Hello everyone. Crunch here to talk about Wrought Iron, episode 8.
I liked this episode quite a bit. Both the players and the characters express their reaction to the combat that just occurred and I have an opportunity to start to incorporate some elements of the mystery that the PCs are dealing with. Well, one of the mysteries. In the last article, I said that I had managed to incorporate 2 strong clues to what’s happening. This episode actually contains a third, even if it is a little weaker. It’s a hint towards a clue.
This episode featured some really fantastic moments of role playing. One of my personal favorites was when all of the PCs started talking at once trying to explain themselves to Captain Kymere and she got to yell at them. Since these articles are intended to give you a look behind the curtain of what’s happening with this podcast series, I’ll tell you that this moment happened organically, but then was refined and edited to put the best possible version into the episode. This is one of those cool moments that would happen at a home game table.
I also really liked how Scott used several moments in this episode to advance Deign’s character development. For example, he randomly mentioned that Deign is great at cooking potatoes. This was a silly detail to include, but it fleshed out the character and created an opportunity for an entertaining conversational exchange. I also find it interesting that this is the first time that Scott included the fact that Deign is really having a problem dealing with the crazy events that are unfolding. However, he didn’t dwell on this. Instead, he wrapped this into Deign’s typical characterization and described how Degin was attempting to cope with and comprehend what’s going on. These are fantastic examples of how to really represent thinking and acting like your character.
And to continue with Deign for a moment, did anyone out there guess that those mysterious items from the flashback might show up again? I hope this was a surprising, but rewarding throwback. As a storyteller, I typically do not enjoy a big chunk of exposition being jammed into the middle of other events. However, I felt like this was a great way to include some details that the players would otherwise not know. When I provided this flashback scene, my plan was twofold. I knew that for this next part of the story to make sense, the players needed to know what happened. Or at least, a little about what happened. I felt that having an NPC explain it, or having them uncover details in a note or report wouldn’t be as entertaining. Revealing the scene like I did expanded the mystery and magic of the game world. My second reason was to reintroduce the story element of the magic item and remind everyone about the events in that flashback.
In a role playing game, it’s difficult to remember every detail that happens in every game session. As a player and GM, I try to keep notes about what’s going on, but it’s impossible to remember everything. But frequently, events in a current session will refer back to previous ones. Maybe they’ll answer a question or reveal a clue that’s supposed to be an “ah-ha!” moment. It can be really rewarding as a GM to create an opportunity for a connection like this. But if a few details have been forgotten, that reward might be as good as it could be. My use of this item is a soft flashback, or a call back to what happened before. This is a great tool to use when you’re trying to get players to remember what happened without being super obvious that it has an impact on what’s happening or about to happen in the game.
If you’re wondering, yes, it was my plan all along to re-introduce these items. This was a perfect opportunity and I was very excited to make it happen.
I want to point out something about skill checks in this game. Usually, I ask players to make a specific check. But sometimes, I’ll give them an option or let them suggest a check instead. Being more free-form with skill checks can make for a more engaging game. It doesn’t always work. Some skills aren’t interchangeable, simply due to logic. And sometimes, your plans as GM require certain skills to be used. But other times, giving players options helps them get into role playing.
For example, when Matthew was investigating the remains of the boat and the slaughtered monster, I gave him options. Ultimately, no-matter what he decided to roll, the outcome would be the same. This was a “make a roll to see how much you find out” moment. The skill he chose to use helped flesh out the flavor of his character and the moment, not what detail was revealed.
Frequently, logic dictates what skill needs to be used. When searching a room, Investigation makes the most sense. When seeing if the party is being followed, Perception makes the most sense. But sometimes skills can be swapped around for more interesting role playing. A character with a backstory about studying architecture could justify using a Knowledge check to search instead of Investigation. A character with a history of living in the woods might be able to justify using Knowledge Nature or Survival instead of Perception. When presented with a physical challenge, Acrobatics and Athletics mean almost the same thing, but they reflect different approaches to overcoming the problem, and thus incorporate a different type of narration.
Some of you might be saying that mechanically, this lets players use a skill that relates to a stat that has a better modifier to get a better result on the skill check. Yes, that’s true. I’m not saying to do this every time. Sometimes, a trap or saving throw will force a specific skill to be used. That’s part of the challenge. But it’s also important to reward player creativity. A player could get really excited to say “hey! I think this element of my character’s story relates to what’s happening!” That makes for a better story and better role playing. Of course, being a GM is about creating compromise. In this situation, maybe you let the player use a different skill but you make them roll with Disadvantage.
My point here is that it’s important to be flexible. You are telling a story with your players, not to your players. Let them get involved in the details. This is a lot easier to do in 5E than other systems. The skills in 5E encompass more than one specific way to use them, unlike more detailed skills in other systems. Use this to your advantage.
Lastly, I want to talk briefly about the dream sequence that ended this episode. It was not planned. I did not have this prepared as part of the larger story. Without giving away details, this happened based on a choice that Michael made when leveling up his character Arahamie. We had discussed the choice and why it made sense for the story. The decision he made was story-focused instead of just picking something that would improve his class abilities. I liked his decision and wanted to reward his choice with a cool moment. Thus, I came up with this dream on the spot as we were wrapping up this game session. I did not, however, expect his decision that concluded the dream. I also haven’t figured out yet how that will come back up.
In conclusion, the thing to remember from this episode as a GM is to reward player creativity. You don’t have to let your players get away with everything. It’s important to compromise. But it’s equally important to let their role play choices take the spotlight.