D&D Diary – The Forge of Fury – Session 2

Tales From the Yawning Portal, continued.

While attempting to sneak into an orc stronghold, the DM (me) gets furious with the players (them) and I go for the TPK.

Forge Fury 3e Cover full

When last we left our heroes, they were trying to explore an ancient dwarven ruin in search of treasure and stuff. But first they have to sneak past all the orcs that have laid claim to the upper level of the dungeon. After some initial mistakes, where the party was pelted with arrows and nearly fell into a bottomless chasm (twice), they retreated and recuperated and actually came up with a plan involving a Portable Hole, two Potions of Invisibility, a flying leopard, and the severed head of the orc chieftain’s wife. Technically, the severed head was not part of the plan to sneak in, but more of a screw you from Regizar the Fighter to irritate and enrage the orc chieftain.

And it worked. The party was on the orc side of the chasm, hidden from view. The orc chief, who is actually an OP ogre, is sufficiently enraged and all the orcs are focused on the chasm, giving the party the opportunity to sneak in quietly. Until…

Forge Fury 5e Rope Bridge thumb
Hey guys, wait for me. Out of the way you stupid orc, I’m trying to catch up with my friends.

Geraldine, the hungover dwarven cleric played by Owen, who missed last session, suddenly showed up on the far side of the chasm yelling out to her companions, “Hey guys, I made it. What’d I miss?” Convinced that this newcomer is responsible for his wife’s murder (she’s not), Chief Ulfe orders his tribe to “Kill that filthy dwarf!” Dozens of spears are launched toward the unsuspecting newcomer. Meanwhile Eragon the Thief is invisible, riding on an invisible leopard, while Regizar and Riandon are slowly suffocating inside a portable hole, filled with a dozen severed heads. It’s a long story.

But the fix is simpler than the setup. The group flies over the chasm to their friend, lands in the hallway out of sight of the orcs, and places the Portable Hole on the wall. Regizar and Riandon step out, call their friend over out of the orcs’ spears’ range and explain the situation. Then they all get back in the Hole and fly back over the chasm, past the bewildered orcs and into the orc stronghold. They flew down the hall and landed in the large common area, labeled Room 5.

Forge Fury map 5e Mountain Door DM

Of course, the room is empty because the whole orc tribe is currently at  the chasm looking for these very players. This room is too exposed, so Eragon runs down the first passage on the right which leads to the kitchen. More importantly,this room is a dead end and empty (for now). Everyone crawls out of the Portable Hole mere moments before they ran out of air.

When I am describing this non-descript room, I included a detail that there is a pot of stew simmering and whole boar on a spit roasting over a slowly dying fire. I added this to tip off the players that someone was just using this kitchen and they should expect that someone to return shortly. Unfortunately, they failed to pick up on this hint and decided to make this room the staging area for their assault on the stronghold. The thief, who is still invisible, will sneak out and recon the area while the rest of the group hides here and waits.

Portable Hole full
And the thief took his Portable Hole. This will be important in about three minutes

Eragon heads out of the kitchen, back to the still empty common room and arbitrarily head down the passage toward Room 8. By the way, I completely removed the human prisoners held in Room 6. This classic trope of a chance encounter with a random prisoner is used so often in D&D, that I’m struggling to come up with new spins on in. We’ve had your standard kidnapped family in Lost Mine of Phandelver, Erky the halfling that I made betray the party in The Sunless Citadel, and this adventure has two. One here with the orcs and another in the duergar section of the dungeon. Even our current party member, Geraldine, joined the group after she was rescued from her kidnappers in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. To avoid overusing this trope, I took it out completely.

Instead, I wanted to focus on the orc tribe itself. As I said, I wanted to showcase all the varieties of orcs from the Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide to Monsters. I upped the number of orcs in the dungeon from the printed 20 to about 35 which also increased the challenge rating for my players, who are several levels higher than the level range suggested for the adventure. I intended that these orcs would all filter back into their assigned areas, Eragon would scout a good layout of the level, and the group can proceed to clear out the dungeon room by room in the normal D&D fashion. That plan is about to be ruined by a single spectacular catastrophe.

Orc Claw of Luthic
Apparently female orcs are very particular about their hair, makeup, and especially, manicures.

In the book, this kitchen area is empty. But I added 3 orcs to the room, one of which is a female Orc Claw of Luthic (the maternal goddess of the orcs). This particular orc is dedicated to the well-being and more importantly the survival of the tribe. She is the main cook and I named her Balagog gro-Nolob, which fans of Skyrim will recognize as that game’s most famous orc chef, The Gourmet. If there is anyone that could be negotiated with inside this dungeon, it is her. She will bargain for the safety of her tribe. But should the party choose violence, it shouldn’t be too hard to take her out quietly. Or so I thought.

The party hears these three orcs coming into the kitchen and they fail miserably at trying to hid behind cabinets, chairs and the big pot in the middle of the room. Balagog sees them immediately and demands to know what they are doing here and why they are murdering her tribe? She does not send either orc with her for reinforcements or sound an alarm. But instead of talking to her, Owen, who is playing Geraldine the dwarf, and is itching for a fight since he missed last week’s action, cries out, “I cast Thunderwave!”

Now Owen had heard about last week’s adventure and how cool the spell was used back then. The one thing that Owen might not know is that Thunderwave also creates a deafening sonic “Boom” when cast, alerting all nearby enemies. Last week, the noisy spell was used purposefully to draw out the orcs, so they could sneak in. Then, the players were invisible, had a perfect hiding spot, and an avenue of escape if it all went wrong. Here they had nothing. They had split the party, were trapped in a dead end, and had no place to hide or turn invisible. I tried to explain this to him.

Forge Fury map 3e Mountain Door DM
The group has decided to trap themselves in Room 7, while the guy who can help them escape is somewhere near Room 8. Not a good plan.

“Are you sure you want to do that? Thunderwave creates a loud noise like a peal of thunder that will alert the entire dungeon.”

“Don’t care. Boom, boom, cool!”

“There are over thirty orcs nearby looking for you.”

“Boom, Boom, Cool!”

“You are trapped in a dead end. There is no place for you to go. There is no place for you to hide.

“Boom, Boom, Cool!”

Andrew joined in and the two began chanting, “Boom, Boom, Cool. Boom, Boom, Cool,” over and over again in an act of juvenile rebellion. But they were beings such callous jerks about it, disrespecting me, the other players, and the years of work we’ve put into this campaign. The two other players tried to talk them down. They knew the plan was stupid and would spell disaster, but they could not deter these two morons from their course of destruction. I was getting madder and madder.

I told them directly that this was a suicidal plan. I know how many monsters are here. They will not survive an all-at-once assault. I told them that we have been playing this campaign for over two years, with the same characters and that I have huge, epic plans for this group. And they were throwing it all away for nothing. I told them that I would be heartbroken if they insisted on this absolutely asinine plan.

“BOOM, BOOM, COOL!!!” The two cried in unison with a sneer.

I was furious. I took away the DM screen and said, “Okay. Now you’re all going to fucking die!” They don’t call this adventure The Forge of Fury for nothing! (Thanks, Gil)

DMs Wrath
The DM’s Lament.

I shouldn’t have sworn. I shouldn’t have let two teenagers bait me into this angry response. I shouldn’t have continued the session. I shouldn’t have sought vengeance on the two players who did nothing wrong. But for the next hour, I did nothing right. I wanted to punish these players. I wanted to kill at least two characters. I wanted to say to hell with this campaign, this group of players, all my plans, even this whole website. Burn it all.

For the next hour, I was the worst DM, the worst parent, and even the worst person I could imagine. I was a man who acted in anger. I have tried my whole life to suppress this ugliest of character flaws. I was an angry child. I was raised in an angry household. I was not physically abused, but we were a miserable, angry family. Every night, there was a scream-fest, parents demeaned and swore at the children, the children swore back, everyone hated everyone else, doors were slammed, and every week there was a new hole in a wall. Rage ruled every aspect of our lives. But that pathetic part of my life was over 30 years ago and now I have no excuses.

Incredible Hulk Transformation
“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” As much as I love the original Incredible Hulk TV show, a line like this makes light of a truly terrifying and all too common threat.

Today, there were no outbursts, nor any fear for the children’s safety, nor any more foul language; just a seething desire to kill off the party. I was going to teach these selfish, arrogant kids a lesson. I was going to discipline them by killing their beloved characters. I was going to show these players who’s boss. Mess with me? I’ll show you!

As I am writing (and traumatically reliving) this experience for this post, a YouTuber whom I respect, Seth Skorkowsky, just put out another of his list videos that discusses Game Master Sins. And my sin, The Punisher, was at the top of the list. And not the cool Netflix Punisher, but the lame Dolph Lundgren one from the late 1980’s. Like a petulant child who doesn’t get his way, I lashed out and persecuted my players over a petty grievance. And worse, it didn’t even address the real issue at hand and discuss it in a calm, rational manner. Nope, it was a solid middle finger to all of my players, half of whom are my own children. I am a horrible person.

7 Game Master Sins Returns
I could laugh more with this video if it wasn’t so tragically true. That’s not true, I laughed a lot with this video. Seth is awesome!

I cannot stress enough how vile this moment is. From a game perspective, this violates one of the core trust issues in D&D. The DM needs to be fair and neutral. He is not trying to kill the heroes; the fictious monsters might be, but not the DM. This completely reinforces the DM vs. Player mentality that has ruined countless campaigns and roleplaying groups. But from a human perspective, this is even worse.

It is a harsh reminder of how ugly and cruel we can be to each other as a species. For one brief moment, there was anger in my heart and hatred in my soul. Again, this wasn’t readily apparent at the table. But the rage was there, simmering beneath the surface. There was no yelling, swearing, or crying. Just a tense silence at as we played on miserably, for we all knew we’d gone too far and crossed a line we didn’t even know existed. I am over 4 months behind in writing these diaries, in large part because I didn’t know how to process or even present this issue. And frankly, I am a little afraid to depict myself in such an unflattering light for fear of losing my audience, as meager as it is.

Will Smith Oscar Slap
Years of hard work, ruined in one fleeting fit of anger.

But you didn’t come here for a therapy session, you came for some roleplay, so let’s do this! When I took away the DM screen, the players were a little worried. When I dropped every orc mini that I owned onto the battle mat, they were concerned. When I told them that this was only half of the orcs they needed to face and then pointed out all the ones that had multi-attack, bonus abilities, and command/battle cry actions, they knew this would end in a TPK.

The Total Party Kill, the stuff of legends, the bane of every player, and the curse of every DM. A Total Party Kill for the right reasons can be gripping and exciting storytelling. The band of courageous heroes who valiantly sacrificed their lives to save a village from an invading horde of monsters. Tales will be told of their deeds for centuries. But a gang of murder-hobos dying in a cave because they were monumentally stupid? That is just sad. Even worse, today there was no hope; no chance for reinforcements, no eagles to whisk them to safety. They were going to die; cold, wet, and forgotten here in the dark. It was a miserable slog.

Total Party Kill
 I especially like the tiny little ring next to the small, little ash-piles.

All my plans to show off and teach my players about the dynamics of orc culture were shattered as over 20 orcs converged on the party. There was the Orc Blade of Ilneval, god of battle and strategy with double-damage multi-attack and the ability to command other orcs to make a bonus attack, the aforementioned Orc Claw spellcaster, and the Orc Red Fang of Shargaas, god of murder and torture, that fights in the shadows with triple damage and automatic critical hits. Plus, there is another Orc War Chief and, of course, the enraged Ogre Chieftain, that I boosted to max HP (91) with multiple attacks, bonus knock down actions, and +5 to Strength. Separated into their appropriate groups, this would have been a great adventure. But now, none of this mattered, it was just wave after wave of unending, nameless death.

Orc Warband mins
Naturally all these new orc varieties have minis you can purchase. I bought none of them.

The only thing saving these players from immediate destruction is that the hallway leading into this kitchen narrows and makes a perfect chokepoint. After the initial Thunderwave “BOOM”, they are able to cut down the first three orcs in just a few rounds. I give them mere seconds to throw anything loose they can find, a table, the stewpot, a few chairs into the doorway. I even let them set up a few spears as a barricade, just as the first wave of orcs, including the War Chief, attempts to burst into the room. But the players are able to defend the doorway and keep the main horde of orcs outside the room. For now.

Back with the still invisible thief, Eragon. He is in a storeroom about 150’ feet away from the barricaded kitchen. He hears the sonic shock wave and then hears the thunder of feet running towards him from behind. A group of angry orcs, including the Red Fang, are charging toward the melee. I had hoped that maybe Eragon would do something to distract this group and lead them away from the battle. But the player couldn’t think of anything except to press his body up against the wall and pray he didn’t get bumped as the horde ran by. He escaped notice, but this just added more fuel to the fire that was raging in the kitchen.

Forge Fury Orc Showdown
This is what happens when you have too many cooks in the kitchen.

The battle was long and hard and impossible. I was still angry, but I played it legit. I didn’t pull any punches, but I didn’t boost any hit points or make any orcs impervious to damage, or other dishonest tricks. Everyone took the damage rolled. The orc losses were steep, but there were just so many of them. As soon as one fell, another two took his place, and eventually a few even made it into the kitchen, so that now the wizard started taking damage and the party was surrounded, fighting battles on multiple fronts. Everyone except the invisible thief, who had moved closer to the action, was at half damage and it was only a matter of time.

The book says that if the heroes lose to the orcs in combat, then they are to wake up as prisoners in the cage in Room 6. But today there will be no mercy and no quarter for this battle. It was a fight to the death, most likely our heroes’. We had been running combat for over an hour. The players were depressed and miserable. Jack couldn’t think of anything useful to do that didn’t expose his character to instant death, so he stayed invisible the whole time. The other players were mad that he didn’t do anything and that they were going to die. I felt nauseous the whole time. Nobody was having fun.

Forge Fury 5e Ulfe thumb
I know this Ogre Chief is supposed to be terrifying, but here he seems almost cuddly. And just look at his little pooch. Who’s a good puppy? 

Then as quickly as it had exploded, my anger subsided. I am a complete idiot. These boys didn’t deserve this. They were just trying to have fun. They were stupid and insensitive, but they didn’t mean any harm. They are just dumb teenagers, cut them some slack. I felt guilty and ashamed at how mad I had gotten. Weirdly, because I had gotten mad at them, that may have just saved their character’s lives. If I had started out this combat calm and collected, I might have played out this encounter all the way to its inevitable conclusion. But due to my shame, I eased up and cut them some slack.

Geraldine, the inciting spark that lit the fuse on the powder keg, was under 10 hit points. Regizar the tanky Fighter was down to his final 3, and the wizard, Riandon, was at about 15. They still faced the Orc War Chief, the Orc Blade, plus the massive Ogre Chieftain, and about 10 orcs. Without the players noticing, 5 of the orcs stopped attacking. I just didn’t roll any more dice for them, and I stopped adding the strength modifier to the damage done for those who did hit. Then the Ogre got impatient and shoved another orc out of the way, crushing him against the rock wall, killing it and “inadvertantly” helping the party. Eragon took this moment to sneak attack, rolling a crit on the Blade and killing him instantly.

Forge Fury 3e bw Ulfe
I think this is supposed to be Chief Ulfe from the original printing, but I’ll just say this is the now dead Blade.

The party had been discussing how to retreat from this battle, an amazing first for this group, and they decided that now was the as good a time as any to try it. Geraldine cast Fog Cloud centered on the party. Unfortunately, as soon as he did, he was knocked down and dying by the War Chief. Regizar had to use his action to place the unconscious body of his companion on the back of Chuy, the now visible flying leopard, and jump on it himself. With two bodies on its back, it couldn’t fly, but it could still run, which it did toward Eragon near the main intersection (Room 5). Riandon also took off, moving past the remaining orcs to stay with the group.

I gave most of the orcs an opportunity attack at disadvantage due to the fog. Two on Riandon, one on Chuy, one on the dying dwarf, and two for Regizar. The results were miss, miss, miss, miss, hit, hit; both of them on Regizar. But fortunately, nobody paid close attention to the dice and I said that everybody missed. I know, I’m a big fat cheater. Sue me, it’s been a long day. As soon as they cleared the fog-filled area, Riandon threw his last Fireball back into the kitchen, while Regizar began firing blindly into the smoke with the two pistols that the group got during the course of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.

DH Gunslingers minis
I still hate these guns and the drow who gave them to the players, but they keep saving their lives.

Only two orcs emerge from the maelstrom of smoke and fire, the War Chief who is nearly dead, and the Ogre Chieftain who is not. All the other orcs were incinerated by the fireball. The chase is on! They ran back to the Chasm Room, which I couldn’t understand why, since that was just another dead end because the bridge was destroyed, (I think they got lost). The scene was a pure Run & Gun. Riandon is launching cantrips, Regizar keeps finding new pistols to shoot, and Eragon is firing his bow and arrow as fast as possible. Finally, an arrow takes down the War Chief, leaving only the OP Ogre.

But then the Ogre throws one last javelin hitting Chuy enough to dispel the magic, reverting the animal back into his inert Figurine of Wondrous Power form. When their magical mount disappeared, Geraldine and Regizar crashed to the ground just as the hulking ogre catches up with the group. Now it’s a fight to the finish. Fortunately, I had a relatively uninjured Eragon to take a few hits away from Regizar, whom the ogre should have been targeting. Even with his massive hit points, with three heroes versus the one, the ogre was eventually brought to his knees and executed just like his entire tribe before him. Our heroes are triumphant yet again against unbeatable odds. (With a little unseen help)

Dungeon Master Trick

I was exhausted. I felt sick. I felt hollow inside. This was the most taxing encounter I’ve ever run. I never want to have another session like this. After the session we talked for over an hour about how awful I felt the session was. But the kids thought it was great. They were thrilled. They were a little scared, they totally thought they were going to die, but still they came out victorious and they were elated. Even James who is normally more attuned to bad vibes at the table was just happy to still be alive. Maybe I should have let them die.

So, no lessons were learned, and I am a miserable wretch. Even writing about this event four months after the fact, all the anger and frustration came flooding back, as if I was suffering from PTSD. I talked about it with my son and he still thought the “Boom, Boom, Cool” was hilarious, which caused an even bigger argument than the actual event. We may need counseling. But seriously, the hard lesson learned today is: Never play angry and Never use the game to punish your players. No good can ever come from it. But just as importantly, should you fail as I did, talk it out with your players. See what can be done to fix it. But also, forgive yourself and vow to try and never give in to anger again.

Back to the dungeon. The entire orc tribe (almost) lay dead and all that is left is to cut off all their heads and throw them in a sack. Or in our case a very bloody Portable Hole. (It’s a gruesome tale of bounty hunting, unnecessary proof-of-death, and at best will net the party about 400 in gold.)

Forge Fury 5e Fungus banner
Ooh, shiny. But don’t touch.

Next week, our heroes descend into the mysterious Glitterhame, a new player joins the party while another leaves, and we argue the merits of monster extermination versus salvation.

To further help your campaign, I created a Forge of Fury Resource Page that includes everything I used to run this adventure all in one place. Session Diaries, Maps, Handouts, Stat Sheets, Everything. I hope this helps. Enjoy!

As always, never play angry. Better to walk away, and Game On another day!

Boom, Boom, COOL! – Not so famous last words

7 thoughts on “D&D Diary – The Forge of Fury – Session 2

  1. My group of players are a mix of kids (my sons are 7 and 10), teenagers (my nephew and friend’s son) and adults, pretty much like yours. IF adults were to be so disregarding of consequences, I would totally go Ruthless DM mode. But with the kids… They can be so, so very annoying at times… My nephew, I love him, but he argues ALL the time for EVERYTHING that’s happening. But, well, he’s 13. There’s a delicate balance between showing them the consequences of their actions and being overly harsh with them. But you know all this. Just to say, you’re not alone struggling sometimes, but otherwise being a GREAT dad (and a great dm too).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, they didn’t call it the Forge of Fury for nothing…
    Seriously though, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. I think it is important for the players, even if they are teenagers, to know that their actions have consequences for their characters and sometimes a TPK is one way of learning that. You handled things pretty well all things considered.
    Looking forward to seeing how this continues.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love that line! I wish I thought of it. I’m gonna edit it into the post somewhere. And thanks. I thought it was important to show that everyone makes mistakes, sometimes big ones, even us perfect internet DMs, who really could stand to be brought make to reality sometimes. But again, thanks for the support.

      Like

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