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D&D 3E
deus ex machina part deux 
8th-Aug-2007 10:13 pm
boke1

lots of great feedback on the last post, thanks a lot. i think that the idea i've developed has taken a step or two away from a true or traditional DEM but it was interesting reading your comments nonetheless.

here's why i asked about it in the first place:
i've been running age of worms and just... REALLY disliking it. i'm about to take a complete turn away from the campaign as written but i am in the middle of an adventure and want to finish it out. the last encounter i ran almost ended in a TPK. i had to fudge a lot and they still lost a cohort. no great loss. the way things have been going in the game i'd almost be relieved by a tpk.

i know a lot of you will say my dislike of the campaign is a sign of a broken game, and we should shelve it and do something else, and i tend to agree. but a couple of the players have expressed that they like their characters and the game and don't want to quit. i have plans for the game that i think will make it more enjoyable for everyone, especially me. basically i'm turning it into a quest for the rod of seven parts, with some elements of planescape. but i digress.

at any rate i want to finish the leg of the adventure they're on as published, but considering how things went for them last session i don't expect them to survive without some help.

my solution for this initially was for them to wake up after they all, inevitably, die at the hands of the minions of kyuss, restored by an astral deva, a servant of heironious, the god of the party's resident paladin. the deva would cast true resurrection (four times) give them some guidance and send them on their way. while i was thinking about my plan, and reading your comments, i decided to modify my plan a little.

i don't think its outside the realm of reasonability... reasonableness... uh... i think it makes sense to think that the god of the paladin in the party would be interested in stopping the age of worms. and i think that as the only people in the world who have witnessed all the little bits and who have put the picture together and who are doing the most to stop it, they rate a little divine intervention. but instead of waiting for the TPK and then fixing it, i'm giving them some invisible divine accompaniment. my plan now is to have an astral deva with levels of cleric follow them while invisible. he'll be casting helpful spells along the way, blessing, healing, etc. i imagine the first thing they'll notice is that they're being healed for no good reason. when things get hairy the divine presence will become more and more apparent until eventually, he'll show himself (probably not until after they take out the final bad guy but before if necessary) heal them up, give them some guidance and send them on their way.

then after that, i can go about the business of creating a game almost but not quite entirely unlike the one i've been running up till now, and never look back.

so anyway, what do you think?
Comments 
9th-Aug-2007 02:35 am (UTC)
I'd, personally, tell the players that you're not enjoying DMing this plotline, that the plot as written has issues, and that you'd like to end the game. Tell them you've got another plot line you would like to run for them, and that they can either keep their current characters -- you have a way planned to get them into the new plot (in which case, you can do your Deus ex Machina) -- or they can write up new characters at roughly the same power level.

9th-Aug-2007 03:15 am (UTC)
we've had that conversation, to a certain extent. and in a way that is what i'm doing. i mean they want to keep their characters and i'm looking forward to my future plans for the game. i think what i'm doing is gonna work it out.
9th-Aug-2007 03:44 am (UTC)
I actually sort of like your DEM idea - anytime things are happening and the players have no idea why, it makes for serious coolness. If an invisible astral deva were following our party around casting random spells to help us, I think we'd all be like "Why didn't I just die? - Shit, this is awesome (and creepy)!"

Again, though, I cast a vote for having that deva bring in some serious agenda with him/her, maybe in the form of a looming future favor, or maybe an immediate request from your Paladin's God for assistance with a noble (and possibly extra-planar) quest...just because a God's agenda is in line with your party's, this wouldn't stop the God from milking his assistance for every penny it's worth :) Gods are very political, even if they're lawful good.

On a somewhat related note, anything remotely resembling Planescape that you can fit into your campaign is a good idea. Planescape is so flexible, so limitless...I could go on for hours about how great it is. We have 2 Planescape campaigns going right now, and one is halfway through the Faction Wars. Brrr! Bringing in more Planescape elements may help to solve some of your dissatisfaction with the game, because there are so many possibilities for changing the pace, tone, and direction of the game that it's difficult to get bored.

Of course, if you're unhappy with your gaming group, and that's the real root of your ennui/dissatisfaction, it's possible that no plot or setting change will truly fix the situation. But I'm a firm believer that almost any campaign can be redeemed if you put in enough effort (so long as your players aren't psychopaths or die-hard rules lawyers).
9th-Aug-2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
i'm far from unhappy with the group. i play two other games with them and everyone is having a good time. they even seem to be enjoying aow which i don't understand... but no its not the group. i'm just altogether dissatisfied with the campaign as written. i think what i've come up with is a good solution but i'll consider some of the comments below. i don't want to railroad them or take away the spotlight, as some suggest doing this might. but i don't know. i don't think it will. i have another week until we play so i have time to work it out.
9th-Aug-2007 05:17 am (UTC)
Question: is the campaign really such that you can't "tone down" the challenge level so that the PCs have a fighting chance? That seems like the proper solution.

What might be a good idea is to have the the Gods (or whoever) realize that the PCs aren't exactly up to the challenge. They then come down and tell the PCs as such--"sorry guys, but we think this is too much for you to handle. Why don't you go try something else?" This would then suggest two possible paths:

1) The PCs feel that they can help, so maybe they offer to join the Astral Deva and help out. Poof--now you have a high-level NPC. Just be careful about DMPC problems, but you have already established that maybe the PCs aren't up to this. It could be an interesting battle where the Biggies are trying to fight, but at the same time keep the PCs from getting killed (who are meanwhile formulating their own plan to fight...)
2) The PCs realize "yeah, I guess not," and go off to do something else. What you might offer is to let the players run the high-powered guys who are brought in to replace them for the final dungeon. This could provide a fun change of pace, with the promise of going back to the characters they love later.
3) The PCs realize "yeah, I guess not," but are perhaps spiteful about it. Perhaps now they feel they need to prove themselves to the Gods, giving them a new kind of drive (and motivation). That could be fun. Alternatively, perhaps they now feel angry at the gods for showing them up and decide to do something about it. Either is an adventure hook.

I don't know, it just seems like offering free healing is a real cop-out. There are other ways to deal with the issue of the PCs not being strong enough, without basically saying "yeah, you can finish it but without the threat of losing anymore." Would any of the above methods work into your Planescape quest? Basically they're ways of offering consequences to the PCs for not being able to win (which may not be their fault, but still).
9th-Aug-2007 11:02 am (UTC)
I agree with highbulp, in part. You should be able to tailor down the encounters by an EL or two if the party is out of their league.

I can think of a bunch of ways to do the opposite, some more valid than others, depending on how you GM and where in the campaign the party is.

1. Tell the party they've reached the next level and have them train up. This works best if you keep track of xp privately and the players don't have a clue as to whether or not you're fudging it. If they do know, then a DEM encounter could give them the xp boost to level up.

2. Something grants the party a temporary level increase or some other kind of powerup. Again its DEM, but that just means crafting some story behind it.

3. Add an NPC to the party who is at or slightly above the party's level. Perhaps a turncoat of the current bad guy, or someone that was being help captive, or the last survivor of another adventuring party or... you name it.
9th-Aug-2007 12:26 pm (UTC)
First off... "i don't think its outside the realm of reasonability... reasonableness... uh..." Try "outside the bounds of reason".

Next, your suggested invisible deva would create a number of issues in my campaign.

1. If the PCs are being healed, are there verbal components to the spells? Do they hear the Deva casting the spells?

2. If somebody has Detect Magic going, will he detect an Illusion in the area? They would probably react poorly to that.

3. If I were to give them the impression that they had an unseen benefactor who was going to heal them without charging, some of them would become suicidally reckless, others would get pissy and resentful, because their whole reason for playing is so that they can have an effect on the story being told, not so that the story can have an effect on them. Using a DEM to transform a campaign into something else introduces an element of uncertainty in the players' minds as to what's going on and how effective their characters are going to be: if you'll do this when things are going badly for the campaign in general, are you going to give the bad guys the same benefit if the PC's start to totally rock the house?

I agree with the idea of just saying, "Guys, we gave this a shot, and it's not working for me. I'd like to do something different." I'm currently running the Shackled City adventure path, and I'm getting kind of fed up with it, too, and have considered just scrapping it and starting something else.
9th-Aug-2007 03:01 pm (UTC) - outside the bounds of reason
dammit! i knew there was a better way to say it. yeah we've had the conversation about shelving the game but they like it and want to carry on. i'm totally convinced my plan for the campaign going forward is the way to go. i'll certainly consider your feedback though. i'm not entirely convinced that my deva is the way to go.
9th-Aug-2007 01:12 pm (UTC)
Man, gern, I dunno. That's a big change, you know? Colin has a good point in that it can make the PCs either stupidly reckless ("There's an angel who'll just float about and heal me? Hey, Kyuss, eat me. I dare you!") or kind of resentful (after the angel comes in, they'll have to wonder why they win battles; could they have done it without the angel?). Plus, do you already have an NPC in the party? Two NPCs, plus cohorts and followers, plus enemies; that's a lot of play out of player hands, which (while it can work) is something I'm kind of leery of.

But yeah, Age of Worms. Meh. Not so much. I'd want to get out, too.

You know, I like this idea of another, stronger group of heroes coming in and replacing the party. Hell, done right, it could be really cool, like the more powerful heroes come and save your PCs' collective ass and send them home, your guys go on a couple of adventures to level up, and on returning to town find out that the others haven't returned in a week. You'll have the levels to finish out the adventure, players with a need to prove themselves, an interesting story bit, and a much-needed break. Plus, is it just me, or do players love to mess with/lord it over/oops kill NPCs? It's a win win.

Deus ex machina, by the way, also applies to any more powerful force coming and getting you out of a jam, not necessarily a god. Captain O'Shinypants the paladin and his band of ass kickers would count, too.

Whatever you decide to do, rock on.
9th-Aug-2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
Caveat: I know nothing about Age of Worms, besides the fact that no one seems to like it.

What caused the near-TPK last time? Is it that the PCs really aren't up to the challenge (not strong or smart enough), or was it a run of bad luck?

Is it a major problem to tone down the opposition? Given that you're largely running pre-written campaigns, I'm thinking the main constraint would be time - which also raises the question, how quickly do you need a solution to this problem? =P

Finally - and to my mind, this is the key problem with your current idea - does the party acknowledge that they might be outmatched? Are they ignorant of the danger ahead of them, or are they being recklessly brave? Do they even want help?

The trouble with having a divine servant tagging along and buffing the group unasked-for is that it takes the PCs' fate out of their hands. It's not even that the risk has been mitigated - it's that this victory was forced upon them. This may be the way of the gods, but it doesn't make for much fun.

A better solution, to my mind, would be to offer the PCs a choice. Start by making them aware of the danger. A good way to do this would be to have Hieronious send the paladin a warning - by vision, by messenger, however he works best. If they choose to go on heedless of the danger, then it's their choice, and you still have a backup plan in the form of your original idea.

Let's say the paladin heeds the warning, and convinces his allies to, at the very least, do some investigation. Perhaps the warning comes with a suggestion to travel to the nearest place of worship of Hieronious and request a more in-depth conversation with the priesthood or, via magic, the deity himself or one of his servants. The scope of the danger then becomes vividly clear... but the party is now also in a position to be offered help.

Do they want an army? Perhaps the faithful volunteer to go with the PCs - a small (and very temporary) army of cannon fodder, low-level clerics and paladins - people willing to lay down their lives to help save the world. Perhaps an army is too grandiose; send along a few higher-level allies of the church instead.

Do they want the power to destroy their foes themselves? Surely somewhere in the priesthood's possession, there are relics of power; perhaps Hieronious even foresaw that they might be needed, and had them shipped in from elsewhere. Buff the group more directly by loaning them powerful magical items - enough to give them a fighting chance.

Heck, if you REALLY want to involve an astral deva, have that deva be the one who delivers the low-down, and offer his services. The key here is not to FORCE the matter on the party - leave it their choice.

The other key is that there's a cost to all this - in exchange for the deity's aid in defeating the minions of Kyuss, the party must repay that aid later - perhaps by seeking that Rod of Seven Parts? What Hieronious would want it for, only He knows...

Of course, this all assumes that Hieronious even values free will. If he doesn't, then forcing his servants upon the group makes sense, at least from his perspective...
9th-Aug-2007 06:48 pm (UTC)
they pc's are brutally aware of the danger they're in. of all the alternate ideas and suggestions i've recieved i like your suggestion of a divine vision to the paladin the best. i'm going to have to do some thinking about this. thanks.
10th-Aug-2007 02:11 pm (UTC)
I would say that rather than have the deva there just healing the party constantly, let the party play out their struggle and only bring out the deva to fix things when they go truly awry. That is, if you use the deva. Then, after the AoW is done with and you're ready to switch to something new, you can pivot off that deva for the hook to the new campaign arc: "You remember all that healing I did for you and getting your butts out of jams? Well, that wasn't free. I expect you to do something for me..." And voila, you now have your PCs obligated to do something for this deva, like travel to Mount Destruction to obtain the evil artifact, carry it across the Planes of Existence, and finally chuck it into the Volcano of Sorrow and watch it melt in the existential lava that is known to destroy such evil artifacts. :-)
11th-Aug-2007 11:40 am (UTC)
i gotta say i think maybe i presented my idea poorly. i mean, if it was my intention to just dole out a bunch of free healing i could have it rain healing potions or have them find a box full of wands or something. i was only planning on using the deva if things go really awry, and it was my intention to have him be the hook for the next leg of the adventure. i mean he's not the fairy godmother of wayward adventurers, he would have his own agenda. that was the original idea...
23rd-Aug-2007 04:21 pm (UTC)
Dude, do ANY of your players play a Cleric or Favoured Soul or Healer or even a Druid...? If not, there is your problem... Most games are written for a 4 person party consisting of a fighter a cleric a wizard and a rogue... You can get away with replacing almost all of those, except the cleric... Without a cleric or primary healer class, they're toast... I'm running the Savage Tide adventure path right now, and I had dead pc's left right and centre until one of them made a cleric... Having 5 players instead of 4 helps too... Paladins are bad luck... I always roll fat criticals on their asses... Go figure...
Do what feels right though...
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