The basic rules were set and we were ready to play.
I’ve been a good DM back in the days and we’ll see if its like riding a bike.
I put them all in an inn, ready for dinner… and ready for my first DM blunders of the day…
Too much choice is like not enough choice and my intro to role playing ended up being a little rough.
I was planning on using the material from ‘Kobold Hall’ in the DMG, but I wanted to use my own hook. The ‘Inn’ setting was a no-brainer, but my 12 years of DM inactivity started to show right off the bat.
I sat them at the Inn and asked them: « ok, so now what do you do? »
For a few seconds, there was silence. Then I started to wonder : « Eric, what the heck are you thinking? You should have narrated that they got this and that mission from this and that person and just jumped in the action! »
See, what I love about DnD is the role playing. The tactical fights of 4.0 are fun and all, but pretending to be this or that character is – to me – the spice of things. I feared that Kobold Hall was too hack-and-slashey and would rob my game from what I loved.
But I under-prepared my startup scenario.
My original plan was to have them fight rats in the basement before going through the 5 rooms in Kobold Halls. But play testing showed that this was taking too long, so I scrapped my intro and did not prep anything else.
I had to take them out of their incomfort zone – the void in which they were all hanging where the angst of the « you can do everything you want » now felt more like a burden than a claim for freedom.
I had Augustus, the Inn Owner greet them with a thick Quebec accent. Augustus is a fountain of info and would hook them up with something to do… but first, he had to hook them up with something to eat – just initiate a mundane dialog and get the kids to act in character for a few minutes.
Good plan, right? RIGHT?
Augustus: « He guys! What’ll you be having for lunch? »
« Great man, what prose! What style! », thought the DM.
The kids started goofing off – I want a large pizza with fries! I want a poutine and a Coke! I’ll take a sandwich!
« Oh my », the DM thought, « that is not quite era-appropriate… I don’t believe that they have soft drinks in the forgotten realms…. even less poutine…. »
Then, the voice of ChattyDM was heard in the DM’s head: « let them run the game ».
Its amazing how ChattyDM’s voice sounds like DM’s voice in DM’s mind. Then again, doesn’t all Internet voices sound the same?
Augustus went in the kitchen to make some gravy, fries and mix them with cheese curds while the DM was wondering how the heck he was going to get out of this Inn with all his players intact.
See, players « in the know », would ask Augustus about what’s happening… or ask the DM what they are seeing. DMs « in the know » would probably just flat out tell them that they notice something.
But I was having the same problems I had when I started DMing – I had a plan in my head and my players were supposed to follow it. This is my story… not theirs… Right? RIGHT? Who’s with me?
So while they are waiting for their food and not taking any actions and not being imposed any actions or observations, this mysterious stranger waltzes in the Inn, all dusty and tired from running through the woods and go straight to the band of adventurers.
« You guys adventurers? », asketh the dirty man?
« Yes », role-playeth Adrielle Lindelea, undercover-elven-princess-who-should-be-learning-magics-but-prefered-the-way-of-the-sword.
« You head about… uhm… the town chief’s kids? », improviseth the diry man, desperately trying to tie into the (single) prepared hook for the story.
« No », role-playeth Garven Steelfist, cleric of Moradin.
« … You guys looking for work? », inquireth the dirty man.
‘No », blurteth Brand Wortreen, rogue-but-not-a-real-criminal-more-like-robin-hood
« … You guys busy? », wondereth the dirty man.
« No », explaineth Erevan Melcoran, archer-because-its-easier-to-explain-than-ranger.
Not necessarily wanting to prolong this monosyllabic exchange of valuable information, the mysterious man just flat out gave out the plot: the chief’s two kids have disapeared. The chief is in another village… doing… uhm… chiefly things… and the kids’ mother is just crying herself dry. Everyone in the village is too geriatric to do anything about it. You are our only hope.
With that, the players acquiesced and anketh of Augustus that he provideth their meals to go. Meals were on the house, because DM didn’t want to bother with inventory.
So I had them out of the inn and looking for the disappeared children.
My plan was to get them to think that the kids fell in the well, notice that this was not possible. Not find any legit footprints, but notice that one of the town’s guards fell asleep and didn’t see the kids wonder out town – where they were swiped by evil, dragon-worshiping Kobolds. Queue in dramatic music.
Then the ranger was to have his « moment » as he tracks the Kobolds all the way to the Kobold Halls.
But my party was hypnotized by the well. I made it very secure. A grid prevents someone from falling within the well. But what use is a well then? There is a hole big enough only for the bucket. in the grid. Maybe the kids fit in the hole? Hmm.. I don’t think so. I try and break the lock with my warhammer.
Again, ChattyDM’s voice in my head: « let them control the game… »
Okay, I said to myself. They want the kids to have fallen through the well? Let’s make them happy – let’s make them right.
So the lock broke, they opened the gate and the haling rogue climed down the well (using the well-fastened bucket rope) to see what was down there.
Turns out there’s a tunnel underwater.
Without hesitation, all the heroic, leather-clad heroes jumped in the water and swam through the tunnel until they find a grotto.
To my player’s delight, the dwarven cleric – all clad in chain mail – sank to the bottom of the well like a rock.
Holding his breath, he walked all the way to the tunnel where the rogue dove to give him a rope.
Esharn, the dragonbord warrior was holding the other end of the rope and pulled the cleric out.
That was exciting and heroic!
And that’s when I started to feel that I – that we – were finding our game…
(to be continued)