The drow noble casts a spell and you all fall to your knees. “Wait! I want to trigger my spell storing armor!” A player interrupts. The GM says, “You don’t get a save due to the spell, but you feel your armor doesn’t work; you can’t even detect magic.” A loud whack echos from your skulls and you all fall unconscious. You later wake up in a dark prison cell, the floors are wet and buckets are knocked over about the cell. You are locked in by an iron door and only torchlight from the outside hall barely leaks in. You’re wearing nothing but rags and tattered cloth. A chuckle can be heard from outside the prison cell.
Woah, woah, woah. Man did that group just get screwed. It looks like the intention here was to trap the players, and the GM used a plot device to do so. The plot device he used was to take everything away from the players though. They all scream “That’s not fair! I demand answers! This isn’t fun!” They’re right. Let’s look at why they’re right and how you can deal with it.
That’s not fair!
The GM wants the players to end up imprisoned, and having to talk their way out of the cell; or somehow escape. This adventure is all about escaping a drow hideout that they have been sent to steal an item from. He hid an antimagic field at the chamber entrance. Nine drow were hidden in the room. Four could cast geas/quest. The main baddy would cast an illusion spell to cause light to flash through the room and confuse the players as they fall to their knees. Four drow would flank the group and knock them out. The players feel cheated. They had no warning, and weren’t allowed saves because of geas/quest.
Perception, spellcraft, and other skill checks all things that work in an antimagic field. These should have been allowed. Not to mention, the GM glossed over something. All magic items cease to function. My best hint to players when they enter an antimagic field is that their sunrods flicker and fade out, their bag of holding spills its contents out, their handy haversack overflows, etc. They know that something caused the items to not work. That in itself grants several free action skill checks.
Spellcraft; they figure out that the drow noble only cast an illusion spell. Perception, they saw four other drow against the wall behind the noble, they finished casting a spell. Spellcraft from another caster may reveal that they cast geas/quest. Another perception and they hear footsteps behind them. Slieght of hand may allow one of them to quickly hide away a thief’s tool to hopefully escape this if they are imprisoned. There is a lot the players can still do, even though geas/quest might demand their surrender or something else.
I demand answers!
Explain what happened. Do not just move on to the end result of being in the prison. Don’t just gloss over the fact that all of your players collectively cursed. This is fun in moderation, but you are limiting them big time. Take the time and let them know exactly why things are happening this way.
They recognize the drow noble as an enemy from the past. His face is weathered and scarred. His hair is shorter, but he bears the same family crest, he has the same armor. As they are surrounded, explain that it feels like a setup. There are no items in this chamber. A large chair, some art on the walls, and a few pillars. The room they were told to come to is void of anything they were searching for. This drow noble glares at them as they are compelled to surrender.
Explain the spell, if no one identifies it in game; tell them the effects in detail. They feel compelled to surrender, like he is overpowering them mentally. They feel like they would be best to give in. They are outnumbered and unable to cast spells. Even thinking of causing harm to him gives them a throbbing headache. Something isn’t right.
But wait! Our items and spells don’t work! Why did theirs? Explain that spells being cast into the area are suppressed but not dispelled, perhaps the time that this spell lasts is reduced. If you’re going to trap the players, you better take the time to go over why everything is the way it is. Know the spells if you’re using published spells. If you’re using a made up magical GM spell, you’d be best to have used it at least once before so they know what they are getting into this time. Otherwise be prepared for…
This isn’t fun!
No one likes to lose control of something. The end result is an act of brilliance in story. On paper it just sounds epic. But to the players, you’ve gone in, made them helpless, and tossed them in jail. It looks like they have no way out. It looks like no matter what they do, they are screwed. A chuckling drow isn’t a hint of hope. The only time I throw players into a hopeless position is if they have a chance of creating hope themselves. In this situation, they do not. So you need to give them some hope. They’ve no items, no gear, no nothing. Their only way out is through the front door. Perhaps the door is rusty. Perhaps that chuckling drow is actually walking by the door, he says something in slurred speech (drunk), a rat squeezes through some crack near the door.
The GM wanted them to try to escape, so show them hope of escape! Make sure the end result will be fun! Make sure that they are able to get setup for revenge, you know they’re gonna want it. Perhaps they aren’t bound up, and may be able to squeeze their arms through the poles in the door; one my try to strangle the guard if he passes again. Or go back to that thief’s tool to open the door from the inside somehow.
I’ve done something very similar to this a while ago. They managed to escape their prison and kill their captors. By the end of the night, they were so happy that they killed the person who captured them, that they could care less about being captured. That’s what it’s all about. Victory, awesome moments, and kick ass stories. Perhaps they capture him and bring him to justice, letting him rot in prison as he would have left them. Perhaps they lock him up in the very cell they were stuck in… No matter the case, remember the three things:
- Be fair.
- Explain why.
- Make sure it ends twice as fun as it was punishing.
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