D&D Campaign: Unanswered Questions

 By Shamus Jan 18, 2007 40 comments

Here is my third and final wrap-up post on the D&D campaign. Hopefully this will answer the last remaining questions anyone might have.


What would have happened if they didn’t free Mordan?

This is a question all of the players and a few readers asked. The short answer: not much.

This whole campaign was a gamble that hinged on them being tricked into freeing Mordan. If they had skipped Crossway, travel on the roads would have been impossible. They would have met a large group of solders (so many that they wouldn’t think about fighting) and would have been arrested and dragged back to Crossway, where Noreeno would make them a deal in exchange for their freedom.

But if they had traveled in the wilderness, they could have eventually reached Telwin Port. Assuming they were willing to leave Endo behind, they could have escaped the campaign altogether.

If they went south, but continued to look for Endo, they might have gotten arrested or met trouble elsewhere. In order to save the campaign, I could have used some yet-unwritten NPC (maybe some other survivors from the ship) to free Mordan, and then had the Queen try to enlist their help. This would have been far, far less interesting. The real hook of the campaign was that they released Mordan, and although it could have played out a lot of different ways, the choces they made in the end were the best, story-wise.

How much were they “on rails”?

I am guilty of passive railroading. I know the guys I game with, and in many cases I can say “If I put them in situation X I know they will do Y.” Once in a while I’m wrong, but very often I can predict how they will react to a situation before I introduce it. The freeing of Mordan was one such case.

I knew they probably wouldn’t abandon Endo. (But just to be clear: Endo is my character when I’m not the DM, and I was fully prepared to lose him if they didn’t. I would never have forced them to rescue him.) Once they recued him he gave them the quest hook of looking for the prince, and I suspected they would bite. It took them a while, but they did. I gave them the book of Norvus, knowing Enoch would translate the sucker.

So I’m a little guilty of “steering” them by putting situations in front of them that will turn them the way I want them to go. The first four sessions had a lot of steering in them.

This isn’t railroading in the sense of telling players “You can’t do that”, but putting them into situations where there are only one or two reasonable choices could still be considered a form of subtle railroading. I leave it for the reader to decide.

I certainly never would have told them, “You can’t do that, I don’t allow.”

Isn’t his name supposed to be Eomeir?

Yeah. Once I got into the habit of spelling it wrong it was hard to stop. My bad.

Any plans for another campaign?

Well, I don’t have a group right now. Even if I did, I’m not sure I would try this again. It was too hard to prepare for the next game and log the last one. I certainly couldn’t pull it off while putting out DM of the Rings.

One solution might be to record all of the sessions and transcribe them once the game ends. Actually, that is probably the only way to do it. I could even edit out the useless stuff and turn it into one of those podcast thingies, which wouldn’t have the DM notes but wouldn’t require a lot of work, either.

In any case, next time I play I plan to take better care of the audio recordings. I can’t believe I lost them.

Still, step 1 is getting the band back together.

Do you ever “cheat” by faking dice rolls to help or hinder the players?

I don’t roll the dice, get a 1, but then just pretend I got a 15. Still, there are all sorts of ways the DM can nudge things without faking dice rolls. If someone is on a narrow ledge on a cliff-side and they fail a climbing roll (or whatever) I won’t just let them fall to their death. I’ll give them a (reflex) saving throw to see if they can grab the ledge. Missed? Then I’ll give the guy behind him a similar roll to see if he can catch him. Missed again? I’ll give him one last throw to see if he can grab that sticking-out branch on the way down, Wile E. Coyote style.

If they miss that then I’ll let it happen, but it’s obvious that the DM can do all sorts of stuff without needing to pretend the dice rolled something they didn’t.

Another way to tweak things is to change the enemy strategy so that it sucks.

In Session 3, when the players faced Vormoth the Wizard, he had a lightning spell available. They went into that fight low on hitpoints, low on magic, low on healing, with no coherant plan, and then fought like a bunch of numbskulls. They made so much noise that the enemy knew they were coming and when. I’d planned on blasting them with a little lightning, but I realized that I could very easily kill one or two of them that way, which could end up in a TPK.

So I had Vormoth stick to his lower-level spells. I justified this by saying (to myself) “Vormoth wouldn’t want to risk hitting the kids.” That was true, but more important is the fact that I had planned to blast them with lighning and didn’t.

This was my most “cheating” moment in the campaign, and I regret it. On one hand, I didn’t want to kill off a couple of characters. At the same time, they really did deserve to lose that fight. It’s part of the game.

I’m not going to do that again. If I find myself with a bunch of players who make bad decisions, I’ll let things happen as they do. Better to lose a level 4 character and teach the importance of strategy early, than to teach the players they are invulnerable and let them do something even more stupid in the future that causes them to die at level 8.

Actually, now that I’ve written this I think I’ve made a good case for faking dice rolls. If I had to cheat, it would have been better to let Vormoth bust out his lighning but then make sure his damage roll was low enough that it wouldn’t kill the target. That would have been a better choice than what I did. It would have driven home the point to the players, “this could have killed you”.

This subject almost needs a post of its own. The object of the game is to have fun. The players won’t have fun today if they all die. But they also won’t have fun ever if their actions don’t have consequences. To paraphrase a friend: When it comes to RPG’s, it’s better to live a short and exciting life than a long dull one. In fact, that’s the whole point.

* * *

That’s it. All done. Thanks for reading.

202040 comments. (Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.)


  1. Phlux says:

    This is utterly unrelated to the post, but I’ve been wondering lately what is the difference between D&D and AD&D. A couple of the guys I played paintball with in highschool were into AD&D and tried to get me to play a couple times, but I wasn’t really into that sort of thing back then. Guess I missed my opportunity.

  2. Tirgaya says:

    On Fudging/Cheating…

    I almost always cheat. I use all the techniques you describe above regularly to one end or the other.

    Sometimes I cheat to give the PC’s a chance to live… sometimes I cheat to make the encounter more threatening.

    Sometimes I am “forced” to cheat because I estimated the party’s prowess, sometimes its because they have been ingenious.

    Those are all the DM’s “fault.” When I get an encounter just right and can play it through without fudging at all it is a good feeling. That means my “development” has been spot on, and I’ve made a perfectly balanced encounter.

    Perfectly balanced encounter’s aren’t the point though. Creating a fun rewarding environment is.

    Sometimes the PC’s have come up with a brilliant plan I hadn’t foreseen. Then I look at the encounter and discover that the monster/NPC has a ready counter (a backup plan, spell, power, item… whatever), one that will foil the plan and may result in a TPK. That isn’t right, they deserve a reward for great planning, not punishment.

    In that situation I rule that the “DM’s” side has been surprised… they have the counter, but they haven’t thought about how they could use it. Sometimes they deploy the counter late or with low power, showing the PC’s how close they came. Sometimes they use a less effective counter.

    Sometimes the PC’s walk into what I think is an easy encounter, but they have no plan- they are reckless. I’ll punish them right then for bad gaming. I may buff the encounter to make them pay. Sometimes I just alter a few key dice rolls. They’ll think before they try to walk casual in the future.

    I am rambling… what I suppose I mean is that I employ all the “cheating” tools at my table to drive the game based on what the PC’s do. I create rewards and penalties (including life and death!) based on how the Players game… not based on the stat sheet. The stats are just a solid guide to base all these evaluations on.

    In my mind, that’s just good DM’ing.

  3. GEBIV says:

    From what I understand, D&D is Dungeons and Dragons. AD&D is Attention Defecit Dissorder.

    I hope that helped.

    :P

  4. Robert says:

    Phlux, “D&D” referred to the original Chainmail rules series, as well as two different boxed sets of basic rules. “Advanced” D&D was another boxed set, and then the hardback versions of the rules. For a while there TSR really tried to maintain a conceptual distinction between the “basic” and “advanced” rules, for no good reason that anyone has ever explained. Eventually they gave up and it was all AD&D, only available in hardback book form (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual) plus various supplements. I never have heard anyone actually CALL it “AD&D” – it was always “come over on Saturday, we’re gaming” or “come over on Saturday for some D&D” – no matter what rules version or format was in use.

    But this is just my foggy memory of decades past. I’ve probably got some of it wrong.

  5. Phlux says:

    Well for whatever reason, these guys who were trying to get me to play were adamant that it was ADVANCED D&D and not just REGULAR D&D. Maybe they were just wierd…in fact I know that to be the case.

    They were decent paintball players, though, so I didn’t mind having them on my team.

  6. ScottM says:

    Originally: AD&D was “advanced” rules… basically more rules for more situations. D&D was somewhat simpler and had fewer options, but did a good job of helping the GM evolve his game as the PCs increased in power.

    Now, however, the publishers decided to get rid of the A, so the game is just D&D for everyone. (There’s a Basic Game that’s a little stripped down, but is still basically the same D&D everyone else is playing.)

    The game was massively revised between AD&D (2nd edition) and D&D (3rd edition). Most of the changes were eliminating the inconsistencies and confusing elements that AD&D had, and “balancing” the various roles you can play. The current version is 3.5, a revised (but substantially the same) version of the 3.0 rules.

  7. Errol says:

    The object of the game is to have fun. The players won’t have fun today if they all die. But they also won’t have fun ever if their actions don’t have consequences.

    Hear hear. Although I have come across players who don’t seem to mind little real risk (e.g. “the GM won’t kill me if I’m doing something heroic”).

  8. Andre says:

    I hate having to fudge dice rolls. Ideally, a DM shouldn’t have to. But when my player is inexperienced and I’ve spent several weeks working on creating this session, I kind of feel that I have to… otherwise I’m looking at a lot of wasted work. At the same time, though, I’m inexperienced with DMing too, and if my player ends up facing immeasurable odds, it’s just as likely my fault as it is hers. In such a case, I feel obligated to fudge the dice rolls a bit. Our first encounter involved clearing a basement of a pack of dire rats, one by one (one dire rat to a room). In the end, she faced 12 normal dire rats, plus a slightly advanced alpha male leader. This was a lvl 1 rogue, soloing, on her first real encounter ever, and the challenge rating for the encounter (if you want to consider the whole thing just one encounter, which I had intended to do) ended up being something like 4 or 5. I don’t remember, but it was enough to bring her 200xp shy of level 3. She was wise enough (and I made sure to insist) to rest up before facing the alpha male, but even so she ended up down to 1 hit point by the second round, and she’d barely scratched the thing (and I had to fudge that damage roll to keep her from dying). In fact, I had to fudge a whole lot of rolls that night. I’m not sure if she even knows I can do that as the DM, but she was praising her luck that the dire rat alpha male ended up rolling ten or eleven natural ones in a row, after nearly killing her.

    Ultimately, she seems to be under the impression that I’m as loathe to kill her as she is to die… which is true, but still not something I want her knowing. How do I get it through to her that her character is, indeed, mortal, without killing her off in the process?

    • Bryan says:

      When one of the PCs in my game is whipped within an inch of their life, I tend to give them scars that will remain until they are regen’d. The consequences are there every time they look in the mirror, even though they didn’t die.

      One such case was a particularly nasty box which would spring a trap every time it was disturbed; the greater the disturbance, the worse the trap. Since the player was a mage with stone shape I had assumed he would merely make a door to bypass the trap instead of disarming it. When he announced that he wanted to remove the trap and take it back for study I kept dropping hints that it was a really bad idea. (He didn’t know about the internal motion sensor which would set off all traps when the box moved more than 3 feet.) He managed to get the trap off the wall before dropping it. He didn’t die, but he lost an arm, his fancy staff which he could channel spells through, and all but 3 hit points. He spent half of his savings to regen his body back to normal.

  9. Phlux says:

    Here’s another dumb question, but doesn’t D&D have some sort of resurrect system? I’ve heard players mention it, but is it just not an option in all situations? Do you maybe have to have a cleric that is of a high enough level?

  10. Shamus says:

    Yes, you need a cleric to raise the dead.

    I don’t have the rulebooks handy, but I’m thinking it’s a level 5 or 6 spell which means the cleric would need to be level 10 or 12.

  11. Telas says:

    STOP THE FUDGING!!!

    OK, got your attention? I used to fudge on a regular basis, and a thread at TreasureTables.org got me to quit. A few things I’ll roll secretly, but combats are in the open with big (34mm) dice that everyone can see.

    If I miscalculate, and risk killing the party with a random encounter, the bad guys will flee, suddenly lose hit points, or fight stupidly. If the party is about to roll over what should be a tough encounter, they get more hit points, spells, or potions. So I guess I do fudge, but only to cover my tracks. :)

    If the party is being dumbasses, they get what’s coming to them. I don’t pull my punches due to their bad decision-making. Charging into a hardened structure filled with prepared veteran Hobgoblins is suicide, and they know it. Splitting the party in a Kobold lair is certain death. Taking on a Dragon in the open is sheer insanity.

    Since stopping the fudging, the interest level around the table has risen during combats. People are definitely on edge, and the feeling of “this is risky” has returned. I strongly recommend it to everyone.

    Telas

  12. Patrick says:

    I feel I must point out that prior to the battle with Vormoth my character was being NPC’d so to speak ( badly, I might add) because I was late getting off of work and I hadn’t made it to the session yet. If any of you ever play with a large black kid, with an even larger afro, named Eric… never EVER let him play your character…

  13. Thufir says:

    Hey I had a bad night at rolling, I’m sorry, and coincidently If wasn’t for that damn dwarf smashing every little thing looking for loot or god knows what Vormoth wouldn’t have known we were coming. Plus, I never played a rouge before, I had no I idea what your character could do.

  14. Daniel says:

    I always liked more deadly games. Real rish nto fudging characters die if they do stupid things or if they do the righ tthing and just ahve bad luck. The established charaters mean something. I have gone overboard on occasion particualrly when playing Runequest and well I killed everyone. My advice run from time to time. Our multi dm runquest campaign was the most fun and by far the most dangerous. Occasionally a player can be raised if he was a valued member etc. I lost two characters one got raised but he lost most of his skills. It was fun there was a feeling of real risk.

  15. ian says:

    When will there be more of these campaigns posted?

  16. Eric says:

    Just finished reading the campaign, and… well… wow.

    I really enjoyed reading this, and may (who am I kidding: will) use some of these adventure ideas in my campaign. Thanks so much for taking the time to post all of this.

    Looking forward to any adventures posted in the future.

  17. chris says:

    Thanks for the great read. It has gotten me itching to get back into gaming after 8 years or so.

  18. craig says:

    you have inspired me. I am now going to chronicle my campaign, and record it, if no one thinks that is going too far. I’m really inspired by your DMing style, and it reminded me about the real story telling that you can create with it. Thanks a lot for the great read.

  19. Writer says:

    A fantastic and fascinating read. I very much enjoyed it, Shamus.

    Now to plug it to my GM…

  20. Christian / Suloyapla says:

    This is really well written and the first of it’s kind I’ve seen make it to the web.
    If you do not intend on making another one of these, would you mind trying to create a campaign setting available based on your games?

    Also, I was inducted into D&D via AIM, and it’s chat-room functions. This means all of our games where pre-typed and could just be edited into a cohesive blog entry. I have just now gotten into the speech based chat programs like XFire and Skype. Both of which are free to use for the purposes of online gaming. This would also solve your “microphone wasn’t able to record the session” bit for session 11 of the campaign. The loss of video logs? One Sentence, External Hardrive. They may be expensive, but they can save so much data. The alernatives are burnable CDs and the new USB flashdrives. The only problem is that I have yet to figure out how to possibly get a videochat recording. But then again, it was very recently, and I am very lazy.

  21. Joel says:

    More on reviving: In addition to being rather high-level spells (the exact level of which I would check, but it is late and I am tired), reviving also cost a lot in terms of raw materials. Like, 5000 gold pieces’ worth of diamonds (meaning that even if you can afford it, you still have to find somewhere that has that many diamonds).

    And, to make it even yummier, all reviving spells (except the strongest [and therefore most difficult to do], True Resurection) take away two levels of the formerly-dead person. This’ll usually put you two levels behind the rest of the party, meaning it’s usually better to reroll a same-level character, and work with the DM to find a way to get you back in.

  22. Dan says:

    A word on TPKs: I like ‘em. Might be my Call of Cthulhu, uh, calling, but I’ve found that they are blessings when they occur.

    Of course, I run a campaign wherein the characters occasionally are called into the death and spirit realm for adventures, so actually dying, though incredibly inconvenient and undoubtedly a “mission failure” isn’t necessarily the end of their fun.

    This has helped death remain relevant without being so realistic that the game stops being fun for those who taste it.

  23. jabbers says:

    my dm often “cheats” when i make spells he does not expect me to succeed on. for example if he has an enemy sneak in behind to attack me and keep me ocupyed, i often have a fighter stay at the back. this allows me to get in a fireball when he did not expect and make the battle too easy. in this case he simply makes more monsters or make those there more powerfull.
    this is okay in general, however it often contaradicts the situation. for example in temple of elemental evil their is an umberhulk in a pit that it cannot escape from. i cast darkness to combat its gaze, as it is an elven party (primarily) thus he created more umberhulk children. unfortunalty this begs the question who is the mother, and also why they could not work together and climb out of the pit

  24. Hi there !

    I’ve just finished reading through your campaign transcription. I must say, as a player and DM myself, I really appreciate what I learned from your story. I think the part about unleashing the lightning bolt and controlling the damage was probably the most enlightening thing I learned as far as being a good DM is concerned.
    I like your way of managing the party choices. I have never gone and said “I won’t allow that” either – although sometimes it did put me in a spot of trouble when someone got a wrong conclusion on my plot and went off in a direction I hadn’t anticipated at all !
    I am awed by the scope of the campaign, and I am flabbergasted by the sheer cheek you have in setting a party of low-level characters against a Lich, of all things. By the way, that was a great idea, the Orb and its various powers. But still, I have a tendency of having low-level players start in a low-level campaign, then grow the challenges as they grow in strength. It is quite a refreshing thing to see that one can actually put a party up against a Lich and manage to have them survive. Of course, knowing your players is a good thing as well.
    Congratulations on what must have been a really fun campaign !
    Now I wish I had a group again, and time to do this kind of thing.

  25. Faentur says:

    SO I’m currently in a campaign that has started in early May of 2006 (I joined somewhat later, about 8 sessions in); we’re about to play session 25. Everyone started at level 1: thanks to missing games here and there, everyone is either level 4,5 or 6 – but that accounts for some variance! We have between 4 and 7 players – one of whom was the original DM, one of whom is now the DM (for the same campaign)! We’ve spanned two continents, seen probably half a dozen different plot threads that our DMs have managed to keep running and intertwined… it’s truly an epic campaign.

    Reading this blog reminds me of it, a lot: Shamus’ story telling and our DMs is similar, as is the way our DM manages to lead us around his story. It seems like you guys had a lot of fun, as we do, and it’s got me jonesin’ to play again!

    Thanks for this, Shamus, I totally understand how much work you put into it, we all appreciate the insight into a great campaign and how it’s run. Great job!

  26. Kassious says:

    Seriously wonderful. . And again, anyone interested in the Bay Area of Michigan? Anyone? Feel free to email me if anyone is >> I’m trying to get my first campaign going, and I’m iffy on it. I’m again one of those story-lovers gone lazy, and I’m unsure of my player base. They can be quite odd, and one I’m not sure can hack roleplaying like Joe and the rest.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the entertaining read. You are a gifted DM.

  28. We record our gaming sessions and put them online, podcasts of AD&D on the web!

    For more information go to
    http://www.worldofskell.com

  29. A very inspiring AP of a great adventure!

    I’ve never played in a big overland campaign like this, but i’ll be sure to steal some of your ideas (The Archive is a great location!) for the long-term game (REIGN, not D&D) i’m going to start GMing soon.

    I love the “mini-game” puzzles you came up with – my D&D adventures never seem to have enough puzzles!

  30. Seve says:

    Even tho I may have put some criticism on my posts about some aspects of this campaing on general I feel that it was really awesome campaign. Thank you for posting it in here.

  31. Freggle says:

    Thank’s for transcribing the campaing. Wonderfull to read, and I learned a lot more about good gaming. I only played 1 short D&D session, and a few campaigns from “Die Schwartze Auge” before, but now I’m dying to be able to play a real full scale D&D campaign. I hope I can find a DM and gaming group with half the quality your game just had, but I’m sure I’ll have fun. It’s almost a little like reading a fantasy book, based on a d20 world. Keep going al these nice projects (Terrain generating, Chainmail bikini, artikels about gaming/DM’ing. I like them)!

  32. ReluctantDM says:

    Finally got around to reading this campaign! Excellent job! The campaign sounded fun and you wrote it up very well. It’s inspired me to try DMing again sometime in the (distant) future. Right now I’ve just managed to convince someone else to take the reigns so I can just roleplay one little character! :)

  33. Arelion says:

    One thing about fudging, in my experience it is occasionally a necessity to avoid totally wiping out players just because of a few bad rolls. The GM I played with refused to fudge the dice and often threw monsters at us way outside our abilities (i.e. beholder/dragon at levels 5-8). Now because of this I was forced (or felt like I was anyways) to min-max my character to the extreme. There were still several encounters I had no hope of surviving. On a certain random encounter we were attacked, while walking through a broad fielded area of the road which we’d been down many times before, by somewhere between 6-12 minutars (I forget the number). During the surprise round several of the minutars rolled critical hits and instantly killed 3/5 of the players and knocked the 4th player down to 1 hp, I was left unscathed for some strange reason. It was just silly, there was no strategy, no fun, it was just slaughter. We never had a chance to see them coming or fight them.

    Another example of sometimes when fudging the rules is nice. Or even just giving more information. We were running a new campaign that the GM had picked up. Some sort of Tomb. We looked for rumors, etc. and eventually ventured in (it was the obvious hook). 20 minutes later (4 hours game time) the gm decides we all die except the paladin because there was a disease with apparently no symptoms and no way of knowing about it at all…

    I consider things like these to be GM mistakes, usually made when the GM decides he’s going to be clever and outsmart everyone and then refuses to relent because he has fallen in love with his own plan. The first mistake was not as bad, as my rogue did actually defeat the minutars (with help from the druid who ran away at first)and drag the bodies of his comrades back to town, however the 2nd situation I think was just ridiculous. And as a direct result of it, that game fell apart as some of us were pretty annoyed at having lost the characters we made so suddenly and unavoidably.

  34. Yarisuma says:

    Thank you! Great Work! I really enjoyed reading through the whole campaign in the last days.

  35. Trae says:

    As far as I’m aware, the DM has only cheated once in the campaign. But to be fair it was also the very first encounter, in which we could have been killed off by a pack of 6 Lizardmen. She let our magic user “remember” that he had a wand of healing in his pack somewhere. But she certainly doesn’t pull her punches either. My character was hit with 44 damage once, and his total hp was in fact 44, though I had also taken damage from an ogre just previously. Came very close to dying. Another time there were four melee attackers on me who go attack rolls that were either 17 or above. Thankfully with new armor, using a shield, and being in Total Defense had pushed my AC to 26 so nothing touched me.

  36. LachlanL says:

    Hey. Just stumbled upon this blog and wanted to say “thanks for posting”. There’s some really great stuff about adventuring, DMing, etc in there (not to mention being great fun to read). I know this was a lot of effort for you, so thanks!

  37. b0x0rz says:

    just read it all (took me a few tries – i am busy after all :), loved it ALL. thnx a lot

  38. Bryan says:

    I hate railroading, and in general I don’t say “you can’t do that.” Currently, one of our group is an ex-marine who knows a lot more about fighting than I do. I give him some leeway, but I drew the line at allowing hum to make and use modern-style tac-nukes. I told him he’d be better off as a wizard who can eventually cast spells of sufficient power similar to the devices he wanted to make. Dwarves don’t have the necessary materials to make those types of explosives, or the knowledge of how to use them without destroying their communities.

    In other words, while I would not allow him to make modern weapons in a D&D setting, he could use magic to mimmic them.

    Sure enough, he changed his character to a human mage… ;)

  39. Zygon Bob says:

    Came very late to the party but want to add my two pennyworth.
    Wonderful log of a campaign and throughly enjoyed reading the whole tale. Very inventive and obviously a huge amount of work went into it.
    Congratulations sir, I will wander through you site with glee!

    Zygon Bob.

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