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OutofCharacter / WhatWentWrong

Dragonslayer Thoughts - September 06 2010

We had a simple random encounter on Aug 13 10 near the end of the night. The group in their travels during the Ophioglossum story arc took them across the swamps and the group found a lizard men nesting site. They moved to the north to avoid the site and continue on towards their destination. They had the unfortunate luck to stumble upon the lizard men patrol guarding the nesting site and were totally surprised by them.

This encounter spiraled out of control and ended up taking several game sessions to resolve (and as of this writing is not actually completed nor is anyone satisfied by it). On the next night Aug 20 10 the players redid the lizard men encounter from the beginning because we had only gone one round in and we wanted to clarify to everyone exactly what was happening and the rules about overbearing. The group lost the fight though no fault of their own, a couple of bad rolls and a good decision to surrender by the last person standing rather than be killed.

As this was a random encounter I now had an interesting problem on my hands. I had intended for this to be an encounter to show the players the overbearing rules and other unarmed combat rules and I did not really think I could defeat 6 armed characters with 10 unarmed lizard men. But the situation changed and I like to think I am good on my feet and flexible with how things unfold. I could not just kill off the characters that would not be fun for the players or me and I could not just let them go either.

So I quickly created a new NPC for the lizard men to sell their new prisoners to. She is a witch who lives on a small farm in the swamps. My thinking was someone at least partially evil after all they are taking in prisoners/slaves but I did not want it to be a totally miserable person either. If the group did well in reacting to the situation I wanted them to find a way out of it. So I had her use a giant snapping turtle as a familiar and simple undead as guards (skeletons and zombies) that were not armed. I needed someone to communicate with the player characters so I added in a mongrel man as her lackey/prisoner. Not bad for a 5 minute brainstorm if I do say so myself.

The problem ended up being that the Players seem to think they were screwed over in some way or I did not react properly with the witch.

The characters had been tied and gagged by the lizard men and during transport had tried to stage an escape that managed to get one of the lizard men killed but failed to actually free any of the characters. Then when they were brought to the witch they were separated from their weapons, armor and gear except for the holy symbols on the two priests. Over the course of two hours of time they were moved from the three skiffs they were using into a barn as a temporary holding cell. The witch gave the lizard men all of the food the group was carrying, one of the skiffs and two gems that she found in the groups belongings. The lizard men did not take anything from the group while they were their captives and the witch only gave away things that were easily replaced except for the gems. The witch tried to engage the group in conversation but was rebuffed.

The witch then took the most seriously wounded of the characters who was unconscious into her hut and fully healed her. Accompanied by a single unarmed skeleton the witch then asked who the group was and what the character's name was. The character (Miranda) refused to answer. Eventually Miranda said that one of the other characters (Branwyn) should be the next person to talk to. So the witch sent Miranda away and brought in Branwyn. During the time of this questioning the group in the barn had managed to escape from their bindings. Ploment the Mongrel Man told the group he was going to get tea for the witch and then would be back to get Branwyn.

When Branwyn was in the hut with the witch the questioning did not go any better. Repeated requests finally got a name but she continued to refuse to answer the question about why the group was in the swamp in the first place. At this point the Players complained that the witch was not answering their questions. At the moment the group has no armor no weapons and there are 4 zombies and 4 skeletons plus the mongrel man and giant snapping turtle around the farm. Yes it is admirable that the group wants to fight to the last gasp bitter end but to refuse to give any cooperation to your new owners when you are slaves/prisoners can only mean bad things.

With Branwyn refusing to answer questions the witch went to a nearby chest and opened it up. The witch took out a dagger and a spell book. My intention was to take one of Branwyn's spellbooks the witch had just captured and cut out a blank page from it as an inducement to answer questions. The Player (Lisa) saw this happen and Branwyn freaked out. She ducked away from the skeleton that was guarding her and cast spook on the witch. The witch failed her save and ran in fear from the hut dropping the dagger. A successful escape attempt looked to be in the offing again and the group could be saved. But it was not to be.

The players decided to search for their stuff rather than escape. The skeleton in the hut attacked Branwyn and Kristelle as she entered the hut. Miranda pulled off an undead turning on the other three skeletons and forced them up against the border fence of the farm. With only the dagger from the witch the group was forced again into unarmed combat and it was several rounds of chaos. The witch returned from her fear induced running away and got involved in the fray with Branwyn, Kristelle and the skeleton. At one point the group managed to capture the witch and tie her up. The next round she used gaseous form to escape the bonds all the while telling the group of characters to go out side and sit down so everyone could talk.

At this point the encounter has been going on for 4-6 hours of game time (over more than four sessions) and the combat has been going on for several rounds. At no time has the witch (including the undead) used any weapon except for the dagger on the spell book. The group did find their polearm from one of the character that was put up in a storage building with other farming implements as other characters searched. The group discovered other captives in that storage building as well, captives who had locked them selves inside during the fight. In searching the hut Indigo made a horrible mess of one room causing an avalanche of crates, boxes and baskets to scatter things in a huge pile. During the chaos the Zombies on patrol outside caught a Bullywug and fed him to the Giant Snapping Turtle. The witch also had the turtle crush one of the two remaining skiffs.

The group continued to threaten the witch and demand to know "where is our stuff" even though they had no way of hurting her other than destroying her possessions. The group eventually managed to kill the one skeleton and make a huge mess of the witches belongings. And this is where we currently stand.

I just do not understand why the players think the outcome should have been different or they should feel in control; able to bully or threaten the witch into doing things for them. Being brought in as prisoners, bound and known spell casters gagged it would have been a boring but logical story to simply slit their throats and end it. Then when they are in front of the person who just purchased them from their captives they refuse to cooperate. Understandable but again how can they possibly think that this new person will just start answering demands they make? There were tons of clues as to how to handle this NPC. No weapons anywhere that anyone can see, even the guards are unarmed. Healing the seriously wounded party member first before even asking any questions. A Giant Snapping Turtle that understands her and obeys directions not attacking them. Zombies and Skeletons unarmed and not attacking them. The Witch and the mongrel man both continually telling the group to calm down and talk, to just sit down and talk. The other captives with a lock on the inside of their door to keep others out rather than keep them in. The polearm and bow stored with other farming implements.

What do the players do?

Never give their name except for one finally after several attempts. Never give the name of the Mercenary Unit they are part of. Never answer the basic question of why are you in the swamps. Never stop and talk, continue to demand "where is our stuff". They threaten that they will burn down the hut and destroy everything. They say they will kill the Witch if they see her.

This is the first time we have had a problem like this in the current story line. In the high level campaign that we put on hold it came up several times because the group was high level and very powerful and tended to bully NPCs into doing what they wanted rather than negotiate. In this story arc and previous ones the group has been very good at talking and handling the interactions in a calm and rational way. This encounter has been totally screwed up almost from the beginning but definitely from the introduction of the Witch. It is not a matter of levels or character strength. The group was obviously in the lesser position of power with the Witch and when their initial attempts to bully their way out failed they did not change tactics they just tried bullying again.

I do not see what I could have done differently as the NPCs to change the encounter, but I want to hear from everyone about what they think the problem is. Players and any other outsiders that would like to comment please do so. The relevant chat logs for this encounter are:

Aug 13 10Aug 20 10Aug 27 10Sep 03 10

What went wrong? Why did things spiral out of control?

Players Comments:

I was trying to talk. When I came in from missing a session it appeared we were in some position of power. The group was running around, making a mess of the place and searching. I found her slaves, I said to bring them out to one place. There was a mess in that room that may have held our things, I said I wanted to search it neatly. I told the witch in character that we would talk, but not purely on her terms. Why would I want to agree to have all of us sitting outside in one spot, an easy target for someone who can a) cast spells and b) keeps slaves? I asked her where our stripped equipment was, and that after she told me that we could talk calmly.

I felt from reading the log of the week that I missed that the situation had quickly turned to chaos, and I was attempting to bring some order back into it. I feel that the dynamic had changed from the beginning of the encounter, but the witch's expectations did not. When we were tied up and gagged she should have demanded us to do as she said. She had the power. When we were all free and semi-armed the sway of power moved in between the groups. The witch would have to be an idiot to see that. We had multiple holy people to deal with her guards. We had means enough to burn and smash up what she had built for herself unless she tried stopping us by force. And all I was asking her for before we talked were our physical weapons and armor, not any kind of worry to her.

As a barbarian I felt that my character would not feel secure without at least her weapons in had. As a priest she wanted her dagger, which is a holy item. As a mercenary she wanted her squad to be armed. I couldn't bring myself to have her be a sheep and just follow orders from a person who seemed up to this point a potential enemy. Imari would not just do what she is told by a stranger. I build a personality through rp and stick with it, and I could not justify just doing what the witch said. I did try and bring about a diplomatic situation.

During my role playing the witch basically took her ball and went home because she was not getting what she wanted. At the time that left us pretty screwed over. I felt bad for screwing over the group with my rp, and felt frustrated because another npc was being a dick and stonewalling us in spite of the changes in the balance of power OUT of their favor.

I'm going to at the least be taking a hiatus from the game.


I do hope you come back soon Mike. I disagree that the balance of power had shifted to out of her favor, as I thought it was clear she does not think weapons are power. I do not think you screwed over the group with your RP, you did play your character the way you saw fit. This is not about assigning blame or anything along those lines. I want everyone to talk about what they saw/thought/felt and why so we all see all sides of the story. BOB

When we came to a point where the huts were in our sight, we weren't that close, and said we were going out of our way to avoid the huts. So when one of the lizardmen said they saw us near their huts and wanted to make sure we didn't take their stuff, I was floored. How could they see us near their huts, when we weren't? Okay, whatever. Obviously, our player intentions were misunderstood.

As far as how the group previously has been good about handling interactions calmly and rationally, there is one important bit of information that affects that. They weren't being held prisoner before! There is a great psychological difference for many people. Some will be more afraid, and some will be angry. No one in this group is really a diplomat, although Branwyn usually does pretty well.

In no way do I blame Lisa for having Branwyn react the way she did. Even if Lisa knew what the witch's intentions were, Branwyn didn't. She thought she was going to be injured or even killed. Also, there was no reason for the witch not to believe that Bran's name was Sparks. That was how Miranda referred to her and that was how she referred to herself. Yes, Miranda was returned to full health by the witch. Yet she returned with a wound on her neck. Knowing the witch had undead minions wandering around the property, all we could do was wonder what she had done to Miranda.

Miranda did not refuse to answer questions. She answered them, and the witch has no way of knowing whether she answered them honestly or fully. That is DM knowledge, not NPC knowledge. She gave her name - remembering what Foriso once said about names being power, she answers honestly about her name - the name Foriso gave her, true, but it's still her name, after a fashion. She also answered the question about what they're doing in the swamps. She said that Foriso (Tiptoes) knows - which he does. THE WITCH does not know that she knows. BOB knows. I try hard to make the distinction between what I know and what Kristelle knows. Bob knows this, I always ask him if I'm unsure about what she might know. I don't think it's asking a lot to want the same in return.

For myself as a player, I ask you to consider this. Had this been our other group, Moirra would have been sitting down to tea and scones with the witch inside of fifteen seconds. That's Moirra. Kristelle, however, was captured by and forced to submit (twice) to her HATED ENEMY, who then sold her to someone who then kept her uncomfortably bound, stole her belongings, and took her badly injured friend away with no explanation. Is she pissed off beyond belief? Damned skippy she is! And then she hears her other friend scream in either fear or pain. Why would she sit there and try to calmly talk it out, when she thinks her friend is in danger?

While the 'group' did discover captives locked in a building, not all members were there to know it was locked from the inside. I didn't even catch that part during the game, as a player. And just because she didn't injure us off the bat didn't mean she wasn't going to hurt us. Someone takes you prisoner, you don't know what they have in store for you. Kristelle doesn't want to be a slave, especially not to someone who has an ongoing relationship with her hated enemy.

During all this, Ploment and the witch continually advised the goup to just sit outside and talk. Nothing else, just go sit down and talk. Had she given one thread of a possibility that they wouldn't end up as undead slaves, perhaps they would have done so. This is not so much a matter of the group trying to bully the witch as it is the group being afraid and outraged, and just wanting to get the heck out of there with their weapons (and, preferably, their 'stuff').

Then, Kristelle gets captured again, thanks to the turtle. She ends up bound and gagged. And then, when Kristelle is finally saying Screw it, yeah, what choice do I have? I'll listen... THEN, what does the witch do? She takes her ball and leaves.

Yes, I'm frustrated. No, I'm NOT blaming Bob (although I know it sounds like it in several places, I'm really not.) I'm not blaming anyone, because I think it's just one of those situations that was doomed to be a clusterfuck. Not due to any one person, but the combination of characters and the situation. With different characters, yes, it may have gone quite differently. Perhaps the personality of the witch didn't allow her to react differently. If so, it should be all the more understandable that the PCs reacted the way they did - according to their personalities.

Mike - I certainly don't blame your rp for the mess we're in, and I doubt anyone else does, either. I do hope you come back to us soon.


Good point on the hated enemy and Kristelle. I think one way we diverge is I think that getting away is more important than getting your stuff. If you get away then you can come back for your stuff or the rest of your group. At the end when the turtle had capture Kristelle again I admit it is more my fault that the ending was so rough. I was fed up with hearing about how this sucks, BOB is screwing us over, the Witch should just give in, etc. That is when she 'took her ball and went home' and I did recognize that and changed history to leave the magic items behind rather than take them with her as I had specified earlier.

One point to make is that I think all the Players knew the situation was getting out of control and still no one stopped to just talk to each other outside of the game or outside of combat to talk about what to do and how to solve this. BOB

What went wrong? Hmmmm… I guess looking at it from here, I would say a lack of communication and some wrong assumptions on both player and DM parts.

Bob assumed that we would be picking up on the fact no one was armed and the witch did not immediately kill us. First off, I for one did not know all the guards were unarmed until the one was attacking us. I assumed they had weapons. Right before Branwyn went in to her meeting she found out about the wounds on Miranda’s neck, which definitely changed her mindset about how she was going to deal with the witch. Danger factor for me escalated.

I could not fathom that the witch after spending the time to heal Miranda and directing Ploment to set us up in the barn, would have taken the time to scatter our weapons all over the place. It did not and still does not make a lot of sense to me. Even if she doesn’t like weapons, wouldn’t you just lock them up in one place?? Again, bad assumption I guess.

Then we spent the night fighting her personally, she was not casting except to turn into gas and escape at the end. This signaled to me that perhaps she was not as powerful as I thought she was. So, Imari’s way of dealing with her did not seem unreasonable to me. Give us our stuff or we’ll destroy yours. The witch got very upset when Indigo messed up the back room, so it seemed like a point of weakness we could exploit. At that point, I did not feel we were working from a place of no power.

Whether the door to the prisoner building was locked from inside or out, there were prisoners sick and in shackles in there for God knows how long. That seemed to me like it would have been our fate if we would have sat down and played nice – especially after all the damage we had just done. It seemed too late to turn back now. And, we had not finished searching. I was still thinking our weapons were there, we just had to hold her off long enough to find them. Between Branwyn’s cantrips not working and all the stuff crashing down on Indigo, our searching was delayed immensely.

For as many signs that Bob thought he transmitted to us that we could negotiate successfully, there were just as many telling us that we were in a lot of danger and we had to get out of there if we could. I saw no indication that we would be anything more than the slaves even if we told her everything. I thought we would have to make an escape at some point. I did not see her just letting us go.

Looking back, I guess the players should have taken some kind of time out and coordinated efforts more. But I think that it is hard to do. Everything was happening relatively quickly and we were all spread out trying to accomplish different things. If we were really in that type of situation, we would not have had the time to stop all action and strategize and debate NPC motives and best possible outcomes. But it may have gone better if we would have taken the time to do so and had a firm grasp on what everyone was trying to do. It is easy for me during the week to look back over the night and think of ways to handle things better, etc. but not as easy when the action is happening and situations changing at the moment.

Mike – I hope you come back soon. Will miss you if you stay away too long!


I do agree with Lisa's assessment that the signs pointed to being prisoners as much as negotiating. I do not want anyone to think that this was planned that you negotiate your way out of being prisoners in one easy step. As the encounter developed I saw that it would be a question of the party being captives and how they could negotiate to a better situation.

I do think that sometimes as a group we need to either use the discussion threads more or someone speak up and say STOP so we all pause and make sure that everyone understands what is happening. Chaos and making changes in the middle of a fluid battle is part of roleplay but it is not my intention to have the players totally floundering without a plan. BOB