Friday, April 20, 2012

Hail the Mighty Heroes--Laid Low by Mushrooms!

Okay, in response to Brendan's request I shall attempt to frame the stupidity that led to my final Pathfinder TPK. I say final because I won't be playing the game any longer. I still hope to enjoy future TPKs : )

My group had been delving through about one fourth of a three level dungeon, and had just descended to level two. They had recently made it past a low level necromancer who had raised a minotaur skeleton and 3 skeletal knights. Without going into too much detail I had saved them from death twice due to tactical errors and then changed a trap to save another when he stuck his head where it didn't belong. But anywho, they had discovered the opening that led into a "bottomless" chasm. Without taking the time to heal from their wounds, or recharge spells they simply rushed downwards into the abyss. In spite of the fact I had tried to lay on the warnings heavily by describing the strange sounds that emanated from the depths below. And the fact that most of their attempts to illuminate the darkness below was swallowed up by the unimaginable depths beyond.

I also made it very clear (I thought) that the way across the chasm hung about 30 feet away in the form of a cut rope bridge hanging from the opposite wall of the shelf. A good throw with a grappling hook could have easily reestablished them a secure way across. The chasm was an obstacle to overcome--NOT to descend down into!!

Well, after a few minutes pondering, the wizard decides he is going to use what amounts to Tenser's Floating Disk. I can't recall what it's called in PF. Well, if he took the time to read the spell he would realize if you float the disk out over empty space it is going to wink out of existence. I tell him to read his spell description first, but meanwhile it looks as if a grappling hook could probably snag the opposite shelf. The wizard player looks up from the book and still says he wants to try the disk. I ask him again, did you read the description? Yes, he said I can lift 250 pounds at a time because I'm third level. Did you read the whole thing? I ask again. Yes, I'm casting it and climbing on.

Okaaayyyy ... I describe the act of him floating about five foot out when he falls screaming into the abyss. Amidst gasps and shouts the wizard yells feather fall. Which I allow him to cast. Now, previously I had determined this pit to be 1268 feet in depth. But calculating his feather fall to allow him about 100 foot or so after his initial plummet I simply change the depth (I know, I know). This was actually a stupid decision on my part for several reasons--if I had just let him die the rest would never have occurred.

I describe the floor of the subterranean world as being covered in giant mushrooms that were covered in a fine white powder. Tunnels and fissures led off in every direction and he could hear a slithering sound as if something large and fleshy was crawling on the floor of the caverns (worm children). I also made it clear by directly stating this was a bad place to be. Definitely deeper than they were ready yet to adventure. The best course of action was to find a way up right now. (They had linked 4 ropes together to reach the bottom--they could have just climbed back up.)

But no, they had to take a look around. I explained that the remains of dead creatures lie all around covered in the same white dust that covered the mushrooms. So, one of the yahoos shot a mushroom with an arrow. Well, you can imagine the result. Spores shot up into the air showering everyone in fine, white powder. Save vs sleep--all but three fail. That's when the slithering worm children move in. They lost several of their sleeping comrades to the worms as the three remaining conscious tried to protect themselves and the others. The worms had dragged them off to who knows where, but me in my softness assured them they could still be rescued if they could locate the lair where their comatose bodies were stored.

The battle has drawn the attention of a Drow patrol party, which captured the three remaining adventurers. Why capture? Cause I tried not to kill them. I ruled that they were using subdual attacks instead.

Now at this point you are probably wondering why I am alternating between rather difficult encounters and saving their butts when they got too deep or made stupid mistakes. Perhaps a bit of background is warranted. I had set up an overarching campaign ala G1-2-3, D1-2 and Q1. They were following the trail of trouble in the hills and mountains north of Andoran that involved increasingly brave goblin raids. These gobbers had been encouraged by a band of orcs who were working for an ogre magi that had encountered a long hidden idol of Lolth. She (the ogre mage) had begun to tap some of the power of the idol and that of course drew the attention of the Drow. The Drow saw the opportunity to "utilize" the ogre magi's power over the masses of evil nonhumans in her demesne to open a pathway into Andoran itself. Behind the scenes political manipulation had already begun in the capital with the Drow employing dopplegangers and magically disguised mind flayers to begin to exert influence over political leaders. Hence the opening to the Drow Twilight Realm in the current adventure--though they were NOT supposed to get there so soon.

But if that doesn't explain my wishiwashiness sufficiently strike it up to the schizophrenic way I was trying to game. In so many ways completely against my nature.

So on with the tale. I may have tipped my Drow Hand early, but I was desperate to hold the tale together. My PCs were in too deep too soon and I needed a way out if the campaign and their butts were to be saved. Also, I really felt like the Drow would have just interrogated them under torture and with magical charms and then killed them. But no, I had the Drow take them back to their leader a mid level Drow Wizardess who offered them an alternative. They could take the "DrowPact". Now, I admit to making this up on the spot-- pulling it out of my wazoo as it were. I said that if they took the pact they would be released to find their friends, but at some time in the future they would be called upon to perform a favor for the Wizardess. A time at her pleasure and they would be compelled to carry out her task no matter the cost of sacrifice. (I was planning on having her utilize this at some point in the future by having her make these three turn against their party at the crucial moment when they were close to the end of the campaign.)

So of course they accepted. Even though one of them was an Elf!! And a magic hating Barbarian no less!!! I told him this went against everything he believed in as an Elf, that he was betraying his people, that he didn't trust this evil magic, and the he had no desire to relinquish control of his will to a Drow Sorceress blah blah blah. It didn't phase him of course--he thought it was cool. ... *sigh*

By this point I am beginning to feel sick inside. I had managed to pull the situation together by bending about every rule that mattered and breaking quite a few besides. And by now I could sense that my players were feeling invincible, like ultimately nothing was really going to harm them. They would always be rescued, no matter the cost. But i trudge on, feeling like I've betrayed my inner gaming "sense" in saving them time and time again. The Drow should have killed them, the worm children should have killed them, the skeletons should have killed them, the Necromancer, the fall--need I go on?

So they accept the pact, are blindfolded (so they won't know the way to the Drow hold) and delivered back to the place the Drow found them. They are about to set off towards the lair of the worm children to rescue their comrades when one of the remaining three decides he has to have some of the white powder. Okay I say there's plenty laying around all over the cavern and the bones. (In case you're wondering this deep fungi lives off the decaying bodies that it puts to sleep; their victims eventually decaying into mushroom food.) No he says, I want to scrape some off of the mushroom into an empty vial. I looked at him shocked. Are you sure you want to do that? I mean the last time you guys touched a mushroom it set off the spores. No, he says, that guys shot it. I'm just going to carefully scrape some off the mushroom itself so it's still real potent.

Okay, here I'm getting a little mad. Because it has got to be so obvious I don't want him to do this. That the results of mushroom molestation had been clearly demonstrated less than an hour before. Was he really going to be this stupid. I looked at the other players, who were all just waiting. No one is saying anything. So I try again. Well, you don't have to get it off the mushroom, you can get it of the floor--I mean it looks like to you that the mushrooms use this as a way of capturing their food, so the stuff has to be operative as long as it's touching flesh (I gave this away to him--no nature roll, no nothing I was just trying to convince him that touching the actual mushroom was not a good idea. But no, he said he was just going to carefully scrape some off with his dagger, that he wasn't going to touch the powder or the mushroom. No, but your dagger will and the mushroom will feel it ... He couldn't be dissuaded.

I shook my head, I was deep in thought for what seemed like a minute or more--likely it was no more than 10 seconds. Maybe I was hoping someone would say something. No one did. What was really going on inside me was that I was slowly and surely snapping. Breaking in two. Coming unravelled. The strange thing was I was so sad. So very deeply sad. Like I was somewhere I didn't want to be. Doing something I hated. I'm 43. A grown man. I do cry--I'm okay with displaying emotion, but I certainly don't truly feel like crying very often. And at that moment that is all I wanted to do. I didn't. Didn't actually shed any tears. But the knot in my chest and the tightness in my throat made clear to me this was really affecting me. Not just the decision they had made, but I realized in that moment I hated the way I was playing. And that's when it all came back to me in a flash. Six weeks of total Monty Haul Crap. And I recall telling myself inside--let 'em rot.

I explained the last thing they recall was a cloud of white exploding around them like a sudden blizzard and then all went black as they felt themselves slumping to the floor. They had all failed their save. I closed my screen and asked them to pass their character sheets to me. I answered the few questions they asked with, nope your dead. And you don't know--you just never woke up.

Was it the worst decision of their career? I'm not sure, but the string of incidents that led up to that point. Their blatant disregard for good common sense. It was just shocking. And I was so stunned by what was either sheer stupidity or a complete lack of respect for the game. At that moment I thought that guys like this shouldn't even be allowed to roleplay. And this is the first time I played a non-"old school" game all year long. The only thing that comes close is when I played 4e for about 5 months or so. And the same problem resulted then. The same sorts of crazy off the wall crap that makes no sense whatsoever. complete lack of fear of the world in which they are adventuring. Reliance on healing surges, recharging powers, endless supplies, sunrods or endless light cantrips instead of torches, etc. etc. etc. It was simply nothing like the fantasy I read, knew and loved. And I had finally come to the opinion that this kind of gaming does not teach or foster the kind of gaming that I like to participate in. So, for me--Pathfinder had died. 4e had been long dead. Pathfinder had lasted longer, but it too had went the way of the Monty Haul ghost. I was just NOT going to put myself through this kind of tripe again. I love this game too much and spend so much precious energy, time, imagination, devotion and love to go through this kind of pig tripe.

Pig Tripe ... Yum? NOT.
Onward and upward my friends--keep the torch burning! Hell who am I kidding? We ARE the torch!!!!

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