Thursday, December 19, 2019

Going Off The Rails - Part Four

Back in 2015, I started this series about having stuff go haywire at the game table and never finished it. The first post was about playing for far too long and having wacky $hit happen because the players were too tired to think straight. Post two was about making a bad DMing choice and having the players run with it. Post three was about the players jumping to bad conclusions because the DM believed they understood. Post four should tell you about how the players defeated the evil Assassin, Bloodless Jack, but it won't!

Since this is the fourth post, let me tell why I can't tell you about Bloodless Jack's end. I need to set up the scenario as it played out, so I need to back up a bit.

This post is about a different type of mistake leading to player high-jinx. My campaigns have always been a blend of Basic, Expert and Advanced D&D. One quirk from the Moldvay-Cook expert set is the Staff of Wizardry. One of the functions of this item is the spell Passwall, which doesn't appear in either the Basic or Expert set. As far as I know, this spell is only in Advanced D&D. We used that book right along side the Moldvay-Cook set, so everything was fine.

So... anyway, I let one of players have this Staff of Wizardry. The character in question was about 5 or 6th level, so he had access to powers that I never anticipated. I saw "+1 staff" and thought it would be fine.

Once I realized my mistake, I decided to take it from the player in epic fashion. I would simply present him with so many opportunities to use it, he would run out of charges. He would keep the +1 weapon, but loose all of the crazy powers in an incredible display of force. He'd get a great story and I would "unwind" a stupid DM mistake.

No, no, it is never that simple.

As the characters hunted Marcus and Alexander, I needed to crank up the power level of the minions. The characters were now battling mounted knights with lances. I expected with the powers of the Staff of Wizardry, they'd get cooked and the charges would be burned up.

Oh, and did they get cooked. The mage got cornered by some knights. It sort of looked like this:

He let the knights get within 10 feet of him. I figured he'd do something cool to fry them or die trying, either one of which would solve my problem.

You know, it didn't play out like that. He decided to offensively cast passwall to create an opening in the ground right in front of the charging Knights. The hole would be at a 45 degree angle down, it would start in front of the mage and go backwards under him like a ramp.  


He drew me a picture, which was probably better than this: 

That was creative. And super fatal.

Exactly what could I say to this scenario? Horse one plunged down the ramp and slammed into a wall of dirt at top speed. Horse two plunged into a hole and into horse one at top speed. Horse three plus the fact that each rider was wearing plate with a lance set before them was worse than a train wreck.

But the player wasn't done. As soon as the last horse plunged down the hole he wanted to close it. Violently.

Holy crap.

The other characters stopped him. Their plan was to close the hole slowly, so they could rescue the horses. Sure they would need healing, but they were fine mounts.

My ruling on that was "Yes, you can close the hole slowly. But those horses are going to hate you, forever even if you heal them. You can buy your own horses in the next town. Deal?"

It was deal. But the seeds were planted.

We debated on how passwall was a great offensive spell, but also debated its various functions. Yes, the hole can be orientated any way you wish, including straight down. No, you can't cast passwall into the air above you to enter other dimensions. Nor does it cause movement against gravity.

But what about the closing of the hole? How does that happen? The PHB is not really specific, so we came up with some guidelines.

You could close the hole in a controlled fashion, where the bottom closed first, gently pushing anything in the hole out. The hole can be closed violently, where the entire length of the tunnel collapses in trash compactor style. Anyone inside can escape so long as they are able to move. They take minor (1d6) damage from being scraped and battered geting out. Option three, the hole closes from the open side in, anyone in the hole must make a save vs. death to escape before total obliteration occurs. Failure results in horrific screams from the very earth with a ketchup laser effect.

The last option was one of the better mistakes I've ever made.

Next post, I can tell you how Marcus and his brother, Alex, a.k.a Bloodless Jack were finished.

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