Roleplaying games, almost by definition, highlight bad decisions. For one, no sensible person would actively go into most of the situations that happen in these games. For another, the whole concept of tabletop RPGs hinges on decision making, and, at least in old school RPGs, on the dangerous fallout of failure to make the right call.
Decisions have consequences, that is a common statement in the OSR, and it usually gets said after the death of a character or even a party. Mindfulness of resources, and a tradeoff between risk and reward, between investment and possible gain, even the wager of risking health points to overcome a foe despite long and cumbersome healing times, are a staple of the genre.
Less so in the newer editions, especially 5e, where stuff is easily replaced, magic items are plentiful, and all hit points and magic replenish after a good night’s sleep.
But still: Regardless of system, it is right and proper to think things through and prepare as well as possible for what’s to come.
The Island of the Black Dot
In one campaign of D&D 5e (yes, nu-school) our party of megalomaniac players had already killed almost everything under the sun already, from scores of cultists over vampire lords, swarms of undead, were-rats, goblins, ogres, and much more, and we had slaughtered our way up to levels 11 to 12.
On our way home from the dungeon, loaded with more gold, jewels, and artwork, than we could carry, the idea came up to go and hunt an adult red dragon who lived on an island.
I was not quite sure why we had to go after it, as to the best of my knowledge the beast had done nothing to us, but the others were adamant that we had to. The only question was: Should we go hunt it right away or only after we had brought the loot home?
Well, in the end we decided that we could hardly carry everything to the dragon, and then all the way back together with what we might gain there. So we went to bring the loot home. It was some 120,000 gold pieces, give or take, with the mode of sharing it among the party still a tiny point of disagreement. And one of the characters managed to get himself an NPC fiancée, and wanted to bring her to the city to make things official.
But first: Kill the dragon.
What could possibly go wrong?
So the decision was quickly made: We loaded all the gold and gems and other loot onto the ship we had under contract, and the knot-tying PC also brought his betrothed along. The plan: To make a quick detour to sail to the island and kill the red dragon, then add its hoard to ours and sail back to the city to sell everything and get the relationship paperwork done. Knock off several tasks in one trip!
A whiff of doubt….
Almost everyone in the party had that one tiny moment of: “Hmm… sounds not like the most sane plan…” but then we all shrugged and went along with it. What could possibly go wrong?
…. quickly smothered
We sailed to the coast, identified the most likely island, ignored all the dire warnings of fishermen and other locals, and closed in on our target.
We left the ship with the gold and the fiancée out a quarter mile from the island and crossed over the water with some magic mumbo jumbo. Landing at the harbor we noticed a burned-down fort – old, but with smoke still rising from it. Most of us hid at the harbour, and our rogue ventured forth to sneak closer and scout out the lay of the land. Piece of cake with a Passive Perception of 20.
Eggs: Meet basket.
Turned out such a perception score was not even needed, as out of the wreckage of the fort rose none other than the dragon, in full plain view of everyone. He/She/It seemed very much aware of us and flapped its mighty wings to pass over us and make a beeline toward the ship.
“It’s going to sink our ship!”
“We can’t let it go after the ship!”
“Shoot it, shoot it!”
“Oh no, our loot! Oh no! My betrothed!”
We had flewn too close to the sun.
We had dug too deep.
We had put all our eggs into one tiny basket.
Photo by Jasmin Egger on Unsplash