The time Dungeons and Dragons might have saved a life.

I haven’t hidden behind the fact I occasionally still play role-playing games. I’m currently involved in a Fading Suns campaign and running a Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition game. Back in the 80s, there was a genuine fear in the mainstream of the latter encouraging satanist practices or worse… concerns from the fundamentalist Christians obviously.

Two years ago, I was recruited by some online friends who I met through World of Warcraft, back when it didn’t suck, to run a D&D game. I recycled a campaign idea I had set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. The players were all new to the games but rapidly embraced the concept. Perhaps it was their previous gaming experience, but I noticed they quickly did a huge amount of research into min-maxing their characters. Some of them were pulling out stuff from very obscure books among the official stuff. Now, this could have easily led to escalation and an arms race between myself and them to keep the challenge up. Instead, I used the environment against them. The group found themselves trapped in the Underdark (for those unfamiliar with the game, think “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”), low on supplies and no idea where they were going except ever deeper. Claustrophobia, lack of light, and using weak monsters who were perfectly adapted to their environment made what might be trivial fights into challenging encounters.

I had a few ideas of set pieces for them to interact with. However, to add to the danger, I was rolling on the random encounter tables; something I usually prefer not to as it slows down the game needlessly. The players were level 3 and I received the result of a Beholder. Now, this creature is clearly way too powerful for the group, even a group of min-maxers. I decided instead to downgrade it to a beholder-kin. The creature was drawn to the group by the smell of their campfire (specifically, they were trying to make jerky out of some darkmantles).

Playing nice, I had the creature paralyze the guard on watch from afar before finally revealing itself into the light. The rest of the group’s adventurers were asleep but eventually woke up from all the noise the creature was making while devouring their food. The guard on watch was an elf and thus resistant to the charming attempts.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, one of the players, a writer in real life, was under the effects of cocaine during the session. When I described the creature to him over skype, he was quite disturbed. I interpreted his reaction as him being dramatically playing his character’s (a bard) reaction. Later, when the gnome druid of the group wanted to use the creature’s corpse as a manner of conveyance (the bodies float for up to a day after their deaths), the bard’s player was freaking out. His objections were quite vociferous and he was encouraging other members of the group to not only side with him but even so far as to go and defile the corpse so it could not be re-animated somehow and potentially do the same for the gnome druid if she continued to object. Eventually, I ended the gaming session as the group’s argument was becoming far more heated than I expected.

A face not even a mother could love.

The bard player missed the next two sessions. He was somewhat of a flaky player who styles himself a ladies man. I figured his absence was due to dates. The other players in the group eventually found out and told me he had been on coke during the session and had a really bad trip from the description of the beholder. This later prompted him to go into rehab. I still occasionally keep in touch with him and as far as I know he’s still off blow.

Just goes to show you how vivid and powerful imagination can be; particularly when under the influence or narcotics.


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