Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I Love D&D

Today's session of Temple of Elemental Evil reminded me how much I love D&D.

The characters were in the dungeon beneath the moathouse, locked in a fight with a doppelganger wizard who had posed as Burne. Immediately before the fight, they had accidentally triggered a gong that rang and alerted the entire dungeon level. Luckily for the PCs, they had already defeated most of the creatures on the level. Or, if you're a pessimist, they had unluckily only defeated most of them.

So, while the PCs fought the doppelganger and his orc guards, a pair of ghouls rushed down the hall to attack the party from behind. The characters managed to close and bar a door to hold back the ghouls for a few rounds, just long enough to defeat the doppelganger and the orcs. They had one round to get ready before the door finally splintered to pieces and the ghouls charged in.

By the end of the fight, half the party was down and everyone was badly injured, but the characters were victorious. They trudged out the escape tunnel from the dungeon and made camp. As one PC was down to 1 hit point and zero healing surges, the party felt a trip back to Hommlett was too risky. It was near dusk, and everyone was in bad shape.

This is when things got interesting.

See, I had spent a fair amount of time stocking the moathouse and its dungeon, and my inconsiderate players had skipped half the encounters. I had all these monsters in the dungeon, and the cruel, cruel dice had dictated that only the two ghouls had heeded the ringing gong.

On the fly, I decided that the kenku that the dice had determined took their sweet time responding to the alarm were upset with the doppelganger. They figured that, if they tarried and the wizard died, they could clear out the treasure in the dungeon and take over the place.

So, as the PCs rested, the kenku went to work. With the ghouls dead, I judged that the kenku were able to command the skeletons that still remained in the crypts. The kenku then organized a search party to make sure the PCs weren't still around.

That led to a brief fight in which the badly injured, really hoping for an extended rest party managed to cut down all three kenku. There was another tense moment when some skeletons almost stumbled across the party's camp, but the undead failed to notice the characters.

At that point, with one search party gone the kenku decided that the characters were still close by. As dawn broke they went on one, final sweep of the dungeon. As the characters woke up, the shrill, high pitched screams of dying kenku echoed from the moathouse.

The kenku had found something the PCs had missed. Something terrible, something hungry, something angry.

Anyway, I love D&D because when the session began we had the party trapped in a room with two ghouls outside, trying to batter down the door. It ended with the characters outside the moathouse, wondering what's going on. I never could've guessed that we would've ended up with the kenku ransacking the dungeon and unleashing a very, very bad thing.


Squach said...

You're just going to leave us hanging! What was the big bad that killed the kenku?

Mike Mearls said...

I can't say yet - my players still don't know, either.

ChattyDM said...

I have GOT to start playing a meaner DMing game... You don't cut them any slack and still they prevail. Duly noted oh dark master of player torture.


Dave The Game said...

"The characters managed to close and bar a door to hold back the ghouls for a few rounds, just long enough to defeat the doppelganger and the orcs. They had one round to get ready before the door finally splintered to pieces and the ghouls charged in."

And that is exactly the kind of scenario that makes D&D win against almost any dungeon-crawling board game out there.

Fire Snake Aries said...

It sounds like you're really good at improvising and adapting the area and what its inhabitants do depending upon what happens. I try to do that, but it's tough! I always seem to find myself thinking, "Uhh... I have no idea what should happen now."

When you make these dynamic decisions on the fly like that, how much of it is simply you thinking, "What would actually, logically happen here?" and how much is more like, "What can I do that will be cool, but won't be too unreasonably hard on the PCs?"

I always want to make the players feel like they're dealing with a real, living place with occupants which interact with one another organically, so that there are definite ramifications to their actions beyond simply the current encounter. YET, I always worry that if I really do this, it will almost certainly end in a TPK. How do you balance that?

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