Know When to Fold'em

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 22 June 2010

This is going to be the first post in a blog carnival. The rules are simple:

1. Your post must be on topic.

2. The first person in the list of bloggers who are participating who replies to each post will be responsible for writing the next piece. (Don’t reply if you are not ready to write it with in the next 24 hours.)

3. You must add a link to all of the previous authors carnival posts at the end of your post.

4. No name calling.

As a DM, I don't like the restriction that creatures above the level of the PCs can't exist or be known to players and PCs alike. It stretches the imagination and story beyond reasonable breaking points. What happens as they level, do the appropriate monsters just spring into existence when necessary, with no history or connection with the current location? How do players and their PCs set goals, experience the bitterness of defeat and the joys of a hard-fought and unassured victory?

On the other hand, I know that as soon as many players hear about a big bad guy, they want to go after him. To quote Jim Darkmagic, "Can I roll to kill Irontooth?" Some players are going to be drawn to the creature, regardless of the likelihood of success, and are going to be frustrated if they can't defeat it.

So what does this mean for our worlds? The answer is that we have to change our definitions victory and defeat. For many of us, the iconic victory is one of defeat in battle, the blood of our enemy upon our sword, the triumphant final blow that tells the world that we are the winners. After all, that is the heroic way, right?

While the decisive victory can be exciting, if it comes too easily, the satisfaction is short-lived. Besides, some players enjoy a good bit of intrigue as much as a hard-fought battle. Perhaps the beloved nephew of the big bad guy just joined the lower ranks and the PCs hear about his location and can kidnap him. Maybe the PCs learn of a nearby brigand weapons cache and steal the goods and lay waste to the plans of a surprise attack. Through these story lines, the PCs can win smaller victories against their enemy and make him weaker as they get stronger.

So, fill your world with monsters of all levels, don't hide them from the players, but be sure they have plenty of level-appropriate victory conditions. Acknowledge that they will transfix on whatever you tell them, so be clear when something might be above their heads and give them the tools that will lead to success down the road. Not only will your stories seem richer, the satisfaction of the win will be longer lasting.

Posts related to this Blog Carnival.
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Phelanar’s Den
The Daily Encounter
Adam Dray


Great post, Sarah. Here's my reply:

But you haven't answered one of the crucial questions: Do you surprise the players with encounters they can't handle, or do you give them a choice to meet those monsters?

I don't think anyone is saying, "Hey, creatures that the party cannot handle just don't exist in this world." I think they're saying, "What's the likelihood of a 3rd level party stumbling into the lair of a 22nd level elder red dragon with no warning?"

I love your idea of level-appropriate victory conditions, despite the villain's level. That's slick and goes into my toolbox!

Sorry, I wasn't explicit about the answer to that question. I think the DM shouldn't point the 3rd level party to a location that has a 22nd level elder red dragon, at least, not without an appropriate victory condition. However, if the party insists on going off exploring in a completely unknown area or against the advice of others, then I think it should be possible that they will run into one. Personally, I would give them lots of warning, perhaps tales in a nearby village that such a creature might lair nearby or footprints and tail prints on the ground or the partially gnawed remains of creatures that are of a higher level than the party. If they pressed on, I probably wouldn't kill them, but change the story to take into account their folly. Perhaps they wake up with all of their stuff missing or, more likely, they are now the prisoners of the red dragon and they have to win their freedom.

Latest post in this blog carnival:

It's the 10th one, full links to all of the first nine can be found at the end of my post.


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