Friday, May 9, 2014

"Truth Is In The Eye of the Beholder" or "Why You Should Always Have a Ranged Weapon"

I was a late bloomer when it came to roleplaying games; I had never even seen a 20-sided die until the second half of my freshman year of college. I joined several games, but nothing seemed to last more than a few sessions before someone got sick, drama tore the group up, or people just collectively shrugged and didn't feel like playing. As such I had gotten really good at playing characters from level 1-3, but had never really had much experience beyond that. Then a guy in the group I frequented issued a challenge to all of us; anything we wanted to play, level 15. All rules were allowed, and the goal was to see how far we would make it on the dungeon crawl of death.

Challenge accepted.

How Things Started Off

I had access to every Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 text there was, and there were no limits on anything from class, to alignment, to race. We were kids in a candy store, no question about it. But once the initial surge of excitement left I got down to business to put together something that would be able to survive anything the DM threw at him.

What I got was Captain Egil Skinner, a tiefling in her Majesty's service. A Monk/Spellthief Gestalt, he had enough magic items to emulate James Bond, and his trusty raven familiar Croaker meant that he always had a partner in the event he needed it. Fast, silent, able to leap tall buildings and disable nearly any trap, he was no slouch in any one field. I figured he'd be a great scout, supporting fighter, or sneak thief in the event one was required.

That word... does it mean what I think it means?
Yes you read that right, the infamous Gestalt rules were not taken off the table. For those who have never played DND 3.5, a Gestalt is when you take two classes and squish them together to give a player all of their benefits, but none of their negatives. All special abilities, all proficiencies, the highest BAB, the best saves, etc. It's stupid, and we pointed out that it was stupid, but our DM stuck to his guns and dared us to make something that could survive what he'd created.

So all of us were Gestalt characters.

The Party

In addition to my infernal secret agent and his loud-mouthed companion we boasted a Drow cleric/fighter, a wizard/War Blade (from the Book of Nine Swords, since nothing was illegal), a druid/scout/Daggerspell Shaper, and a wizard/fighter. In short, we were not a group to be fooled with.

Our DM found this out much to his chagrin when the first two or three encounters which were meant to wear us down, and possibly kill one or two of our squishier party members were completely annihilated. Spells thrown at us got deflected or absorbed, melee brutes were torn to pieces, and overwhelming numbers were reduced to piles of greasy cinders. At least until the Beholder.

The Tables Seem to Have Turned

We're riding high after going through a few encounters, disarming a couple of traps and generally feeling like we've built ourselves a solid party. Then we see that thing every party lives in fear of.

Save versus delicious.
The Beholder, one of Wizards of the Coast's big-name enforcers, floats into the room like it owns the place. The anti-magic field kicks in, and suddenly there is a dearth of power in the group. None of us have a natural fly speed, none of us have access to our favorite bags of tricks thanks to magic not working in a room specifically designed to the dimensions of the beholder's abilities, and to my astonishment there is not a single person who has thought to bring a ranged weapon. There was not a single bow, crossbow, javelin, or so much as a sling in evidence.

Then I Had a Stupid Idea...

Every DM has heard this question a thousand times. It always seems innocent, and typically the DM answers with a wave of his hand and a, "yeah, sure, there are rocks on the ground here big enough to throw."

On my turn Egil picks up a rock, cocks back his arm, and I say in a clear voice, "I declare a called shot to the beholder's main eye. The one causing the anti-magic field."

Egil isn't a full BAB progression character. He's using an improvised weapon, and the target is several range increments out of his reach. Plus the negatives from a called shot. He lets fly, and the die spins across the table.

Here's crit in your eye!
It comes up a natural 20.

And Shit Got Real

Even though the attack didn't confirm (or this story would have gotten a lot more epic a lot more quickly), the beholder shut its main eye for a single round. The field vanished, and that gave the rest of the party a single round to make it rain.

I have never seen that many spells, magic items, or obscure abilities pulled out in such short order. To add insult to injury two members of the party scored critical hits against the thing, bringing it squelching down to earth in a single round. Egil strides across the dirt, picks up the gore-encrusted rock, wipes a smear off of it, and writes the word truth across the thing.

Then he feeds its eyes to his familiar.

All Downhill From There

It seemed that the beholder was out DM's big bang. He'd expected us to be run-down, out of spells, out of healing, and at the end of our ropes. Instead we lost a single character to disintegration (the wizard/fighter), and everyone else kept walking along their merry way. The rest of the dungeon was filled with slip-shod traps, easily bypassed ambushes, and creatures half a dozen challenge levels higher than we were but who were meant for taking out melee fighters and not a party where everyone had caster levels and spells left to burn.

At the end of the day what was meant to be a blood bath was more like a walk in the park. A dark park where hobos snored in the bushes and drugs were sold near the drinking fountains, but a park nonetheless. Most of the party survived, and even after more than eight hours of straight slogging we remained triumphant.

There are two lessons to be learned from this story. The first is that Gestalt rules are ridiculous, and should never be allowed under any circumstances whatsoever. Secondly, there is always a way around how badass you think you are. That's why you should always have a back up option in the event your main schtick just won't work. A bow, a crossbow, a tanglefoot bag, some alchemist fire, a flask of acid... really, make sure you check out this page of useful alchemical items so you're never without an option when it's your turn.

And always carry a bit of truth in your pocket.

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1 comment:

  1. Gestalt is just second edition multiclassing with slightly better HP.