Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Orc Feast of DEATH!

I have been playing D&D and other RPGs since I was 16 ... for over 30 years. I have been reading rules, and guides, and examples, and trying to find the way to create the perfect game.

There are many guides and examples that speak to the composition of "balanced encounters" and "challenging encounters" and "threat of death increasing the excitement of the game" ... The "Barrowmounds" is an old-school adventure where, "threat of death" and danger is very real. As DM I was drawn to this idea. Low powered heroes fighting for their lives, all dark and gritty and scary ... sounds awesome! But, was it the right thing for my group?

There are just as many "guides" out there (or at least things I have read in my past) that preach against the dangers of "Monty Haul" DMing ... And I remember something about 4th Edition trying to de-emphasize the importance of magic-items to avoid what that article referred to as "Christmas Tree" characters. Is this right? I have read all of this advice. I have followed it. But, is that the best thing for me to do?

We play once a week, with occasional "skip weeks" due to conflicts. We play from 7 to 10 ... But chatter and late arrivals cuts into this. It's difficult for players to immerse themselves into the fiction of the world. I have been playing the: dark dungeon ... slow advancement ... low magic ... low rewards ... in for the long haul ... game. It's a good game for frequent gamers. The kind of gamer I was 20 years ago. Is it right for the game we are playing now?

One rule I haven't read, maybe it's assumed to be common sense, maybe it's simply too difficult to explain or quantify ... I don't know, but it's important.


No two games, or groups are the same. What works for one doesn't work for all. The best thing to do is experiment. Try different things and pay attention to what works. Listen to your players and find out what they like ... and do that. Temper your actions with all that good advise about gaming, but then using that, embrace this simple truth: In gaming, 'Fan Service' is a good thing. "The fun of creating a story where you cast yourselves as the heroes is in living out your fantasies."


In our game, we play for just a short time. The sense of "danger" must be immediate and short lived. And rewards need to come around quickly. And combats ... "encounters" don't have to be the focal point of a game. This last game, I wasn't prepared. I hadn't been feeling well and I wasn't sure what to do, but I have improvised many a game, so I didn't worry too much. What I did was allow my players to take the reins and "run" their own game.

A story had been evolving where an army of Orcs were approaching to retrieve a legendary artifact. The artifact was of great religious importance to the Orcs. The players were under orders to deliver the artifact to the Orcs as a diplomatic gesture to avoid war. The problem? The players didn't want to do it. They needed a plan.

So, they made a plan. They made a plan, and as DM I could have thrown any number of wrenches into their machinations ... But, as I said ... I wasn't feeling particularly well ... And they seemed so engrossed by their schemes, that I gave them what they wanted. Their plans seemed logical enough in the context of our fictional universe, so ... Why not?

They used the fact that they possessed a powerful Orc artifact to parlay an audience with the Elf King. (The Human government was pushing the for the artifact's return.) They spoke to the Elves about making a replica of the artifact and enchanting it so that the Orcs wouldn't know.

They added the following "Geas" to the replica:

[ 1 ] Any Orc who sees this will know it to be the true artifact and have an irresistible compulsion to "show" the artifact to other Orcs.

[ 2 ] Ten hours after viewing the artifact any Orc who views it will be possessed of an irresistible compulsion to EAT another Orc.

This is what they wanted. It was crazy. It was silly. They were totally serious. They were passionately committed to this plan. So, I facilitated it ... Narrated its realization. And my players were thrilled. They are talking about the game days later. This silly little event was the highlight of their characters' careers. Why? Because it was an event that they made. This was their creation ... their game. And that's an important lesson to learn. Your RPG is your players' game. Let them have it.

Maybe next week your players will be talking about the cannibalistic carnage of, "The Orc Feast of Death!"


Jeff Moore

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