The Thing Under the Stairs
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This was a very good scenario. We were down by two players who had other commitments for the evening, but we’d been so sporadic in our convening that we decided that we’d best push ahead this week.
I think this scenario was the perfect mix of creativity, execution, role-playing, and action. The players were faced with downtime, a good 16 hours or so before the construction crew would be waking and moving out to the construction site. During that time, they had the opportunity to snoop around the cultist’s business, seeing as how everyone was thrown together in this small space and unable to leave.
On occasion, the players seemed to be considering the situation individually, leading to periods of silence while they sussed out their next moves. We did have a fair bit of “meta gaming” going on, as the party discussed options while the characters weren’t in close proximity. Normally we overlook this kind of thing because the party is all together, but there were a few times when I think the players silently opted to concede to the decisions of the group, despite the characters being in places where they couldn’t possibly have been included in the plan-making. For a scene such as this, which was equal parts stealth, eavesdropping, and information gathering, the meta gaming was conspicuous, but manageable. Had it escalated, though, it would have been a problem by subverting my ability to actually take advantage of a split party, for good or for ill, and to give the gameplay the kind of tension it deserves.
I finally remembered that Jamna was with the party, which paid off on multiple levels, but with warning flags. First, she took over for our absent members. Second, she conveniently happened to have thieving skills (legit, from the module, and not a deus ex machina to fill a needed role). Third, she allowed me to throw in a Greek Chorus without having to resort to “Booming DM Voice From The Heavens”. It was tough, though: Jamna suggested the party split up and recon the roadhouse. She raised suspicions of Briferhew (who vanished as soon as the caravan put in, and hadn’t been seen since), suggested that they stay on-mission and find the cultist crates so as to follow them to their ultimate destination, eavesdropped on the cultists and discovered valuable information, and mentioned that they might want to walk to Bog Luck, who seemed to know everything that was going on in the complex. She also charmed the lizardman for questioning, which lead to the discovery of the trap door. It’s a fine line between running a helpful character as an omniscient DM, using that character to either force the players onto a track that I as the DM know they should follow, or to use her to perform the actions that the players might not think of in order to keep the plot moving. Having Jamna around can and probably will prove useful, but she’s going to have to take a less active player role while still being a relevant character to the story. That’ll be tough, although it was fun to be on the player side of the table for a change.