It just goes to show you, you can never be GMing too long to learn something new. I had anticipated this game to generate a lot of enthusiasm, but instead I made several mistakes that curbed that enthusiasm. Everyone seemed to have fun, just not quite as much as I had hoped. I’d like to analyze the causes behind this situation.
I had started the game asking for initiative. That worked beautifully. They got excited immediately and they payed attention. I described a fortifying wall surrounding a magic gate (I’ll leave explanations to the player recaps) and lots of goblins trying to take down the gate. I also introduced a new PC in the middle of the fight. All of this seemed to go well. The problem occurred when I sprung my trap on them.
There were lots of high weeds and three Assassin Vines laying in wait. Once the PCs took out enough goblins, they started animating plants and holding them down. One player got hit for over half his HP and suddenly everyone got quite and nervous. This was interesting. I had anticipated that they would get nervous, but I thought they would step up their investment in the fight, but instead they tuned out of it. They thought they might die, so I removed their emotional investment in the game so they wouldn’t feel so bad when “the inevitable happened”. I didn’t recognize this situation for what it was at the time, so I didn’t know how to fix it.
My next issue came up when one of the PCs activated the gate. I figured they would do this, so I had three special Psionic creatures fall out of the gate. I did this to tie the Kingdom of Zi to this whole situation. They got that, however I didn’t really think their powers through fully. These things can grapple you then send you into the future two turns. I figured it would help the Assassin Vines by taking away party defense, however, when I used it I realized… now that player can’t play for two turns. I could see his heart sink a bit. I ended the combat pretty abruptly to try and rectify the situation, which helped a bit, but stole that character’s grand entrance as well.
- Lessons so far
- Sudden heavy damage is frightening to the players. Ratchet damage up slowly to maintain emotional investment.
- Powers that take whole turns away from players are bad. Period.
- When a player feels wronged somehow, don’t use dues ex machina to relieve the situation. Allow them some way to overcome it themselves. It gives them a since of accomplishment.
The next scene put them traveling toward a keep and on the way they saw what amounts to a wand sticking out of the ground. One player asked why the other travelers on this road didn’t notice it. In an attempt to explain, I described huge vines holding up tree trunks. I wanted them to realize that the wand was hidden by the trees until the vines had moved them, but all they could think was “if those vines attack, they’ll drop trees on us! IT’S A TRAP!!” In hindsight, I should have just told them that they don’t feel any danger, or expressed to them that it was safe. It’s not fun worrying about a trap around every corner.
When they made it to the keep, there were huge vines everywhere. After a bit of rping, I introduced an enormous plant creature with vines to attack with. Lots of stuff was going on in this fight, including a magic tower that could do cool things if your performed skill checks on it. While the party was too terrified to get close to the plant, Zionus’s player figured out pretty quick that concentration checks work great on it and they let the tower kill the plant. This left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. They didn’t “fight” the monster, they let a machine do the work. I had thought that they would realize they could attack the vines to damage the monster, but since I had DRAWN the vines on the battle mat, that wasn’t quite as transparent as I had hoped.
- More lessons
- If something is becoming unfun (half-hour checks to pass a room), metagame for the players and get to the good stuff. It might not be realistic, but it’s better they players know that this isn’t a trap then to spend an hour looking for one.
- Appearances are everything. If you talk up your monster as being huge and powerful, be sure to talk up ways the PCs see to be successful. If you only talk up a monsters power, the players begin to think he is nigh unbeatable. The GM is senses of the PCs. They depend on you to tell them EVERYTHING they sense, bad and good.
I plan on implementing these lessons into our next game. We’ll see how well I’ve learned them.