24 March 2013

The Sewer Solution

Sanitary Sewer
Sanitary Sewer (Photo credit: K e v i n)
Sometimes I GM myself into a corner, I can't help it.  I have never been the meticulous type that plans in detail or crafts elaborate set pieces; although, occasionally I wish I was.  I am the kind of game master that flies by the seat of his pants and relishes in batting the curveballs pitched by others at the table. Unfortunately, sometimes that means I GM myself into a corner.

In the ongoing Dungeon World campaign that I run my group of players traveled to a desert city, Lambatar, to seek out a forgotten treasure trove beneath the city. My mistake was giving the city an extensive sewer dungeon crawl. Nobody at the table said anything, but it wasn't long before I started thinking about it. How does it work? Where does the waste go? It isn't getting flushed out into an ocean or river. They can't be sending it into their drinking water supply. Is there some kind of gigantic, thousand year old septic tank?

I scratched my head over this for a while. I couldn't go back on this city I had created. I had told my players there was a sewer and they had already spent some time exploring it, I was stuck with it. Naturally, I started looking for a way to make it work. My solution? A link to the elemental plane of water. That's right, Lambatar was exporting their waste to another dimension. It was a good solution, one that explained how the sewers worked and where a city in the middle of the desert was getting their fresh water. It also allowed me to mix in some non-standard encounters into the sewer environment. I was riding high on my fix all week while gleefully imagining the fun I could have with unusual dungeon stock. Unfortunately, players always have a habit of throwing those curveballs.

The dungeon crawl began smoothly enough, the PCs battled their way through thieves, traps and collapsed tunnels. Everything was going my way until a chuul I had placed in the sewage managed to drag two characters into the water. They defeated it, but lacking any kind of swimming skills they were soon swept up in the increasingly strong current as they rushed towards the hole that lead to you know where. Before long they were swimming in much larger waters and I needed to do something unless I wanted to drown two player characters in order to justify my desert sewers.

Enter the tritons, roman inspired, militant and none too happy about the waste that has been pumping into their territory for centuries. They saved the drowning PCs in exchange for their aid breaking into Lambatar. This is where things started to go off the rails. The players were happy to aid the tritons, having no real attachment to the city or its inhabitants and even once they realized that the first wave of triton tidecallers were up to no good they made no effort to stop them. What is a GM to do, and how do aquatic monsters invade a city in the desert?

The tidecallers brought in the tide. They widened the rift between planes and let loose the waters of their home dimension. All said, something like 1000 cubic kilometers worth of water came pouring through and that was more than enough to allow the tritons to go about their grisly revenge. The players? They were fine, caught up in getting their own revenge on a drug lord and were lucky to be high enough above the city to avoid getting washed away.

And that's the story of how one simple decision on my part lead to a city in the middle of the desert being flooded and invaded by mermaids.
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1 comment:

  1. I'm also someone who has a lot of respect and admiration for pre-planned DMs. But the more and more I think about it, it's unavoidable that the times I had the most fun and ran the best games are the times I just rolled with it and went wherever the game was taking me. Nowadays, I don't plan much further ahead than set-pieces and interesting character traits, and I hold onto those when the game needs a poke in a particular direction to keep moving. Preparation isn't so much a railroad anymore, but a signpost.

    I do credit you with that change in my style. Thanks a bunch. And that moment storming the penthouse, with 10+ after 10+ right up until the boss when I eked out survival by the skin of my teeth, will be one of my favourite moments for years to come.



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