asses to 1st level wimps was tough), I’d set a group of first level characters up against a single vampire and a few minor undead. They thought they were going to retrieve an overdue library book. The party: a paladin, a ranger, a cleric of the death god (whose mandate was to smash undead for breaking the rules), a Big Dumb Fighter Chick, a pacifist Wu-Jen, an explosion-happy backwoods sorcerer, a bookish dwarven cleric, and a rogue.

    After a few early successes against the minor critters, they bumped into the lord of the manor, who was a pretty tough vampire — I’d intended him to become a major campaign adversary. My plan for the combat was for him to scare them (badly), but not kill them. He was a wizard before going vamp, and his story track would be that he saw potential in them, and he wanted to corrupt and warp them in the long haul.

    CLearly outmatched in this fight, the party started dropping quickly. The ranger was planning to become a bow specialist and a fletcher, he was smart, he was spending time with a cleric of death, and he’d been in the middle of working on making arrows. So he took an arrow that hadn’t yet had the head attached, dipped it in holy water, and attempted an insane called shot at deliberately crazy odds…and proceeded to double-crit the poor undead bastard.

    It was a one in a million shot, and I’d told the player that due to the high stakes, if he blew the roll, the consequences would basically be death. He chose to risk it to save the party anyway.

    I had a huge storyline planned for ol Lord Wossname, but decided that this was just too good. The ranger would drink for years on that true tale, and he’d earned the *chance* at that shot by paying attention to character details and roleplaying. And then later, I decided that the killing of Lord Wossname caught the attention of an even bigger nasty. (There’s ALWAYS a bigger nasty.)

    I’m a big fan of stories. The story is second only to the fun. The roleplaying is second only to the story. The dice are the least important thing out there, most of the time, and definitely in the long run. But without the fun — the ability to win at incredible odds or blow things spectacularly — you might as well fire up the computer and play there.

    I’ve fudged rolls when it saved the party’s bacon, and I’ve fudged rolls when a character was taking out the baddie too quickly. Bad rolls shouldn’t ruin the game — they should heighten the suspense, or set up other challenges and raise the stakes.

  54. guy says:

    or the OM might have gone berserk.

  55. sithson says:

    Telas has raised up some very classic exsamples of a very bad GM, and I have to say that this GM was in the middle of bad GM’s in terms of decisions. It shouldn’t have been a OM, it should of been something else, that would of been though, but not like that. In the end the overwhelming goal the GM set out for the party to accomplished turned into a Vengence game, and He killed the to end the non-sense.

    But you want a nightmareish and totaly evil GM? Well currently we have one running Hackmaster.

    I don’t know if any of you here have played hackmaster but it is a very tough, old school game and there is dead. But it gets worse. Last week, the GM bought a “Kill Stamp” That he marked all the PC kills on (Previous) with a red lauging like skull Self Inking stamp. All counted, in his riegn of 4 months he had killed 14 Characters. (This is why we always insist on 6 month terms with a vote to re-elect if the GM does a good job, needless to say, his “term” will be up soon, and we will never alow him in the seat again, unless he changes his ways.)

    Any ways, so this GM of ours after we had sucessfully cleared out a kolbold lair quite easily (I think he was pissed about it) decided to throw our party of level 2’s up against this goblin mine dungeon.

    In hackmaster, You get a “Kicker” of an extra 20 hit points. Needless to say, yes the monsters also get this bonus, yet the damage remains the same. In the end this favors the monsters, becuase it takes much much longer to kill them, and they typically hit harder than the players.

    Anyways, our lovely Gm of ours had picked out a nice rat/maze dungeon, filled with gobos. With one of our fighters with a magic axe we found we swept throught the first part of the dungeon easily, untill we came across our first secret door. Then, the rules changes. We were trapped. The GM had deisgned this dungeon with a huge wall block to drop after the secret door was opened, and this in turn trapped us into the dungeon, with only enough food/water for like a day or two (We had the rest on a our pack animals outside which we had planned to go back each night of the adventure to rest) suddenly gold didn’t matter. Food was gold. Water was silver. Oh did I mention we didn’t have a healer? Yeah.

    So we get through the first part of the dungeon, and it goes down. After two more deaths we get a new druid and fighter who are also “trapped” and the druid speaks goblin. We proceed the next encounter to sleep/tie up and question one of the goblins. Looks like they don’t know the way out either. Typical, huh?

    So we trudge through, trying to sleep/hole our selfs up in rooms after killing for food/water. Come to find out that theres this ancient evil, and wouldn’t you know it, like right before or an hour or two before we wake up a wandering patrol finds us.

    With lack of sleep and down to our last day of rations we finnaly find a mini boss on the second level. The mage sleeps him and we try the where’s the exit. Well it seems that the boss of the first level knows the way out. We killed him, unfortunatly, and this boss doesn’t know the way out. so were still trapped. We proceed to try to sleep. Zombies come, and we are now, about 2-3 hitpoints max on any character. It’s crazy. We been down there for a month and were questioning every patrol or gruop we come to to get a way out, and the gm is only pointing us further down.

  56. Zaghadka says:

    #34 David:

    At any point while the gnome was alone the OM should have charmed the Gnome.

    I’m going to go for the obvious “Gnome Alone” joke here. :^)

    Or perhaps that’s when he slips on a roller skate and cruises off into the backyard pool?

  57. Katy says:

    It sounds to me like the GM thought this was “players vs GM” rather than a game to have fun and got vindictive. NOT cool.

  58. Hamish says:

    I would have rolled the OM’s attack in the open. Is it really a victory if the GM tweaks it so you win?

  59. Zaxares says:

    Here’s what I posted in the other thread:

    “brassbaboon: Your DM obviously wasn’t running the Ogre Mage correctly. Were I the one running the combat, as soon as the Darkness spell wears off:

    1. The Ogre Mage casts invisibility upon himself (which he can do at will, I might add).

    2. Then flies, and moves into a position adjacent to the rogue

    3. Grapple the rogue (and because he’s flat-footed, the rogue does not get an attack of opportunity or his Dex bonus to AC. Well, unless he had the Uncanny Dodge ability.)

    4. Choke-hold the rogue into submission.

    5. Toss the rogue into a cell to be interrogated/tortured OR feed him his own entrails, depending on how sadistic I’m feeling that day.”

    Now, before everybody gets up in arms about me being some sort of Killer DM who lives to slaughter his player’s characters, I want it stated for the record that I NEVER send the party monsters that they do not have a reasonable chance of defeating. (Unless, of course, it was for some plot purpose, like they’re seeking out some Ancient Gold Dragon for advice.)

    Therefore, I would not have sent the party an Ogre Mage to battle unless they were at least 6th level, and would therefore have the tools and resources to properly counter the OM’s tactics and abilities.

    brassbaboon later stated that the creature his party faced may NOT actually have been an Ogre Mage. Rather, it might have been an Orc Shaman or something a lot weaker, so the tactics would have been drastically different.

  60. Dave Jones says:

    Wow. This took me back. I ran this for a group years ago. The combination of the dire weasel and the kobolds hiding behind barrels triggered the memory. The adventure is “The Burning Plague” and it has on it quite clearly that it is suitable for a party of “four to six 1st-level characters”. This is poppycock.

    Do not read further if you do not want the adventure spoiled.

    In fairness though, unless the DM in the above story changed it the Ogre Mage at the end is, in fact, an Orc Cleric. As such, other than the darkness which he cast, he doesn’t have much in the way of offensive spells. However, he has been downscaled from CR6 to CR5 because of some Con loss and spell loss. His “weakened” state is due to having a plague; the same plague with which he has infected the water supply of the nearby village, hence why the characters get involved in the first place.

    Of course, even CR5 is way too high for a 1st-level party, especially after they have had to deal with:
    1. kobolds shooting from behind cover
    2. a dire weasel and some rats in a room with a flour trap (20% miss chance for two rounds, followed by 10% miss chance for two rounds)
    3. the thunderstone trap near the entrance which alerts both sets of kobolds so they have time to prepare
    4. the second set of kobolds who start firing crossbows as the PCs try to climb up to the ledge where they are hiding and they have a kobold sorceror as their leader
    5. some zombies
    6. a 20′ pit trap
    7. finally, the orc cleric himself

    Oh, and quite a lot of stuff is classed as “contagious”; coming into contact with it means making a Fortitude save of DC 13 per round you are in contact with it. Success means you’re fine, failure means after 24 hours you temporarily lose 1d4 Con. You then have to save once per day (Fort vs. 13, again) or lose another 1d4 Con temporarily. This continues until you make two successful saves consecutively, at which point you’re cured.

    Only the first set of kobolds, the zombies, and the orc cleric refuse to talk or negotiate, though. The dire weasel and the rats can be avoided by simply closing the door and leaving. And there is a potion of invisibility available, should the characters search in the right place.

    As I recall, the party I ran this for survived and succeeded but only due to some min/maxing on the part of a couple of people and the party cleric frantically running around using his low-level healing to stabilise people. On the whole, I think a first-level party could take down the orc cleric as the plague has dwindled his hit points somewhat, but the party would need to be either very lucky, have a good plan, or both.

  61. Anonymous Botch says:

    Jim Vowles has just said everything I thought of.
    “The story is second only to the fun. The roleplaying is second only to the story. The dice are the least important thing out there, most of the time, and definitely in the long run. But without the fun — the ability to win at incredible odds or blow things spectacularly — you might as well fire up the computer and play there.”
    That is surely the point.
    We play these games for FUN. Its a GAME.
    I’m amazed how many people immediately started quoting the Monster Manual and rules specifics.
    Sure you have to have a firm set of rules to make the game feel real, but the GM is their to make the game FUN.
    Incidently I agree with Shawn, the Ogre Mage would have made a great nemesis.

  62. Mark Caliber says:

    The last time I was in a situation like this as a PLAYER, I kindly asked the GM what was holding the crossbow quarrel into the crossbow?

    Since crossbows don’t have a locking mechanism for the missile, a shot (from directly above, as described) would prematurely drop the bolt before the opponent could take proper aim.

    That might have bought me a couple more shots before the Ogre caught up with me and beat me into a bloody pulp . . .

    So thats how I personally dealt with this type of situation.

  63. Dan says:

    I’m a huge proponent of the TPK, and love Call of Cthulhu because of its ability to raise such disaster to an art form (in D&D, death generally comes heroically. In CoC, this can occassionally happen, but many character deaths are preceded by total loss of sanity, reputation, legacy and hope first. Try to roleplay Macbeth and you get the gist.) but this type of TPK is maddening.

    Perhaps the lads and lasses had a good time rolling headlong into disaster. The characters will be remembered. I once played a campaign where one of the characters, a drow amputee with an artificial, superpowered nuclear hand (a gift from aliens) forgot to add coolant and TPK’d us all by exploding a mountaintop. We’d campaigned with that party for years, and he’d had the hand for months. Our players understood the hand was a potential liability, but the characters did not.

    The denouement was gorgeous, spectacular, foreshadowed, yet not inevitable. In my opinion, it was the penultimate TPK.

    This, on the other hand, might have been fun at the moment (or not, it isn’t clear) but wasn’t well executed. An ogre mage is obviously going to wipe out a 1st level party. For God’s sake, a [i]gnome rogue[/i] accounted for 40% of the kills up until the encounter with the Mage – regardless of the dice rolls, this was a [i]weak[/i] party.

    I love roleplaying characters with limitations, but it is very easy for a DM to overbalance the game against the weak. I love some of the 0-level modules from Dungeon Crawl, because they give great ideas for pitting low-level, low-skill parties vs. creatures above their station. Drawing from those, the Ogre Mage could have been a drunk, he could have been coming from a recent encounter that robbed him of spells, he could be something of a coward, or have suffered a recent head injury.

    The party’s opponents are characters first, target props second. A big baddie is nothing if it doesn’t have motivation, goals and some level of wisdom and self-preservation.

    The easiest, crappiest route to a TPK is to see all party opponents as stock footage and then to employ a skilled, single-minded murderer as a major foil. I think this is a case of that. In spite of the bad set up, it could have ended far more dramatically had the rogue been allowed to live. Even if some party members died in the process, this was not a scenario worthy of TPK.

  64. d4b3ll3z says:

    Honestly, I would have had the mage use some other spell to get the gnome off of the pillar first. Since the gnome kept hitting though, the OM likely would’ve been distracted THEN charged. However, I would not have had him produce a crossbow from nowhere and kill the gnome. He may have tried a spell again. In the case of that not working I would have defaulted to the “the party stabalizes at near death and wakes up as prisoners” ending, which keeps the game going and also allows them a means of escape, if not more excitement.

    I’ve done the latter before with a group and it ended quite well. The rogue of the party had a magic tatoo that allowed invisibility once/day. Since a tattoo can’t be stripped from a person, she activated it (to the suprise of the guards) and snuck out when they opened her cell to check. The details have faded with time, but she managed to free the entire party and defeat their captors.

    In the case of the gnome, since he was such a lucky fellow, I would’ve had him get swept downstream and wake up someplace. Basically, always err on the side of enjoyment.

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