One of the greatest sensations any GM can feel is to know that you have completely, utterly and totally scared the living pants off your players. That’s what happened last session, and I’m still getting warm fuzzies about it. What’s more, I did it with just three words.
First, a quick recap. Our heroes had travelled to an old junkyard in Agua Dulce where a demon had been killing folks and leaving their remains in impossible to reach places. Turns out it’s a Neldrazu, and he well and truly hands the PCs asses to them on a plate when they try to battle it.
They manage to get away (the Neldazu didn’t pursue them – I figured they deserved a break) to lick their wounds and return with a plan. That involved them working out what went wrong, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. Yeah. Planning.
The thing is that what went wrong basically boils down to three things: lousy dice rolls where they mattered most, the Wizard being taken out of the picture early on and general overconfidence. I mean; these guys had so far beaten freakin’ hordes of demons so how tough can one guy be?
Poor dice rolls can afflict anyone, but when it’s make-or-break attacks then the key thing is to skew the odds in your favour. I’ll say again: Aid Another is your friend, darling players. If you NEED to hit with that attack to nullify a monster’s mojo (for example, if you want to Daze, Restrain or Immobilize a certain demon to stop him being able to Teleport and attack on the same round – just sayin’) then get one or more other players to assist you. They make an attack at DC10, you get a +2 to do your thang.
That’s a perfect example of where 4e’s mechanics do a great job of translating a role-playing setup. The other heroes are harrying, herding and overbalancing the foe to put him into just the right place for that key attack to strike home.
You can combine using your Action Points with Aid Another too. Make your own kickass signature move then spend an Action Point to gain another standard action. Use that to Aid Another and you’ve set the next player up for his own kickass signature move. He then does the same, and so on. It might sound like a suboptimal use of an Action Point, but if it means the difference between four Daily Powers all hitting on the same round, and them… well, not then it’s Action Points well spent. Plus you end up with one combat round the players will be talking about for months!
The thing is my players all know this stuff. They’re right tactical baskets who are well used to using Every Trick in the Book – the book mainly being Mutants & Masterminds, which is The Bible when it comes to using Action Points and cunning tricks in combat.
Last session they forgot it all in a fit of sublime overconfidence. But not this time. As we’re playing High-Speed D&D the heroes all return older, wiser and a level higher. True to her name, Annette Weber (Wizard) takes Web – the perfect spell to help take down Mr Neldrazu. Combine that with Caroline MacAulney’s (Fighter) rather nifty Pinning Spiked Chain +1 and they should be able to Immobilize the demon and give time for Oscar Marcinelli (Fighter) and Daniel Giddens (Rogue) to do their thing.
I should mention that as per our House Rules if you’re Immobilized you cannot Teleport. That’s flying in the face of what it says in black-and-white on page 277 of the PHB, but makes a helluva lot more sense to us. More on the hows and whys of Teleporting in D&D though, another time.
So, fightback time. They find the Neldrazu still in the junkyard, rather disconcertingly chewing on a human arm. I describe it crunching down on a Rolex (“I hope it’s fake,” mutters Daniel) and the battle begins.
Within a handful of rounds it’s a completely different story to the previous session. Our heroes have taken a few hits but the Demon is Web‘d, snarling and well and truly Bloodied.
That’s when I drop in the twist with just three innocuous little words.
“It starts snowing.”
Next: One is bad. Many is worse.