Hey everyone, so it’s been a while since we’ve done an anthology series so I figured I’d tell you all one of my favorite stories from an Out of the Abyss campaign and what we can learn from it. Sit back, relax, and hear about the time we one shot a Purple Worm and our DM quit session right then and there. Minor spoiler warning for Out of the Abyss ahead, so tread lightly!
Let’s set the stage…
After acquiring the Eye of a Beholder, our adventurers set off back to the Wizard’s tower to drop off one of many rare, arcane objects they must acquire. A distant, unnatural rumbling catches the attention of the Warlock and the Paladin, who alert the rest of the party to the noise. Before they know it, the side of the cavern wall bursts open, sending debris flying everywhere. As the dust settles, there is no mistaking the pale purple scales and cavernous maw in front of the party. Let’s roll for initiative
Warlock is up first. She casts Mental Prison, locking the Purple Worm in a shadowy realm full of tentacles and eldritch horrors. The Paladin sets up their attacks, the Fighter ignites his flametongue, and the artificer buffs the party. Purple Worm’s turn, it strikes at the Fighter but barely misses as it shatters the Mental Prison. A second attack from the tail nearly impales the paladin in the stomach, but he is able to get his shield up in time. It’s go time.
The Warlock casts Hold Monster and the Worm fails its save. She yells at the Paladin to attack, and not a moment later he acts. Calling upon the divine power of his class, he smites the Purple Worm. Every attack is a critical hit, as the damage numbers rack up. As the blinding light of the smites settles, nothing remains but the smoldering pile of Purple Worm. The Fighter quickly changes his pants and we continue forward.
The Less Dramatic Version
So as you can gather, the Warlock and the Paladin worked together very well to take advantage of a creature’s weaknesses and use that to quickly dispatch of it. Basically as soon as the Hold Monster took effect, we all knew that this poor worm was dead, both the players and the DMs. Instead of being excited for the players, the DM began to get quiet. When the Paladin asked if a 20 hit, the DM replied in a snarky tone “of course it hits.” As soon as the fight ends, we didn’t make it to the wizard tower because the DM stopped session right there.
Important to note that this game is online, and as soon as session stopped the DM left the call. The players and I were dumbfounded as we sat in silence. I (Warlock) broke the silence to congratulate the Paladin for doing an awesome job in combat. He returned the sentiment, and we went back to silence. None of us could believe what just happened. To have such an amazing moment of teamwork and combat prowess dashed, taken away from us by a sour display of our DM… it was an awful feeling. It will never be the story of how we one-shot a purple worm, but it’ll be the story of how we made our DM ragequit by one-shotting a purple worm.
So Let’s Chat About That
As someone who has both DM’d and played extensively, I won’t say that the DM’s feelings aren’t without reason. Throwing a CR15 monster to try and challenge your party just to see them blow right through it with minimal effort can feel disheartening. But something we DMs forget is that… we aren’t limited in the combats we throw at our party. Putting effort into a combat just to see your players dismantle it in the blink of an eye, you should be proud of your players for figuring out how to take the best angle of attack. You can run another encounter next week or even later in the session, so there’s no reason to get hung up over one encounter that went sour for you! Chances are if your players dominate a combat, they’re going to feel real excited about it! Don’t take that away from them!
Another I think DMs should know is that even if the players breezed through a combat, that’s not to say it wasn’t threatening to a player. I talked with the fighter after the encounter and he said he was genuinely terrified that he was going to get killed right then and there. Sometimes the expectation of the encounter is enough for your players to feel threatened, and you don’t have to hit your wizard for 75 damage in one attack to “challenge” the party. As a DM, play with those expectations, both of what the players know and what they don’t know. If the players see you plop down a Beholder mini/token, you’ll probably hear a collective “oh f**k” from all of them, because they know how threatening a beholder is! But if your players don’t know what a Sorrowsworn is and they run into The Angry, in the same vein they’ll probably say the same thing, but the reason will be they DON’T know what the creature does.
Basically what I’m getting at is that DMs should not get so beat up when players dominate a fight. DMs have infinite opportunities to spring challenging fights on players, and so once they are able to figure out a fight and trivialize it, you should celebrate with them. Additionally, you don’t have to make the fight itself deadly to make the players feel “challenged” or “threatened”. Even putting down a CR2 Ghast is enough to make the spellcaster in me shake in my boots, since the paralyze they can inflict is terrifying. Could a party of 10th level characters take out a group of ghasts within one round? Absolutely. But are they still terrifying? Absolutely.
I know you came to hear about the one-shotting of a purple worm, but I also hope you stayed to hear me preach for a little bit. In the end, DnD is a game meant to be played for enjoyment and fun. As a DM, have fun with your players. Don’t play against them, play with them. Revel in their victory, don’t wallow in your defeat. Do you guys have any stories like this? Feel free to let us know in our forums or on our social media. Until next time, thank you all so very much 🙂