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Tabletop Takeaways: Hoodwinked!

You know when you kill a dragon and your second thought is to go hunt down another, more powerful dragon? Obviously, the first thought is to locate the dragon’s overwhelming hoard of treasure. But then, the itch for slaying creeps upon you, begging you to scratch.

No way! Dragons are supposed to be mighty and feared! Well, our adventurers, upon hearing news that a second dragon roams the fabled city of Xin-Shalast, decide to entice the dragon to come to them. They certainly don’t want to fight the dragon, Ghlorofaex, on her own turf. That wouldn’t be smart at all.

But goading the dragon to hunt them down by using her mate, Longtooth’s head as bait? That will definitely send a message. Dragons are incredibly smart, but even they can be overcome with rage when sparked with a visceral, emotional response.

As the party prepares for an ambush underground, getting ready to buff themselves to kingdom come, they feel the cavern ceiling shaking above them. There’s a ton of commotion on the surface, undoubtedly caused by their poking of the bear.

Unbeknownst to them, after Ghlorofaex received the party’s message, she flew into a rage, using her electricity breath all around the city. This caused the building materials, aiding new construction and repairs, to catch fire along with several other buildings. Now, some of you might say that a blue dragon’s electricity is not going to start a fire, but I’d direct you to statistics on electrical-related house fires which should sway your opinion in my favor.

Ghlorofaex, however, has more than a few tricks up her sleeve. For example, she has the ability to cast a Mirage of herself and command it so long as she stays within eyesight of the image. So, after consuming a tasty snack of skulks on the way to the party, she creates the image and goes invisible.

The party sees the draconic image and unleashes everything they have. Despite their high levels, they can’t pinpoint that this is just an illusion until well into their second salvo. At that point, Ghlorofaex realizes the jig is up, and engages with the party in close combat!

The Takeaway

When you’re in the GM chair, it can seem like the party has the ability to run the show in the sense that their action economy and heroic abilities are going to far outscale anything that you might throw at them.

But needless to say, the players were incredibly surprised to find out that they were duped into fighting an illusory dragon that could use her breath weapon through the illusion! Despite their intense planning for the ambush, nobody had the ability to see the invisible dragon until Fyn’s summoned creature noticed her.

So what does this all mean? The takeaway here isn’t that you should try and thwart your table’s plans at every turn. In fact, it’s fairly rare that the players take so much time to prepare for a scenario. I had the pleasure of sitting back, soaking in all of their ideas for the better part of an hour, while they designed a way to lure in a powerful dragon and fight a battle on their own terms.

In a way, it was helpful because while they were planning out the ambush, I was able to dive into the dragon’s abilities and find Mirage. This is an ability that would really never be used within combat. The dragon can only control the illusion or their own body at any given time, which makes a powerful dragon into a helpless, winged reptile.

But because the players gave me the opportunity to plan while they themselves were planning, I was able to have the creative brain-blast to use the Mirage in my favor.

Honestly, I really just wanted this dragon fight to be memorable, as I believe all dragon fights should be. The previous fight was so great and I was still riding that emotional wave. And what better way than for the party to get momentarily surprised, coming to the realization that there’s an INVISIBLE DRAGON somewhere nearby!

At the same time, I wanted to reward the players for their great planning. It was a creative solution to their draconic problem. Krask, the trap-finding Kobold, rigged the huge bone chandelier to fall on the dragon if it came close. That’s such an awesome, thematic visual, representing the collapse of an enigmatic and evil rule. That damage helped the players in their realization of the illusion.

With every spell and attack made against the illusion, even with a failed Will save to realize it was fake, I lowered the DC. As long as the illusion got the first breath weapon off, that’s all I really wanted.

All of that is to say that you should always be using opportunities to your advantage. If players are giving you time to prepare in the middle of a session, go wild! I’m constantly opening browser windows and poring abilities during roleplay. Just don’t ignore the players! Keep part of your attention on them.

There are so many instances where I, as the GM, need to roleplay things that the monsters wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t know about a player’s readied action to spring a trap or about the location of an invisible character. And sometimes it’s nice to remind the players that your tricks are just as good as theirs.

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
  6. Be a Thief – How to steal your players’ ideas
  7. The Plot Thickens – How to divulge story information
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