Author Topic: The Stair Case  (Read 1388 times)

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Offline David Roomes

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The Stair Case
« on: March 06, 2016, 11:42:24 AM »
It's time we had a few more "Gaming Tales"!  So, I recently read through the gaming tales here on the forum and realized that I hadn't put all of mine up. I have a few more...  I'm going to do them over the next few days, in roughly the same order that they occurred.

I ran the Avisarr campaign back in 1998. The Avisarr campaign has six sections in the middle that I like to call the "Skull Quests". During each of these, the party is trying to locate and retreive an enchanted skull. In the first skull quest, the skull was in the possession of a powerful witch who lived in an ancient ruined castle on a sea coast. The witch had a number of undead and other minions serving her. The players were going to infiltrate the castle by stealth and steal the skull.

As a DM, I like to be very prepared. For this adventure, I decided I wanted to try to be REALLY prepared. I lovingly crafted this castle. I knew everything about it... every room was thoroughly detailed. I had floor plans. I had stats on everything. I had dimensions, histories, etc. I had pictures to show the players.

I even had sound effects! Very specific ones too. As an example, several chambers had sound effects ready to go if the players listened at the door. For example, in the furnace room, there was a zombie shoveling coal into a large furnace (which sent warm air through a duct system to the upper floors). If they had listened at that door, they would have actually heard the zombie moaning, the rhythmic shoveling, the fire roaring in the furnace. I had an actual WAV audio file, ready to play for the players when the thief listened at that door. And that one just one of a dozen such sound files.

I was immensely pleased and couldn't wait. This may be the only session in my entire DMing career where I felt completely 100% prepared. The castle was on the coast on a small, rocky island right next to the stony cliffs of the coast. The party infiltrated the castle at the bottom through a sea cave and began working their way up. They only had one or two encounters in the sea cave and quickly and quietly dispatched the enemy. Once they go in to the first dungeon level, they found a set of stairs leading up... and they went up. When they reached the second sub level, they found the stairs continued up... so they went up.

And that was when I realized the GLARING FLAW in my plan. I had designed the floor plans of this castle with a central spiral stair case running from the lowest level to the top. It was not the only set of stairs, but this spiraling stair case ran through the entire structure. At every floor, the players choose to continue up rather than explore. In desperation, I threw a couple of wandering guards and random encounters at them on the stairs. To my dismay, they managed to defeat those encounters quickly and quietly without raising any alarm. The party managed to make it up to fifth floor before they were discovered and the alarm sounded. From that point on, it was a huge fight with the witch and her most powerful minions at near the top level.

But the damage was done. The party had MISSED about 80% of the castle! 80% of my hard work had gone to waste. This is something that my friend Mark still, to this day, likes to bring up and gloat over.

I learned a good lesson that day. If you spend a lot of time designing an encounter, make sure the players will ACTUALLY ENCOUNTER IT. Or put more simply, never put in an easy stair case that goes all the way to the top floor.   ;)

Thinking back on it now, I know exactly what I should have done. I can think of a couple of good solutions that could have been implemented right in the middle of the session. But I was a less experienced DM back then. Oh well. Live and learn...

David M. Roomes
Creator of the World of Khoras