21 December 2010

Forgotten Songs Retrospective -- Prelude to "Crisis of Self-Confidence"

 This is yet another part of my GM's commentary on Katja's Diary.  It deals with some party issues and fits between session 5 and 6 in Risus Monkey's write-ups.

I say this is a prelude because it deals with two out of game things that led to the party NOT heading immediately back to Harcomb after their adventure at the Inn of The Western Way.  Instead, they headed West, further away from Harcomb and into the Thoralien Forest.  They had some great adventures there, including what may have been our best session, but it was a major digression from the initial focus of the game -- uncovering the temple of Oghma.

The first out of game thing was my personal resolution to Give the Party Choices.  I wanted the players to have lots of say over where they went and what paths to adventure they wanted to pursue.  This was simply the anti-railroader in me, built from my own rememberances of the best games I had played in, as well as my desire to emulate the best elements of the story hours I was reading on ENWorld -- Piratecat and Sagiro's in particular.  In the later, it seemed, the party always had a list of things to do and places to go (and, occasionally, people to kill) and were pretty self-motivated about working off that list.  The GM's job, then, becomes more of a matter of helping the players explore where they wish and less of a matter of handing them a ready-made adventure path (no disrespect intended to Paizo, as their adventure paths are a lot of fun).  I didn't have the vocabulary for it at the time, but it's a sandbox-style mentality.  I had it, but I am not sure my players ever did, as they often interpreted the adventure seeds I sprinkled in their path as THE ADVENTURE which must be followed.  This is part of the reason those travelers showed up at The Inn of the Western Way with tales of stirges on the bridge and a mystical forest.  It was a seed; it was up to the party to decide when or if they would water it.

Of course I fully expected them to water it right then and there, given some out of game issues that had been growing in the group since the beginning.  I am not sure how it all started, exactly, but I think it had to do with Sunny.  Sunny was a half-drow, so Sunny's player and I worked out some racial modifiers and powers related to her race.  I found those modifiers this morning in The Blue Notebook:

60ft Darkvision
+1 saves vs spells & spell like abilities
+1 Dex, +1 Int, -1 Con
Favored Class; Wizard (male), Cleric (female)

Can cast darkness, faerie fire, or dancing lights once per day

Light Blindness: Character suffers -1 penalty taken to attack roles, saves, and skill checks while in direct sunlight or equivalent.  Rapid exposure to bright light may blind character for one round (Reflex save).

Looking back on it, the numbers are a bit wonky (breaking from the +2/-2 mold for modfiers), but it doesn't seem overpowered or unbalancing.  Yet it became an issue for two players.  Here is where some of the soap opera stuff comes in, so consider yourself warned.

Boaz' player (male, let's call him Bob) and Orion's player (let's call her Jane) were engaged.  From the beginning of the game, Bob had been pestering me to help the players out -- max hit points per level, an extra feat or two, something like that.  These requests only intensified as the party suffered some early defeats (as with the jermalaine).  Bob seemed especailly concerned about "extras" for Jane. This was Jane's first serious foray into RPG's.  Bob didn't want Jane to get discouraged and wanted everyone to have more fun, which he thought max hit points would help with. Apparently, Bob went on to design D&D 4th Edition (heigh-oh!  Just kidding -- no hate comments, please).  When Sunny's racial modifications came to light, this pressure became even more intense.

I then decided to let each character have something extra -- maybe a minor magic item that the PC had inherited or some small bonus to something.  Bix opted for some celestial ancestry (a nice story hook, there) and, I think, a special fiddle.  I can't remember what Katja received, but it's likely Risus Monkey simply decided to wait for her special thing to come along in game at the right time.  I am sure, given Bob's personality, he graciously refused anything for Boaz, as Bob tended toward passivity and maddening refusal to accept exactly what he asked for.  Sunny had her half-drow stuff.  Kreed seemed to be special enough, which left Orion.

Jane told me Orion needed a pseudodragon familiar.  I initially balked.  Pseudodragons were pretty powerful creatures to be carrying around.  If I remember correctly, before all the familiar rules were changed and you still had to use a spell to get one, they could only be called by a 5th level wizard or higher.  Orion was, perhaps, second level at this point.  But I was also sensitive to my players.  Jane had a temper.  And I was getting pressure from Bob as well to give Jane what she wanted for Orion's character, so Jane would "keep having fun".  I relented, with the caveat that the party would have to find the pseudodragon and convince it to go with Orion; he couldn't just cast the spell.

Hence, travelers showed up at the Inn of the Western Way with rumors of pseudodragons.  Katja's in-character reluctance to head off on a diversion mirrored, I think, some general player reluctance to head off on this tangent away from the Oghma temple.  There was some discussion about it, but no one really wanted to put up a fight, as the priest of Oghma seemed perfectly fine with waiting awhile to explore the temple and no one really wanted to ruffle any feathers.  As Katja will show us soon enough, the pseudodragon was responsible for not just one but two major diversions from the general sweep of the campaign.  But, given that neglect of the wizard's familiar would have led to two angry players, we typically followed the pseudodragon.


  1. Jane had a temper.

    That is a vast understatement of things. This was someone who threw a set of Munchkin cards at me, told me to f--k off, and stormed out of the room when I dared to use my cards to keep her from gaining a level to win the game (all completely within the rules and spirit of Munchkin).

    I believe at one point it was said at the table, after she stormed off in a snit over something, "It's better to let the Wookie win..." I don't miss playing with her at all.

  2. Ah, the great Muchkin incident of New Year's 2003. That was unpleasant.

  3. It's sad that 7 years later, I still recall that whole thing very clearly. :-(

  4. A better strategy is to laugh at the absurdity of it all!

  5. Much better to laugh at it now (even though it saddens me that people got so weird).

    It's funny, I do *not* remember the whole conversation about people getting cool stuff for their character. Katja survived a near-death experience, so perhaps that counts. I do remember something about "max hit points" or "extra feats", but I was very much against this at the time. It seemed pointless and removed some of the rational for my character (which was growing out of weakness).

  6. As far as getting cool stuff, Bix had his masterwork fiddle, and the celestial heritage was really an excuse for me to multiclass into sorcerer, with the ultimate goal being a prestige class (which tied into the celestial ancestry) down the road, which got put to the wayside as the game progressed.