by Mike Shea on 21 March 2016
Recently I asked the following question on Twitter:
"What is one of your your favorite awesome #dnd moments as a player or DM?"
I received a bunch of great answers including the following:
Mine was when my PC (halforc barbarian) help the front line vs waves of orcs (20+) giving room my party raging left and right. - QasemHammerHead
Party lured a gelatinous cube into a near by lime pit reasoning that chemical reaction (base/acid) would dissolve it. Success! - ReallyRhenny
One of our first 5e games, we were 3rd or 4th level and facing a mummy. I landed two back to back 20's with smite = dead mummy. - andyjte
When epic-level Druid (@ThatOnePC) shifted into a tyrannosaur & cast a spell to turn her body to iron to fight a mithral golem. - ThatOneGM
Caves of Chaos Playtest, we made peace with the ogre to trounce. Then I offered him Alchemist's Fire, said it was a heal potion. - SnarkKnight1
100 commoners imprisoned by 20 bad guys. My Warchanter gave every commoner a BAB of +15 and a club and led a revolt. - JohnduBois
My girlfriend's paladin smiting the BBEG dragon on the first initiative count, and killing it through death by massive damage. - BeholderPie
DMing for a party while they battled a demon lord on the backs of giant Eagles. Ended in a 200ft choke slam nearly kill a PC - Purp_crunch
My PC's dropped an Apparatus of Kwalish on the head of a sleeping dragon from 150 feet up. Spoiler - warranty didn't cover it. - jahubbard80
My Dragornborn Rogue jumping off a cliff to attack a dragon in midair. And succeeding. #dnd - TheIdDM
My party perfectly pulling off the Temple Of Doom cut-the-bridge-we-are-standing-on move to kill a bunch of kuo-toa was awesome. - ICBMoose
Monk ally at 1HP, going to die. Polymorphed him into a Giant Ape and he beat the hell out of the boss that nearly killed him. - jaa0109
Killing a Drow captain (that KO'd 3 PCs) by Armor of Agathys, remaining at 1 HP. - VNarvek
They used a slingshot made out of web to shoot a dragonbane sword at a dragon while the cave was collapsing. They rolled nat 20 - Eorthan
Resurrecting a deity while facing two other godlike beings and intraparty betrayal. The reborn god tipped the scales. ChrisSSims
just had a my group take on their first dragon They got their hands on an arrow of slaying and then the ranger critted the shot. - Mentalburnout
First off, I cherry picked some of these tweets and ignored some that didn't fit the theme of this article, so don't consider this a pure scientific conclusion. Still, there is enough of a trend in the responses I received that it pointed towards an interesting direction I hadn't thought about when I asked the question. Here's a summary:
Players love it when they get to break the game.
Now "break the game" might be an arguable term. This is an RPG, after all, and in RPGs, we can do pretty much whatever we want. Still, if we're thinking about the raw mechanics of encounter balance, hit point ratios, the damage per round that any given character can inflict; all of that goes out the window when you give a demon lord a 200 foot suplex from the back of a giant eagle. I wonder what they talked about on the way down.
We GMs who like the codified nature of our favorite RPG's rules might bristle when a player comes up with a really creative way to bypass what we might consider a "balanced" encounter by pulling off some bullshit involving polymorphed giant ape. Players, however, love it. Being able to break the game's boundaries is what makes RPGs fun for them. It can be fun for us too, if we follow one of the core philosophies outlined in the RPG Dungeon World.
If we are, first and foremost, fans of the characters, we'll LOVE it when they wipe out dozens of kuo-toa by cutting a rope bridge. We'll love it when they drop a huge iron tower on the head of an ancient red dragon. That sort of scene will forge itself in the memories of players forever.
At a recent Out of the Abyss game, our heroes decided to battle the armies of the pudding king all in one battle—over 100 oozes, puddings, and jellies. They thought tactically and had the friendly deep gnomes use their earthly magics to dig a big pit. When the armies invaded, they pelted the huge soup of slimes with fireballs and a well-placed firestorm that did a total of 1,000 damage across the slime soup. Does it matter that the warlock who laid out all of this destruction couldn't be hit? Not really! I bet that player remembers the moment for the rest of his life.
How do you feel when a player rolls a natural 20? Do you cheer in victory along with them? Do you get all mad and shake your head while your well-designed bad guy gets beheaded in a single strike? Being a fan of the characters means loving it when they succeed. There's a good reason GMs shouldn't use that big flashing d20. No one should celebrate a monster's critical hit. It makes for a fun complication to the game, perhaps, but its not a point of pride for the GM.
Think about the emotional dynamic of craps tables. Craps dealers make their tips when the players roll well. When a good craps table is hot, everyone is happy. The dealers love it, the players love it, everyone's shouting in joy. The only enemies are the dice and the dice don't have any feelings on the matter.
Good RPGs are a completely different experience when all of the human beings, players and GMs, are on the same side of the table watching the story unfold. Everyone there are fans of the heroes.
How do we adjudicate the crazy ideas our players come up with? What tools do we DMs have to deal with insane situations we never expected? We need little more than straight forward skill rolls.
Instead of saying whether something is impossible or not, we affix a difficulty to it and let the dice determine what happens. Tools like advantage and disadvantage help us sway the odds depending on the situation. Skills, moreso than combat abilities, will often determine the circumstances for fantastic events.
When in doubt, don't say no; call for a skill check.
One thing that makes these events so memorable is that they're not the norm. They're special. Much of the time battles will go as we all expect. Monsters and PCs smash against each other, d20s are rolled, damage is inflicted, hit points go down. One side, usually the monsters, drops. This is all perfectly fine. We know it. We love it. If every battle was some crazy crashing-airship-into-the-skull-of-an-evil-god moment, the fantastic would become commonplace.
Still, we can keep our eyes open. We can be prepared to let go of our desires to stay within the boundaries of the game. We can keep our eyes out for those fantastic moments. And we can do our part to bring them to life.