Each session is better than the last one. Yesterday's session continued that trend, and we really captured the "D&D feeling." I learned quite a bit about pacing and it has made me take a step back and re-think a few things.
Last time we did a lot of mini-missions. This time we basically focused on a single scenario.
In this campaign, we are assembling the deck of many things. The cards are spread out all over Sharn, the city of towers. One of the cards is in the possession of this woman, her last name is Tain. I don't know anything about Eberron, so I don't know if this is some kind of major NPC or not.
This Tain person had used the card to control an NPC and do some bad stuff. We decided to break into her place and steal the card.
A good portion of the session just involved us players planning. As a DM, I hate this. I desperately try to avoid "wasting" table time on what I often consider to be abstract nothing-talk.
I like my sessions to be two, maybe three hours long. In this group, we play six or seven hours. So there's plenty of "breathing room." We can mess around as much as we like.
What I found yesterday was that the planning process was really about us taking control of the game. The DM was allowing us to tackle this map any way we wanted. It was quite liberating.
I usually hate planning because it tends to drag, but here it didn't feel like it dragged at all. We kept coming up with funnier and funnier ideas.
The vault we needed to break into was past Tain's bedroom. Her kids had rooms right down the hall. I was a bit baffled about how we could sneak through her room without waking her. I assumed there would be magical traps that would go off (I was right).
Another player said that we should plan our break-in during mealtime. Tain and her kids would be eating downstairs. The upstairs area would be free! That was such a smart idea, I was really excited.
Our Plan Goes Horribly Wrong
The idea was that the crate would be dropped off in a storage area, we'd break out and get to sneaking.
But when we got there, the guards took the crate and told the fighter to go home! They plopped us in the storage room, but the fighter was gone.
We busted out of our crate, I cast invisibility and twinned it (I'm a sorcerer). So two of us were invisible, and poor Jenny, our sidekick NPC, was not.
We went and stole some servant clothes, using prestidigitation to draw two servants away.
The fighter climbed the wall, found us and put on some servant clothes.
We crept into Tain Manor. The wizard and I were invisible. The fighter and Jenny bluffed their way upstairs.
We made our way into Tain's room and encountered our magically-compelled NPC friend. We subdued her and made our way to the vault.
The Magic Vault
This is where our poor hireling comes in. It's Jenny's job to be trap bait. So she opens the door and goes in, and vanishes. Poor Jenny. We triggered a magical alarm and we knew guards were on their way.
We tried every combination, and there was all sorts of weird stuff in the vault. We finally opened the door and the interior of the vault was red. The card was on a shelf, and there was a gibbering mouther in there.
I've never fought a gibbering mouther before. It was awesome. It has two auras - one blinds you, one turns the floor to gooey madness.
The guards burst in to the room and we were in big trouble. We were on the third floor, and my character was ankle-deep in gibbering floor goo. I asked the DM if it was possible to actually slide through the goo to the floor below. He said yes!
So we're fending off the guards and the mouther, sinking into the quicksand floor.
Poor Jenny bursts out of the vault and tries to help us. As we sink through the floor and fall into a bathroom, we hear Jenny get murdered by the mouther (she has the stats of a commoner). That's our second hireling dead.
We plopped through the floor and ended up pinned in a tiny room with guards in both doors. Our fighter used a trip attack to drop the guard blocking one door.
Tain's brother cast fireball, which actually killed our wizard. I made my save but I was in bad shape. I made my concentration check, thankfully. I still had the unconscious wizard in my arms. I almost wanted to fail it, because then I could plummet and cast feather fall to put some distance between us and the griffon (we were way at the top of the city of Sharn, hundreds of feet in the air).
The DM had described another tower right by us. I knew I couldn't take another hit, so I flew through a window in the tower that was too small for the griffon to fit through. I tried to get out of line of sight of the window.
There were two old men in there, quilting. I dumped a potion of healing in the wizard. She came to, made her way to the window and blasted the griffon and the wizard with a lightning bolt spell. She killed them both!
I gave the old guys money for the window and a bottle of frostmantle fire (eberron booze). They gave me a quilt.
I flew over to the dead body of Tain's brother. I put a pot of dirt next to him and planted a magic bean in it. I rolled on the chart, and I summoned a bunch of pink toads that I assumed would transform into grizzly bears when touched! A pretty nice present for Tain and her men, if you ask me.
We flew home. We only need five more cards to complete the deck of many things.
The other players were laughing and talking about how bad our plan was and how we bungled everything. I didn't see it that way at all. We got the card! And it was awesome. Very few D&D plans actually work out. I mean, the DM kind of has to throw in wrinkles, or else the adventure would be pretty boring, right?
Jenny was dead, so we recruited a new hireling. The DM rolled on the NPC chart. We got this old gnome lady who is "extremely ugly," according to the chart. As fate would have it, she is also on a search for romance.
That's where we stopped.
Managing Table Time
As a DM, generally I don't create situations where my players need to make a big plan, because it often leads to problems. If I do, I always have an NPC tell offer up a default plan that they can take if they want, so we can get to the action. Here are some of the more common issues I've seen when groups put their heads together to figure out how to approach a situation:
- Dominant Personality: One player takes control and talks over everyone else. Other players let it happen but secretly get more annoyed each time it occurs.
- Arguing: Arguments break out. A lot of times, players simply can't agree on the best course of action. This is often caused by one player wanting a plan that allows them to use one of their special abilities or items, even though it may be extremely risky.
- Weird Ideas: You may have noticed this - some players have really weird (to you, at least) ideas of what would work and what wouldn't. I can't tell you how many times I've had a player say out loud that the group shouldn't do something because X will happen - and I have no idea why they think that. In those cases, I use an NPC to tell them X will not happen.
- Not Understanding the DM's Style: People think really differently, and it can make for a bumpy D&D experience. A lot of times this is driven by players who think that everything in the world is scaled for their level. In my games, if you are thrown in jail for doing something terrible in town (such as killing a bartender to avenge an insult) - you're in jail. You're probably not getting out and you might have to make a new character. I make this very clear before the heroes do something that might get them arrested, but it still comes up now and then. My brother ran Drizzt as a character back in the 90's. He committed murder in a major city, and he's been languishing in prison ever since.
- Everyone is Passive: This is like that couple you might know, who say to each other: "What do you want to do?" and the other one says, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" And so they don't do anything. Sometimes you get a group like that. Nobody wants to take control. That can be really weird for you as a DM. It can be downright excruciating and will make you want to railroad them all the time just to keep things from grinding to a halt.
- Some Players Get Bored: Planning is also the time when some players mentally check out. While a few more involved players are brainstorming, other players just doodle or flip through a book or whatever. That only really gets annoying when these players then have the gall to complain later about the plan.
It's so weird for me being a player. I have to keep stopping myself from trying to facilitate the game. That's not my job! I get to sit back and enjoy. It's actually kind of hard for me.
The DM has me keep track of initiative, which makes it even trickier. When combat rolls around I am keeping things rolling and telling everyone to take their turn. On one hand, I like it because I like to keep things moving. On the other hand, it puts me in DM mode and I kind of forget my role at the table.