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Tabletop Takeaways: Be a Thief

Paizo Red Dragon by

Having just entered the ruined city of Xin-Shalast, our heroes are initially terrified by the number of enemies that potentially wait for them inside. They’ve scouted ahead and seen signs of a massive giant encampment, among several other creatures that reside here.

So, they do what any respected party would do, and search for another way through the city. If they can avoid the majority of the creatures here, perhaps they’ll maintain the much-needed element of surprise when they confront their final nemesis.

This means that they head underground, using a new skulk friend as a guide through the tunnels. In exchange, they agree to take care of a monster that’s been plaguing and enslaving the skulks, a tentacled-horror only known as The Hidden Beast. It’s not entirely a selfless act, but I’ll give the party some brownie points for thinking of somebody else for a change.

They head into the tunnels, prepared to battle this otherworldly horror. Between casting of buffs and a brief conversation about potential tactics, they head into the room where The Hidden Beast reigns. At first, everything seems normal; the monster just wants a sacrifice for the party to show their allegiance to their new master. You know – boilerplate bad guy stuff.

However, the conversation quickly turns revealing a different creature underneath the dead body of The Hidden Beast. It’s a huge, metallic, red dragon known as Brindisdrin, the Unmaker. It also happens to be an old enemy of Krask, the party’s kobold rogue.

A Three-Year Journey

In his backstory, Krask narrowly escaped the wrath of this dragon, also known as Longtooth, after stealing a single golden cup from the dragon’s hoard. It resulted in Longtooth wiping out Krask’s entire Dirt Digger clan trying to retrieve what was stolen from him.

Throughout the campaign, the party has seen signs of Longtooth hunting down Krask’s whereabouts. From a warning message uttered more than three RL years ago, to a vision of Longtooth’s metallic transformation, this is a piece of the campaign that has always been in the back of the heroes’ minds.

And now, Krask is finally face-to-face with his past. There is no escaping it this time, and Longtooth with have his revenge.

The Takeaway

This is a HUGE moment for the campaign. Over three years have passed since the beginning of Rise of the Runelords, and all the while the party has guessed that they would be facing Longtooth at some point. Let’s just say that most of them didn’t expect that it would be right at this moment. It was an unrivaled surprise, to the point where some of my players texted me after to say how off-guard they were by this great reveal.

And that’s exactly why we GM; we love sharing that excitement with the players.

But that’s not what this post is about. Notice above that I said ‘most of them’ didn’t expect to fight Longtooth in this underground tunnel. In fact, one of my players, the real-life analog to Fobias, the half-orc Ranger/Druid, messaged me a prediction not too long ago that he expected that Longtooth had actually assumed the role of The Hidden Beast.

Now, at that time I had planned the Longtooth encounter a bit later in the adventure. It was getting close, but the party wasn’t quite where I wanted them to be. Part of Longtooth’s character is that he has this enormous collection of skeletons that he uses in a grisly set of Bone Chimes in his lairs. There’s sort of a perfect place coming up that I envisioned for it to be.

When I received that message, however, I instantly knew that I had to shuffle things around and work Longtooth into The Hidden Beast’s story. There’s one main reason why I decided this, and it’s a cardinal rule that all GMs should remember: The players love being right.

Especially with long campaigns, hypotheses and predictions get thrown around the table like funnel cakes at the county fair. They can’t always be correct. But as a GM, you always want to be listening at these theories because a lot of the time players are going to come up with better ideas than you have.

And that’s when you turn into a thief and ruthlessly steal those ideas for yourself!

Like I said before, the players will cheer when they realize their guesses were correct. They’re going to get that warm fuzzy feeling that they’re really smart (which isn’t to say that they aren’t), and it’ll really bump up the energy at the table.

From the GM perspective, you get to ride that wave of energy and harness it to make the session even better.

Now, I’m not saying that you just take everything that the players say and work it into the story. If you did that, you’d never get any sleep because you’d be constantly shifting and rearranging your prep work. It’s simply not feasible.

But what you can do is pick and choose what ideas you steal. If you hear something good – WRITE IT DOWN! I put sticky notes all over my Adventure Path books so that in a year I’ll see those notes and remember what I wanted to do in a particular section of the story. Even if you don’t have a perfect vision of exactly what you want to do, you’d be surprised what a few weeks of letting that idea bounce around in your subconscious will yield.

This is the only time that I’ll advocate being a ruthless thief. Well, unless you’re rolling up a new rogue, which is perhaps what Krask will be doing after this dragon fight.


Thanks for joining me at the table for Tabletop Takeaways! You can always read more campaign journal entries at Origami Goblin, or check out all of the other great GM tips on Nerds on Earth!

Here are all of the installments I’ve written thus far:

  1. Shadow of a Doubt – How to deal with rules mistakes
  2. On the Fly – How to stall and improve your improv
  3. Take the Shot – How to reconcile with tough GM choices
  4. Points of Interest – How to make overland travel interesting
  5. Ruling from the Throne – How to make rules interpretations

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