WARNING. THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WIZARDS OF THE COAST’S “LOST MINE OF PHANDELVER”, INCLUDED IN THE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS 5th EDITION STARTER SET
I’m not going to lie, after the way the last session ended I lost a lot of enthusiasm for the game. I never considered quitting but I felt a lot of my energy dissipate and a little lost. Where had I gone wrong? What could I do to fix it? More importantly, how could I make sure it never happened again?
In the end I asked the group for a short break. I spent the following week working out how to get things on track but, before I could do this, I had to come to peace with what had happened.
Here’s this week’s rule. Rule 9 – Understand that things will go wrong and move past it. No matter how much effort you put in there are always variables that you cannot, and should not attempt to, control. There are, probably, 4 or 5 uncontrollable variables sat around your table during every session.
You can lay what, you think, is the biggest, most obvious plot hook only for your players to overlook it completely, or kill the NPC before he gets chance to speak. You can thread your story with a tiny little mystery only to blurt out the answer by accident. It’s OK to be disappointed with yourself providing you do so from a caring mindset. Learn from it, better yourself, but never beat yourself up about it. Use it and move on.
For me it was about moving much needed plot elements to other NPCs. Here’s how I approached it.
Fixing DM Mistakes
Identify the problem. This was easy – my group had run out of leads and could not find Cragmaw Castle.
Define the solution. Again, for me, this wasn’t hard. I just needed to put them on track again. I needed other NPCs who could have the information they needed.
Frame the solution. This bit is about working the solution that you have created into your story.
In order to do this, I looked at every NPC in the module and I considered who could, realistically, have the answers they needed. I came to the following conclusions.
Agatha the Banshee is described as “a powerful diviner”. The party can ask her one question and are tasked with speaking to her about the location of Bowgentle’s Spellbook. However, I had decided that if they asked her directly “Where is Cragmaw Castle?” she would answer them. Also, Agatha would give Lucius a little tip towards his own personal goal.
Hamun Kost, the necromancer at Old Owl Well is investigating the remains of the Wizards Tower located there. It was very possible that he would know of other ruins in the area. If the party helped him with the Orcs at Wyvern Tor, he would give them their answer.
Any Orc captured in Wyvern Tor would know the location of the castle.
The party would have three more chances to progress the plot. After that, I decided that I was not going to hold their hands throughout this process. If they wasted these new opportunities they would never learn the location of Cragmaw Castle and Gundren would, unfortunately, die.
The Pickleberry Pie Incident
The evening began with the resolution to last sessions cliffhanger. Lucius learned that one of the girls captured by Glasstaff was his childhood friend Elara, something I took directly from the backstory on his character sheet.
The party managed to convince the young urchin, Nars, to stay at the home of the Drendar’s and before they left, Mirna urged them to visit Qelline Alderleaf who, after flirting mercilessly with Corlan*, pointed them in the direction of Reidoth the Druid in Thundertree. “There ain’t a bit of the land he don’t know about!”
After hearing this the group were so encouraged that they wanted to set out immediately, in the dark, and head to Thundertree, forgoing their plans to head out east to complete some side quests.
I wanted to give them hope. What I didn’t want them to do was abandon their current plans and head out to a ruins in the woods inhabited by the young green dragon, Venomfang, who presents a very real risk of a TPK.
Qelline hastily pointed out the error of their ways and tried to get them to stay the night, offering them some Pickleberry Pie as enticement, a Halfling delicacy I made up in the heat of the moment. This was met with a mixture of revulsion and laughter and at least some of the group were convinced that Pickleberry Pie was a euphemism for Qelline’s intentions towards Corlan.
Firstly, feel free to make your world your own. Make things up. Even if you’re running a pre-written module this can lead to some memorable moments. Secondly, remember Rule 5. Make a note! I now have to remember that Pickleberry Pie is a thing in my world.
As a question to my readers – what’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever invented for your world? Answers in the comments please!
* This needs a whole post to itself. Flirting with your mates is bad times!