The Alexandrian

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE

Session 5: The Trouble With Goblins

In which a tragedy unfolds amidst the squalor of goblins too clever for their own good, but a gateway is opened which beckons the curious while promising potential terrors in the days to come…

Anyone who’s read The Railroading Manifesto knows that I’m no fan of GM’s predetermining outcomes and negating the impact of player’s choices. But sometimes outcomes can be controlled through design. (Or, in other cases, the evolving circumstances of the game world will naturally create these circumstances.)

In the case of this session, for example, Jasin was dead before the PCs were ever aware that he existed. Their effort to save him was guaranteed to fail. I didn’t know exactly how it would play out, but the sad scene in which Tee carried Jasin’s shrouded body out of Greyson House was essentially inevitable.

As a GM, you can use similar techniques to guarantee a variety of outcomes: For example, later in the campaign the bad guys will breach the Banewarrens (a crypt filled with ancient evils). In a similar fashion, the PCs never learn of their attempt until after they’ve already succeeded. Firewalling scenario hooks like this is a useful practicality (since it prevents scenarios from being unexpectedly smothered in their cribs), but also a rather natural consequence of how the world works. (The PCs have no reason to go looking for the Banewarrens until they start encountering the eldritch evils which have been released from it.)

The more general version of this boils down to a relatively simple maxim: If you don’t want the PCs to affect the outcome of something, don’t let them know it’s happening until it’s already done.

The world is a big place, after all, so there’s constantly things happening that the PCs don’t know about.

With all that being said, however, be mentally prepared for the PCs to nevertheless surprise you: That almost happened in this session. As low-level characters they had neither the power nor the resources to access resurrection magic, so it never really occurred to me as a potential option for resolving Jasin’s death. As you can see in the log, however, Agnarr struck on the idea of unexpectedly leveraging Tee’s house to pay for it. Even though that ultimately didn’t happen, the result was a beautiful crucible which had a long-term effect on Tee’s character and her relationship with Agnarr. (It also revealed her deep emotional attachment to her house; which was the one lifeline she had back to her old life and, beyond that, her parents.)

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