Last night, I got to do something that I've not done as a DM - I got to run a dragon. OK, it was a smoke dragon - a construct - but it was still fun to have this thing billow forth, put the Black Dragon miniature on the altar and have it thunder "BEGONE INTRUDERS OR DIE!!!" It was a guardian to the Tomb of Alaxus, so it was rather limited in scope, but it still was powerful enough to put 3/4ths of the party out of commission with it's choking breath weapon. It roared forth a streaming, billowing cloud of smoke around the party and most of them went down choking and coughing with failed saving throws.
That was when I could the "screw it, I'm dead" look on my wife's face. She was overwhelmed with her plans and party falling apart almost from the get go. It was at that point that I slowed the game down and walked her through what she knew:
- The dragon was a construct, linked to some sort of anchor - clues in the tomb told her it was a cup. She had just gone through a few days worth of adventure to get a sage to give her some advice on how to defeat it, but all that ran out her head when she faced the danger.
- Where was the cup? She had assumed she could just walk in, grab the cub and control the dragon. She had forgotten that the first time she entered the huge chamber, the dragon appeared right away. She wasn't putting the clues together in her panic - that the smoke originated from the stone altar in the corner. By slowing down the game and walking her through it, she realized that the cup was probably on the altar, but hidden now by the smoke from the dragon.
- What to do now that the original plan was up in smoke? (hehehehe) She had herself and another party member left. "What can you do?" She thought about it and came up with the remaining active hireling to go grab the cup while she confronted the dragon, distracting it. That was a reasonable plan, as the dragon recognized Aeli as the strongest party member. It's confidence was it's undoing as the dice had favored my wife... this thing had on 13hp and it was a 4HD monster!
The plan worked! Aeli chopped into the smoke dragon, disrupting it's cohesiveness with a nice series of blows. The hireling named Rather dashed up to the altar, found the cup and just as the dragon was turning to throw it's breath weapon at him, he smashed the cup while Aeli sliced through for the final blow!
One relieved wife looting the chest of gold later...
I also ran into a classic potential dead end myself... there's a tomb here, she legitemately found the symbol indicating the door, but she was failing rolls to find the way to open it. She knew what was going on, but the dice were saying that she wasn't getting it done right away. Well, sometimes you let the dice tell the story and sometimes you have to figure out what else to do. So, I gave her a tradeoff. She spent two hours figuring out the hidden double doors, then using swords from fallen skeletons to pry it open a crack, then her and a party member testing their Strength against it to pull it open enough for one person to squeeze through.
I think the new gamers call it "taking 10", but I called it 5 wandering monster rolls that came up empty (argh!) and the loss of 6 ancient swords that could have been worth money. Man, talk about the rolls going her way with monsters! Dead end overcome through resource exchange and risking combat. I'll take that and now she's got a dark, damp corridor beckoning...
So we've frozen the game in place (a luxury that I indulge in when we're going to play the next day) and we'll see what happens as she begins to plumb the Tomb of Alaxus. I can't wait!