Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Killing an Elephant

So in a game played over the Christmas break with Nate and Beth as Elven characters and myself running the show, I was quite surprised by their reactions, specifically within one encounter. I completely made up a random dungeon and a random reason for them to be there. As part of picking random encounters for this dungeon, I stopped on the page in the Monster book about Elephants. They are NOT subterranean creatures and the encounter occurred underground in a rough-hewn cave network. However, I thought that it might be usable. Just for fun, I put the elephant as a captive in a rickety cage and also made him a little sick with hunger. I could come up with ten reasons for the animal to be there, but I never really needed to.

I made the encounter threatening, as the characters needed to traverse the room right past the large cage, but everyone knows elephants are herbivorous, so I assumed they would avoid or --perhaps-- rescue the creature.

Instead, as the creature banged his massive forehead harder and harder on the cage walls, the characters began to attack him. WTF? I kept my response minimized and let them. Keep in mind these are both Neutral Good characters. There were plenty of other ways to avoid this fight, including simply ducking out and going around some other way in the cave network. The cave paths between rooms were not large enough for the elephant to travel himself. In fact, that should have been a big alert for the characters. How did this thing even get in here in these tight quarters. Instead they started firing arrows and then moved in for melee.

Compounding their mistake was the fact that this animal is an 11HD creature with hit points to spare and their characters were not as powerful. It quickly became enraged and bashed down the cage walls. They could have done well with spells or ranged weapons, but the Fighter Mage decided to move in for melee... and didn't do very well.

I don't mean to make fun. I mean that I (as the Dungeon Master) should have done slightly better in this encounter. I could have better conveyed the pitiful condition of the creature or made it more clear that they had other avenues. Or I could have simply stopped the action before it started and suggested that they consider if their alignment and their actions matched. Instead, the elephant eventually died after bashing the pair around a bit.

Anyone have any suggestions? What should I have done? And now that it happened should I consider even awarding XP in this case?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:50 PM

    Well, I personally would have raised both my eyebrows in a silent signal, which would have been in vain, cuz I can't seem to give subtle hints to my Player characters for the life of me, and then awarded experience for an encounter of two levels lower since the elephant was both sickly and caged for at least half the fight. As for the algnment problem, I've always been in favor of a point system to measure it. ten points from zero in all directions measures the PCs alignment, resulting in two numbers on their character sheet, 10 to -10 on the law to chaos scale, respectively, and the same formula for good to evil, with a score of 0, 0 being neutral (0 on both the law/chaos scale and the good/evil scale) Five (positive or negative) or less is neutral in all directions from zero, and six and above represents a change in alignment. Any time they take an action that is out of character for their current alignment, they get a point on the scale that most suits. If a Paladin resorts to robbery to thwart an evil villan, that would be at least one (if not two) points from law towards chaos, putting him one step toward neutral good. If he decided to punish a stall merchant on the spot for cheating his customers through threats, a light beating, or the severing of the merchant's hand, I'd probably say that's one, three, or five points toward lawful neutral (for the threats, slapping him around a bit, and severing his limb respectively)
    the first number is pretty much always law vs. chaos, the second always good vs. evil. This means that their actions dictate their alignment, not the other way around, and that characters with alignment restrictions can lose their abilities. However, if the paladin were only at a 6 on the good and evil scale (barely counts as good), but risked his life to save the children and the proprietor of a burning orphanage, I'd probably grant him two or three points further towards the good range (a score of 8 or 9) to give him a bit more wiggle room, should he ever need it. Points should be easier to earn at low number, harder to earn at higher numbers (it's easier to conform than be the extreme exception) and have the last one or two points be truly hard to earn. Being a Ten (positive or negative) for either number should not be easy. I probably would have given each of the two neutral good characters one or two points toward evil for assaulting, and killing, a sick and restrained creature. It may or may not change their alignment. If it does, they still have a good chance of earning their way back to good alignments. If it doesn't change their alignments, it still gives them a warning that they're not acting in character and that the action might not have been a good idea if they wanted to stay neutral good.

    Just my solution, take from it what you will.

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