The following sequence arose from events associated with the Campaign Senex, played in succession from February 17 to 24, 2017.
There are many moments when I think I am a very poor DM; when I weaken and do not follow my own precepts, even as I am vigorously flogging those precepts on my blog. This is just such a time, an occasion where I set up a scene I should not have set up, then bailed the party out of the mess they helped created. I should not have done that, either.
The scene began when the party entered an abandoned village in Turkey, Pazarli only to meet a single old man who warned them that there was no safe place to stay in the village. This was the old man's exact words: "Safe? No. Nowhere safe." He then went on to warn them that there were Turkish Janissaries just beyond the ridge.
This was the error my part. It was not much of an adventure. I wanted to get the players into a fight, preferably in the trees outside the village of Pazarli, that could presumably be kept up for a while. I hoped the players would take the hint and choose to camp in the bushes. Then, they could run into a small patrol on its way to search the village (they were perpetually searching for this same old man, who I had designated as a wererat), fight them, get some treasure, then wend their way out of the area meeting, occasionally, other soldiers.
If they made friends with the wererat, I supposed, they could find him a helpful ally and scout; but if they did not warm up to him, they could go it alone. This was my expectation.
Unfortunately, the party was also told there were patrols in the hills. So they took the phrase, "nowhere safe" to mean that they might as well stay in the town as out in the trees. Moreover, they were tired, they were near to suffering from a long journey (which, too, was part of my plan), and they adopted a helpful, protective demeanor towards the wererat. This, despite the wererat/grandfather telling them the village had been repeatedly searched, with dogs ~ without, I thought it obvious, finding the old man. Perhaps the party realized this, but it made no difference to their offers to protect the old man nor their decision to settle in the town for the night.
So now the party was exposed, not hidden. The town was going to fill up with soldiers. Instead of meeting one patrol in the woods, the party was going to be infested with them. Sigh. I sent them conflicting messages and they did not adequately parse their situation. I made it worse by suggesting that the village was not searched every night.
Here I made my second error: I assigned the place the party would rest for the night without drawing a map. I should have drawn a map. The party had said they wanted "a single hut." Anxious to make them feel safe, I put them in a building "recessed back from the main road" ... with a "courtyard outside the residence, a courtyard surrounded by two other buildings with a narrow 8 foot wide lane leading from the road."
Two things. On my part, I had totally forgotten the party had a horse. There had been a long recess between games and I simply forgot. So this was not a good place for them. The horse was an albatross, that made it difficult for them to sneak out ... which is what I was counting on them to do. And here is why:
Because I had already intended to have the Turks search the town! In my head, I had decided on this event when I expected the party to recess to the trees and not stay in the village. I had to retain that commitment! I feel very strongly that a good DM, having invented a scenario, must stay true to that scenario, no matter what the party decides to do. I had settled in my mind that the village was going to be searched that night ... so that was absolutely what was going to happen.
Of course I could have changed that in my mind, and no one would have ever been the wiser. That's one of the deepest, darkest issues with being a DM. Are you prepared to be true to your first intentions? OR will you change those intentions willy-nilly, over and over, as the party makes up their mind to do something different. It is a matter of principle. If you are a DM, and you feel your world can change upon your whim, you will soon be changing it constantly, without rhyme or reason, or consistency, every time the party surprises you.
I don't feel my would can, or should, change because the players make a given decision, whether or not it is one I predict. BUT ... and I write this with shame ... I did forsake my principles later on, as the reader will see. And I regret it strongly. I hope I am never stupid enough to do it again.
I did not forsake my intention at this point, however. I did have the village searched. But hold off on that a moment.
So, there were communications issues ... and as the scene continued, knowing what I knew, I began to be concerned that I was overstepping my bounds. This concern settled in to affect my choices as DM, as to how to present the situation for the party. I did not want to trap the party in the courtyard, like the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I wanted there to still be a chance that they could get out alive ~ and towards that end, I began looking for a means to save them.
continued elsewhere...The continuation of this post can be found on the Tao's Master Class blog, along with the other two deconstructive posts I have written, which can be read on the Tao of D&D blog here and here.
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