Last week I got my first taste of running a DnD game in a very long time... something like 11 years, though it could be as high as 14 years. Needless to say I was a bit rusty but I think I managed to keep the players involved and entertained reasonably enough. I got slammed in the face by two major bits of DM wisdom that had faded somewhat over the years though: The players will do crazy things you never thought of and Always Always use a DM screen.
I had plans for what was going to happen during the session. The players were tasked with locating a missing scout along a somewhat dangerous frontier which often had minor monster incursions from over the mountains. I figured they would get past the first town the scout had visited really quickly and move on to the meat of the puzzle but they ended up asking all kinds of questions I had never considered. They wanted to investigate the room that the scout had stayed in, find out how the scout arrived in town, what sort of horse she rode, and other details that are entirely reasonable and which I had not anticipated. That all worked out fine; the crazy part was when they decided to start a revolution.
You see, they were faced with a choice of going back to town to accuse / arrest / attack the lying, stealing, possibly murderous governor or go into the mine to kill a monster. There was an outside chance that they would run away to try to get reinforcements; any of the above would have been fine and within my plans. Instead they decided to try to go around rabble rousing to start a minor revolution against the aforementioned evil governor and begin a war.
But, but, but.... You guys are the heroes! The protectors of the realm! You aren't supposed to be dragging the peasants into the battle? Are the peasants going to work with you? Betray you? Ignore you? Argh....
You can never, ever plan for what the players are going to do. They will *always* come up with something crazier than you ever imagined. Apparently I am the worst for this when I am a player... sorry Sthenno.
In the first fight we had the rogue (played by InTheHat) tried to acrobatically tumble around the Crazy Monster Infested Bear to stab it in the back while the rest of the party beat on it. This is a fine plan but he rolled very badly and the bear ended up smashing him down. He got healed and tried to stand up again but again he rolled badly and the bear scored a critical, killing him outright. This of course happened after we finished our introduction but were only 1 hour into our first game. So now I have a dead player through extreme bad luck... or do I?
If I was a smart guy I would have a DM screen up and just ignored that critical. I don't object to killing off players when they die at reasonably important or appropriate times but axing a player such that they don't get to play for the entirety of the first session seems completely terrible. I didn't have a screen though and the players saw the critical so I just decided to make it a normal hit. It is a crappy situation because either the players lose immersion or one player in particular has a really cruddy time - no way around that. The fight itself was completely appropriate in terms of difficulty and required some pretty wretched luck to go as badly as it did so I am pleased with my encounter design but I am very sad at the outcome. It is hard to keep people worried and on edge in battles if they know that I will fudge the dice!