Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Parable of Rulings, or "It's Okay To Make a Freaking Decision"

Warning: The following story has spoilers for The Curse of Strahd...but it's not really about The Curse of Strahd. Just didn't want anyone to walk in blind.


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So we were playing Curse of Strahd recently. The group was fighting a cheap knock off of Baba Yaga named Baba Lysaga, who used a magical seed/gem to turn her hut into a Creeping Hut (not to be confused with a Dancing Hut).

The way the scenario was SUPPOSED to go, was that if Baba Lysaga got into a fight with the PCs, she would be in a flying giant's skull and could command the hut to attack. What HAPPENED was that the group split up, one group set off an alarm while another was peeking into her hut. This led to most of the PCs fighting animated scarecrows, while one PC - a Half-Orc Pirate Fighter with the Monster Hunter archetype named The Butcher of Skullport - fought her at the doorway. She was getting her ass kicked, and so she animated her hut.

Now, right away we had a "problem". There was no way to get into the hut! They were going to have to deal 263 points of damage to this thing to beat it, and they were only level 5!

Except the Butcher asked if he could try to jump in as it rose out of the ground. Now, the Curse of Strahd book said nothing about this. What is a DM to do? I didn't rush to a message board or Facebook group or Google+ to ask someone to bail me out, I said "Sure, roll Athletics." And he did, and he rolled well, and he managed to jump onto the doorway and scurry in.

Did I do this because I was being generous and "soft"? No. I did it because it made sense in the context of the fiction of the game world.

While he was beating Baba Lysaga, the hut was raining death on the PCs. Literally, they were getting wiped out. While they were all dying, he's inside the hut, and he sees the glowing green light coming up from the floorboards. Now, the book says you can roll Strength at DC 14 or do 10 points of damage to smash the floorboards. The Butcher is very strong, and so he ripped up the floorboard, finding the gem.

Here is where it gets hairy: To get the gem out of the hole and deactivate the hut, the book says you have to destroy the gem (non-starter, as the Butcher is aiming to get the gems to help some NPCs) or succeed at a DC 20 Dexterity Saving Throw. On a failure, you take 3d6 damage and fail to gain the game! The Butcher's Dexterity is really low. I think it's a 7 (giving him -2). His more agile counterparts are laid out and probably couldn't get into the hut anyway. He rolls a Dexterity save, fails it, and I describe the hole growing teeth and biting into his arm. It really hurts. He can try again, but let's be honest: He's probably going to die here as his arm is gnawed off by a hole. His teammates can't help, because if they move, they're getting crushed by this hut.

So I make a decision.

I decide that this hard-nose Half-Orc pirate can make a save, Wisdom I think it was, maybe it was Constitution since that's what Concentration goes off of, and he succeeds...the result being that he gritted out having his arm half bitten through and tears the gem out of the hole, forcing the hut to revert to normal.

Do I do this because I was being generous and "soft"? No. I did it because it made sense to me that a grizzled Half-Orc Fighter who was crazy enough to kill a friggin' witch in her own home and stick his arm down a hole inside of a living hut had enough grit to TRY to hold on while the hut was trying to eat his arm off, even though the very talented designers of The Curse of Strahd had not put such an out in the encounter, rather than stupidly and blindly stick his arm into a hole over and over again and die from massive trauma to his extremities.

Was I wrong to make such a decision? Well, I'll save you some time: I really only actually worry about the opinions of the five people in my gaming group, one of which is me. So what is the point of this story, then? I have seen a lot of posts lately from people who seem absolutely gobsmacked about what to do if the rulebook does not explicitly spell out details for them, and to them I say this: When common sense, logic and verisimilitude say that something would make sense, even if a rulebook or adventure does not explicitly and expressly cover that situation, it's okay to make a fucking decision.