Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

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KeyIXTheHermit
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Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by KeyIXTheHermit »

My players, as I have discussed many times, are big on rules. The idea of a narrative game where the GM decides many of the things on the fly just doesn't "set well" with them.

Tonight, we had an issue.

Before the big boss final encounter, I placed a large water stream. It was healing waters, put there so they could explore it and heal up before going into the final battle. Well, they're suffering Gamer Paranoia and, presuming it was poison, went right past it. As a result, they went into the final battle with far less hit points than I was prepared for.

As a result, when they got into the final encounter, I "downscaled" things on the fly. I dropped all the opponent hit points right off, and then I made "stupid mistakes" and decided that some opponents wouldn't approach and hit when they could have, etc.

To my mind, the idea of the game is to create a fun game. I'm not in opposition with the players, so when they didn't get to heal up, I tried to balance the encounter on the fly.

Well, after the game, the curious players asked about the pool (the game ended with them leaving the area and not going back that way, so I don't have to worry about them going back with canteens!). So, I told them what the water would have done... which lead to further questions ("So, we went into that battle too weak? So how did we win?").

I'm a pretty open GM after a game is over... I explain my thoughts so they can give me honest feedback. Their feedback on this point was "uncertainty." The consensus was that their failure to heal up when given the opportunity should not have changed my scenario. If they died, they died... that was their fault for not exploring and trying things out.

Normally, I would disagree; like I said, my job is to give a fun game and I'm not in competition. But my players say I did wrong.

What say you? Should I have let them get clobbered?

(Note: Running away wasn't really an option... the opponents outnumbered and were faster, but had less hit points. This was the final battle my bloodthirsty players sat through four hours of game for!).

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Go0gleplex
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Go0gleplex »

I would say that your intentions were correct but the execution could have been different. Of course the players will be dissatisfied since they really did not win of their own accord but by deus ex machina more or less. It is not really fun when you feel shortchanged like that as a player. Not wanting it to be a TPK due to the players missing a clue is fine...maybe not telling them about it afterwards would avoid that feeling as well.

Suggestion for a similar situation: As they approach the final battlefield, provide some sort of visual clues that they need to withdraw and be at their peak to get through it. Say a couple of the final enemy taking care of another creature the players have fought before that gave them a bit of a hassle...only the enemy is doing so without nearly as much difficulty. Or something similar that displays a definite gulf between the 'current' players versus their peak state. Or a small wounded rodent is spotted drinking at the pool/stream and the player(s) see the wounds closing up might be a subtle hint as well that meshes with the current goings on.
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by serleran »

Yes, they should have been clobbered.

There are ways to identify poison. They could have checked. Hell, there's a 0-level spell as I remember, that does exactly that and a ranger can try, too. If they don't have a ranger or druid... then there are still methods. Perhaps allow a gnome to smell something "off" with a successful Sniff check.

Once engaged in the battle, they have the option to perform a fighting withdrawal, try to find a place to shelter up, set some traps or even... maybe even surrender and then hatch an escape.

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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Captain_K »

Unless your players are ready,, willing, and able to run the game.. then tell them "thanks for the input"... but you are running the game as you see fit. When they run their game they can do as they see fit. I like what you did, but PCs should or usually never know what you do to make it fun.. TPKs are rarely fun for anyone.

The big fight at the end is always tricky... you could have had the big guy, say "you are not worth my time" and depart leaving his minions to be the big fight.. saving the big guy for another day.. they will burn with outrage, but know the big guy was right, they barely beat the minions.... better be more prepared next time...
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by alcyone »

I usually run things as planned, but I think it's fine to adjust the encounter. I probably wouldn't volunteer that I did that, as it comes across as "well, you didn't really earn that one."

If this sort of thing happens once in a while it's probably not a big deal. If it happens a lot the problem is that the players don't actually know how hard a threat will be through their experience of your game; they can't reliably use past encounters to gauge the difficulty of new encounters (Wait, we went through 5 orcs easily last game, and this time they nearly killed us all?)

The answer to this one is going to vary with different players. Yours said they want to play it as it lies, so there's some data at least.
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Spade Marlowe
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Spade Marlowe »

Captain_K wrote:The big fight at the end is always tricky... you could have had the big guy, say "you are not worth my time" and depart leaving his minions to be the big fight.. saving the big guy for another day.. they will burn with outrage, but know the big guy was right, they barely beat the minions.... better be more prepared next time...
That's a great solution. I need to keep that in mind if/when my group gets in the same situation.

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Go0gleplex
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Go0gleplex »

Captain_K wrote:... you could have had the big guy, say "you are not worth my time" and depart leaving his minions to be the big fight.. saving the big guy for another day.. they will burn with outrage, but know the big guy was right, they barely beat the minions.... better be more prepared next time...
They obviously did NOT read the Evil Overlords Handbook if they did that. :lol: :ugeek:
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Buttmonkey »

I have no problem with you fudging the BBEG's hit points. Your "screw up" was in telling the players what water in the healing stream did, thereby outing yourself. You should have either (a) refused to show your cards and told them they'll never know what the stream did because they avoided it or (b) lied to them ("Oh, it would have randomly changed your class, armor, known spells, or race -- the odds were skewed in favor of improving the PCs"). I prefer option (a). On the other hand, if you're going to fudge the BBEG's hit points, there's nothing stopping you from fudging the stream and deciding the "lie" version is actually the truth now.
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Lurker »

Buttmonkey wrote:I have no problem with you fudging the BBEG's hit points. Your "screw up" was in telling the players what water in the healing stream did, thereby outing yourself. You should have either (a) refused to show your cards and told them they'll never know what the stream did because they avoided it or (b) lied to them ("Oh, it would have randomly changed your class, armor, known spells, or race -- the odds were skewed in favor of improving the PCs"). I prefer option (a). On the other hand, if you're going to fudge the BBEG's hit points, there's nothing stopping you from fudging the stream and deciding the "lie" version is actually the truth now.

Rgr that. The only way I would have been more open about it is if I was talking to a player that was going to GM games himself. Other than that, there is no need for the players to know.

I did just last night fudge the HP etc on the big bad guy of this encounter with my girls.

They were a squirrel fighter and ranger chasing a large group of brigands (mix of badgers, lots off rats and a few skunks) attacking mouse farms. They knew the big group broke into at least 2 groups, but weren't sure exactly how many were in the farmstead killing the farmer mice. The exchange bow shots with the 3 rats outside the fence but I keep describing the sounds of the fighting going on inside. My younger daughter can't stand it so raises her shield and rushes past the rat archers into the fray going on in the farm yard ... If I'd played by the book, the rats the skunk and the badger would have easily killed her. However, I had them roll wis checks to notice her, and gave her a chance to charge in and surprise the badger ... a solid hit. Followed by the badger (injured but not down) clubbing the fire out of her character ... Again I should have killed her, but I 'put' a mouse farmer at the feet of the badger who killed it instead of finishing off my daughter's fighter (while she scrambled to get a good berry eaten and bump her HP up for 3 HP) . Then a heroic last ditch spear thrust to kill the badger before the beast bashed her little squirrel brains in with a 2nd mighty blow. ... Then (after killing the 3 rat archers) my older daughter got in the farm yard in time to see the skunk preparing to spray the fighter and shoot it (rolling a 20 ... she has better luck than I ever did) before it doused the fighter. ... Then the exact number of rats left was a bit more fluid than a standard encounter

Fudging things ... yes . Making it a fun game and exciting but enjoyable ... I HOPE SO !
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Fizz »

Generally, if something goes awry that is not the players' fault, i won't punish them for it. But if they miss something, then too bad.

It does depends on the type of players you have. Your batch sounds like they might be accepting of a TPK given that it was their fault. Other groups though dislike that. So you have to know your audience.

That said, you as the game designer have a right to run things the way you want. It is your world and your adventure and you put the work into it. So while it's good to be sensitive to your players' needs, you shouldn't be entirely beholden to them either.

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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Fizz »

Captain_K wrote:The big fight at the end is always tricky... you could have had the big guy, say "you are not worth my time" and depart leaving his minions to be the big fight.. saving the big guy for another day.. they will burn with outrage, but know the big guy was right, they barely beat the minions.... better be more prepared next time...
This is a pretty good solution. It allows you to maintain your story, just extended a little, while allowing the players their mistake and learning from it.

And if they really pressed their attack- not letting the Big Guy get away- then all bets are off. You'd have given them two opportunities to not be destroyed, and they pressed it, so you'd have no reason to feel bad.


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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Penny-Whistle »

One sign of a good GM/CK is their willingness to ask players how the game went and be truly open to comments. That takes courage.

Nobody is perfect; everyone can improve. If your main goal is to make your game fun for that particular group of players who have said they want encounters to be predictable (rules based) and are fine with a tpk, then you know what to do next time. Killing players is harder on the CK than the players I think. I am totally fine with my characters dying but I agonize over killing players.

I like the idea of a boss leaving the scene. That's awesome. Another idea: give several visual clues about the pool. Lush moss grows around the circumference, a frog splashes in and out and from above they see a tiny school of minnows darting through the water.

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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Buttmonkey »

Penny-Whistle wrote:Another idea: give several visual clues about the pool. Lush moss grows around the circumference, a frog splashes in and out and from above they see a tiny school of minnows darting through the water.
For a lot of the players I have encountered, that would scare them off even more. Every prisoner is an evil plant, every harmless looking stream is deadly, etc. Paranoia runs deep.
tylermo wrote:Your efforts are greatly appreciated, Buttmonkey. Can't believe I said that with a straight face.

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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Penny-Whistle »

Buttmonkey wrote:
Penny-Whistle wrote:Another idea: give several visual clues about the pool. Lush moss grows around the circumference, a frog splashes in and out and from above they see a tiny school of minnows darting through the water.
For a lot of the players I have encountered, that would scare them off even more. Every prisoner is an evil plant, every harmless looking stream is deadly, etc. Paranoia runs deep.
I know right! Once that dynamic has been set there might be no return. In a fair game where the rules don't constantly shift though you can build some trust. So giving several clues of its health rather than just one or none might help.

In our world when a pond or spring is really poisonous, like some in Utah where radiation naturally occurs, there will be no life in or around a pond. Not even insects. Unfortunately some tourists will see a totally clear pool and think: oh! such clean water and then drink from it. A lot of classes and races should be able to spot or identify a clean pond.

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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by JohnD »

Never lift the veil.

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KeyIXTheHermit
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by KeyIXTheHermit »

I'd like to offer my thanks to everyone who weighed in on this question. As always, the respectfulness of this group stands out and makes it always a pleasure to be here.

Some really great suggestions were offered on how to handle this sort of situation in the future, but I thought I'd take a moment to tell my *exact* situation so you can get a good handle on it. I know I'm wordy, but I'll try to keep the below reasonable and readable:

********

We had two players and me. As usual, our third player did not join us (she rarely does). As a result, our game consisted of:
1 Male Fighter (10th level)
1 Female Rogue (12 or 13 level)
1 Female NPC-Ally Fighter (6th level), shared play by the two PC's, but I have veto right over actions I don't feel are appropriate (i.e. she won't give her life to save the players).

The Male Fighter had been enthralled by a Lamia and was in a large cave-type lair sitting next to her. They were surrounded by her Entourage.

The Female Rogue had been captured by the Lamia's Entourage but had escaped and had sneaked to the main lair. The Female NPC ally had escaped during the initial capture and had followed at a safe distance to help in the final battle (thus taking her out of the game for a bit; she showed up just in time for the combat).

Here the setup was pretty clear: I knew the Entourage would whoop up on the two other characters: the Rogue is not a Fighter and the female NPC Fighter is intentionally much lower level (so she won't outshine the actual PC's). Seeing his friends being beaten to death was the effect that allowed him to make Wisdom rolls to snap out of his enthrall and be able to fight... however, this required a d20 roll of 17+ to succeed.

He's tough, with lots of hit points, a good BtH, a good AC, and two attacks per round, but he couldn't fight until he made that 17+ roll. The other player couldn't leave him there to the lamia's good graces, so she had to keep fighting and we just kept waiting for the 17+ roll for him to snap out of it. Once he did, he was able to wail on the enemies (including the lamia) and the battle was over fairly quickly.

The problem was simply the Rogue, who really should have died had I not "fudged" a bit here and there. If they'd healed up at the pool, she would have had twice as many hit points and, assuming the battle had gone the same way, she would have only been down to half or one-fourth by the time he broke the spell. (The female fighter had the same problem, but I really don't count her).

There were some great ideas given here, but I'm not sure how else I could have run this particular scene. The male had no choices until he broke the spell, and that couldn't be done until the spell ended naturally (when the lamia would have attempted to enthrall him again) or until the thing happened to cause him to break it (seeing his friends being beaten in battle).

******
Penny-Whistle wrote:One sign of a good GM/CK is their willingness to ask players how the game went and be truly open to comments. That takes courage.
Thanks for that, Penny. I will say, that has actually been the one consistent thing to my gaming: ever since I began, I have always ended the game with a bull-session about what was good, what was bad, what the players would like to see more of, and what they'd like to never see again. I opened the floor to complaints, rules issues, suggestions, and hoped that somewhere in the mix maybe I'd get a compliment or two! :lol:

JohnD says "Never lift the veil," but there's never been a veil to lift! Although I'm not always transparent during the game, I am always open about what happened and how afterwards. Think of it like a "making of..." documentary, if you like. After the "movie" is over they can see the work that went into making it. This has a variety of good effects that I've seen (players appreciate the work you do, they become interested in the workings of the game, they become interested in running a game, it makes them think of new ideas based on "what could have happened" etc) and no bad effects. I couldn't imagine running a game any other way by this point!

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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Penny-Whistle »

A lamia is tough! hahahaha

She could have used her wisdom drain and then charmed the whole party to join her merry band of minions. The next day or after the spell wore off the players could have slipped away on some pretence where they could gather their strength and make another attempt.

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KeyIXTheHermit
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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by KeyIXTheHermit »

Penny-Whistle wrote:She could have used her wisdom drain and then charmed the whole party to join her merry band of minions. The next day or after the spell wore off the players could have slipped away on some pretence where they could gather their strength and make another attempt.
I read the monster description quite a bit differently than you, Penny!

And perhaps I could be reading it wrong, but even if I am, I think I like it enough this way that I'll keep it this way in future games.

What I got from the monster entry is that: 1) she's only interested in males (indeed, as I read it, her power only works on males, although I might make a case that it wouldn't work on males who are uninterested in females in general), and 2) the Wisdom Drain is permanent, which is where her Entourage comes from. I ruled that her "Spell-like abilities" wear off in the amount of time listed in the spell rules, but the Wisdom Drain is permanent, although I'm sure there are spells in the core book that can replace Wisdom lost to Wisdom Drain.

I actually had the male fighter make several rolls for Wisdom loss as he sat beside her. Since he was Charmed, he had no way to avoid her touch, so each touch tried to drain away a little bit of him (I played that as physically painful, he could feel a bit of him being pulled way; likewise, when the Charm worked, it was also described as painful, as he tried to fight the feeling of "her fingers inside his mind"). He got lucky and managed to make each roll, so he didn't lose any Wisdom, although if he had, I would have been okay with that! I would have found some way to restore it in a future game (maybe).

The women though? Nah, the book states the Entourage is exclusively male, and that makes sense to me. The Lamia wouldn't (or couldn't) affect women (in my game/world); she was keeping the female around most likely for food, but also maybe as leverage against the male character if the Charm wore off (and she was unable to Charm him again) before she could Wisdom Drain him into complete submission.

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Re: Did I do wrong to weaken the encounter?

Post by Penny-Whistle »

I wasn't looking at any particular monster description though I suppose I must have been thinking about the SRD. The C&C version added that gender detail in. Not sure why they felt that was necessary.

Intelligent monsters do not always have to attack or try to kill their opponents. At least not immediately. A tough concept for murdering hobo players. With my cat as a reference I like to think that sometimes they want to play with their food first. So it amuses me to think of her adding the player crew on to her posse. Maybe she thinks of them as potential cannon fodder for a battle coming up. Meanwhile the rest of her original gang could feel jealous and use the opportunity to haze them: making them chop the wood, carry the water, shine shoes, add a little paint to the walls. Nothing that will offend your players but enough to make them feel unwelcome. Or your lamia could have suggested the brave female character take a long walk off a short pier or wander foolishly through a hallucinatory terrain. The NPC you control could have followed her to try and talk her down.

When a monster is OP the adventure can be transformed into an escape story or puzzle which can be just as fun. Can players outwit her? Amuse her? Offer a bribe she can't refuse?

All of which is easy to say after the fact. I probably wouldn't have thought of these ideas in game.

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