This was week 16, the final week of ‘Season 1’ of Shop D&D, the conclusion of ‘The Ballad of the Blue Fox’ and one of the worst sessions, from my perspective, that I have run thus far.
That the majority of (verbal) feedback was positive is solely attributed to how much I’ve grown as a DM these few months and, if my proverbial mouth would quit getting overfilled with players to try to chew, I’m certain I could run a lean and mean game for 4-6 players.
4-6 was not the number of players, however. It was, in fact, exactly twice that. As in, we started with 8 and got up to… 12, I think. Which is a lot of players. People think 8 is a lot, but I could get soooo much done in a session, if I had only 8 players. Hopefully, I’ll be able to report on that circumstance next week ;p (And, or course, after I’ve run large games and learned a lot about what NOT to do, AngryGM goes and writes up an amazing summary of why large groups are hard and how to run them easier (Just the first 3rd of that, although the next has value.))
Sadly, I realized the morning after how I should have run it, the Elegant Twist. I will consider myself a ‘good’ DM if I can spot the ET before the game and can run it instead.
I am in anguish, because I failed to see the ET. This session could have been So. Good., but I robbed my players of that through my own ineptitude. So here is what I should have done to start the game. None of this, save for where people started the session, is what occurred (including, sadly, the beginning summation. I was no where near that consicse or direct.)
Matt(In full Super-Saiyn DM mode. Lots of dynamic vocals and evil fingers/smug slurps when fitting):”Okay, so last time, you were commissioned by Constable Hogan to abduct King Erazmus. Using a combination of stealth and diversion, you have defeated most of the foes who stood against you. The Spear of Anubis is lying prone on the ground from where you have been pummeling it. Of the guardsmen, they’ve been falling like wheat before the scythe. Two remain facing the intruders in the stairwell. Vester, the newest, now most senior, of the guard gulps nervously. Captain Vintegarde points his blade at the barbarian’s face and spits a word in, I don’t know, primordial or something. Ebony flames wrap around the blade. A gesture with the other hand and his bracer expands and unfolds into a shield. He raises his blade above his head aaaannndd… I’m afraid I’m going to need a Dex save.
Barbarian: “From me?”
Matt(wicked grin): “Actually, from EVERYBODY! Beat a 15 or fall prone as the ENTIRE manor lurches as if hit! Druid, you need to make a Handle Animal instead, to keep Trampler of Peasants (or ‘Tornado’ as the humans call him) from bolting. Incidentally, as you are outside the manor, your elven eyes can make out this monstrosity, an unnatural inky blackness against the night sky. It stands, oh, 40? 45 feet tall? And with a mighty swipe, there is now a window in the king’s bedroom. And the guards’ room. And, actually, there is a lot less ‘that side’ over on that side of the manor.”
A bit of surprise discussion commences as i reveal the new map and place people in the new layout, taking their saves into painting the new picture.
Matt(Quickly, to each group as I name them): “O-Kay!! Vault crew! Who is still standing? K. You 3 felt the hit and heard the CRACKTHOOM! of distant crumbling stone. You know it was not part of the plan. The vault is still intact, as far as you can tell.
“Stairwell peeps! How were your rolls? Okay, the stairwell is now distributed along the lower floor, with the ruins of the servant’s quarters. Vintegarde swears under his breathe as he stands, shaking dust and rocks off of him. He glances at Vester, who landed on his feet, and says ‘Vester can you move? Good. Get down to Blazemane and tell him his deterrents failed and we need him up here.’ Vester heads to the lower stairs. The good captain turn towards the monstrosity, which you can see pretty clearly. It has 4 massive arms and has creepy eyes and mouths EVERYWHERE. Vintegarde points his sword again, speaks a different word, and now he’s rocking white fire. He meets your eye, Barbarian, and gives a cautious ‘Truce? Truce.’ nod.
“Throne room! Everyone who was by the king’s door is now back here. Who is on their feet? What did the displacer beast roll? Okay. There is no longer a door to the king’s room. There is no longer a king’s room! Looking straight ahead you see the monstrosity. Well, it’s head and shoulders, at least. Well, it’s ‘head’ and ‘shoulders’. You’re able to identify it as the same black goop Shaster and Selena dissolved into. You also see hovering in the air, a translucent black sphere, about, oh, 15ft in diameter. It contains a section of the wall and floor, a nightstand with a lit lamp and a few bottles of wine, a bed with a king’s ransom worth of plot, and 2 shield guardians, one with a pair of ‘short’ swords and one whose hands are extended, as if casting a spell of sphere of protection. The king is reading a book as if nothing happened. The Sphere hovers slowly, and sets it’s contents, gently right here-ish.
“Basement! I know you were on the stairs, but you fell a bit. You can see this is a small chapel, with pews, an alter, an acolyte holding a chalice, and a very clerical looking dragonborn. Vester, the young guard runs past. (No, you may not have an AoO. This is a cutscene.) ‘Lord Blazemane! The Hereticals are attacking! The south wall is GONE!’ The dragonborn curses and runs up the stairs. The acolyte is still by the alter, looking worried.
“Outside, Druid on a horse! You kept him calm, but now that the dust is clearing, you can make out a bunch of smaller monstrosities, dwarf-sized, I’d say. They are coming in the conveniently open gate. One is on top of the gate house, eating the leg of one of the dead guardsmen.
“Did I miss anyone? Monk, you’re not quite at the throne room yet, but you heard most of it. Anyone else? No? Okay!
“Roll for Initiative…”
So, yeah, that’s what I should have done. It is not what I actually did, to my aforementioned eternal shame. And, honestly, out of all the things I can think of that I did wrong, most of them are small things that were, basically, me running a mediocre game. I do have a few items that I would have wished to have done, even if I had Elegant Twisted. So let’s look at those!
First, Sit by Split. We had a large group. Last week, people kept getting confused by the action by not knowing who had gone and not being able to easily strategize with the people in the same encounter as they were, so combat was not what it could have been. Last week. This week, my change was a restriction on who you could pick. And it didn’t really help matters too much, as I think the restriction made more work for me, slowed things down, and removed the openness of the table. There was less chance you were about to go, so people paid less attention. Bleh.
My solution for the next time I run a game this large is to move the players. Every one is is over in that fight over there, I need you to move to that side of the table. Ideally, the whole group should be divided into who they’re near, in game. This would give them a better feel for their immediate allies, the ability to conspire against me and my monsters, to help each other and build stronger bonds. Ideally.
Second, don’t give new players a choice. We had a kid there who was not prepared for the long stretches of other people being in the spotlight. He hadn’t played a lot of D&D as far as I could tell and by kid, I mean he was probably 13. I didn’t want him to be in the treasure room, but that’s where he went. I should have dropped him in the throne room, with things to do and fight. Places with things he could actually interact with. The vault was a dead end, doing-stuff wise and while a big part of the heist, it was not one with a lot of action. Like in a heist flick, where the bagging of the loot mostly happens off camera. But that makes for a fast round of D&D where it doesn’t feel like you’re playing.
Also, I gave out a lot more money than I should have. Money is weird in D&D. I’ve been thinking about that, recently.
Third, use Cut-scenes. Thinking about the ET above, I realized that there have been times in games passed when I just need to tell a bit of a story. As a DM, I do it a bit, describing scenes and things monsters do. But I’ve never really thought of them as cut-scenes. Its just been, well, what you do. But here is the big thing that makes me think of cut-scenes as a new and important variation: They can’t be skipped. Or interrupted by the player. And if I train my players that when I am in a cut-scene, they should be listening, not asking questions until the end, a lot of things would have been faster.
Finally, have enough caffeine. I had not slept the night before and I walked into D&D with just 1 energy drink. If I’d a full 8 hours under my belt, that would have been enough. But with the 1 I was rocking, about halfway through my brain started to slow to a crawl. And one of the big things sleep deprivation does to me is makes me impatient. Towards the end of the game, I was snapping at the people I was there to entertain.
I think that’s all the lessons I can draw from this week. I’m sure I did more things wrong, but I’ve been talking long enough, ya? ya.
Oh! I realized that this series acronyms down to the very pleasing WIDWAD. I like that. I like it a lot.