My players are smarter than I am – lucky me!

As a relatively new dungeon master, I take the approach that I still have much to learn.  This education can even come at the hands of my players.

Now, I’m not talking about rules knowledge or information about D&D canon – I might have some gaps there, but those are no big deal.  I’m talking about knowledge of what makes an adventure fun.  When I get a great idea from my players, I’m proud to say that I quash my ego and run with the idea (or I try to).

This came up most recently on Saturday, when I was running my in-person campaign through my home brew world.  The adventurers are currently exploring an underground complex that they’ve learned is populated with duergar.  I’m actually taking the Second Edition module “The Gates of Firestorm Peak” as a source of inspiration here.

The first time the party encountered the duergar, it was in a guard room.  The room had a 20-foot ceiling and was about 30 feet square.  Running right across the middle of the chamber was a 10-foot wall made of rocks held together with some kind of mortar, and liberally spiked with shards of glass, pointy sticks, etc.  It could be climbed over without cutting one’s self to ribbons, though it wouldn’t be easy.  There was also a door hidden in the wall, though the latch was trapped.

The party found the door but not the trap, and combat began when our monk tried to open the door and found his hand nearly taken off by a bear trap.  At this point, the four duergar guards on the far side of the wall Enlarged themselves to become 12 feet tall (something that I gather was much more common in 2nd Edition than 4e, but I ran with it).  Now they could swing their warhammers or toss their throwing hammers over the wall.

In the first round of combat, the PCs threw some ranged attacks at the duergar while the two melee characters positioned themselves closer to the wall, perhaps in an attempt to try a climb or jump or another shot at the door in the next round.  One of my players said something interesting at the end of this round:

“Man, I hope they don’t push the wall over on us.”

Hmm… they weren’t going to, but only because I hadn’t thought of it before!  But now that I had three gigantic dark dwarves lined up along the non-spiky side of the wall, ready to take their turn… heave!

I had the duergar make some strength checks to push on the wall, which I was glad I had described as being somewhat makeshift.  No problem – over it goes!  I had the debris make attacks against the two PCs who were near the wall, going against Reflex (they could try to dodge out of the way), and I hit both of them.  I decided that this should deal some pretty significant damage (I believe I went with 3d6+7 for these 6th-level characters) and knock the PCs prone.  It also created a zone of difficult terrain where the wall fell.

I wrestled a bit with whether to tell the players that I was doing this on the fly thanks to their suggestion but ultimately decided not to bother.  On the one hand, they might have gotten a good feeling from having come up with a creative idea that I used.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t want them to hold back from sharing this kind of idea in the future!  So, I let them believe that this was all part of my grand plan.  Of course, if they read this post that illusion is gone, but I’ll live. 🙂

What do you think? Do you ever incorporate your players’ ideas for what terrible things might befall them on the fly?  If so, do you credit them for thinking of it, or act like it was all part of the plan?

4 thoughts on “My players are smarter than I am – lucky me!

  1. Yep, I do that. But mostly not in such a “instant” way. Those are more mid-term ideas which then come up a session or two later or I just weave them into my world’s background and let them come up once the players reach the right point.

    Your wall-thing was good, but beware not to let it happen to often. Don’t let the fears of the players become reality every time they utter them. This will lead to an awkward kind of game. But doing this every now and then is totally fine.

    • Good point – I wouldn’t want to do this ALL the time. But in this case, the player’s fear sounded like it would be a lot of fun.

      I think the best situation is where I’ve thought of something that’s even better than what the players are afraid of and I can surprise them with it. But if I haven’t thought of anything that’s as cool as what they mention, I’ll use their idea without hesitation.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Like this ‘push-over-the-wall’-idea – will use it in my own game 🙂
    In general I use the PCs ideas as well, especially regarding plot elements (but often only reveal them later on, as also mentioned above).

    Regards
    Nikolaj

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