Jacob Holo: The gobber retrieves four circlets from his bag and places them on the ground in front of you. He handles them with thick leather gloves and uses extreme care. At no time does he touch them directly. The wide rings of twisted black metal radiate an aura of palpable evil. Even standing several feet away, you can feel the joy and color of the world starting to fade. Birds aren’t singing. Crickets aren’t chirping. Even the sound of wind through the trees has come to a stop. A strange unearthly chill settles over you.
Erik: I take one and put it on.
Jacob Holo: Of course you do. I mean, why wouldn’t you?
I’m beginning to think these players aren’t taking me seriously. And to be honest, maybe this is my own fault. Because I prefer everyone to have fun. Yes, I want to challenge the players, but I don’t feel the need to stomp their faces into the ground and pour salt in their wounds. No one likes a frustrating, unfair obstacle in the middle of their gaming session.
I am, first and foremost, a story teller. I relish the chance to take people on a journey, and that’s hard to do when they’re taking a roleplaying dirt nap. So, sometimes I bend the rules.
Jacob Holo: The Cryxian helljack staggers upright, foul glowing liquid pouring from the bullet holes in its chassis. It charges Erik, shaking the earth with each thundering stride. The helljack pulls back a fist of wicked claws and … <rolls dice>
Erik: Oh, this is going to hurt.
Ferrous Claw: How much health do you have left?
Erik: One point.
Ferrous Claw: Dude, nice knowing you. I call dibs on his shoes.
Fiz: No fair! I wanted them.
Jacob Holo: <dice roll result is a hit> … Ooh, so close. The helljack swings. You drop to your knees at the last moment. The massive metallic fist sails an inch over your head, taking your hat with it.
Erik: No, not my hat!
And that’s fine. A slightly modified die roll can give the party a bit of good “luck” when they need it the most or can turn a boring encounter into a true challenge, making the game all the more thrilling.
But perhaps I’ve been too forgiving. It’s time for their luck to run out. Nothing focuses a group of players like a brutal and unexpected death. And this crew does some really stupid stuff from time to time.
For example …
Jacob Holo: You carefully examine the narrow iron bridge and find a hinged plate spanning the entire width. No way around it and no guardrail. There’s another hinged plate on the opposite side. The mechanism looks like it’ll give out when sufficient pressure is applied. The gap they form is about six feet.
Erik: I’m going to jump it.
Jacob Holo: You take a step back and pause, glancing down at the inky blackness below. You don’t know how far it is to the bottom, but you guess the drop will be fatal.
Erik: I’m still going to jump it.
Jacob Holo: Sure. Why not. Jumping skill check.
Erik: <rolls dice> Err …I rolled a two.
Jacob Holo: You take a running leap, but your foot slips at the last moment. You stumble forward. The plates give way, and you plunge into the darkness screaming.
Erik: Can I turn around and try to catch the ledge?
Jacob Holo: Your comrades watch you disappear into the gloom below. Your scream fades until it’s abruptly cut off by a bone-crunching splat that echoes in the chasm.
Erik: Guess not.