April 10, 2013
They say that we all learn from our mistakes, and nothing could be more true when it comes to being a gamemaster. Several years ago, I was running a custom Dungeons & Dragons campaign. For the big finale, I had prepared an immense dungeon complete with full maps, detailed puzzles, traps, treasure, and most importantly, the final five antagonists: the Draconic Knights of Thaedoran (hooray for made-up words). They were five knights; one for each color of the chromatic dragons they rode on (red, white, black, blue, and green) and each of them had their own portion of the dungeon. These knights had been antagonizing the party for some time now and had even captured a beloved NPC (non-player character), forcing the party into this conflict. This was meant to be a multi-session end to what had already been more than a year-long campaign. I spent the better part of two weeks preparing this beast and come game weekend I was ready to go.
And that was when one of my players had his character cast the spell “windwalk,” which turned all of the characters immaterial and allowed them to bypass the entire dungeon, fly straight to the end boss (the Red Draconic Knight), and proceed to do battle with him at full strength, beating him soundly. The end.
Now, hindsight being 20/20, I can look back at that and see a plethora of things I could have done to prevent this. Magical wards that dispel any active magic, add in other immaterial beings that could affect them still, or even let them reach the final boss and have him call upon the other four knights, who would all still be at full health too, and force the party to do battle with them all at once. At the time, however, I was stumped and so I just went with it. They defeated the final boss, teleported out of the dungeon (after saving their lost companion), and that was it. Everyone felt disappointed by the ending, including me who had spent a fair amount of time crafting this wondrous catacomb of doom. With just one spell, this player had thrown a wrench into my great machine and brought this epic of a campaign to a rather underwhelming end.
Now I am not trying to put the blame for this on the player. He did nothing wrong. He used what he had on hand to take the best advantage out of the situation that he could. Well done. It was my fault for being so overwhelmed with this unexpected turn that I wasn’t able to work around it. I pride myself on being a fair gamemaster. If my players outsmart me and my designs, then good for them; but this one was different. This one had ruined the fun of the game for everyone. So, what did we end up doing? Well, we ignored the previous session the next time we got together and we ran the dungeon again, this time without the use of the windwalk spell. Everyone had a blast and I would say that the dungeon was even better as I had more time to work out its kinks.
The point of all this is just to say that gamemasters are still human. We cannot think of every possible outcome and there are times when the actions of our players will throw us a curve ball that might detract from the whole story. That’s no big deal. Don’t be discouraged. The point of the game is to have fun. If what they do makes the game fun, then go with it. If it takes away from the fun, as in this case, then work with your players, find a solution that works, and go with that.
Even today, among my game groups, the term “windwalk” is used whenever a player stumps the gamemaster, much to my eternal amusement.
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