Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Beer Mug Paladin

We have our first guest story! I'm excited! Behold, anonymous' tale of the Beer Mug Paladin:

This was back when D&D 3.0 was in its heyday, with entire libraries of first and third party splatbooks and campaign settings. Though some of the frustration with the 3.0 rules as they were written lead to the widespread use of house rules. This DM, who we'll call "Leo," had his share but we'll get to those. Nearly all DMs wrote their own campaign setting as well, Leo did so as well. The players were sent to an island as enforcers and peace-keepers by the king. This island turned out to have things like undead and demons living there, in addition to a rampaging horde of barbarians... Maybe colonizing this place was ill-advised?

Now a brief rundown of the players:

Hector played the group's fighter, Leo told him to optimize and Hector was never good at that so he just built a really weird character that used a double-sword.

Harris played the group's paladin, Harris had something of a long-standing reputation as a really goofy player. So obviously being a paladin seemed like a weird choice for him.

Finally, Max who played the PC villain barbarian leader. Now, I'm generally of the opinion that PC villains are a bad idea anyway but Leo had an... odd relationship with Max. Leo was very macho and competitive, and Max was very good at exploiting rules in D&D and was an accomplished martial artist as well. That aside, people admired and looked up to him. It seemed to me that Leo always wanted to impress Max. It was probably a bad idea for any of us to enter the game knowing that the DM clearly favored one player over everyone else, but obviously we did anyway.

There were other players too, which included a wizard, a rogue, and a druid. The only reason why I chose to focus on Hector, Harris and Max is that they were easily the source of the most personality conflicts in the group.

The first session introduced us to Leo's house rules:

1.) In ordinary D&D 3.0 Armor Class is is calculated like as 10 + Dex mod + Armor + Shield + Misc. In Leo's D&D it is calculated as D20 roll+ Dex mod + Armor + Shield + Misc.

2.) In ordinary D&D 3.0 Initiative determines the order in which players act for the combat. In Leo's D&D Initiative is re-rolled at the start of every round, so order of player actions changed frequently.

3.) Skills like "Spot" and "Listen" represent your character's ability to notice something. In Leo's D&D you must declare that you wish to make these checks, it's not the DM's responsibility to tell the players when they may attempt them.

The latter rule was met with some confusion, the way were introduced to it didn't help. As our band of adventurers moseyed to our next destination Leo informed us that, "Since none of you declared making a Spot check you are taken by surprise."

Afterward we were jumped by a Bodak and a Succubus, the latter of whom managed to summon a Hezrou. We were able to survive and defeat the monsters, though afterward there was a debate on why Spot now worked the way it did. Now, one could be forgiven for thinking that you were supposed to guess when Leo expected you to make a Spot check but it apparently does not work that way. As Leo explained he would always, "Look at what was in a room before entering it."

Harris was the one to point out that the party was not entering a room, there was no change in scenery to prompt making the check. Harris then asked rhetorically, "Am I supposed to roll a Spot check each time I take a step?"

Leo did not even flinch or pause when he replied, "Yes."

The few sessions that followed are something of a blur but there were two major highlights. The first was the first and only time I had seen a DM chew out a player for missing a session. Hector had a special lady-friend that he spent the evening with instead, he was also good enough to have Harris tell Leo that he couldn't make it. Leo did not like this one bit.

The next time Hector showed up Leo told Hector that he couldn't just skip out like that because it was irresponsible. Hector reminded Leo that he did have Harris give him the message, which was the surest way to keep Leo informed. Leo retorted, "It's not Harris's responsibility, it's yours!"

To hear Leo go on you'd think that Hector had skipped a day of work or something, even worse is that Hector just stood there and took it.

The second major highlight was the introduction of our DMPC, a cleric whose name I forget but "Mary Sue" seems as good a name as any. Later we found out through Max that Leo had made her some levels higher than the PCs. I can't remember how many but I do recall that Mary could cast better healing spells than the druid and was a better melee-fighter than either the fighter or the paladin. It's also worth noting that Mary Sue was completely immune to the kinds of misfortunes that befell the party and unlike the rest of us she always knew when it was appropriate to roll Spot checks. Of course she always made them too. Now I don't think DMPCs are necessarily bad ideas, I do resent being made to play second fiddle to an NPC though. In my opinion if the PCs aren't the main heroes of a campaign, then they should be the main villains. In Leo's campaign it was clear that we were the mooks.

The final session is when the group came up against Max's band of barbarians raiding a village and occupying part of it. The party determined that the thing to do was to get the villagers to safety so the druid offered to turn into a hawk and scout the area. Now, the druid's player was always a very level-headed sort of player and probably our group's greatest asset. His plan really should have worked too but... well, it went like this:

Leo: "Max, you see a bird flying over your camp."

Max: "I have my archers shoot it down!"

and shoot it down they did. I think Harris even said, "Oh, come on! How many birds fly over that camp every day?"

The rogue, wizard and fighter started to evacuate the villagers to the best of their ability. I think. I know that's what they said they were doing, but nothing Leo said in response suggested that their efforts were successful. He was too busy having Mary Sue engage Max's barbarian in direct combat to the point of ignoring the other players. At one point somebody asked about where everyone was, Leo determined that the rogue, wizard and fighter are all close to the combat and unsure where Harris's paladin was said, "He's in a bar or something."

Harris had pretty much had enough by this point so he just said, "OK, if you want me to be in a bar, I guess I'm in a bar."

Armed with this new information Hector started asking if he could roll for initiative and getting flat out ignored. Perish the thought that anything interrupt Mary Sue's epic showdown with Max's barbarian! Anything except Harris of course, who declared what actions he was taking in the bar such as, "I find the deadly nightshade behind the bar and drink it because it looks good."

This actually got Leo attention enough to pause his encounter to explain that this village was built by a Lawful Good society and would certainly not have nightshade behind the bar. Leo then resumed to ignore the other players, Hector continued to ask if he could roll initiative to no answer. This continued until the combat no longer favored Mary Sue, it was around this point that Leo became outright mean. He bemoaned that it wasn't his fault that the players didn't know when to make their spot checks. Hector took this to be a hint to roll one and asked, "Does a Spot check of 5 notice the battle in front of me?"

Leo then shouted, "What do you think?" as though Hector had asked the dumbest question in the world

As Hector sat uncomprehendingly he was treated to an explanation of exactly why he couldn't not notice the battle in front of his face. Hector then asked if that was the case, could he roll initiative to which Leo responded with an exasperated "Yes!"

Hector's initiative wasn't good and he would not be able to participate in combat until the next round. This meant that Mary Sue might not survive, (oh no.) Leo then asked Harris why he wasn't trying to participate in combat, Harris told him that he was in a bar and probably couldn't see or hear what was outside. Leo was furious and demanded, "How could you go to a bar at a time like this?"

Harris reminded Leo, "You said that I was in a bar so that's where I am."

This frustrated Leo to the point that he declared Harris's god teleported him out of the bar into the middle of the combat and told him to get his act together.

Harris got a much better initiative result and got a chance to hit Max's barbarian, though I suspected that he'd rather mess with Leo because it was the only way left to have any fun so he noted that his attack had a penalty because he was not proficient with a beer mug as a weapon. What followed went something like this:

Leo: "Why would you use a beer mug? You have a Holy Avenger!"

Harris: "I set it down in the bar when I got a drink. The beer mug was in my hand when I teleported into the combat so I'll use that."

Leo: "You set down your Holy Avenger? That's the dumbest thing I've heard! If I had a Holy Avenger I'd never take it off for any reason!

Harris: "Even in the shower?"

Leo: "Yes! I'd bring it with me in the shower!"

I can't even comment on that. Max killed Mary Sue and Hector's character and Harris's blase reaction to all of this caused him to fall. The game and the group mercifully broke up after this and Harris was something of a blacklisted player afterwards. Even so, the beer mug shenanigans at the end are what most people involved remember. That's why when they talk about this campaign they usually call it "Beer Mug Paladin.”


  1. Poor Harris. It really doesn't sound like he's the one who should have been blacklisted for that.

  2. I've learned an important lesson today: d&d is a higher priority than finding true love and/or spending time with other friends.

  3. It's always satisfying to see DM (or sometimes player) to fall in the pit his has dug up himself.

    1. And another one: teleporting a player into the plot as last-ditch effort to return the game on the rails never works. Think about it: if the player is not liking the game so much that it requires teleport to get him into the battle, good chance he is thinking how to screw DM anyway.

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  9. "as they were written lead to" led, omae.