This week, my players failed for the first time. A mixture of hard luck, a difficult encounter (more on that later), poor tactics, and my hotter than magma dice led to all of them being knocked unconscious. It seemed the only luck they had was with their death saving throws. This all came after not playing for a month and long hours of them trusting everyone entirely too much. They seem to want to gravitate instantly toward anyone who doesn’t immediately try to murder them. At the beginning of the session I presented them with a choice. Last time they had kidnapped a shifter named Black Claw and then met a group of Halflings called the Rats. The leader of the Halflings, Tarvyn, an excoriate from House Jorasco, offers them sanctuary and help if they give him Black Claw. Black Claw tells them Tarvyn is a psychotic monster and that he’ll lead them to the one man who can help them if they’ll only help him get away from the Rats.
They, like I should have known they would have, choose option three: leave Black Claw and find the guy themselves. This was a spectacular failure for them. The Rats offered to lead them to him, but, like Black Claw told them they would, turned on the players. They then wandered the underground and ran into yet another group, this time a group of goblins known as the Quiet Folk. They offered the help the players desperately needed, but they had to back track and kill Tarvyn, or no deal. And while all of this is happening, the Swords of Liberty are preparing their next terrorist attack which is getting ever closer. But, Tarvyn was ready for, hoping for in fact, their return, which led to the beating and imprisonment. Then they are saved by none other than Black Claw who immediately takes back his offer of help.
The point here is sometimes players will get something in their head and it just won’t leave. Black Claw attacked them when they first entered the sewers and they can’t get the idea that he’s ‘the enemy’ out of their heads. After Tarvyn breaks in front of them, showing his dark side, they still choose to trust the Halfling they don’t know over the shifter that attacked them. Even after he saves them from being eaten, one of the players is still telling me he wants him dead (probably because Black Claw is making Fie walk around as he is, as in as a changeling).
A good story isn’t without tension among the characters. They’re going to need Black Claw to kill Tarvyn, but, have they burned him too many times? Will they continue not to trust him? And, most importantly, is he safer to align with than the very dangerous goblins?
The encounter that knocked the players unconscious was never meant to be that hard. Originally, it was going to be a level 1 encounter, but, with things changing quickly, I had to level up the fight in order to keep them leveling on the schedule I had planned for them. What was a level 1 encounter became a level 3 slaughter. The encounter consisted of the Gnome Arcanist from the Monster Manual, two reflavored Ghallanda Enclave Guards (found in the Eberron Campaign Guide) and a Halfling Warlock which looks like this:
The four of them were level 3 and behind a barricade. The barricade offered them cover, which stacked with the Gnome’s aura. The barricade also dealt damage if you tried to climb this. All of this was at the end of a long hall with some debris strewn across. The obvious strategy for this fight would be for the melee characters to run up and jump the barricade after soaking some damage, the players did a much slower approach, trying to be more cautious and let the Tarrin take as much damage as possible. This might have worked if my dice hadn’t suddenly lit up. I began rolling crits at an alarming rate, and when my d20s weren’t showing twenties, my damage dice made sure the players were still hurt. And when they needed some good rolling most, it simply didn’t happen. They’ll see that same Gnome again, maybe even the same encounter, because if there’s one thing players like, its revenge.