on Jan 18, 2007
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.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.