As PCs you think that you’re invincible. You assume that no matter what the DM puts in front of you, you can defeat it. After all, you’re the heroes. Sure some fights may be tougher than others, but if the DM’s read the DMG and set up the encounter according to the rules then every fight is beatable. But what if that’s not the case?
In a recent game my DM created a super-monster that was significantly tougher than the PCs. The intent was to give the PCs an opponent that they needed to work up to. The problem was that the party (me included) assumed that if and when we found the monster that we should fight it immediately, just like we would with any other combatant. When we finally found the creature we (predictably) ran headlong into battle.
After two grueling hours of combat we still had no clue that we were in way over our heads. In fact, we thought we were doing a pretty good job of killing the monster. And then one of my companions said to the DM, “Since we’re down to just our at-will powers, are you willing to call the fight, otherwise this could drag out for a long time?” to which the DM replied, “This monster is no where near dead. I’m not calling the fight.”
The players looked around the table with shock. If the monster wasn’t anywhere near dead, then we were in big trouble. We decided to stop playing for the night but we had an interesting discussion with the DM afterwards.
The DM explained that he didn’t think the PCs would actually fight the monster right away. He tried and tried to explain in-game that the monster was too tough for the PCs at their current level. But the PCs being PC didn’t hear this as a cautionary tale, we heard it as a challenge. The DM flat out asked us what he could have done differently to dissuade us from fighting his super-monster. We finally had to admit that there was probably nothing the DM could have done differently. He tried to build the legend of the dangerous and undefeatable monster and all we could think of was killing it. After all, we’re PCs and assume that what was impossible for everyone else is surely possible for us.
As we continued discussing the situation the DM asked if he was wrong to introduce such a powerful foe into the game at all? No one felt that the DM was out of line. Not one bit. We all admitted that it’s simply D&D mentality to assume that everything can be defeated. No one ever assumes that an encounter is out of reach.
We asked the DM what he expected us to do when we finally found the super-monster. He reminded us that there was a magical portal in the creature’s lair. A fact that we knew about since almost every NPC told us of its existence as we got closer and closer to the lair. But none of the PCs thought to follow-up on that seemingly unimportant piece of information, even though the portal was the very first thing the DM described when we arrived.
The DM then turned it around on us and asked what he could have done differently in-game to make it obvious that the PCs shouldn’t fight this monster (at least not yet). One player, who is also an experienced DM, came up with an interesting – albeit extreme – way to accomplish the DMs objective. The DM could have introduced a friendly NPC that everyone clearly understood was a higher level then the PC. Then have this NPC and his similarly high-powered companions get ripped to shreds by the super-monster. Once the PCs realized that higher level heroes tried and failed they would likely proceed with more caution, if they proceeded at all. But even this might only seem like more of a challenge to us.
Have you ever faced a monster or an encounter that was designed to be too tough to overcome? As the DM, have you ever thrown something like this against PCs? What might you have done differently in this situation as the DM? Does anyone think that the DM was wrong to put the PCs in front of such a powerful foe in the first place?