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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