When a Big Scene Becomes Small, Part II

Social Scenes That End Before Their Time

The players come upon a damaged automaton amid evidence of a brutal fight.

raparator final“I need your help. I have a way to protect automatons against turning into killing machines, but I can’t repair myself. Can you help repair me?”

The players look at the GM. “Nope. We’re moving on. Next room.”


Just like with the action scenes, much of the time if the players exit a social scene right after they enter it, the story can continue without problems.

In the example above, the automaton might have some core clues it would have happily divulged. Now the GM is faced with letting the PCs wander aimlessly with little hope of solving the mystery, sticking the clues in the next scene (where they might not make much sense), or keeping the scene going.

In this particular case, dialog with the automaton will lead into a core flashback scene you really want to run.

There are a few tricks to keeping a social scene going.

Hook Them With Partial Information

“Wait, I can tell you why the mutant bird-people are waking the ghost in the machine!” Hooks will sometimes get the players to pay attention.

Just look at this line, it lets the players know the bird-folk are up to something, and the machine coming to life has a ghost in it, whatever that means. This is bait to get them intrigued and back in dialog with the automaton.

Pretend to Forgive Them

Princess Duophrene from The Sun Below: City on the Edge adventure for Numenera

If the players were rude or threatening to an important NPC, world-logic will probably suggest they shut the PCs out and refuse to engage. But it’s your NPC, you can always come up with a reason for them to want to continue the interaction.

Say the party has just insulted a princess who is key to the story. “I suppose I need you more than you need me. Just listen for a moment, my father is not to be trusted, but he can be influenced.”

The PCs can continue to discuss what’s going on with the princess, plus, you can always create a price for the PCs’ insolence. She could withhold resources, information, or demand they kneel and beg forgiveness when the PCs realize they really do need her help.

Second Chances

Have the NPC reappear later, perhaps this time in better shape to convince the PCs to listen.

Back to our automaton up top, the PCs could return to town and find not only has the automaton repaired itself, but it’s the center of attention at a town square meeting. “And those are the people who left me there, broken and helpless. All I wanted to do was help them. They still don’t know what’s going on in the machine.”


If the players exited out of an emotional scene, for example one in which the King dies in the Princess’s arms, you might not want to skip this because you think it sets up the tone of the next scene. But the PCs move on.

Praithian War Snake from The Sun Below adventures for Numenera“The Princess comes to you, her fine silks soiled by her father’s blood. ‘It’s over. I held him as he past. We spoke of many things, when I was a girl, when my first flying serpent bit the butler, and what you did. In his last moments, he told me how your forcing him out of the dream-world broke him. But he did not believe my mother would break so easily.” 

When a Big Scene Becomes Small, Part I

When a Big Scene Becomes Small, Part I

Sometimes when you are GMing, scenes end quicker than you expect. The PCs enter the scene, and immediately trigger the exit. In most cases this isn’t a problem. You find out what scene they want to do next and make it happen. Ripping through an adventure at warp speed can be fun.

Drama Masks 2Sometimes it is a problem.

Sometimes a big action scene turns into a yawn.

Maybe the PCs got lucky. Or the players were just that good. Which is wonderful most of the time, but this was the boss you been foreshadowing for four sessions. And the players don’t look pumped, they look sad because they were expecting an exciting challenge, and found a marshmallow.

Extending Combat

A major fight that ends in one round feels anti-climatic. Some players won’t mind, but many will.

There’s a few tricks to keep an important fight going. The trick is to not negate the players’ victory, just keep the fun going a while longer.

Reinforcements You already have the stats for your opponents, and as they are mowed down, have more of the same show up. To preserve the player’s victory, use less of them, and/or have them show up at some disadvantage.

  • The PCs hear the reinforcements coming, allowing them time (1 round!) to prepare.
  • The reinforcements have to climb up a ladder to get to the PCs.
  • The reinforcements are second stringers, and have less hit points.
  • The reinforcements are quick to flee if the PCs are obviously winning. This lets you keep the fight going, but not turn it into a slog.

Throne Room from The Sun Below: City on the Edge adventure for Numenera

Fake Boss! The boss you planned for just went down, and then you have the *real* boss you just made up step in to continue the fight. To give the PCs their victory, the first boss drops an important item, something that has “made to fight the next-boss” written all over it. The anti-undead sword-cane of doom, the reveal-invisible dust of St. Silverius, the armor shattering bolt of victory…

Or the victory can be tactical. They have the “real-boss” at a disadvantage, and you give them a bonus to show them that. For example, you could give them advantage in 5E, increment the escalation die in 13th Age, or lower the difficulty for the PCs by 1 in Numenera.

Great, but what is this new boss? Who can make up a boss on the fly? Not me; even in a rules light game like Numenera, a boss should offer unique challenges.

Your choices are to find one quickly or make one quickly.

Find one from an adventure, bestiary, or other game supplement. That could work, but might take a while. What’s the next boss you planned on using? Bring them on now? Or a weaker version of the next boss, just add a few weaknesses? This could be good foreshadowing. It helps if the two bosses are thematically related to each other. Cultists to the same dark god, dragons working for the same queen, and so on.

toys1Jack in the Box This is easy and can be a lot of fun for the players. They bring down the demon, and they look at each other. “That was easy.” Too easy.

Make one or more creatures get back up after they fall dead. If they are not undead, have them rise as undead. Drop their offensive and defensive powers a notch, give them typical undead features, and resume the battle.

If they are undead, you could make it obvious that a “dark ray came from the unholy altar and when it touched the creature, it jumped up, ready to continue the battle.” Now the PCs know they will have to stop the altar from doing that or this could go on and on. Since you just made this up, let whatever crazy idea they come up with work.

cc00_ne_fantasy_mutateddragonwithinsectparts_7-25x5-5_q_cnbI built a Jack in the Box into my 13th Age adventure The Tower in the Mist: Too Easy? Consider Fulvos coming back as a zombie mutant dragon the round after he goes down, with half hit points and -1 on all attacks, defenses, and damage.

13th Age is a high hit points game, so I cut the zombie Fulvos’ hit points in half. He’s up and undead, just long enough to scare the players and make the encounter fun. And who doesn’t like a zombie mutant dragon?

Extending a Chase

Say a big exciting chase is over because your PCs caught the vampire with the horse/Mercedes/hover-bike in the first block, and you wanted it to drag the party to a major plot point that has to be outside town?

mercedes-benz-c63-mercedes-benz-c-class-mercedes-benzYou can make the chase continue, but you need to do so in a way you don’t negate their victory.

If it’s not the vampire itself that’s the goal, you could have the creature throw the magic item/deed/holo-chip to a confederate who carries it away. The party still has a high value prisoner, who may have other valuables, and they can follow the confederate.

If the vampire is the goal, you could have it escape at great cost. The PCs might be annoyed they haven’t caught it yet, but they’ve wounded it terribly, and made it drop something valuable. It’s keeping its distance, but the PCs know they are winning.

Part II: When Social Scenes End Too Quickly

Druid Love! (5E Preview)

This 5E druid class customization is a preview from The Gods Have Spoken, a supplement for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. The work is still in progress, so may change before publication.


Druid: Cworldtree_justinmacauleyircle of Life

Life is everywhere, and you are connected with all life on a mystical level. When the weave of life is cut, you use your connection to restore it and regenerate life.

Wild Healing

Starting at second level, your healing spells are more effective. Whenever you use a spell at 1st level or higher to restore hit points to a living creature, the creature regains an additional hit points equal to 2 + the spell’s level.

Change Regeneration

Starting at second level, when you use you Wild Shape ability you heal yourself a number of hit points equal to your constitution bonus + your level.

Life Circle Spells

At 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th levels you gain access to spells imbued with your devotion to the web of life.

Once you gain access to a circle spell, you always have it prepared, and it doesn’t count against the number of spells you can prepare each day. If you gain access to a spell that isn’t on the druid spell list, that spell becomes a druid spell for you.

Druid Level Circle Spells
3rd cure wounds, goodberry
5th lesser restoration, revivify
7th death ward, locate creature
9th mass cure wounds, reincarnate

Protected Healer

Beginning at 6th level, healing spells you cast on others heal you as well. Whenever you use a spell at 1st level or higher to restore hit points to a creature other than you, you regain hit points equal to 2 + the spell’s level.

Healingblue-aoife-2 Beast

Beginning at 10th level, you can cast any of your spells that restore hit points to a creature in any shape you take on using Wild Shape. You can perform the somatic and verbal components of a druid spell while in Beast Shape, but you are not able to provide the material components.

Enhanced Regeneration

Beginning at 14th level, you always have regenerate prepared, and it doesn’t count against the number of spells you can prepare each day. When you cast regenerate, the target regains 4d12 + 20 hit points instead of 4d8 + 15. For the duration of the spell, the target regains 2 hit points per round instead of 1.

When you cast regenerate, you get the spell slot you used back at the end of your next short or long rest.