Today, for the first time in a few months now, I managed to get together with my friend Jeremy to play a session of our Zalekios Gromar campaign. For me, this is always a huge amount of fun. Not only is Jeremy an entertaining fellow to sit around and chat with, but he’s also the only person I know who is willing to occasionally take on the mantle of game master. Most of the time managing the game is my responsibility, and I love it. That’s why I have an entire site dedicated to running Pathfinder games. But being the game master can also be both limiting, and stressful. Taking some time to be a player rather than a GM lets me cut loose a little bit. All I really need to worry about is my own actions, and how I can survive and succeed with my own goals.
Being a player also allows me the opportunity to see the game from the opposite perspective. No matter how concerned I am with ensuring that my players are having fun, it’s always valuable to sit down, be a player, and figure out what I want. Are the things I want as a player being facilitated in the games I run as the game master? Which elements of the game am I enjoying, and which am I finding arduous? I find that my occasional jaunts to the other side of the GM screen are often more educational than a week’s worth of reading blogs and old Dragon magazines. And tonight, two lessons stood out to me.
First, some quick background on the game. Zalekios is currently working a number of angles within the game world, many of which are indirectly opposed to one another. Not only is he working for a kingdom, but he’s also working for someone else who wants to destroy all the kingdoms, whilst simultaneously attempting to establish his own kingdom. It can become a little confusing, but I’ve got 23 charisma and 10 wisdom, so what do you expect? Anyway, the kingdom Zalekios is working for (Angle #1) sent him to investigate some strange attacks which were destroying ships as they left a nearby port city. This worked to Zalekios’ advantage, since he needed to scout that same port city as part of a plot to destroy all the kingdoms (Angle #2). In the city, he booked passage on one of the ships, and sailed with it until it was attacked. He captured one of the Sahuagins, and forced it to lead the vessel to the mysterious “Wet Gnome Lord” who was behind these attacks.
So here’s a bit which will become relevant later. Having captured this creature, I began forming plans for how I might find use for it as a minion. So, when we left the ship to venture to the island home of the Wet Gnome Lord, I took the Sahuagin with me. Memory may fail me, but my conversation with the GM went something like this:
Me: I’d like to take the…Sha-hugga-mug with me.
GM: The Sahuagin?
Me: Yes. That. I’ll untie him from the mast, but leave him tied up with some loose rope for me to hang onto.
GM: Like a leash?
Me: Yeah, kinda like a leash. How long can he go without breathing water?
GM: Lets say 48 hours.
Me: Alright, well, we’ve been sailing for over 30, so I’ll let him swim to the island in the water, whilst I hold his leash from within a rowboat.
Now, what I understood to be happening was that the Sha-hugga-mug’s arms were tied to its sides, and I had a rope around its neck to serve as a leash. I figured it could swim well enough with its legs, and if it couldn’t…well, Zalekios is Chaotic Evil. Keel hauling a sea creature is far from the worst thing he’s done. Hell, earlier in that same session I’d committed a murder simply to enhance an intimidation check. Then killed the fellow I had been intimidating to keep him from pinning the murder on me!
Once we reached land, we entered the Wet Gnome Lord’s tower, and that’s about the time my ladyfriend joined the game, once again playing as Zalekios’ four faithful level 1 goblins. We encountered the wet gnome lord, and I completely ruined all my GM’s plans by negotiating with the session’s endboss. (Let that be a lesson to all GMs: players will always defy your expectations.) It ended up being well worth my while, because not only did I convince a powerful wizard to leave the ships alone (Thus fulfilling my obligation to Angle #1), but I also convinced him that we were allies, making him Angle #4. I am a devious little schemer, yes I am.
To solidify our partnership, the Wet Gnome Lord asked Zalekios to take care of a golem which had gotten a little out of control. Zalekios agreed, and climbed up into the locked attic, where he found the golem walking around in circles, paying the intruders no mind. Zalekios moved off to kill the creature, and assumed the four goblins would find some way to help (or, more likely, find a way to make things much more difficult) We rolled initiative, and I leaped into combat. It was then that the GM asked;
GM: So, wait a minute, you’re just leaving the Sahuagin there unattended?
Me: So what? It’s tied up.
GM: No, it only has a leash.
Me: …fuck, yeah, I guess that’s how you would have interpreted that. What I meant is that its arms were still tied to its sides.
GM: Then how would it have swam?
Me: It has webbed feet, I figured that would be fine.
GM: No, it would need its arms to swim effectively.
I was already engaged with the golem, so I wasn’t going to bother with a low level creature like the Sha-hugga-mug when I was already facing something which could probably kill me. Fortunately, thanks to the marching order, my four goblin worshipers had the creature surrounded. So whilst I battled the golem, they subdued my prisoner. They even managed not to kill him! Though he will have a nasty burn on his face, and a bad limp from now on. Everything went better than expected, but this all goes to illustrate a point. I wrote recently on the point of GM clarity, but this story goes to show that player clarity is just as important. There was no clear point during play when my GM being more clear with me would have fixed the problem. Even if he had allowed me to have the creature’s arms bound due to the misconception, that would have meant changing a minor ruling from an hour’s worth of game time prior. (Namely, whether or note the creature could swim, and thus continue to survive on land). The entire problem could have been fixed had I, as the player, simply been more clear about my intentions.
On an unrelated note, a funny story from this game session: one of the four goblins, named Poog, is a cleric. He cast the spell Burning Hands on the Sha-hugga-mug during combat, and I quickly looked it up in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, where I was surprised to learn it was a 15ft cone. My GM, also surprised, said “Well I guarantee you it wasn’t that way in 3.5.” So, I got out my 3.5 PHB, and we looked it up, and much to our surprise, it had been a 15ft cone in 3rd edition as well! Flustered, my GM added “They must have changed it from second edition!” So, I pulled out my 2nd edition PHB, and he found the spell and read the description aloud.
GM: When the wizard casts this spell, a jet of searing flame shoots from his fingertips. His hands must be held so as to send forth a fanlike sheet of flames: the wizard’s thumbs must touch each other and the fingers must be spread. The burning hands send out flame jets 5 feet long in a horizontal arc about 120 degrees in front of the wizard.”
Me: …So, it’s a cone?
GM: Shut up.