Prior to these events, the party had just fought a 31-round battle against an excessive number of kobalds (I've forgotten exactly, I believe more than 80), with the help of 21 dwarves and a non-player hireling, Klaas. As shown in the image below, made when my art abilities were somewhat less than what they are now, this led them to a storage room, filled with sacks of grain, barrels of beer and buckets of pitch.
|Image indicates positions after investigating the orange colored storeroom, upper left.|
Following the usual after-combat discussions about searching bodies, collecting weapons, splitting loot, designating search groups, setting up watches, the party descends into the storeroom with an eye to searching it. Throughout this time, the party is asking questions, describing their actions and at the same time, "role-playing." This last describes the pattern of expressing how they feel about the last fight, their emotions about finding loot and treasure, supporting each other's participation and various other elements that any DM will recognize from having run a few games. At some point I should write a commentary on this sort of thing, but the example here is fairly confusing due to a lot of other references and so it is a situation I can discuss at another time.
So instead, let's pick up the story as Andrej the Cleric casts a detect malevolence spell, then ventures towards the cavern that is shown in blue, to the left of the storeroom:
DM: From 2605 you can't see much - There is some kind of large cavern between where 2303 and 2305 slopes down. And just for a moment Andrej catches sight of a ... wing. It extends out into Andrej's line of vision and then disappears again. The wing appeared to be about the size of a bedroll.Andrej: Bat-like? Bird-like? ::gulp:: Dragon-like?DM: Correct answer ~ ::gulp::
Normally, the correct manner in which such a disclosure should be managed is not to blatantly state the case; this builds up tension and intrigue, while maintaining the strict access to information that the character should have. In order to learn more about what the wing belongs to, the players should have to actually enter the cavern, letting their imaginations feed their fear.
However, here we are talking about a dragon. My personal feeling is that, given the name, a full-grown dragon should be the scariest, most powerful monster in the game, short of a demi-god. I've written rules for that purpose. The practical and terrifying aspect of meeting such a creature is, therefore, more than sufficient to establish all the fear and stress that we could possibly want. As a DM, because the players are only 3rd or 4th level here (Lukas is 1st, but realizes he is 2nd after the Kobald's experience is passed around), I'm not anxious to force them into the cavern, as though they are fighting another group of mere kobalds. I created the description of the wing specifically to serve as a warning, to give the players foreknowledge ~ and it worked because the player jumped on the detail perfectly. Letting the player be right in this instance serves to give them a little confidence; knowing what's in front of them, they can prepare and plan to face it.
Even though it is a very small dragon, they need confidence. Note the immediate reaction from the other two players:
Ahmet the Fighter [upstairs and quite a long way away]: Ahmet resolutely guards the door. Good luck down there fellas!Lukas the Mage [in the storeroom]: I guess dragons are one way to keep the beer cold. And they would probably do a fair job of keeping kobolds in line. Tell you what, Andrej you distract it while I thaw out this pitch ...Andrej: Yeah, I'll get right on that.
When you're DMing, keep conscious of this sort of exchange. It gives a lot of information. Some parties might respond with something like "oh, shit," and a DM might be tempted to think the above is exactly the opposite of that. In fact, it's the party has probably reacted just like you expect only they feel compelled to make a joke, cover up their concern and emotionally separate themselves from what's happening. They've been hit hard by the information and they're "dealing with it."
Of course, that can go too far. A party that starts with a joke or two can quickly fall into a massive derailment of the game for several minutes, which can manifest as a) more jokes; b) mockery of the DM, or c) actual anger. It's important with these things to understand what is going on in the mind of the player.
continued elsewhere ...
This is the first of two such posts I will be writing in the month of April for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found. Examples on the Tao of D&D blog can be found here and here.
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