DM Chronicles, Session 13: Of Moons and Xanathos Railroads, Part 2

railroad.JPGSee part 1 here.

After the fight and Eric’s Bare-assed performance we moved on the evening’s 3rd scene.

Now I won’t get into details of the scene, because there’s no way I could describe it without spending hundreds of words in backstory.

Let’s just say that this time I really managed to surpass my tendency to over-complicate simple plans and it landed the game directly in Xanathos Roulette land.

In my defense, I wrote the scene the day before the game, while under a massive writer’s block, during lunch, at McDonald’s.

Here are the highlights of the scene I played to the PCs. Try guess where things went wrong (yes, it’s a rhetorical question):

  • PCs all get summoned to a minor NPC’s abode for an ‘urgent meeting’
  • NPC comes from prior campaign and was key to allow Cixi to escape from a prison world where all her people are.
  • NPC did 2 cameos in this campaign (heck, it’s still unnamed for all intents and purposes).
  • NPC reveals herself as being a Demon similar to the ones the PCs are fighting
  • NPC explains she is the Mastermind of a interplanar scheme to free her people and Cixi’s from the prison world.
  • NPC takes credit for all the atrocities that befell Ptolus lately so she could engineer her plan
  • NPC offers a key bit of info to direct players toward the solution to save the world
  • NPC offers a very,very detailed plan to Cixi so she can find proof that interplanar pact that landed both ‘groups’ in prison is no longer valid.
  • NPC requires PCs to hunt down said proof.
  • Proof which also just happens to be on the Home plane of Lolth, the Drow godess where they can learn more of her own plans to take over the whole world and maybe stop it.
  • In exchange for NPC ‘helping’ PCs, she merely keeps Ptolus for her own use to get back in favor with an old ally.

At some point, the players revolted. They told me that this made absolutely no sense for the heroes to accept to play along such a scheme, regardless of the threat on their world.

One player was even honest enough to tell me that he will go along because that’s what I had obviously planned but that it violated everything that he thought his character was about.

I tried to defend my decision and story, but it’s clear that they were right.

First, they were heading to the Spider Goddess’ home plane anyway.

Second, I broke almost every rule of my DMing book here in more ways than I can count: I took away the player’s coolness, I took away all control, I needlessly overcomplicated things…. for nothing really

(actually I really wanted to give Franky a path to campaign closure with Cixi… I just choose a most convoluted way.)

I ended up doing an Asspull, explaining that the Demon NPC was only responsible for some of the mayhem in Ptolus and that the rest was driven by the other faction of demons and drow (the real bad guys!) working for the Spider Queen.

While it was interesting to see the players wrestle with the unsavory proposition and debate what to do, the scene was a mess that I have to take responsibility for.

I’m not beating myself over the head too much with this… even DMs are allowed brainfarts every so often…. I haven’t been at the top of my game lately and the 1st half of the game was awesome enough to make the whole evening palatable for all.

Fortunately, the players were able to rationalize this bit of insanity with a very prosaic “If she’s a Demon, why the hell would we believe her? We take her info, we’ll do an independent check and we’ll come and kill her when all is said and done’.

God I’m a lucky DM! I also fully realized that I played my ‘one per campaign’ Free Railroad ability…

We ended the evening with a short scene where the heroes set up to locate the portal to Lolth’s Home Plane by tracking down the Drow base of operation under Ptolus. They found it, besieged by Ptolus’s Elven survivors, bent on revenge. Of course, they couldn’t get passed the last line of defense… good thing the PCs showed up just now…

Lessons Learned:

  • Stop forgetting about the KISS principle man!
  • Always give choices and options to players, otherwise, just write a damn novel.
  • The Cleric variant rules rock!
  • Large fights with multiple intermediate monsters are fun.
  • Update the Social Contract by adding a ‘keep your pants on’ clause

What players liked:

  • Mike liked joining a new D&D group and enjoyed his character.
  • Players appreciated my being generous with the use of action points and backuping to allow better choices.
  • Eric was really really happy about that Crit
  • Math appreciated that save once per round thing.

What Player disliked:

  • Probably most of the second scene
  • Mike would have preferred not to spend so much healing on himself… πŸ™‚

Next game: Into the Drow HQ


  1. I’ve had a few games that ran like that. Not so much railroading, but building something that the players completely rejected. It is one of those hard balances to meet as a GM. Leave it open enough for players to do what they want, but make sure to have things prepared that you can use.

    Of course I think you can lay some of the blame, valid or not, on having been mooned previously. That will throw anyone for a loop :).

  2. John that is in fact a good excuse, but it was mitigate by the fact that all player, except one, where also under shock of the butt assault… πŸ˜‰

    We’re a pretty lenient group and tend to go with what Phil as prepared. Obviously he usually prepare something in accord to what was discuss as potential path in the last game.

    We are first and foremost friends that like to hang out and roleplay together. We’re conscious of the extra work DMing requires and as such make it easy for him. Hell, most of us are happy as long that there is something to beat… πŸ˜›

    This time though Phil had finished is NPC “monologue” and we where still waiting for the thing that would convince us to go with it… Like Phil said in is description the thing that bother me the most of it was that, this was an untrustworthy/undefined character that present a truck load of non verifiable info on which it base it’s argument to convince us to help her in her scheme to destroy the city we lived in…

    At which point we where looking at each other trying to justify how we could present these fact so we would go along with the plan… Weird moment…

    That being said we still had a good evening that is what matters and we did establish some new rule of conduct around the table… (men is Eric going to hear about that for a long time… ) πŸ˜€

  3. “this was an untrustworthy/undefined character that present a truck load of non verifiable info on which it base it’s argument to convince us to help her in her scheme to destroy the city we lived in”

    That brings up a point that is one of those overarching faults of gaming architecture. Metagame a blatantly unrealistic situation or not. Sometimes your character would have absolutely no motivation to trust this person, go along with the obvious clue, or take the plot hook. So, in the game world, why the heck would they. Out of game the players know that this is a plot hook or story element and it is what is leading them to the next adventure. Often it just gets waved off or breezed past, or it goes the other way and characters rail against whatever it is in an attempt to be realistic. I’ve never observed much middle ground. I’ve also found that the bigger the story with the more detail or intrigue, the harder it is to drop in plot hooks, which is what it sounds like Phil was trying to do. I see a lot of fertile ground for intrigue and plotting in this plot hook.

  4. It would have been feasible given the proper time but the thing is this campaign is schedule to stop in 5 session and Phil is trying to cram a lot of story in little game time to finish with a literal big bang, as we move on to the 4th edition.

    Some of thing that could have been done to prepare the encounter given more time:
    -Have the truck load of info given by a source the player thrust before meeting the magnificent bastard (MB).
    -Don’t have the MB enumerate the acts that he did against the player interest or keep it on a need to know basis.
    -Have him give something that the player will recognize as something they need.
    -Let him meet the player in a position of obvious strength (and not threat).
    -Have the MB cameo a few encounter and establish his modus operandi to the player so they can better understand his motive.

  5. But Yan, weren’t you listening? What you listed is exactly what happened last Friday! I really don’t see what all the fuss was about?


    No, of course in hindsight what you propose is a better idea, and I might Ret-Con it exactly that way. I guess I was so desperate for a perfect Game Ending setup for Franky’s character that my inner Storyline Quality Assurance completely fail to pick up the hints that this wasn’t all that a good idea.