Session Ten

Unexpected death,
so hot, stupid summer heat.
Fish people no help.

I don't have much to report tonight. The group is now six members strong, though one is currently unable to attend. It's a great group for this type of game. I worry that some things are taking too long (one of my players has six attack rolls), though overall they are making good time. One of the players is from my last campaign - it's so nice to have him back. Both he and his wife (who plays) rolled up new characters, so there were two new first level PC's in the party Usui, a halfing thief, and Elimen O' Pea a drow spellcaster.

They went back to the Zunel 'dungeon' and spent the evening clearing out most of the first level. They had about seven combats, were very lucky with their wandering monsters checks (especially since someone in the party has too much honor, which causes encounters on a 2 or a 1.) They avoided the staircases. There were several interesting things that occurred.

The most interesting that occurred is they entered a room with an idol which spouted Zunel at them, which no one understood. The statue became more and more intense when it repeated the phrase, its' eyes glowing more and more red. I was quite busy watching the clock, as I gave them one round of real time between each request from the idol. Where to get a Comprehend Language spell?

The party transmuter henchmen 'Nash' is described by his player as 'sorta like Stifler from the American Pie movies'. Since he's the only mage that knows comprehend languages (ha! party full of specialist mages!), he would have to go into the room and touch the idol to cast the spell, and he wasn't going to go anywhere near the statue with the glowing eyes, oh hey and is that smoke coming out of its ears?

One of the players then said "Hey, this isn't fair." during the chaos, as they were trying to figure out what to do in real time. I offhandedly replied, "You are absolutely correct, this isn't fair," which is a gross oversimplification. I have in my notebook a post I was going to write tomorrow dealing with this particular topic at length. The player playing the Nash knows his spell list - what they do and exactly what they require. Everyone was clear that there was a idol, it was speaking in a crazy language and I bet any of them would have guessed it was Zunel. I mentioned it was asking a question. I also imagine anyone would have said it would have been bad to not answer the question, and good to answer the question. I am certain anyone at the table would say I am a fair and reasonable person (when running a game, natch).

But the trap is not. I put dangerous and deadly things in the way of the players, but I never put something in their way I can't see a way they could get out of (even if that way is 'run very fast in the other direction'). I know the party had access to comprehend languages. The intensity of an encounter or situation that his happening in real time, pulls it out of the realm of 'this is an abstract numerical activity that we're going to calculate the best possible response to' into 'oh, goodness, isn't this exciting'. The thing that's important though - even though I apply the rules equally to players and monsters alike - The world is not fair.

As someone who works in a behavioral hospital with teens, I hear on a regular basis that "This isn't fair", and that's something we like to call a cognitive distortion. We have this believe that "things should be fair" or "Our parents should love us" or "bad people always get punished" but only the stupid or ignorant can't look and see that this objectively isn't the case. Life isn't fair, often bad people get away with murder both literally and figuratively. The fact that we continue to hold these beliefs in spite of repeated evidence to the contrary causes cognitive dissonance when we encounter those situations, making us unhappy. This long and somewhat off topic rant for this blog leads to this; It is important that the GM is fair and reasonable and that the rules are appilied consistently. But,

Old school dungeons and dragons isn't fair. Damage taken from a clay golem can only be healed by a 17th level cleric. A belt that detects and identifies as a 'belt of giant strength' actually changes your gender. Artifacts are cursed. You can instantly die from looking at creatures. You can die from a single lucky blow. Tricks drain your stats. You permanently lose levels without saves. You can get dumped on a lower dungeon level with no way back up. You can die a million different ways and never even know why. These things can and will happen and at times there is nothing you can do to prevent them. Life is risk. You remove all the risk from the game and you end up with TETSNBN - a party of six lizardmen with breasts like mammals who have over 100 hit points at first level and give the DM magic item 'wishlists'.  Wasting the little time you do have in a timed situation bemoaning? arguing? bargaining? for more time is a fool's errand.

The player playing Nash was engaging in some excellent role-play and did finally cast the spell after some hurried convincing, at which point they were given a riddle which they solved. The player made it clear verbally to me that he understood the situation (and in fact the spell, better than I knew it) so because it wasn't a point of confusion I stayed out of the discussion. The reward for solving the riddle was a Wish, which they used to create ethereal servants to help them build and defend the town. All in all, the most exciting encounter of the night - especially for several very bored first level characters.

I think my overall concern is that the riddles will get harder, the puzzles and traps more confusing and deadly, the monster's more henious, and the treasure more kingly as they descend. Answering a child's riddle that you need a spell to understand is the most basic of tricks.

The party also found it's first magical items. They also engaged in seven or so separate small fights, against foes, none of which presented particular difficulty. Elimen is a Drow and as such was unaware that everyone in the party couldn't see through her magical darkness. When she cast Darkness 15' Radius on the Stone Guardians (who see using a variety of magical senses and not visual sight) they were unimpeded while the party was extremely hampered. There were many modern questions about "What's the procedure for attacking in the darkness?" to which I replied "What? I don't understand? Just tell me what you're doing?" Then I was asked "Can we hit them in the dark?", an actual question about character knowledge that I can answer, to which the reply was "Oh, it's certainly possible you could hit something in the dark." I would be worked up about this particular piece of confusion if the rules weren't in the Hackmaster Player's Handbook 4th edition.

Other than that, they found some treasure, eliminated most of the monsters and acquired some more treasure, and mapped the vast majority of the first dungeon level. A good night, more for actual progress, and friendship then any exciting event, with one exception. We ended before they returned to town, but assumed that they would be heading in that direction.

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