I never thought it would happen to me but my players found a way to end my campaign ten sessions early. Let me back up…
I have been a Game Master for about 10 years and playing in RPGs for the past 20, so know that this wasn’t a new GM fluke when I tell you this story. The game was Pathfinder and the players were a rag tag group of heroes set on surviving an island they just landed on. There was a Dwarf Ranger, a Human Sorcerer, a Half-Elf Monk, a Human Rogue, and a Half-Elf Cleric. Through a series of misunderstandings the players helped finish a ritual that set the goddess of madness and monsters, Lamashtu, free upon the world.
Upon regaining her freedom she set to work gathering an army to over take the world. In addition she also passed out cool party favors in the form of a plague. The plague spread swiftly. All of the kingdom’s Priest, Clerics, and Druids worked night and day attempting to stem the tide of it without success.
The players learned that to kill Lamashtu they would need to get a few magical items: a crimson dagger called the Red Lust, a black falchion called the Chilled Heart, and a book called the Tome of Torog. They had acquired the Chilled Heart and the Tome of Torog but while trying to acquire the Red Lust they had lost the Chilled Heart to Lamashtu, along with the lives of the Ranger, the Monk, and the Cleric.
The party was reduced to just the Sorcerer and the Rogue. They were soon joined by a Barbarian, a Cleric, and an Alchemist to continue their quest. Along the way they had acquired a bevy of cursed items… one of which was the Bag of Devouring.
“What is a Bag of Devouring,” you may ask? A Bag of Devouring is a cursed item that acts like a Bag of Holding until you reach your hand in to pull something out. When it detects flesh it tries to swallow its victim whole in one round. If it succeeds you’ll have a 50/50 shot of wishing the victim back to life on your plane of existence, but if you fail it becomes impossible to resurrect the victim with mortal magic. It’s a nice learning tool that I have used in the past to teach players to investigate their magic items carefully. Rarely have I had to devour a character. Normally it makes a failing grab check, the players see the gnashing teeth, and learn a lesson: “Your GM is a jerk.”
The characters knew they weren’t strong enough to challenge Lamashtu in a fight so their next step was to get help. They were given the choice between beseeching the goddess Desna into helping them or going to the High Demon Pazuzu. They opted for the demon. Go figure.
I had designed Pazuzu to be a roguish devil. I know it deviates from the lore but, hey it’s my story. Pazuzu’s lair was a large city deep under ground called Brimstone and at the center of his city was his casino/home. To gain an audience with him they needed to complete some quest to build their reputation. They did so and in the process learned that Pazuzu’s second in command had made a deal with Lamashtu to help her kill Pazuzu and take his power.
At this point they had enough clout to get an audience with Pazuzu so the players headed off to warn him. They successfully gained entrance and started to warn Pazuzu of the treachery in his house only to have Lamashtu burst through the door with the Chilled Heart in hand. Pazuzu agrees to help the players stop Lamashtu if they give him rights to some land in the Great Desert. The players agreed to his terms. I had written Pazuzu and Lamashtu as old lovers, more akin to a very old spiteful married couple. Think Hemingwy and Gellhorn. So it’s not out of character for him to swagger up and passionately embraces her, thus distracting Lamashtu from the fight. Her undead minions fan out to take down the players.
At this point I expect the players to grab the Chilled Heart and make a run for it. I had planned to have them gather an army to protect the last bastion of hope, the City of Light, and face Lamashtu on a giant, wildly cinematic battlefield. I thought this was going to take several sessions to do. I could already see them riding out to meet Lamashtu on the field of battle and put an end to her once and for all… but that’s not what happened.
So Pazuzu has Lamashtu in a passionate embrace. The Alchemist turns to me and says, “Can I drink my potion of Greater Jump?”
“Sure,” I respond.
“Good, I’m going to jump behind Lamashtu while she’s distracted and use the Bag of Devouring on her.”
“I’m gonna pull it over her head!”
“Give me a Grapple check.”
The player rolled and failed. Lamashtu’s hand shot up, grabbing the bag and turning it back on the player. Now both he and Lamashtu are locked in a battle over the Bag of Devouring. She was easily winning of course and now was just toying with him.
All of a sudden half the group sprung from the table and huddled up. I knew something was amiss when they sat down with large toothy grins on their face. Or maybe that’s just the way I’m remembering it.
The Wizard turned to me and said he cast Enlarge Person on the Barbarian. The Cleric joined in and also cast Bull’s Strength on the Barbarian. To top it off the Barbarian goes into a full Rage. His strength is now in the low 30s. He lumbered over to Lamashtu and grabbed the bag and began forcing it down on her head. He made his grapple check and, of course, hit a natural 20. The room erupted in screams and cheers. I had them confirm the crit and it was successful. There is no way to deprive them of this, I thought. They worked together and out-smarted me.
So I let it happen. Lamashtu was sucked into the bag. Her undead minions were quickly dealt with but the bag began to rumble and crack. The Wizard piped up, “I want to teleport to the volcano we passed getting here.” I inform them that can do this but whomever goes to volcano won’t be coming back. The blast would be too great for them to survive and teleport back. The Cleric agreed to lay his life down for the greater good. The Wizard teleported the Cleric to the volcano and then teleported back alone. And with that the Cleric tossed the bag into the volcano, Lamashtu’s undead army rotted and fell away, and the plague disappeared. Thus ending the campaign.
I can’t begrudge them the ending they got. Granted it screws up my story and renders days of work and planning useless but that’s not what RPGs are about. The day the GM puts his enjoyment and story above that of the player enjoyment is the day he needs to hang up his dice bag. Game Mastering and most roleplaying games are about a shared storytelling experience.
Sure, I could have railroaded them into the ending I wanted but it wouldn’t have been THEIR ending. The players worked together to solve a problem, the dice were with them, and they had a great time. That’s what really matters, that they had a great time.
The lesson I want to leave you with is that no matter how much you plan and scheme, the players could always go left instead of right. So don’t fight it. Say “Yes and…” and keep on gaming.
Even if they are campaign-ending Munchkins.
Kudos to them. The weak point of the plan as I see it was giving them a clear shot at her at this stage. I’ve learnt to only bring the enemy into the room if they’re invulnerable in some way unless I’m ready to see them go. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group grab and run unless they absolutely had no choice.
Good on you for letting them pull off their plan too without going all deus ex on them.
I love seeing players figuring out creative solutions to the problems. Sounds like a great game. Give the players a high five for me (and one for you too for excellent GMing).
Thanks guys. I know I can’t stand it when a GM railroads me so I had to let them do it. What about you guys, have you ever had a situation like this where your players out witted you or have you out witted the GM?
By Lamashantu, I’m assuming you mean Lamashtu?
You’re absolutely right. Holy fuck, I must have misread it when I was first looking for a big bad and it stuck like a bad habit. I always called her Lamashantu and never Lamashtu in the games. I’ve gone ahead and updated it.
This kind of stuff makes me really happy. You went from a campaign that may not have been memorable to one that your players will talk about for years, all because you understood RPGs aren’t the GM vs. the PCs, but instead a bunch of friends telling a story together with a shared set of rules.
Good on you. :)
That is exactly how all DM/PCs should make every story.
The chosen system gives us the rules set to work with, and the story flows equally from all involved.
Personally I take pride in the fact that during the games I run I can spend a solid 30 min – 1 hr without ever having to speak. My PCs drive most social encounters, I drive most combative ones. Though obviously rolls mix up.
I can never run, nor play in a game wherein the story is preset and has to be followed. Growing up in New England, I like my world organic, not cookie cutter and city planned.
That being said, kudos to the DM for having fun with everyone. Sucks that 3 PCs died… I hope they were RECENTLY created and not characters run from lv 1 to epic levels (I assume epic considering the encounter). But the rules seemed to have been ignored… A game without rules doesn’t seem fun to me. Half of what all the hard core d20 players love is the rules layering and max/min manipulations.
You want to make the character that is heroic in YOUR mind, and ALSO viable on paper. Character creation and development is all based in the rules system.
Clearly Lamashtu as a Divine Being isn’t dead, just her her material shell is destroyed, right? And now she’s got one hell of grudge against them?
Also have any of them asked for a mythic tier?
…you can’t critical hit a grapple check…
a natural 20 is NOT an instant success on ANYTHING but attack rolls.
The average daemon lord has a CMD in the 80s’
The Bag of Devouring has a CMB of +8
how did this work?
Even with 5 PCs giving aid another each… that’s a +18.
As a PC i’d find this anti climactic.
As a DM, I’d outsmart the feeble attempt to use mortal magic to kill a daemon lord…
From Paizo’s own website, dealing with combat and specifically Combat Maneuvers (of which grapple is definitely one)
“Determine Success: If your attack roll equals or exceeds the CMD of the target, your maneuver is a success and has the listed effect. Some maneuvers, such as bull rush, have varying levels of success depending on how much your attack roll exceeds the target’s CMD. Rolling a natural 20 while attempting a combat maneuver is always a success (except when attempting to escape from bonds), while rolling a natural 1 is always a failure.”
So given that, it’s perfectly plausible to have allowed this to work.
The physical bodies of deities (aspects) are NOT the deity themselves. They’re just vessels. You can’t kill a god on any plane other than their own, so the DM should have just had Lamashtu’s cultists attempt to resurrect or recreate her aspect rather than just ending the campaign because the party stuffed the last boss into a bag. Killing her mortal body should have only been a temporary setback.
wow you really don’t get the point do you
bet you are a delight to game with the way rolling in broken glass then swimming in lemon juice is delightful
None of that should have ever happened. As soon as someone attacked the demon her minions should have engaged that rest of the party. Also the entire scene is nothing but meta gaming. Two character manage to cast buff spells AND the barbarian gets an attack while none of her dudes are doing anything but standing around?!? There’s nothing creative about any of that, rather it’s just poor GMing.
Really, you’re going to accuse him of poor GMing when he had a great time and his players loved the game? It’s bitter-as-heck rules lawyers like you who ruin gaming tables. The funny thing about tabletop and role-play? It’s fantasy. It’s GAMING. And any GOOD GM knows that enjoyment is the goal, and aims for that. Get over yourselves.
I once saw a rouge kill a t-rex in 3rd using nothing but a ring of invisibility and a master work short sword
I plan my games around a simple mantra
“No battleplan, no matter how great, survives first contact with the enemy”
– General George S Patton
That’s a good plan!
Really? Pazuzu being fun and interesting is a deviation from Pathfinder lore? I reached all the way back to the 1e MM to include Pazuzu in a 5e game specifically because he was tricky and fun and roguish (for a demon). Plus, “confirming” a crit? People actually do that? Man 3.finder does NOT sound fun. Options can be nice and all. But i just wanna be an elf, a dwarf, and a thief and just go down a hole to rob the monsters who live there.
That’s a perfectly valid way to play, too! RPGs are best when they are tailored to you and your particular players. This instance may not have suited you or your players, but it worked magnificently well for this table. And thats the whole point, right?
The Rule of Cool.
I’ve been game mastering for over 35 years and I’ve long learned that a game master should never let their plans get in the way of a players success.
I ran a once a week ‘on a mission from the gods to save the world’ campaign that ran for 6 years. It started when the players, as kids, fled from an assassin who was sent by the cultists trying to end the world. Over the years they had brushes with him and learned just how deadly he really was. At the end of the campaign, as they raced to stop the final ritual that would end everything, of course the assassin stepped out to confront them. I’d spent 6 years planning this epic battle.
… One PC stepped forward and offered a bribe. The entire hoard from an ancient dragon (also a battle years in the making that did take place) that they’d only just found/acquired. I rolled on the table in front of the players and the assassin crit failed his Duty (to keep his contract) and also his Greed. “OK. Done.” and he walked away.
A battle that I thought for sure would wipe out half the party and I’d spent countless hours preplotting the assassins moves based on what I thought the group might do and I just let it go, because it was the right thing to do.
You sir, have my respect.
Thank you for sharing! Isn’t it amazing? You deserve a hat tip yourself.
And this is why DMs shouldn’t plan their adventures out too much.
Railroading ain’t fun for anyone but the DM.
DMs should always go with the flow. Get a general idea or skeleton for your plot but just run with it. RPGs are about co-writing stories with the DM and the players.
It’s just a personal opinion from my experience DMing, but railroading isn’t that fun in general. When I make a story, I build the world and come up with an overarching task, and then proceed to open their cages and let them run about. I keep them on rather long leashes, so even if they have the freedom to do whatever, It doesn’t just put the entire plot of the story to the side. If some great evil is expected to destroy the world, then it will start to decay. In an Upcoming campaign I will be running, I will be taking on the role of a powerful, but somewhat mad scientist that had literally built the world they live in by the use of magical gears to effect reality itself.
A mechanic I had come up with, but have not yet solidified was sort of a fate-changing system in which they could permanently expend a hit-dice to randomly alter the current events of the world around them. meaning that if they use it too often, they would be unable to heal during short rests, or heal others with some spells/abilities. It’s to give them a sense of a larger picture of the world that they cannot even approach comprehension of, so by essentially jamming a wrench in the cogs, they have dramatically effected the machine as a whole.
I know this is late but yeah just read and get what you said. I’m not much of a GM (mostly because I’m more character driven campaign instead of plot driven and the main group I play in prefer the latter), but in a secondary group I played in first time I gmed they were mostly on the evil side (I have my own thoughts on evil characters in campaigns but that’s a different story) and most of them worshipped a forbidden goddess of the dead and undead called Yimi (it was my own custom setting). Pretty much they were nomads and the goal was travel from place to place in a land that’s unpredictable to nomads, finding ways to get food and supplies and with side quests that might come with the town they come across. It was a campaign that did call for you to possibly questionable things.
They came across a small town who saw who they were and were stopped by the town guard at the gate and had their carts searched. The group’s summoner (it was Pathfinder) had his holy text found and confiscated (he was able to bluff his way out by saying he was a collector of religious items and not a follower so he wasn’t arrested) but the guard strongly hinted that he would give it back if paid enough.
When the group’s cleric joined in, he managed to convince the group to instead of paying for the book back, he convinced them to steal it back instead. How they went about it involved burning one of the town’s inn to get as many guards distracted and then rushing to their headquarters and breaking in. That got burned down as well and the group not only got the text back but several other confiscated items.
Did I plan this? No, honestly since it was the first session I was just gonna see how they can first handle a campaign without much GM direction. Was it out there? Yes mostly for how over reactive it was but everyone had fun. And that was good.
Another example said summoner player decided to start a DnD 5e campaign with a custom setting. One prime example would be when our group was going to a nearby town to get supplies for another town that was ravaged by demons and Kua Toa (or fishmen as we like to call them). We saw that town was having the same problem but was being protected by a barrier that was made by the church my paladin followed. The demons were bigger and more HP than the usual but also pretty slow.
We killed them and the GM said he had planned on us actually running past the barrier (after saying the only reason we survived that was that we has two paladins and they were weak against radiant damage so smite evil all around) and we laughed and told him to expect to have a high expectations of us fighting anything we see (keep in mind, we had two paladins one who took an oath of guardian and always promised to protect the weak, mine who had a grudge against said demons and wanted them all dead, and a cleric of a war god. We also have a wizard that mostly sticks to us holy players and the only one who ran was the rogue who was able to sneak past to the barrier but I digress).
His response: “Noted”
And made it clear to adjust encounters according to such.
But yeah I get why GM’s sometimes have to go with the flow with planned campaigns.