Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

D&D Jul-23-2003

Intellectually, I think I did a pretty good job with Tuesdays' D&D session--Monica certainly said so, and so has Lori, and I trust their judgment on such things more than my own. But my perfectionism is getting in the way of my appreciating the good that I've done.

This was to be the climactic episode of the second phase of my trilogy-structured campaign. My major goals for the session were these:
- To have the PCs finally encounter the Great Dragon of the Land, in a dramatic way. For two years now, there's been a strong dragon theme going on, but the PCs have never met a dragon. For this session, I bought a Norbert action figure of a dragon (from Harry Potter) with a 20" wingspan, so it would really tower over the 25" cardboard heroes we use for the party.
- I wanted to give Larissa her level of paladin with a big surprise.
- I wanted to have an overwhelming battle in which the PCs ended up fearing for their lives, because I've often been a big softy. (This would also let me see how much the PCs could really handle.)
- I wanted to make that a dream sequence, because, well, I still am a big softy.

So I planned a dream sequence with the PCs entering a cavern and seeing the dragon, and encountering a slowly-accumulating horde of individually low-powered monsters, so that the PCs would be slowly overwhelmed. Larissa would get a magic sword in the dream, which would transfer out of the dream.

I decided to just say that I was starting in media res, instead of trying to be oblique. I think this was the right decision; my players did play along cooperatively without being obstreperous about wanting to know why.

I had put down a 2-inch dragon Cardboard Hero ahead of time to make the players a bit nervous, and to increase the surprise of the big dragon.

When I brought out the dragon model, Kevin said, "Cool!" Which was definitely gratifying, but I had wanted the players to say "Oh, no!" See the curse of my perfectionism?

In general, several things happened to make the whole effect of the session less powerful than I had hoped:
- The players figured out pretty quickly that it was a dream sequence. In retrospect, that was pretty inevitable--I didn't manage to be very subtle with it, and my players have all read the same source material that I have. Perhaps I could have been more subtle about things.

- The PCs didn't have enough monsters to fight early on. Because I started slow, there was a turn early on where there were no immediate threats. Throughout the combat, they were not taking damage as quickly as I had hoped. At 11:00, I felt so tired that I ended the fight without actually getting the emotional drama of "killing" any of the PCs. I could have used higher-level monsters without losing the effect I wanted.

- Most importantly, most of the PCs didn't really have any clear goal in the fight. There was no reason for them to not run away--once they figured out that it was a dream sequence, there wasn't even any reason for them to try to stay alive. If I were to do that again, I should have some reason to try to stay alive as long as possible. Some possibilities:
- The educational: the PCs get significant information about the dragon and the world for every round that they survive. (Or perhaps some people fight in order to enable others to study)
- The mystical: for every monster they put down (or every round they survive, or something) the world gets a moment (a day or a week or so) of peace. The problem there would be communicating that to the players...

Kevin did a fabulous job of creating something for himself to do, by trying to bring the sword to the dragon's mouth, to satisfy the 'Gorge of Fire' prophecy. I hadn't been expecting that at all, but I definitely will reward him for that. (I give myself some credit for recognizing the coolness and rolling with it. I've gotten much better at that than I used to be.) On the other hand, since I don't want to give him a full-powered artifact quite yet, I will probably weasel and say that doing it in the dreamspace is not as potent as doing it in the real world (but not as risky, either).

- I didn't feel totally happy about the way I handled Larissa getting the sword. I had been trying to think of a way to ensure that she would get it instead of one of the other party members, so I used Hrolf's flight. I had been thinking to have Hrolf bring the sword out from some dark crevice and drop it into her hands--but she was flying close to Hrolf, so that didn't work so well. Oh well--it still worked out okay. And then once she found it, she didn't have a chance to discover its anti-undead power in play, because I cut short the combat as mentioned before.

So. I'm so glad that Monica and Lori have been so effusive in their praise (especially Monica). Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, I felt really drained and dissatisfied with the session; by now, I'm warming to things a bit. Even now, I still suspect that the game session really was better than I feel about it. This is kind of a curse--I wish I felt all the quality that I suspect is there.
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