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Tabletop Takeaways: Best Laid Plans

After a two week real-life hiatus, the heroes are thrown back into a fight they were never really prepared for. They’re in Karzoug’s foyer, encroaching on his turf, and finally getting some pushback from his armies. It turns out that the rising Runelord probably ordered his nearby troops to a more defensible position, closer to the zenith of the Pinnacle of Avarice.

What that means for our heroes, however, is that they’ve been dealing with wave after wave of enemies with no rest in between. It doesn’t take much for these baddies to dish out some massive pain, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

The magic-users Fyn and Fobias do their best to stave off the latest assault. Being in the tight quarters of a winding ramp, they’re able to use a combination of flame and ice walls to stymie the onslaught of a HUGE rune giant and his cloud giant companions. This gives plenty of time to summon a pair of bone devils to help, which incidentally also helps with keeping those ice walls formidably frozen.

This level of battlefield control isn’t something that the party is necessarily accustomed to. In fact, they usually mow through the competition so easily that most of the time these sorts of spells don’t even warrant preparation. Pretty much any situation where the party makes use of environmental control spells is in situations like this: narrow passageways with overwhelming numbers of enemies.

And it’s a perfect use of spells in this instance. Now the party can fight the battle on their own terms, and they quickly pick off the giants one by one. Sure, they take a couple licks, but it’s better to focus the healing on a single party member than needing to spread it across multiple people at once.

After the giants are down, the coast still isn’t clear. There’s another spellcaster through the double doors, and he has a pet. The party moves to engage, but that’s when it happens.

Karzoug appears.

At first glance, it seems like the real deal. They’ve seen countless depictions of the Runelord through books, statues, and paintings, and everything fits the bill. Karzoug gives a fitting little speech before opening his mouth wide and unleashing a terrifying wail.

The powerful sound is enough to kill Krask outright.

The Takeaway

Nobody likes to lose a character, that’s a given. What’s even worse, though, is losing a character right at the end of the adventure. And what’s even worse than that is losing a character right at the end of the adventure that’s been in the adventure since the very beginning!

That’s the situation that Krask finds himself in.

From the Gamemaster perspective, you really don’t like to put your players in that situation. I’ve said it many times before, but I’m not about that ‘Gamemaster versus the players’ mentality. Everybody’s at the table to have a good time and play a game, and creating that antagonistic atmosphere isn’t something I’m interested in.

Luckily, the Wail of the Banshee spell only caught Krask in the cross-hairs. At first, I made a slight rules error and thought that I outright killed THREE players. But, whenever stuff like that happens I am sure to tell my players the details of the spell so that we can be sure we got it all correct. If a player is going down, I want it to be above water.

Anyways, we’re left with a player losing their character that they’ve been a part of for over three years. I could feel the drastic tonal shift once that happened, and even after the session ended the player was bummed out. As he should be! And of course, he wouldn’t expect to lose a character so close to the finish line, so he doesn’t have a backup prepared either.

However, this is where the Takeaway comes in. Because of this, because I took the shot, the players immediately went into a researching FRENZY. I took a peek at our Discord channel a half hour after the session ended, and saw players in there undoubtedly chatting about their options.

Texts were flying my way about details of the adventure: of the gems the players found in x room, how many gold pieces worth of them were diamonds? What are the details of that item they acquired? I was getting snippets of half-baked plans and wild ideas that the players were thinking of trying out, and they wanted to make sure that everything was legal.

This is the sort of stuff that I LIVE FOR. Whenever you can create a situation where the players are talking about the game when the game isn’t even going on, it’s going to be fun. And it’s even more fun at higher levels when they have access to some of the most powerful spells in the game.

So again, I don’t regret bringing Krask down, and that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel bad for the player. But now we have the entire table rallying together to try and find a way to bring him back to life. And since Wail of the Banshee is a death effect, their go-to Reincarnate or Raise Dead isn’t going to work anymore. It’s time to get creative.

Creativity shines amidst constraints. Bring puzzles to players, but don’t necessarily have a single solution. You never know what they’re going to come up with to solve it, and it’ll probably be better than something you can come up with by yourself. The players have their backs against a wall and despite the overwhelming odds, they’ve hatched two brilliant plans that they can use to possibly bring back their friend.

Just like the party in the game, they shine in the face of adversity.

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
  8. Hoodwinked! – How to subtly befuddle your players
  9. Surface Tension – How to build suspense