Starting out

I promised I’d get to the various episodes involving my time as a Dungeon Master, didn’t I? So I figured I’d start from the beginning: June 5, 2008.

Yes, June 5, the shop owner kind of broke street date on 4e, but looking up reviews later that evening, he wasn’t the only one. Anyway, I picked up my three core books as is customary, and waited in the gaming area for the others Yoni had contacted to arrive.

This is when I learned that there was a little flaw here, that Yoni had not thought his cunning plan all the way through: We didn’t have a Dungeon Master. Indeed, his statement on the matter was, almost verbatim: “We need a Dungeon Master, I nominate not me.”

Yes, he wanted to be a player. A Dragonborn Paladin, something he’s wanted to be since the Dragonborn were first mentioned. As such, he did not want to be the DM.

For those of you not intimately familiar with tabletop RPGs, this is a serious faux pas. You do not attempt to assemble a game unless you are a DM or you know one. He was planning on using Chris, one of the other players, in this role, but Chris had very little experience as a DM. Not knowing any of this myself, and simply wanting to start playing, I stepped up. Saying I was throwing my hat in (literally throwing my hat onto the table), I agreed to take on the role of Dungeon Master “on a temporary basis.”

Those familliar with RPGs are probably slapping yourselves on the head right now. Yes, those are what we call famous last words. I knew when I spoke them that I was probably going to be the DM until the game collapsed. However, as I was desperate to play, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

And so, that evening, we began with Keep on the Shadowfell. That adventure… As a series of combat encounters, it’s all right. As an actual adventure? It’s terrible. Bland, disjointed, unsatisfying and annoying, the only real good to come out of it is that it has a ton of useful maps.

Things actually proceeded better than one would think, considering this was my first outing as a DM. As we were in a comic shop, and as it was summer, we wound up getting a lot of people playing, and at one point, I was running combat for ten people. Yes, ten people. This is INSANE. I managed it somehow, though, and the party eventually boiled down to six.

Before I talk about my regular characters, I’d like to talk about Greg. He marks one of two people I’ve had that I can honestly call problem players. Greg was running a Warlock, and was abusing a ruling oversight in Shadow Walk that allowed him to use Stealth. Thus, he would coast about the field in a cloud of darkness, yet somehow invisible to enemy sight. To Wizards of the Coast’s credit, they actually did patch this rule in Player’s Handbook 2, changing when you could use Stealth. But prior to that, I still had to deal with this…

Why didn’t I blow the whistle on this right away? Because I really didn’t want a fight. If there were some way to handle this, I was going to find it, without risking my position as a DM. Prior to this, I found little ways to spoil his fun, such as the time he was going about a profane altar duing Thunderspire Labyrinth, opening doors as if this action were invisible, too. Uh, no, the whole area was alerted and the party almost lost because of his stupidity (Well, and Yoni running afoul of the Dire Wolf, later affectionately dubbed “Fluffy,” but that’s another story…).

Yes, he deliberately let me make poor rules decisions, at least when it was an error in his favor. He took advantage of both, the rules and my limited understanding therein. He was the kind of person that make people hate the term “rules lawyer.” I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of playing his game, so I let him get away with it. I knew I’d get my chance.

And, shortly thereafter, when one of my players came in with some official D&D folders, I got it. See, these folders came with quick references on the insides, rules you’d need at various times.

And one of them? “Being unable to see the target: -5.”

Yes, I could now target Greg, even though I couldn’t see him. I told him this, laughingly regaling the story, as if we both were making a mistake, when we both knew what was happening. I told him what I was going to do from now on: The monsters would be targeting him. He could continue to wade into melee, but the enemies would no longer act like he wasn’t there.

He said this was fine, but became angrier and angrier as time went by. In the next two weeks, his actions became quite angry and erratic, and he finally stopping coming in. None of us really missed him.

And that’s how I beat a rules lawyer without ever throwing a single punch.

… Jeez. Who says that the players are the only ones who get involved in adventures…?

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