Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dramatic License in Roleplaying



When I first started playing D&D I had very little background in fantasy literature to draw upon for inspiration. Aside from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I had only mythology to refer to, particularly Ray Harryhausen movies which I watched obsessively when I was a kid.

The famous skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts is one of my favourites, and I especially love how Jason and his lads were classy enough to let the evil wizard complete his ritual to animate the skeletons.  This kind of appreciation of dramatic license is something one rarely sees in a roleplaying game.  If this had been a D&D encounter I imagine it would have gone down something like this:

DM: "The wizard reaches into a clay pot that he is carrying under his arm and..."
Fighter: "I charge him!"
Dwarf:  "I shoot him with my crossbow!  I had it ready, remember?"
Cleric: "I cast hold person!"
Magic User: "Magic Missile....MAGIC MISSILE!!!"
DM: "sigh...Okay, roll for initiative."
Party Leader: "Oh, sweet...natural 20!"

Moments later...

DM: "Okay, the wizard has been held, blasted with arcane bolts, shot through the heart with a crossbow bolt, and cloven in twain by the fighter's greatsword.  He slumps to the ground, dead."

I'm tempted, one of these days, to pull a Gran Torino ending and have the old man's clay pot full of alms he was distributing to the poor, or something.  The angry mob of peasants hungry for PC blood might teach 'em a thing or two about dramatic license, damn their twitchy trigger fingers.

9 comments:

Shane Mangus said...

I feel your pain on this one. I have had to resort to adding an extra obstacle between the adventuring party and the evil sorcerer who is attempting to raise the abyss. The obstacle can be a variety of things, like henchmen, a giant chasm, etc., but the point is that the characters are slowed down, they realize the ritual has to be stopped, and they have the realization that they may not actually be able to get there in time. Its all about tension and timing.

Sean Robson said...

Back in my 3E days I had spent an entire weekend creating a multi-templated stat block for a vampire lord that had lain entombed and desiccated for centuries. Once the PC's freed him I began to describe his slow reconstitution and had a great soliloquy planned for when he was fully reformed. Sadly, it went unspoken; the PCs won initiative and killed him in the first round. He never even got to attack back.

That was when I knew I'd had enough of 3E. It should never take longer to build a character than it does to kill him.

migellito said...

I really enjoyed that movie every time I saw it. It's another great representation of my belief that undead, even the lowly skeleton, should be much tougher (in some way) than the average DnD player is used to.

These, after all, were Jason and 2 of his Argonauts. No mere veterans they, yet half a dozen skeletons bested them.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate what you're saying, but it sounds a little too close to railroading for me. If the PCs want to blast the guy, I would have no problem letting them do it (or try.) It's a game not a movie. Letting the scene "play out properly" is not too far removed from Dragonlance style heavy plotting in my opinion, and robs the players of one of the great and unique things about roleplaying.

And admit it, when watching these movies don't you think to yourself "c'mon, don't let him finish the spell! Don't just stand there!" It's like the old horror movie thing... the audience screaming "don't open the door!" or whatever.

I guess it comes down to this - do you see RPG events as people living in a fantasy world, or as a sort of cinematic reality? I prefer the former, myself, so anything goes.

Sean Robson said...

@migellito: yes, those are some seriously bad-ass skeletons - fast and very handy with a sword. Having watched so many Harryhausen movies as a child this is how I always envision skeletons behaving.

@Anonymous: my point isn't to let the scene 'play out properly,' but a tongue-in-cheek observation that players tend to leap before they look and attack before they have any idea what the situation truly is. This tendency is both universal and inevitable in gaming and I find it amusing, especially considering the number of innocent people my players have killed over the years by jumping the gun on combat.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

You need to give them the old "talk to the hand" treatment!

Da Warboss said...

Bear in mind that if your thinking about Jason in D&D terms with a DM, those are probably Skeleton Warriors of the 10HD variety...or maybe Jason's only 3rd level (which would be pretty powerful from a vilalger's point of view). A melee round in odler editions used to assume MANY thrust and parries before you get the chance to really find a weakness...that was the whole concept of Hit points (As Gygax in the old example had pointed out; a high level fighter had more hp that 4 large warhorses, which was ridculous).

Joshua said...

In relation to Sean's later comment; I'm sure most can quickly relate. Hell even just the last session I had been running featured the players not only coaxing a whole village to go attack a powerful and arcane druidic tribe (which went really badly for the villagers, but let the players not get ganked), but they even ended up mowing down both of the rangers of the local lord that were seeing what the heck went down after the battle was done and gone. At no point did they attempt to attack the party, but they were wearing forest cloaks (patchwork camouflage) and one of them had a short bow.

Funnily enough, the captcha for this post is 'excesses'...

That is a good battle, and rarely are there those that are as interesting. Forgive my posting on a post this old.

Sean Robson said...

Great anecdote, Joshua; never underestimate player paranoia!