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D&D 3E
"It's okay to fudge," and other lessons of a baby DM. 
16th-Sep-2008 11:57 am
Disney-LionKing Hakuna Matata
I restarted my campaign on Saturday. We finished the Key of Destiny Dragonlance campaign module a year and a half ago, and so now we're going to start on the next two modules of the campaign. I had a whole opening game figured out, but between players changing their minds about major magic items and other players not making it due to Ike, and a loss of several characters due to e-tools issues, forcing us to remake them from scratch... well, I had to improvise.

What I learned is that it's okay to fudge the rules a little when you are the DM. I was going to pit the PCs up against 3 red dragonspawn human warriors and a young red dragon (a challenging encounter, but not impossible for their levels), but when half the players couldn't make it, I had to re-evaluate. I ended up pitting them against 2 dragonspawn, followed immediately by the young red dragon.

Another thing I'm learning is to enjoy when the PCs get the advantage. It's kind of hard, as the DM, to put aside the competitive edge sometimes. But I'm learning. For example, several of the PCs have items of legacy, including the monk who has some talons that I have specially designed (based on the talons of bahamut) for his character's background. Also, at the end of the last module, the party got their hands on Huma's Dragonlance, a major artifact. This is not me being really nice, this is an item that was actually written into the module. Originally, the PCs were going to give the dragonlance to their NPC dragon-friend, but when we started back up, they decided to keep it. At first, I balked, and I think it's because it isn't what I had in mind, isn't what I had planned for for the past year and a half. But then I reminded myself that letting Stacy keep the dragonlance will make her character one that she will remember forever - and that's the whole point, isn't it?

Likewise, the party has met up with draconians before, but the dragonspawn were new. When they met them, the monk asked if his gloves had sprouted claws and I said yes (it does in the presense of any evil dragon-blooded creature). When another player said, "huh?" the monk replied, "These are gloves of Paladine and they say that these creatures must die!" And I realized that where before I might have gotten defensive - these were my monsters! - now I reminded myself that we had not reviewed the background of the items; rather the monk's player had remembered all of that from when we last played a year and a half ago. That told me that I was doing my job as a DM, making PCs that my players would remember!

Okay, so fast forward. I've learned that I love the concept of draconians (and dragonspawn). For those of you unfamiliar with Dragonlance, these dragon-blooded creatures have death throws that go off whenever they die. Some turn to stone instantly (encasing whatever weapon was in contact with them), others deal acid or fire damage. I never thought much of the deaththrows until I started running this module and I've learned that this concept makes the players rethink how they want to handle an enemy. You can't just take the brute force stance with these creatures unless you want everyone around the monster to be subject to a mini-fireball or to have someone lose their weapon inside the stone statue when the creature dies. (I might also point out that these abilities can be a devious way of keeping your players from getting loot that the monsters had. If you are mean like that.) Because of these deaththrows, draconians have become my players' most hated enemies... and this week, they learned that dragonspawn have the same ability. *mwahahaha*. Again, the players *remembered* the monsters after a year and a half and I actually got some shudders when I described the dragonspawn creatures. Once again: Me <--- successful DM.

The PCs took down the dragonspawn and they seemed to come away relatively unscathed, so I said, "As you shake off the explosion, you all hear a roar behind you and when you turn, you see... *places large red dragon miniature on map*." (Note: The PCs are 7th level)

Andy: "Wha- it looks like that? Just like that?"
Me: "Yup."
Jon: "That's a dragon"
Me: "Yup."
PCs in near-unison: "Oh, shit."
Andy: "It's... my initiative right?"
Jon: "Yeah, AFTER you crap your pants, what do you do?"

As much fun as I had with this battle, I did have some left-over issues with the fact that Stacy was wielding Huma's Lance (my poor dragon!!). I got away with being mean and checking her new character sheet, noting that it said NG (even though she usually plays LG characters) and thus not giving the lance most of it's numerous abilities (I also haven't told the PCs exactly what it is or what it does, though they know that it is a major artifact). Still, it was amusing when some of the conversations when like this:

*Stacy hits the dragon*
Andy: "Does the lance appear to do anything special?"
Me: "Well... the dragon appears to take full damage..." (Thinking to self: The dragon is a young red dragon and doesn't have DR)

Then, of course, Stacy proceeded to crit my poor baby dragon. I think she did around 58 points of damage.

Me: *writing down damage* "Ow..."
Jon: "The dragon needs to make a fortitude safe, DC 15 or die."
Andy: "It's a dragon. He can probably make the safe with a 1 on the dice."
Me: *rolls a 1* "We're about to find out."

When I looked up the stats, I found that the young dragon had a fort bonus of 10 or something, but the juvenile dragon (also large in size) had a bonus of 14. And damn if I was going to let this battle go that fast. The dragon make a very quick upgrade to juvenile, at least in fort saves. <--- This is me fudge the rules. I'm the DM. It's my perogative.

Me: "He made it."
Everyone else: *hysterical laughter*

Then came the point where the PCs spread out to avoid firebreath formation and moved up to confront the dragon on the ridge of their mountain trail. Behind them, the kender they were escorting to safety stood by and looked on in rapt fascination. Even when the PCs told them to get out of the way, they didn't - I mean, come on! Kender?! Run from a dragon? Are you kidding?! Most of them had never seen a dragon before! Think of what they would be able to tell their friends!

I didn't *want* to kill the kender. Really, I didn't. But the PCs made me. They made it so that I couldn't breath on them without hitting the kender, too. :( It's all the stupid PCs' fault. Yeah, half of the kender became well-done kender-kabobs.

On the dragon's next turn, he turned his physical attacks on Stacy. O.O His attack is WHAT?! He has how many attacks?! When I finally finished dealing all of his damage, Stacy was almost dead... and as the cleric took his initiative to heal her, I realized that I'd remembered to add in the dragon's strength to his attack, but not his damage. Probably a good thing, or my dragon would have been using Huma's lance as a toothpick. -.-

Shortly thereafter, they downed the dragon. The PCs made me check each Kender's stats and I kindly smudged the results so they were able to stabilize all but one of the kender before they died. Once they had them up again, the monk's player told me: "I turn to the kender and I say, 'the next time we tell you to run, you had better run!'"

Since we were finishing up for the night, I read to them the next passage in the module, involving the explosion of the volcano that they were halfway down the side of.

Jon(Monk): "Correction. I turn to the kender and I say, 'the next time we tell you to run, you had better run! Now... everyone practice... RUN!"

And thus ends our game this week. I learned a lot about when it's okay to let me PCs be powerful and get away with stuff. And I learned a lot about what makes a game memorable.

(X-posted to lady2beetle)
16th-Sep-2008 05:14 pm (UTC)
I'm curious why you chose to fudge the dragon's age? I'm not judging here -- I've done this kind of thing countless times in my years of DMing.

If you thought it would be more fun, do reconsider. Players LOVE IT when they **Crush** an encounter like that. It doesn't feel anticlimactic to them. They rolled the dice, they took their chances, and they got lucky and kicked ass. Forever would they have told the story how Stacy's character brought down a dragon with the magical lance in one shot.

Maybe it would have been anticlimactic. You are the best judge of that and I'm not trying to tell you how to run your game.
16th-Sep-2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
It's a good question, and I'm not sure I can really give a proper answer. I think it was a lot of different factors. One was that I didn't have anything else planned for the night and I didn't want the combat to end too quickly. Another issue (and I think I just not realized it because you've asked this question) is that I don't really like the 50hp threshold rule. The player who brought it to my attention is the GM who just finished running and he uses it as a major point in his campaign. But I've never really been fond of it. Now, if Stacy had critted the dragon twice and brought his hitpoints below 0, yes, that would have been a very climactic end and I would not have taken that from them. So, yeah, I didn't realize that until I started considering your question, but it's probably mostly that I think that rule in and of itself is sort of anti-climactic. That probably isn't a good reason to fudge, and there were a few other factors, but I think that's the jist of it, I think.
16th-Sep-2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
i agree. I love when my players crush their foes every so often. Just last night our monk stunned a cr7. A cr 7 you say, why that monster should have easily made the fort save! Well, I rolled a two. And thus the monster whom i had specced out to do an amazing job of staying the hell out of the 2 rogues' sneak attack BS was "suck" attacked (as I began to call it) by each in turn and, and on top of that, each used an action point for an additional attack....more sneak attack, and one even crited on the second sneak attack!

bye bye monster in like...2 rounds.

But it was totally awesome.
16th-Sep-2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
a 1 on a saving throw is an automatic failure, correct?
16th-Sep-2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
just double checked. it is.
16th-Sep-2008 05:46 pm (UTC) - Really?
We've never played that way. We've always played that a 1 on an attack is an automatic failure, but everything else (including skill checks) depends on the bonuses. I think we've always just lumped saves and ability checks with skill checks.
16th-Sep-2008 05:51 pm (UTC) - Re: Really?
yea, skill checks are not a failure on a 1, but attack rolls and saves are the same.

"Automatic Failures and Successes

A natural 1 (the d20 comes up 1) on a saving throw is always a failure (and may cause damage to exposed items; see Items Surviving after a Saving Throw). A natural 20 (the d20 comes up 20) is always a success. "
Source - http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/combatStatistics.htm
16th-Sep-2008 05:52 pm (UTC) - Re: Really?
addendum: so I guess the dragon totally died in on hit, regardless of pumping up his age category!
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