Six players of the manly man’s version of D&D, and I didn’t need to sell a one of them on the glories of 3d6 in order? My cup runneth over!
A third level thief, backed up by four second level party types, two experienced and loyal henchmen, and a first level elf, all gathered at the entrance to The Dungeon. My two regulars were joined by the three guys from last time who had dragged a forth skeptic along to induct him into the sacred mysteries of open rolls inside an impartial sandbox of a game.
It was a disaster.
The new guy just didn’t get it.
They wanted that shield. The one that formed the back of the Goblin Chief’s throne. They sketched out a map and a plan. They all knew their roles. Sneak up to the balcony, station a pair of defenders at either end to protect the new guy and the wizard who could fire arrows and pots of acid down into the mob with relative impunity. Meanwhile, the thief would take a roundabout path and sneak in behind the fray. He could loot and scoot or even backstab the chief to sow discord, as the situation developed.
No wandering monsters, and everyone was right where they needed to be. The goblin chief had assembled his boys in the large round cavern and was haranguing them good and fierce. A large fire in the center of the cavern cast eerie shadows all about. All of the players had their eyes glued to the dark portal across the way for the appearance of the thief. He took a little longer than expected getting into position – that snuffling hooting thing was still prowling about somewhere in the dank earthen caves – but made it there nonetheless. He waved a signal, and…
The new guy shouted a challenge down to the goblin chief.
Every player turned his eyes to the new guy.
“What?” He asks. “Elfo McGayprancer is an honorable elf who would never strike a foe from ambush. He is a high elf of the nation of Backstoria, son of the High Earl of the forest city of Nobodycares.”
Surprise round gone. The goblins have bows and time to grab them now, genius.
“But, but why wouldn’t they parley? They should have talked to me! I was role-playing.”
You know what, Mister MuhFeelz? I’m game – we have a reaction table for just such situations. Of course, you lot slaughtered their dogs and stole their goddess’s shiny pink nipples, so I’m hitting you with a -2 to the roll.
No wait, one of my regulars reminds me, the only one they would recognize is the thief, and he is still in the hallway.
Good point, it’s an even roll. So what’s your CHA?
“Dump stat,” my third testicle.
Yeah, that’s a -2. Rolled in the open and came up snake eyes: Immediate attack.
Lost initiative, hail of death, and the party scrambles into a fighting defensive formation. Things weren’t going so bad at first – they were giving as good as they got. Right up until they backed into the path of the Owlbearsy Twins! The old crew knew an opportunity when they saw it and managed to kill one owlbear and steer the other into a fray with the pursuing gobbos. The earthen tunnels are a warren of crisscrossing passages, so by scattering most of the party was able to escape The Dungeon alive.
The right and honorable elf forgot he was the only guy in plate armor, so the party left him behind. He actually wound up being the only guy eaten by the goblins. Karma can be nasty.
The best part? In all the confusion, the thief managed to sneak in and snatch the magic shield from the goblin king’s throne. He popped the chest, and it is fat with gold, but the thief only had time and encumbrance to grab a few hundred GP worth. So it wasn’t a total loss, just not the easy duck shoot that it could have been.
The downside is that the delve was largely an XP bust. They aren’t going after the goblins again. Those guys are going to be on high-alert for weeks, and I’ve updated the wandering monster table to reflect this. Instead, they returned to break the seal on the Tomb and released a pent up cloud of toxic gas. Before that cleared, they were set upon by a quintet of wandering, talking spiders who would only leave them alone if they offered up one of the PCs for a snack. They refused (where’s that stupid elf when you need him?), killed the five spiders, and then poked around a bit inside the upper reaches of the tomb. Killed a pair of weak skeletal guards, and at least ended the session with a smattering of XP for their troubles.
All thanks to modern, limp-wristed storytelling, and a guy who just can’t wrap his brain around a game that challenges you to think instead of reward you for showing up.
Frankly, I take no more pleasure in a session that ends this poorly than the players. I’m on their side in this. I want them to succeed. I want them to win. I want them to come up with clever ploys that make the dungeon denizens fear the sound of their approach. Last night I was left with the grim satisfaction that the players have earned a little knowledge about a new level of the dungeon, and that one of them has learned a valuable lesson about the difference between happy fun story time and neutral play that rewards brutality and unfair fights.