I didn’t purposely create an encounter that was too overpowered for the boys. I was not planning to kill them. But I was going to take the proverbial gloves off as far as playing encounters nicely. I wanted them to actually think a little, to pause instead of charging blindly into every encounter. But they did just that, and so paid the price. On the flip side they came up with a very novel solution to a difficult problem, so not all is lost, they can learn and be creative.
First, yes I did go overboard in my planning. I admit that. To break it down, the players were all 4th level, with no magic items, which according the D&D 5E DMG means they that a 2,000 XP encounter would be considered hard. The encounter I created was approximately 7,000 XP in difficulty. Yeah, that is out of control. But, there were mitigating factors. I designed this as a stand alone encounter, so it was to be their only encounter of the day. And the DMG guidelines are built around the idea of 5-6 encounters a day. Which should have evened things out. But then there were multiple traps on the way to the encounter, and the players managed to set off every single one of them! So the resources they should have had for that single encounter were seriously depleted. Which leads to the second point.
Second, there was no reason for the players to blindly barge through every single trap, taking damage like the reverse of a bull in a glass shop. And yet they did. And did they have chances to pull back from the encounter, and maybe come back when they recovered? Yes, they did have that option. Which means that this encounter was pretty much designed for them to be smart and carefully work their way through it, and instead they charged in blindly.
To sum up the game. I created a very difficult encounter that really challenged them. But it was a challenge that they could have survived if they thought things through, worked as a team, and walked through the encounter, instead of just leaping in blindly, rushing in like the Charge of the Light Brigade. As a result, two characters are dead beyond resurrection, and I had to employ a little Deus Ex Machina to get the other 2 out alive.
Will they learn this lesson? That remains to be seen. But I do want to take a moment to talk about how they very cleverly survived the first encounter of the night.
Two sessions ago they group stumbled upon a cache of 5 silvered short swords. I put that there because I had en encounter with Werewolves coming up. But did any of them keep a silvered short sword? Only one of the players kept one, the rest sold theirs. I gave them a chance to be ready for the werewolves, and they chose to ignore the signs.
And so, when they were travelling on their way to a grand adventure, they were attacked by those werewolves. And only one of them had a way to hurt the werewolves. This could very easily have been the encounter that did them in, and I was a little worried. Until they came up with an ingenious solution. See, Jimmy is a wrestler, so when presented with this situation he came up with the idea of grappling the werewolf, wrestling him to the ground and holding him while other party members tied him up. Obviously it helped that the party members all had high strength scores so the Werewolves could not escape the grapple. But I am still impressed with this solution to the problem. Which goes to show that they can be clever, and think through things, they just don’t do so often enough.
And now my grand plans for the adventure will have to altered. The two Rangers are dead, and will be replaced by gnome wizards. Which means that where I had a party that was heavy on melee combat before I now have a party that will be strong in spells, but not exactly great at melee, and there is still no healer. I have been putting together a plan of action for bringing in the new characters, giving them a mission, and then setting them back on the path that I was on already. All is not lost, I just have to come up with a different approach.
It was definitely an eventful night to be sure. In the end though, lessons were (hopefully) learned on both sides. And it was all still quite fun and enjoyable.