How Saying ‘Yes’ to your Players Makes GMing Easier

A man with spider legs coming out of his back - "Demon Spider" by KaitalI’ve been working on my time tracking in recent sessions, and as an experiment I included a boss which underwent a transformation as time went on. She was a sorceress named Anyetta the Many Eyed, and she had a peculiar fascination with spiders. That fascination led her to the decision to create a powerful ritual to give herself certain arachnid attributes. If the party encountered her within two hours of entering the dungeon, they would have caught her while she was casting the transformation ritual. Had they fought her, she would have likely been a moderate challenge as a level 3 sorceress against a party of level 1 characters. After the casting of the ritual, there was a 20 minute window of vulnerability while the transformation took place. She would have been immobilized, and easy prey (assuming the party recognized her as a villain). Following the transformation, the sorceress gained a number of powerful abilities that made her into a pretty dangerous encounter for 1st level players.

As it so happened, it took the party about 5 hours of game time to find her. They attempted diplomacy first, but after giving her some information they probably should not have, she attacked. Fortunately for them, the boss turned out to be a glass cannon She managed to nearly one-shot one of the characters, but the rest of them made better reflex saves. Since she was a sorceress it only took a few hits to leave her dead on the floor. There wasn’t even enough time for any giant spiders to come to her aid. The party looted her corpse, which had some of the best treasure I had placed in the dungeon, then began to search the room. They found a lot of strange alchemical stuff they didn’t understand, and a lot of books with notes about how the ritual was performed, but nothing of great value.

Or so their foolish GM thought.

“Hey Phoenix,” the ranger said to the party’s own sorceress. “Do you want to give this ritual a try?”

“Sure, that sounds fun!” the sorceress replied.

From behind the GM screen, I mumbled a quiet “oops!”

There was a time when I would have said no. I would have come up with some reason why it wasn’t possible for the player to make that kind of unconventional leap in power. Maybe I’d indicate that in studying the books the player would learn that Anyetta’s formula was flawed, and that she would have died of natural causes after a week or two. But that’s not how I GM anymore, and I’m not sure why it ever was. Usurping the villain’s plan is exactly the type of thing I would do as a player. It’s honestly thrilling to have players who are as madcap in their approach to the game as I am. So I told the sorceress yes. She would be able to repeat the ritual, but that it would require a great deal of time and preparation to complete.

Dante encountering the mythological Greecian spider woman, Arachne. By Gustave DoréWe ended our session shortly thereafter, with most of the party returning to town to sell their loot (and, incidentally, establish a museum) while the sorceress remained behind to study. A few hours later when I was putting away my folding tables, I began to ponder the next gaming session. For a few days I’d been half-assedly working on an idea for the next adventure. Something to do with dwarves and giants, in which the party would end up in a large dwarven citadel where they could take care of city-things. For a moment I turned my attention to my sorceress’ desire to become a spider-woman. I was just as intrigued by the idea as my players were, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle it. It would be a significant jump in power for the player, once which could unbalance the game in her favor. It also didn’t seem right to simply let her gain the powers after spending a couple weeks casting spells.

That’s when I realized that by allowing my player to pursue an unconventional goal, I was no longer in a position of needing to provide them with an adventure to pursue. They had chosen their adventure: turn the sorceress into a spider woman. Now all I had to do was set the parameters of that adventure. I won’t go into too much detail here, since my players do occasionally read this site, but suffice to say that the task will require the players to go on a number of small side adventure. By the time they’re finally ready to start casting the spell, they’ll have spent somewhere between 3 and 6 sessions on the task, if they’ve remained focused. And while they pursue this goal, they’ll be far more engaged in the game than they ever would be if I was the one trying to create their motivation.

My players are the ones guiding my game now, and I couldn’t be happier that they’ve taken the reigns.

For the record, by the way, this is the template the sorceress is pursuing:

Arachnohominid Template

When a humanoid creature gains the arachnohominid template, six additional eyes grow at even distances from each other around the base creature’s head, and eight large spider legs grow from their back. These legs are large enough that when the creature is standing on them, their humanoid legs will be half of their height off of the ground (about 2.5-3ft for a human). An arachnohominid creature is also able to spin webs through nodules on their fingertips, and control other arachnids to a limited degree.

Unfortunately for the arachnohominid, these alterations are extremely difficult to hide, and are likely to cause fear and mistrust in most of the civilized world.

Type Type changes to Monstrous Humanoid (Do not recalculate Hit Dice, BAB, or saves.)
Senses Darkvision 60ft, +4 to perception checks, considered to be looking in all directions at once. (cannot be “back attacked.”)
Armor Class Natural armor improves by +2
Abilities Strength and Dexterity each improve by +2
Feats The base creature gains Toughness as a bonus feat.
Speed When on the spider legs, the creature’s speed increases to 60ft. The creature can move at this speed even when climbing along walls or ceilings.
Special Abilities

  • Able to climb on walls or ceilings as though affected by a permanent Spider Climb spell.
  • Can spin webs to entrap foes. Webs can be placed and hidden, or spun around opponents within 30ft during combat. In the latter case, a reflex save of DC [10 + 1/2 character level + Dex Modifier] allows the creature to avoid the attack. In either case, a DC 20 strength check can break the webs, or any attack which deals 5 damage to the webs (AC: 5, Hardness: 0).
  • A small, fast moving tendril of web can also be used to deliver touch spells up to 30 ft. The arachnohominid must succeed on a ranged touch attack [1d20 + BAB + Dex Modifier against Touch AC] or the spell fails.
  • Spiders obey the mental commands of an Arachnohomnid. Larger spiders are entitled to a will save DC [10 + 1/2 Arachnohominid HD + Cha]

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7 thoughts on “How Saying ‘Yes’ to your Players Makes GMing Easier”

  1. It is cool but i would be tempted to offer it as a 3 or 5 level prestige class so that your player Will have to way up the benefits of this or whether they would like caster levels or offer the trade for there blood line so that you can keep game balance ish

    1. But the boss didn’t have to go through any lengthy leveling process. Once she began the transformation it took 2 hours and 20 minutes for it to complete. And if I let my NPCs live by one set of rules, and force my PCs to live by a different set of rules, then my world is inconsistent.

      Besides, I’m much less interested in balance than I am in fairness, consistency, and fun. One of the best games I ever participated in consisted of a party of one level 13 character, and four level 1 characters played by a single person.

      Balance is an important concept, but a highly, highly overrated one.

  2. I think you may be right about the balance thing but thought i would offer the thought and at level 13 it dose not matter as much.

    1. I welcome your thoughts and criticisms. Just because I disagree does not mean I don’t value the conversation.

      Thank you for commenting!

    1. Had to look that up, but yeah, I remember seeing this.

      When I first saw the Jorogumo, I thought about using it. However, the creature which the players defeated wasn’t a Jorogumo. It was a sorceress with the above template applied to her. It is important to me that the players be able to get the same benefits that the NPCs were given.

      Besides, I’m making them do a lot of work for this. They deserve something more powerful than the Jorogumo template would offer.

      1. a Jorogumo based-template would actually be stronger than your template. An easy way for them to gain the more powerful template is they discover that by adding in a 4th ingredient theey can gain a more powerful but slower transformation.

        I’m currently dealing with something like this with a character becoming a natural werewolf through a ritual.

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