Many years ago (2 decades or so) I intermittently played in a D&D game run by my friend Mark. This was a heavily house ruled, long running game. It made the stereotypical hack & slash game seem tame by comparison. Mark was a firm believer in allowing players to buff up their characters within some vague realms of reason. Because that just gave him a reason to buff up his monsters. He was the first (and only to this day) DM I ever encountered who gave monsters classes and requisite abilities that went with that. I lost touch with Mark about 18 years ago (for what in retrospect is a silly reason that I won’t elaborate on.) Anyway I recently reached out to him, and he invited me to join his recent Pathfinder game. I played in my first session Sunday.
That game was a rush. I created what I thought was a pretty tough character, a gnome monk (think Yoda.) When I got there Mark gave me a list of magic items my character had which definitely boosted my character even more. Which had me confident. Until the first combat, when my character found himself cornered by 2 trolls and had to execute some pretty amazing feats just to escape and run away. Meanwhile the other members of the party were calmly wiping out 5 other trolls.
My only response was: “I had forgotten how tough Mark’s games were”
We had some wandering to do (when the Thor worshiping Cleric called down a massive rain storm, causing us to get lost because my character was the only one with (very minimal) survival skills). But we eventually stumbled on another group of trolls, where my character acquitted himself far better.
Here were a couple of lessons I learned and will try to apply to the game I am running. First, there is nothing wrong with modifying monsters, they are not sacred, so if you want an Orc Shaman who casts Cleric spells, by all means do it, it throws players for a loop, and can be lots of fun (players think, oh that’s just a Kobold, only he is a Kobold fighter with a magic bow: ouch.) Second, Some might call it ‘Monty Haul’ but handing out magic items to the characters is fine so long as you keep pace with buff monsters (see First lesson.) Third, players can role play in combat just as easily as they role play elsewhere: Priests of Thor who try to call down thunder in every battle for example. Therefore combat can be the fun, role playing experience that players want.
So I have spent the day between calls creating the next adventure for the boys with those lessons in mind. I will try to impress some of this on them. Encourage them to think of things they would do in battle. Like the Elven warrior who trained an an acrobat turning every attack into an acrobatic move. I am pretty excited about what I am going to unleash upon the boys next time. It will be a learning session for them and allow them to accumulate some good stuff.