Second Chance

I’m sending my son through B1: In Search of the Unknown and we played for several hours today. It’s a change of pace game from our Forbidden Jungle adventures, and as an experiment I allowed him to play two PCs. Late in the session he found his party (his halfling thief and half-orc fighter along with an NPC elf magic-user and two men-at-arms) in a tough fight against a group of kobolds.

The kobolds were down to the last two standing, but they kept passing morale checks and kept on fighting. Having just finished off his last one, the half-orc fighter stepped over to assist one of the men at arms who was in bad shape. The fighter missed, and during the kobolds’ turn I rolled a d6 and a d20, stating that on 1-3 the kobold attacked the fighter instead of the man-at-arms. It was a 1 and the attack roll was a 19. I rolled damage and the fighter went down below zero. Our rule is that when a PC goes below zero they must make a save vs. death. If they pass, they’re unconscious at 0 hit points. If they fail, they’re dead.

My son wasn’t terribly happy (which is understandable) and said he didn’t know that the kobold could have attacked his fighter. I had earlier stated that he didn’t get a rear attack, which meant that the kobold had him in sight and I ruled that it was possible. My son rolled low, and the fighter died.

A couple more rounds of combat saw the last pair of kobolds wiped out, and my son again complained that he didn’t understand how the kobold could switch targets like that. I repeated that there was no reason that the fighter couldn’t be attacked.

But then my son clarified what he meant. He wasn’t arguing that the kobold couldn’t switch targets; he just didn’t think the kobold could switch targets tHAT ROUND. The previous round, his fighter had been in combat with a different kobold, and this round he declared that he would move over to aid the man-at-arms. (We declare actions before rolling initiative.) He pointed out that the kobold didn’t know that the fighter was coming, so how could he have decided to attack after (presumably) declaring the man-at-arms to be his target?

And he was right. I had not initially figured on the fighter coming over, and to change the kobold’s action after my son declared his wasn’t really fair, even if I used a die roll to determine the actual target. I’ve previously ruled that attackers can only switch targets after declaration if the target goes down from another attack first. Since the man-at-arms was still up, I should have had the kobold attack him that round and roll for target the NEXT round.

Now, I’m not a big fan of going back in time and fixing things. But I’m also not a big fan of screwing up, particularly when the players suffer for it. So I ruled in favor of the players (for now) and allowed another save vs. death. He made it, the fighter they thought was dead groaned when they began to grab his gear, and everything was all right in the world.

Was I being a softie? I don’t really think so. Though the transgression wasn’t a major one, it certainly didn’t follow the standards we’d been using and that he had every right to expect would continue to be followed in normal circumstances. I even make him roll again, and failure would have meant dead.

On the other hand, if I would have ruled dead was dead, I would have basically been saying “Yeah, I messed up a little but it’s no big deal…other than your character dying.” That’s the sort of thing that jerk DMs say.

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10 Responses to Second Chance

  1. Timeshadows says:

    Constancy is a virtue, and doubly so when displayed in front of children.
    –You did the right thing by fixing your error. 🙂

  2. Fairness is an important trait in a DM.

    • Kilgore says:

      I think the only unforgivable sin of DMing is being unfair. Tough encounters, save-or-die traps, you’ve-been-captured-and-all-your-gear-is-gone-now-try-to-escape scenarios…all part of the game. But crossing the line of just plain breaking rules for no good reason is not fun.

      FWIW, I suspect that a lot of the detailed rule structure and the player empowerment of later editions of the game is a result of unfair jerk DMs.

  3. When character dies or other major loss due to DM mistake it is very appropriate to rectify the situation.

    • Kilgore says:

      As soon as I realized what his gripe was I sort of went “Oops…I really screwed that one up, didn’t I?”

      I try hard to be tough but fair. And toughness at the expense of fairness is a good way to lose players fast.

      Never mind the trust of your own kids…

  4. badmike says:

    I’ve only been a player a few times, because I enjoy DMing, but mostly I just enjoy the fact I’m pretty consistent in my rulings. Regards other DMs, I’ve been terribly frustrated by their whimsical rulings, and I can only imagine how frustrated kids can get in the same situations. I quit a group once because of DM’s failure to correctly adjucate the same result of a common spell cast at different times. Pretty much exact same situation (except with a spell) and even though the players pointed it out, the DM said something like “Well, sucks for you guys, I read the spell wrong but you’re still dead”. Joke was on him as half the group walked away permanently after that FUBAR….

    • Kilgore says:

      I am also a very infrequent player, and my gaming history is probably 95%+ GMing. But it seems plain to me that a jerk DM (or even just a jerk person being DM) can shut the fun off in about five minutes.

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