That One Time

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
We all have gaming stories. I know I do. I'd like to hear some others. Specifically, about the incidents that frustrated you the most. The absolute worst.

This isn't about Bad GM's (though certainly, they are responsible for such), I'm talking about terrible experiences in otherwise decent games. I got the idea after recounting a tale about how a monster had an ability that made me waste a powerful one-shot magic item. But I'm not going to tell -that- story.

Instead...

We were playing in a 4e game with a DM who liked to reskin enemies. We had ventured into the heart of a dormant volcano, finding ourselves facing Fire Elementals, Fire Archons, and basically, anything immune to fire the DM liked. As our Sorcerer was a Fire Elementalist, this was pretty annoying.

Then we get to the final battle, and a skeletal dragon rises from the lava before us- a Dracolich! This proved to be a tough fight, and afterwards, the DM looked to the Sorcerer and said "I don't know why you didn't use your fire attacks."

We looked at the DM, aghast. I don't remember who found their voice first, but someone said "but the Dracolich was immune to fire?".

"Oh it wasn't, you guys didn't even ask."

"IT WAS SWIMMING IN A LAKE OF MAGMA!!!!"

"Oh that was just for dramatic effect, come on guys, it was cool, like a metal album cover!"

I'd like to say we pelted him with dice, but we were gaming in the back room of our FLGS, so it didn't seem proper.
 

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aco175

Legend
Back in 2e days the PCs were traveling down the trade road and came upon a campsite with a merchant wagon who offered them to stay and enjoy his fire and food. The thief tried to sneak into the wagon but was prevented by a trap and a lock. In the middle of the night he and the mage bypassed the locks and traps to sneak in and find the treasure that was surely there. The wagon was filled with books he was delivering, like a pallet of A5e books being brought to market.

The books were his own life's work about cooking and preparing mushrooms. In the morning the thief threw one of the books at the merchant saying, "You read this sh!@#." Lots of laughter ensues. The quote still comes up this day amid campaigns. The book even manages to surface in old tombs and vaults as well.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
We had ventured into the heart of a dormant volcano, finding ourselves facing Fire Elementals, Fire Archons, and basically, anything immune to fire the DM liked. As our Sorcerer was a Fire Elementalist, this was pretty annoying.
I had that exact experience. An entire adventure where my attacks did nothing.

I learned lightning bolt instead. Next monster? Flesh golems.
 




amethal

Adventurer
I had that exact experience. An entire adventure where my attacks did nothing.

I learned lightning bolt instead. Next monster? Flesh golems.
One of the PCs in my group is a magus built around using shocking grasp as often as possible.

I decided to convert the (excellent) old Dragon adventure "Temple of Poseidon" to Pathfinder. It was more of a "thematic" conversion than a faithful update of the original, so I threw in a load of monsters I thought would fit and be interesting, and which I hadn't made much use of in previous campaigns. So we had Sea Drakes, Denizens of Leng, a Shambling Mound, various oozes, etc.

Pretty much everything turned out to be either immune or highly resistant to electricity. It was purely accidental, and I think the player believed me when I told him I hadn't done it on purpose ...
 


Back around 2003, I was running a long-term Hackmaster campaign (not my choice of system, but so it goes). The players were up against an evil guy called The Ant Master, who was terrorizing the local countryside. Thinking to be clever, they arranged a meeting in a large empty field for the next day. They set a pavilion, and secretly left a ranger to keep watch against any treachery. Naturally, they were planning treachery.

So the next day the AM shows up, orders his body guards to move 200 feet north from the pavilion while he met wit the NPCs whom the group worked for.

The party immediately moved 200' south of the pavilion, and prepared to assassinate the AM.

Then the ground beneath them collapsed (giant ants had tunneled there during the night, undetectable by the watching Ranger), and the party had the fight of their lives to escape, losing 3 PCs in the process. We narrowly avoided a TPK.

To be honest, I didn't think they would fall for it...but they griped about that for years.
 

I'm reminded of the time in 4e my brother spent about two hours doing nothing because his warlord never made his saving throw to break free of a paralysis effect from the dragon everyone else was fighting. He wasn't even in the same area as the battle, so he wasn't even taking damage or responding to anything in game. His turn would come up, he'd roll garbage, and sit there not playing D&D while he was playing D&D.

Which, really, seems to be a bit of a theme here, not being able to do anything in the game you're supposed to be playing.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
This was more a misunderstanding than actual malice, but it still sticks in my memory. I was running games at a convention at the dawn of 4E D&D, and at one point I had to fill in a table for another DM (tables had to have a minimum of 4 players for Organized Play purposes, IIRC). It wasn't a module I was familiar with, so I thought it would be a fair game. Early in the scenario, the PCs heard a commotion in the stables of the building they were staying at, so they went out there to check. It turned out to have a bunch of undead in it. So, okay, no problem, right?

The fight ended up taking the entire 4-hour slot. Afterwards, the DM chided us for not being very combat-capable. Since I was also DMing that convention, I picked up a copy of the module to see what had happened, because it was an incredibly irritating battle. The DM had made two key errors that I think came from the fact that 4E was a brand new system.
  • The enemies were supposed to be one "boss monster" and six "minions." In 4E, minion monsters have only a single hit point, and go down from any successful hit, or if they fail a saving throw against any damaging spell. The DM must have assumed that was a typo, because each of the 7 creatures had the full complement of the boss' hit points.
  • The boss monster had the ability to "raise" one of his downed minions, once during the fight. The DM must have misread this, because so long as any one creature was still up at the end of the round, the downed creatures would all stand back up at the beginning of the next round. He let this slip during one of the many rounds of the fight, that we had to down all of them in one round for the fight to end, but because he gave each of them the hit points of the boss, that was just not going to happen.
To my mind, the most egregious error he made was not moving the module ahead so the table could finish on-time. This fight was only the first encounter in the scenario, and the bad guys were only supposed to be there to kill the horses so nobody could outrun the Boss' forces if they fled. Even if the encounter had been designed to be that one-sided, if I was DMing I would have had the creatures withdraw once their mission was done.

When I took over as director of the program a few years later, that DM was not asked back to DM 5E. He was one of the OSR track guys, and I understand he did a fine job there.
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
In a home brew setting shared by 3 player/DMs, one of the DMs designed this creepy, dangerous pathway to the lowest level that couldn’t be circumnavigated by teleports or inter dimensional travel. It completely flummoxed the party, and we wretreated before wrapping up for the night.

As we were packing up to go to our respective homes, the DM asked why we hadn’t used a particular spell. We pointed out that his wizard- who did not share spells at all- was the only one in the campaign that knew it.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
We looked at the DM, aghast. I don't remember who found their voice first, but someone said "but the Dracolich was immune to fire?".

"Oh it wasn't, you guys didn't even ask."

"IT WAS SWIMMING IN A LAKE OF MAGMA!!!!"
To be fair, I've run with tables who were so pedantic that "being able to swim in lava" and "being immune to fire damage" were different things, and you couldn't necessarily assume one from the other.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Great stories, guys. I do think a lot of these problems comes from the game having a history of not wanting to be transparent to players- DM's don't like sharing stat blocks or giving information at all, thinking it takes the challenge away from encounters- but then not realizing how bad a "gotcha" monster can be.

The story that actually provoked this thread was an encounter in Adventurer League for 5e- during Storm King's Thunder, I had acquired a rune that let me use Greater Restoration, once. As I was a Fighter/Rogue, I thought this was really sweet, and I put it in my back pocket for a rainy day.

We were fighting some kind of Cyclopes, as I recall, and one of them turned the Cleric to stone! I carefully plotted out my turn so I could Action Surge and get to the Cleric, and slap them with the rune.

Everything worked without a hitch, but the DM was like "sorry man, it doesn't work". And he refused to elaborate as to why. So at the end of the encounter, he tells me the monster specifically says "this petrification cannot be reversed as long as the monster is alive". Not only do I find that ability to be a pile of Minotaur dung, it just goes to show how terribly unfair gotcha moments can be.
 

Retreater

Legend
Back in 3.x, my druid had shape-changed into a bird to do some reconnaissance, but I got captured by the villains. So instead of just killing my character or letting me play an NPC (or heck, even telling me to not come to the sessions), the DM had me sit there for more than two 5-hour sessions doing absolutely nothing. And to keep from knowing what was going on with my character (or for my character with them), I had to sit in another room by myself.
 



I saw that happen to two people at a con game of Shadowrun. Which meant they paid to sit there at the table doing nothing while everyone else went on the adventure.

That was one of the last straws that made me give up on Shadowrun's organized play.
 

Retreater

Legend
I saw that happen to two people at a con game of Shadowrun. Which meant they paid to sit there at the table doing nothing while everyone else went on the adventure.

That was one of the last straws that made me give up on Shadowrun's organized play.
Any time I go to a bad con game, I have a code phrase I use. If I go with a group of friends to play together, this is specifically helpful to gauge if they're having fun.
"Did Jeremiah have a key to the room?"
If they're willing to give it a bit more time, they will say "I don't think so - but we should be back before he is."
But if it's clear that I'm done, I'll say, "Jeremiah has locked himself out of the room." And if they want to leave they'll say, "I'll have to give you a ride."
Last GenCon, there was a game so bad that I got up, reading my phone, "Oh sh*t! Jeremiah was hit by a car. I'm going to have to go to the hospital."
And of course, our friend Jeremiah actually had locked himself out of the room once. And yes, we still use this code even if he's sitting at the table with us.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
One of the biggest of the problems with Organized Play modules (and there are many, many problems, if for no other reason than because the program is so large) is poor writing. Currently they are paid authors, but back in the day anybody could submit a module and the campaigns were usually so starved for content to "feed the beast" that they accepted a lot of what I like to think of as "failed short stories" (or "failed novel chapters.") Writing a good scenario is a very, very different skill set from writing a good novel. I will heartily recommend any Organized Play scenarios written by some authors who know what they're doing; for example, even if Will Doyle wrote a bad module (I haven't read all of his, maybe he did, I don't know) I think it would still be very playable. His convention specials are really, really well done and if the DM has chops they are entertaining for the whole table.
Any time I go to a bad con game, I have a code phrase I use. If I go with a group of friends to play together, this is specifically helpful to gauge if they're having fun.
"Did Jeremiah have a key to the room?"
If they're willing to give it a bit more time, they will say "I don't think so - but we should be back before he is."
But if it's clear that I'm done, I'll say, "Jeremiah has locked himself out of the room." And if they want to leave they'll say, "I'll have to give you a ride."
Last GenCon, there was a game so bad that I got up, reading my phone, "Oh sh*t! Jeremiah was hit by a car. I'm going to have to go to the hospital."
And of course, our friend Jeremiah actually had locked himself out of the room once. And yes, we still use this code even if he's sitting at the table with us.
That is a fantastic idea that I will be stealing after the Plague has been conquered and we once again feel free to Roam the Land.
 
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