So it happened last night. That thing that keeps green GM’s awake at night- the party didn’t do what I had expected them to do! As a new GM (returning after a 20 year hiatus) I am feeling my way around behind the DM screen, trying a little bit of this, hoping for a little bit of that, and telling myself that no matter what happens I can handle it. (And I did handle it, but it was a bit nerve-wracking for a moment or two). After the party had entered a small town in search of a group of kidnapped children, they had the choice of direct confrontation with a handful of “baddies” or continue down the river in pursuit of the children. Now, part of this was my own fault in letting it be known that the children were no longer in the village (the PC rolled pretty high on a skill check). There are other important issues that the party is investigating and they debated over whether they might benefit from confronting some of the villagers or if they should just pack it up and move on. In the end, the pious cleric’s urges for just a little cold steel confrontation was countermanded by the barbarian’s soothing voice of reason, and they hopped into their longboat and moved on. So the barroom brawl, that I had spent a bit of time setting up was left behind- potential energy, pixelated.
As most role-players are at least slightly aware, D&D 4e is notorious for its structured combat encounters. “THE GRID,” is the be all end all of 4e play sessions (at least some would have you believe). So I take my time, and immerse myself into setting up for what I expect to be an involved encounter. I use Roll20 (on-line virtual table top) and it takes a little bit of time and effort to get all laid out before the gaming session. So far, I haven’t had to make it up on the fly, but I can imagine having a rough idea of the layout and the combatants then setting it up as the session progresses. But, I don’t want it to look like I’m just throwing stuff together as we go; and, I think the players appreciate the details. At the same time, I don’t want my campaign to fall under that dreaded category- the railroad. I like giving the players plenty of options, but ultimately, each decision they make eliminates possible future paths (at least in the immediate future). So once I know the general idea of where they’ll likely be in the next session I start planning and preparing.
How many times have you heard, “I had three things in mind for what the party might actually do, and they chose option D.” This isn’t exactly how it went down for me the other night, and if it had, I wonder if I would have been better able to roll with it. As it turned out, they just wanted to skip the part I had planned and jump to the next scene (the scene I would be preparing for the following week). As it turns out this had come very close to happening once before. That time I managed to coax the pc’s into exploring the recently uncovered abandoned mine by sweet-talking them with an attractive young trident-wielding dwarfish lass. After that session I felt dirty; I had pushed my pc’s where they had all but made up their mind not to go (once again, forgoing an immediate adventure in hopes of catching up with the kidnapped children). But, damn it! I spent a good amount of time laying out that mine, lining up the zombies and stashing the lewt. You will search the mines and you will like it.
This time, however, I couldn’t force them to engage the enemy, and it would have been very easy to do it too. The cleric (you know, the bloodthirsty worshipper of the Goddess of Nature, Agriculture and Growth) he was face to face with some very, very bad dudes and I gave him an out. *sigh The barbarian said he was worried about collateral damage and didn’t want to accidentally kill innocents. C’est la vie.