Save versus Frustration


Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 21 October 2011

After Geek Girl Con, I spent a week hanging out with my friends in Seattle and was able to get in 3 games while out there, The One Ring, 4e, and Pathfinder. Both The One Ring and Pathfinder games had a higher danger threshold than the 4e game and most of the 4e games I've been in in general. In particular, both had their share of save rolls. I know this is something that used to be a bigger part of D&D but my experiences over the week left me feeling a bit mixed on them.

The One Ring

In The One Ring, I played a wood elf. We were chasing down some dwarves and the trail led to a pool's edge where the tracks mysteriously stopped. A bell began to ring and my character fell victim to its enchantments. Down into the pool she went.

This is the first time I've played a character that was compelled to do something. Since this was a one shot for me and I trust the GM completely (Hi Chris!), it really wasn't a big deal. Out into the hallway we went and he quickly described what was happening. I had a few choices to make, do I wait for my party (not knowing if they would come rescue me, I was a new character after all)? Do I try to swim out of there the way I came in? Or do I open the dark door I found down there? None of these choices are an obvious "right" choice but at least the one I chose, wait for the rest of the party, wasn't an instant death sentence, although some of the players in the room thought my character might be dead already.

Now, if my failed save had led to instant character death, I'm not sure how happy I would have been. I mean, there are times where I wouldn't really care and sometimes games with instant death can be fun. A fair number of video games have that type of behavior, where the fun of the game is more in mastering it than playing through an awesome story. But in this case, there wasn't anything that was obvious to me about what I should do. It would have felt arbitrary and unfulfilling. I guess what I mean is that the setback was nice, but being able to recover from it, even if it meant fighting more monsters, was even better.

Pathfinder

My host Stephen was nice enough to run a Pathfinder dungeon crawl/delve for me during my stay at his house. While I hadn't played Pathfinder before, I had been in a few sessions of a 3/3.5 house-ruled game. However, my character really hadn't had to deal with many save situations and definitely none that involved conditions like paralysis or blindness. The Fellowship of the Tweet had dealt with paralysis (and my cleric's inability to Turn Undead versus some ghouls) but I'm still a little scarred by that encounter.

If I'm being honest, I found the save situations in that game a bit more frustrating. Our barbarian became blinded for an hour after he failed his saving throw versus the blindheim and another character got sucked into a gelatinous cube at one point. While I think I can see what the mechanics were trying to model/accomplish and there is nothing inherently wrong about them, they just aren't my preferred way of doing it.

That said, I did see how they encouraged more creative play (although it's not the first time I've noticed it). Particularly in the case of the blindheim, where you have some options to overcome its gaze attack (which in 4e terms can be used both as an aura and as a ranged at-will). Although the dice weren't in my favor, Stephen said yes to my idea of trying to cover the blindheim's eyes with my cloak, which would have helped my party kill it faster.

I wouldn't mind making it clearer in 4e that DMs could allow creative solutions like that in their games, perhaps even in the monster's statblock. We already have this to a degree. For instance, the wraith loses its insubstantial trait until the start of its next turn whenever it takes radiant damage. This might encourage a divine character to choose a less powerful attack with the radiant keyword to give the party a better chance of hitting and killing the creature. However, we could expand this even more and make it more like a trap or hazard where the PCs can take countermeasures to avoid a particularly damaging attack or stop a buff. Spend a standard action and one part of the monster's special powers goes away for a turn.

This might also give space for the people who like to play helper characters. Instead of making certain classes be helpers, individual players can decide how to play out those classes. And while not everyone can necessarily help with every monster, helping isn't limited to a particular class type. This might be more fun and rewarding than the existing aid another rules.

So how would this work? Let's take the blindheim as an example. In 4e, I would make its gaze attack into an aura. Entering or starting your turn in the aura causes you to grant combat advantage and provides a -2 to attack rolls since the creature's gaze is so distracting. If you end the turn in the aura, you have to make a saving throw against becoming blind. (Alternatively, we could do this when you start or enter, with a successful saving throw meaning you grant CA and have the -2 penalty instead of being blinded.)

Since Gaze attacks can't be done while the creature is blinded, players could find ways to blind the creature. Perhaps they have a power that causes blindness or they decide to put a cloth over the creature's eyes. The type of action required (standard or minor) should be determined by the benefit they gain from the action. In the terms of this aura, I'd say they were gaining a pretty big benefit on success, and would require a standard action, since not only would they as an individual benefit but the whole party as well.

What Do You Think?

So, let's say you were faced with a creature like the blindheim. How would you overcome its special powers? How far can we push this while still keeping the rules fairly light? Would you allow someone to spend their standard action, no check, to try to blind the blindheim?

tags

So, as a crucial question, how do you figure out if the PC can cover the eyes with the cloak? Is that a skill check? An attack form? What is the difficulty?

You mentioned in the last sentence allowing this to happen with no check. I'm highly against that. Nothing that involves the interaction between combatants should happen without a check.

A lot of what you're shooting for is very similar to maneuvers in FATE. You're doing something a little different in removing special abilities, whereas maneuvers are typically about setting about a combo to allow someone to get a finishing blow against a difficult target. But, the feel is the same.

Personally, I'd love to see more of this. Player creativity is always awesome. The source fiction tends to have many more fights decided by this kind of left-field tactic than straight-up bloodletting. It also can be an excellent way to empower intelligent/knowledgeable characters in combat. In addition to revealing weaknesses, a knowledge check might reveal ways to remove strengths.

Now the only question is, do the monsters get to do the same thing?

In 4e, there are powers and other things that allow someone to do something to someone else without a check. It's not common, but also not without precedent. It all depends on what you want out of your game and what the trade-offs are. If someone is spending a standard action to do something like this, you have to make it more fun for the person than doing the normal damage from their attacks.

As to what mechanic you use to accomplish it, right now it depends. The most obvious one to use seems to be the Grab mechanic but, to be honest, we'd have to work out the math to see if it's powerful enough. You could also do an athletics check with either a moderate or hard DC. Again, working out the math is probably important before making a decision.

Great stuff, as usual! I think D&D has "evolved" to where balance is both possible and expected. The DM is given the tools to achieve balanced challenges and the players in turn expect them. Additionally, the state of balance is ensured by the capabilities of the PCs, and each player can easily look at their PC and determine what is most effective. Because that balance is important, that calculation is almost always true (barring things like a vulnerability or resistance or, importantly, alternate win conditions).

What this all does is set up combat so PCs are strongly predisposed to use their attack powers. Any use of a standard action for something else is a bad choice, almost always, unless the DM/author alters the basic nature of the game for this encounter. That blindheim better be a real threat for me to try to turn off its aura instead of killing it, because in 4E a trait is almost never the worst part about a monster (the monster would probably be broken if it were). But, if we put the blindheim in a special "room of mirrors" that turn the gaze/aura into something absolutely insane (50% chance you attack a PC instead, plus you are dazed) then that is something that players will generally stop and say "We have to stop this!"

That's a difficult thing to engineer without the players also saying "Dude(ette), this is totally unfair!" Part of the difficulty is that in theory the monster should have defenses, HPs, etc. commensurate with the encounter level, so it means you are making things much harder. It becomes tricky to balance.

Pre-3E versions of D&D (and sometimes 3E) had a lot more of the One Ring experience, where a PC could just be charmed without anyone knowing what was happening, gaze attacks could be devastating, and the monster could be vastly more powerful. There was less balance and more of a likelihood that any given encounter could require out-of-the-box thinking to resolve... because of that bad balance. Lots of AD&D monsters have a tough hide but soft belly, become awesome if you use the wrong spell on them, have a secret weakness but otherwise are insane (will-o-wisp!), or are just pure pain (rot grubs, green slime). Players in these editions expected bad balance and expected to periodically get creative to survive.

I totally dig your ideas. I do wrestle with the best ways to enable them given the modern emphasis on balance and the player expectations that hacking is best (because it _is_). I'm wrestling with that this weekend on a project, in fact!

A possible approach: 4E encounters could have an encounter layer/theme, similar in format to a hazard. That layer would affect the combat, changing the default rules. It would be recognizable, having skills listed for PCs to figure out what to do and countermeasures for resolving the layer in a non-combat manner (including skills, choices, doing stuff, and/or pure RP).

I think the key is not to start with a completely unbalanced situation but to start with a typical hard encounter. That hard encounter could be then manipulated into an easy or trivial encounter by creative game play. Once, we have established a precedent for out-of-the box thinking we can toggle the hard encounter over into the impossible range. Where creative play simply makes it possible.

As far as the "hazard-esque" design in theory this could work. My biggest concern is that when we try to structure out-of box thinking into game play mechanics what we end up with is simply play. One of the biggest problems most folks have with skill challenges is the fact that we have taken an abstract concept and tried to assign mechanics and probabilities to it. For new, inexperienced or simply bad DM's this seems to bring out the worst of behaviors.

In order for any of this to be successfully mainstream it needs to flow organically from the thought process of the DM. Part of that is training our own thoughts to be outside of the box. A great start to this was the "DM saying Yes" credo. Only then will the cries of "Dudette, like totally unfair" be biased and completely unfounded.

Once, we have established a precedent for out-of-the box thinking we can toggle the hard encounter over into the impossible range. Where creative play simply makes it possible.

Once you've started *requiring* out-of-the-box thinking in order for things to be possible, it's not longer `out-of-the-box'. Such things can be great for home games, but they're much harder for organized play and/or published adventures. For newer DMs, tired/overworked DMs, and/or DMs lacking the confidence to let/lead the group in more free-form improvisational style, these sorts of things amount to general advice (`be responsive', `say yes'), or specifics that frustrate and thwart far more often than they encourage and reward. There is a time and a place in published adventures for ``any reasonably good idea will work; especially good ideas can include an advantage like...'', but it's not `every encounter', and many people (myself included) would like to see more of this sort of thing, happening more often. This leads us to build scaffolding (like skill challenges) - not because we want to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, but because ``..and then somebody does something cool.'' is not generally a good thing to put into a published adventure.

I'd love to know the percentage of games that are OP versus the number that are home games. Sometimes I feel like we spend too much time worrying about what is good for OP versus offering tools that could help home DMs.

I think it's awesome to put it in a published adventure. It's the only way we have of teaching people how to do these things with real examples and in a format where they are likely to remember it when they actually run the game. It's especially important for newer DMs. I love scaffolding as much as the next person, but I think it sucks when that's all we provide people.

OP is a relatively small percentage of play, but it is an important percentage. An average home game does little to sell the game to others and to bring in new players. OP is a way for many gamers that could not normally play (due to few players, their work/life schedules, or any number of reasons) to be able to do so. They can play LIVING1-1, take as long as they need, and play LIVING1-2. And they still get story, cool RP, immersion in a setting, and tactical fun. Encounters likely has raised the OP percentage and is without question a fantastic recruiting tool. We see at our stores players that haven't touched their dice since [insert any edition of the game here] and now are back.

Players of OP can be infrequent casual players, but it also attracts those interested in community. These can be valuable gamers, big on promoting the game and helping new gamers every chance they get.

OP is also not just some crazy entity around rules/adventure clarity. Letters to the editor asking for TSR/WotC to prove them right and their DM/players wrong are as old as the magazines. Gamers love clarity (while also liking creative open play... go figure). To typecast OP as the sole pursuers of clarity is not correct. Any visit to forums will find endless threads asking for clarity on a multitude of subjects. What OP does is formalize this need. In one convention you don't want three vastly different interpretations of how your PC/adventure/game works, all in the same day! Wanting clarity is not insanity. A strong understanding of rules gives you the understanding of what is normal, more easily allowing you to provide an exception based on specific circumstances. Without question, when a DM with solid rules understanding gives me an exception it is far more fun than when a DM with little knowledge tries to do the same.

WotC has at times typecast the needs for rules clarity as only belonging to organized play and therefore worth ignoring... most recently at the start of 4E. They wrote the rules saying (I'm paraphrasing many quotes) "the point is, change it to whatever you need it to be... the rules don't need to be 100% clear." That didn't work, as became clear from tons of feedback. Far too many gamers need clarity. That extends into adventure design as well, because many DMs will try to run things as written. Guidance and explanation is very important, particularly around options the PCs have.

Also, keep in mind that when someone mentions OP, they often are writing that as shorthand for "across hundreds of tables of different players I've witnessed, I tend to see the following". This is because someone that is heavily into OP likely does see tons of tables even in just one given year, and very often has a substantially more accurate appreciation for how the game is played by different gamers than someone just in a couple of home games. (And gamers that play OP can also have home games).

So, no, I don't think we worry too much about what works in OP. OP is a very good way to learn about how a diversity of gamers approach the game. It isn't the only tool, of course, and it is very important to think in a non-OP way. That's what Chad and I do all the time. We take our collective understanding of how most people play and then try to create really different, open, high-RP, fun, and creative adventures.

Well, to be clear, both you and Chad are also very invested in OP. While I like OP and think it's an important part of the community, I'm a bit tired of the remarks that we can't have x, y, or z because of OP. I don't think WotC's sole aim should be to support OP and some products should exist that perhaps aren't perfect or even usable within OP.

Where did someone say we can't have something? Can you show an example, outside of LFR/Encounters, where WotC is doing something because of OP?

Whether or not WotC did something because of OP is separate from my comment which was that I'm tired of remarks that we can't have something because of OP. The remarks aren't necessarily coming from WotC but rather from members of the community.

As for when I've heard them, I've heard them in response to fortune cards, Essentials, and the vampire class. I'm sure I could find more examples. I support organized play, am glad it exists, and try to run games at every con I go to. That said, it has constraints on its play that, in my opinion, are too constraining to make part of the core rules, especially for home tables. Do we need a 70-page document of "house" rules for OP? No. But having a 70+ page core rules system isn't right either.

I don't mean to sound argumentative, sorry. I think you dislike how a person that is heavy into OP might come onto a forum and sound overly authoritative. Some of it is personality. I'm a loudmouth that has trouble not sounding that way, sorry. But, it also comes from the value of OP. OP is, in fact, the largest ongoing D&D lab setting and always has been, because we actually can collect and compare the results across tables. Those of us in OP can sometimes see things others may not because of our experiences. That doesn't mean we are infallible, but we do tend to be informed.

An example. Published skill challenges have a format that confuses most DMs. In a home setting, as a player we will have little idea whether the fun or non-fun we had is due to the format. With OP we will see tons of tables play the same encounter, plus hear about it at the con and read about it on the forums. We end up seeing the issues much more clearly. Sure, home DM x might have turned it into pure gold, but the format was still terrible. In that home game you don't see the issue, but through OP you do see the problem. And, you can tinker to find solutions and see how that change plays out at hundreds of tables.

OP has a lot of value but I don't think it makes for a great test environment for home games as it has too many constraints and needs to be able to operate in an environment with little to no trust. And OP isn't the only group who saw the issues with the skill challenge system. Bloggers were right there too, writing about the issues they had in their home games with the system.

Also, OP tends to be self-selecting and OP players are not necessarily reflective of the general D&D audience. While it might be the best we can get right now in terms of feedback, we need to keep those things in mind when we interpret what we learn from OP.

In my opinion, what bloggers do best is bring a diversity of games and opinions into the fold, plus take the time to write about it well. The guys at Critical Hits are fantastic writers, and they might play 4E less than half of the time if we average out across all the games they play. That diversity carries real strength when examining any part of the 4E rules system.

Those that are in OP typically have a more focused knowledge, but it is very extensive. It is to a level really not present anywhere else. Find someone playing five times a week and they are probably in OP. Find someone that DMs hundreds of different players a year and they are in OP. Find someone that receives criticism from hundreds of DMs a year and they are in OP. You can say this experience isn't reflective of D&D as a whole, but I disagree. It is surprisingly reflective because the format tends to be similar within an encounter and many/most games are being run off of an encounter format (certainly what is published, but even many home games).

I've seen new players at their first Encounters, first LFR, first Ashes of Athas, first gameday, and first published adventure and they all react in very similar ways to the same encounter design. You can say "I'm a bit tired of the remarks that we can't have x, y, or z because of OP", but I think you are discarding valuable feedback. Take a look at what Chad wrote. He isn't saying you can't do something or must do something, but rather that codifying out-of-the box thinking is tricky. He says that because he has really good experience writing out-of-the-box situations for hundreds to thousands of people. Very few non-OP people can say that. Forcing out-of-the-box really does require kid gloves. In a purely home campaign situation, where the DM wrote the material for their home group they know well, it can be great. For a published WotC adventure? It requires really careful design and playtesting.

I can understand frustration when someone says "oh, we had that in AD&D, it didn't work too well", "oh, we have found in OP that can cause problems," or "you know, that might not fit the canon of this setting." It can be daunting, seem arbitrary, even seem contrived. But the comments are usually based on a sound premise and have value. That said, half the fun is finding a way to do it anyway. Most of us making critical comments are all the time trying to find a way to do it anyway. I still see that experience as valuable, just as your feedback on One Ring and Pathfinder are valuable to me when I next try to deal with the topics you raised.

I've enjoyed the discussion and I'll let the topic drop now from my end. Thanks! Oh, and you should write for Ashes of Athas or LFR some time... take a turn on our end of the spectrum... :-)

I know you said you'd drop this, but I want to comment anyway.. that you are absolutely correct, especially about the diversity and experience that organized play provides to DMs. I personally can't count how many people I've DM'd for since I started with Xendrik Expeditions in 2004 or so, but I'm sure it's multiple hundreds. We use a Warhorn site for the local gamestore meetup and I can count over a hundred people I've Dm'd for since 4e started up..just locally.

However, I think Organized Play- or at least how we (RPGA) do it, which is about 90x better than anyone else is doing it-- is still killing DM creativity and skill. You can't 'own' the D&D experience until you become responsible for your material. Players really do spend too much time trying to find answers on the character sheet. I've taken to carrying a 90-second timer (a sand timer like an hourglass, kinda) in case anyone gets lost trying to figure the exact tactical thing theyre going to use for the turn. (And inevitable, the deude that takes 5 minutres to figure out his turn rolls the dice and gets a 3 or something, so it's all a waste anyhow).

We reward all the wrong things, we have DMs recite (usually poorly) prose written by other people- it's a fairly weak experience, and a few of the DMs we have (and don't get me wrong, we have some amazing awesome DMs as well, but a couple of these guys...) make it absolutely miserable. Some of these guys know the rules inside and out, and they are tactically good/great at the game.. and have no DMing skill whatsoever. I used to really balk at the viciousness of the "There's no roleplaying in 4e" comments, because my groups always do. But I played in two games at GenCon and Origins were roleplaying was flatly discouraged. Optimization was what this game was about. At Origins I was annoyed enough with one particularly awful DM that I decided to cancel all of my remaining LFR slots and take my chances visiting demos.

DMing is about project management, addressing a group, creatively improvising NPCs or situations.. making it so that player contributions and choices matter- making it so that even a failed roll or skill check or skill challenge that goes horribly south.. is the funniest and funnest thing possible. Instead we get a lackluster cold script-reading and a chess match. We get negation and adventures that run almost like the old delves or combat demos used to run. I'm not sure why we've fallen so flatly- I'm still a Living Realms admin, I still run LFR (my own MyRealms adventures, I don't trust anything else) every week, and have done so since the campaign started. All (well, most) of the DMs in my area have at least seen the way this game is awesome. And then, year after year, I show up at GenCon and get the worst DM in the world, there for 7 slots and a free room. Is it some kind of midwest thing? Where did this culture come from? I can't even excuse some of my friends from this travesty of justice--some of my friends are *also* sucky Dms. They speak too softly, they don't enunciate the words correctly, they get too tactical... but then every once in a while when a scene or a chapter goes off the rails.. even my kinda weak DMing friends manage to bust out some very good roleplaying. An NPC or a villian or a plot twist happens (usually because the DM is suddenly forced to think on his/her feet) that makes the adventure good again.

OP is constraining itself to death.

I think the problem with skill challenges is the format. We provide the following:

Goal: Survive jungle trek, etc.
List of skills:
Athletics: Climb up cliff to see where you are going.

Then we begin play, and we say "you have this crazy jungle to traverse, what do you want to do?" And the player rightfully says "what do you mean? What am I seeing? Are we just walking?... oh, you just want me to name a skill, and since I'm good at Athletics, I'll say to you 'I want to use Athletics'". And now the DM responds with "ok, so you climb up this cliff..."

The format is backwards. It should provide a situation for the players and respond to their actions, with information for the DM on likely scenarios. The DM should perhaps ask for a marching order and for PCs to take on certain roles (one might scout ahead, another might be spending some time looking for signs of unusual plants, another might be looking for signs of lost civilizations)... these could be helper/secondary skills or otherwise influence future rolls. Then you want to paint the scene. A choice between the trail going down into a swamp or over a rocky vine-strewn cliff face. Now the PCs make a choice, deciding to climb it. The auxiliary skills kick in as they spot a marker left by natives and spot some vines that are poisonous.

Similarly, any "hazard" that requires non-combat resolution needs to be established in a way that the players can respond and then the DM respond to their actions. Snakes start pouring into the room, so Indy starts placing torches on the ground while making his way to the Arc of the Covenant. Rolls are made, checks are botched, cobras make us both laugh and be afraid.

I've always allowed my players to target body parts with an simple increase in DC (+2 any body part, +5 for the head). I would treat blinding the blindheim as a targeted attack to the head and on a hit the blindheim would roll to save for being blinded. You could extend this and say two successful targeted hits to the head would permanently blind him. This is the same way I allow players to disarm a creature.

I recall from reading about Kevin Kulp's 4e campaign that every character had a power card that read "Do Something Awesome," along with all of their class powers. This card typically worked according to the DMG's stunt rules; players mostly used it for extra damage, but your cloak attack example to disable an aura is awesome.

The "Do Something Awesome" card is definitely going in my next 4e game, because I'm ready to see players focus more on the situation and less on the rules. The beauty of 4e is - much as Rob Donoghue has been discussing (sorry for all the name-dropping) - that its rules backend is incredibly flexible. The problem is that players and DMs can look at the frontend and forget how awesomely flexible the backend is.

Yeah, the do something awesome power is great. One of the things I love about 4e is the power cards. They make it handy to know what your character can do without knowing the entire system. However, the downside is that they push players into only using what they have on their sheet/in the cards instead of thinking of the situation itself.

I use a model of the "Do Something Cool" power suite. Maybe its something similar. I give each of my players three power cards. ...Cool is an at-will...Cooler is an encounter ... And Coolest is a daily. They decide the action they want to spend (AO, immediate, Free, minor, move, standard). Based on the potency ie daily and action I set a DC and skill or attack for the action and roll. On success I describe a tremendous event. On failure I describe an Epic difficulty. We are nine sessions in and it has really changed the group dynamic from overly tactical to reasonably tactical with a great creative element. The other side effect has been better attention spans. Being able to act in minor ways on another's turn is awesome. A fighter trading his immediate and thus his mark attack to try to raise his shield and deflect a snipers arrow. Granting the wizard superior cover instead of just cover when he is low on HP is better than 1W. My initial worry about giving the players more resources has proven unfounded.

It's interesting to hear your viewpoint on this as as my two groups are about to embark on the sorts of games that might bring up these frustrations if we're not careful. One is that we have finished our Traveller season and after PANRPG month will be starting a very low magic Pathfinder P6 campaign where I'll be playing instead of GMing. So I'll be dealing with similar issues to you.

The other is that the D&D 4e group are having more of a PANRPG quarter and part of this is we are taking the existing world that we have played through the entire heroic tier in and playing as characters that aren't anywhere near being heroes and using low powered Savage Worlds rules to model them (the point is to use a new system, otherwise the Chatty DM level 0 rules might have been used). This means that the characters (mage apprentices with at most one spell) will be largely at the mercy of the world. There is not intended to be any balance. They will likely find kobolds more deadly than ogres because they simply will not be a threat to ogres and will just be captured without a fight. The intention is to encourage creative play to get out of these situations rather than fighting their way out. Also hopefully they will be able to appreciate their D&D characters' actions previously when they see the consequences from the perspective of those with less control over the world around them.

Of course this may just frustrate everyone and we'll all be chomping at the bit to get our cool paragon powers back and get on with killing monsters that we're well matched with but hopefully given that the aim is well understood we can all have a good time playing the underheroes trying to deal with the upheaval caused by the heroes.

While I encourage my players to be creative and to find solutions for problems that are unconventional, you also need to find a certain balance and know when to say "No" as a GM/Storyteller. I think in this particular instance it wasn't game breaking and it was indeed clever, but you do need to be careful about what precedents you set. I've been burned once or twice when not really thinking through the consequences that a decision might have. You can always make exceptions, but make sure that you communicate that to your players and explain why.

This is a relatively tough subject to tackle, because it does depend a lot on the experience of group members and the dynamic they have together. I would say, and repeat what I initially said, that GM's should encourage such creativity as it can lead to more fun ,fulfilling, and challenging sessions. The GM will need to think on their toes and be spontaneous, but when you do that you allow players to shape the world instead of merely playing a part in it.

Conclusion of the Marsh Bell, Part 1

Caranthir steadied her greatspear as the slavering hordes of once-Men poured out of the darkened corridors. The Princess of the Wood Elves, Mithriel, stood beside her with deadly arrows nocked in her ashen bow. Her normal composed visage was betrayed by fearful eyes. "Hurry! At least a score of those things are headed this way. My arrows won't hold them off forever!"

Oin and Balin, weak from starvation and sleepless nights, trailed behind in the room, aided by Wulfred and Valgar. They prepared for the worst, handing the beleagured dwarves daggers to defend themselves as the Marsh-Dwellers drew ever closer.

Further from the entrance, Lindir and his hobbit companion Belisarius moved quickly from the chimney where they had lit the rope of the Marsh Bell aflame. The twisting chord burned brightly, sending shadowy flames dancing throughout the main chamber.

Caranthir slid her spear in and out of the first of the Marsh Dwellers that approached, dropping one with a quick jab to the stomach. Mithriel's bow sang as another one met its end, an arrow sunk deep into its eye. Valgar called out, as he approached with his exhausted brethren. "Get my kin out of here! Wulfred and I will hold the portal whilst you bring them back to the surface. More will be here soon, and we must see Lindir and Belisarius to safety."

Caranthir and Mithriel agreed to the task, and took the dwarves to the edge of the water. As Wulfred's hewing axe flashed in the flame-lit chamber, the wood elf and the hobbit took advantage of the Beorning's carnage and slipped by to Valgar's position. More Marsh Dwellers streamed forth, replacing those that had fallen. The son of Ralgar cast a stern gaze back at Caranthir. "Do wood elves not know the meaning of the word 'fly'? Off with you! Go!"

Caranthir and Mithriel drove into the brackish water with the dwarves to swim back up to the surface. Her assistance to the company in the rescue of Balin and Oin would sate her desire to repair some of the damage the drunkard Galion had done in rebuking the company and leaving them to the dangers of Mirkwood. But would the company left behind in the sunken chamber emerge victorious?

Perhaps we'll continue the story soon...

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