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So, I’ve been running a party of generally newbie players through Sunless Citadel. Their real life experience levels range from “once played D&D or some AD&D loooong ago” to “d20 is their first D&D experience ever”. The playgroup? A husband, his wife, his brother, his brother-in-law, another male friend and me, yer humble DM. I tried to stress fair play (and, by extension, very real stakes regarding character mortality) from the beginning, and it’s been a tough bit given the group’s natural tendency towards meta-gaming. Well, by careful nudging and bonus allocation, they were just starting to get into the swing of playing in character, bypassing some of the side quests of the Citadel and ultimately, this past Sunday, making it to the climactic confrontation.
And I killed every last one of them.
Now, I’ve tried to give the benefit of the doubt to my freshman players, particularly when it comes to combat tactics. Skeletons and dire rats have a tendency to wade in mindlessly IMC, and as player tactics evolved, they seemed on the same curve with their opponents— matching up fairly well with more savvy opponents like hobgoblins and bugbears. But when it came to some of the big dogs in Citadel (no details for the sake of no spoilers), they were just toasted.
Judicious/lucky application of entangle on the part of the baddies let them pick and choose targets. The party tank went negative from a flaming sphere, and the already-cast heat metal on his armor turned him into a half-orc briquette in a very few rounds. The party rogue allowed himself to be captured, thinking he was going to pull off some kind of Indiana Jones/James Bond escape (no dice) and one by one, EVERYONE just kept wading in. Obviously, no one had heard of the better part of valor. I confess I started to feel bad and concocted a plan for the main villain to stabilize some dying players (in order to use him for some later nefarious schemes), but the sorcerer got off a lucky sleep spell and everyone BUT the main baddie made their saves. In the time it took to wake him, taps was already playing for most of the party. And, well... I felt a little bad. No fudging either way on the dice and the party just fell to superior tactics.
So here’s the interesting part. The party (virtually to a character) were within a few hundred points of 3rd level. I offered to let everyone roll up new characters at 2nd level—a sort of unofficial rescue party to brave the depths of the Citadel once again. And they jumped all over it. The tank wants to try a bard; sneaky rogue guy realizes he really wants to be a tank; and now they’re carting along a cleric AND a paladin. And in the last few days, three of the players have called to tell me how much they enjoyed Sunday. Yes, enjoyed it...
So why this post? I’m not quite sure, hence the “Fluff” keyword. Just a weird little story I guess. Maybe it helps to illustrate one useful point. Early on, I established some inflexible boundaries—no die fudging and if you die, then mister, you is daid. Also, in earlier scrapes, I made it clear that I was doing my damnedest (or at least the NPC’s damnedest) to win. So even though they got toasted, nobody walked away feeling cheated. Which is nice to know, considering the fact that while I relished the triumph of the NPCs, I didn’t particularly enjoy killing everyone off. The foolishly courageous rogue player summed the whole episode up nicely: “I think it was a good learning experience. Sometimes you’ve just got to run away.”
So, random, rambling and perhaps pointless. Just thought I’d share.
-- spazweez


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