My Table Rules

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0707

“The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.” – Gary Gygax, Born Jul. 27, 1938.

This quote was called out to me by my buddy Colin Theriot. And it came in handy last Murder Hobos game.

The party is fighting a group of elemental cultists doing a last-stand on a pillar of rock with a staircase curling around it. Where the staircase lead, the players did not know. What they did know was falling on the stairs was at least a couple hundred foot fall – into more darkness.

One foe is a Dao who’s been enslaved by the elementalists. The Dao must serve and obey unless its life is in peril, in which case the pact is broken and the djinn can return to its plane.

 The round before, the Dao used its Earth Glide to emerge into a nearby hallway and attack by surprise from the rear. The bard cast a terrible spell and the Dao crumpled into a ball of hideous laughter.

On its next turn, the Dao recovers and Earth Glides back into the pillar area, using fly to attack PCs near the stairs. The bard casts his spell again and the Dao fails and falls into incontrollable laughter once again.

Next round the Dao is still laughing and I rule she starts to drop down through the air in uncontrolled flight.

Queue the druid, Vargulf. From the top of the stairs he jumps into the air, transforms into a huge snake, and attempts to grapple and constrict the Dao as she plummets.

Several of us grab our rule books. I’m scratching my head trying to figure out the rate of desecent. 32 feet per second per second? I’m about to Google it and then say to myself, “Screw it. The druid’s doing something amazing here. Let’s just run with it.”

Doing this with my group is risky. They’re technical, tactical, rules experts. They call me on all my rules gaffs. So I’m steeling myself for a hand slap. Maybe a little embarrassment.

“Vargulf, make your attack. It’s tricky, so roll it at disadvantage.”

Vargulf attacks. He hits! He grapples the creature! The table goes crazy. Everyone’s congratulating the player.

What happens next is also amazing. The attack puts the Dao’s life in danger. She’s about to get crush by a  giant snake with other attacks from the Murder Hobos imminent. This breaks the pact. She makes her save and recovers from the laughter. And she casts Plane Shift.

Which leaves the snake grappling nothing. The snake was using the Dao for flight. So the druid starts to drop into the darkness again.

The stairs curl around the pillar into the unknown. Druid asks if he can try to catch the stairs to stop his fall. I call for an ad hoc skill check. Vargulf makes it!

The PCs win with the Dao gone and clean up the remaining mooks. The table is buzzing with the over-the-top play. Nobody called me out for rules gaffes. It was an epic campaign moment.

In fact, I heard one player say to another, “This was awesome because we didn’t spend ten minutes dicking around with the rules.” Gary was right.