Rough times with a player turned GM


Gamer Life General Discussion


Our normal group was taking a break from our current campaigns (the GM was moving into a new house and job in the same area) so we were looking for someone to GM a short run of adventures. After throwing around a few ideas, one of the guys asked if he could run an old school D&D 3.5 adventure at level 20. Many of us were intrigued as we normally don’t play to this level, but he and his friend (another gamer at our table) were giddy with the prospects of returning to Greyhawk. The other three of us decided this would be fun and moved forward.

One gamer chose to go eldritch knight. The friend of the GM wanted to pull out his LN assassin from ages ago. Another wanted to be a straight druid. I decided to try something fun and interesting, so I went with a halfling paladin / beastmaster / halfling outrider with an uber-mount. I discussed this concept with the GM weeks beforehand because I wanted him to get buy in on many of the optimizations that may or may not be allowed. He seemed very excited for me to play this character. He also warned us frequently that we’d need resurrection spells or magic items since he was gonna try to kill us. We had been warned.

After having spent 15+ hours re-familiarizing myself with 3.5 rules and then getting the character and his gear approved based on his requirements (core + complete books only, special rules for merging magical items), I felt pretty excited.

The premise was decent enough. A sultan hired us to find this relic of his god captured by a psionic god. Oddly enough, the sultan’s kingdom was smack dab in the middle of an anti-magic region, encompassing 40+ miles in radius. The only place magic worked? The 5’ square where the sultan sat on his throne. OK, deux ex machina, I thought. The sultan was a racist power-hungry authoritarian, but we agreed the psion-god was the more pressing issue, and we had to keep the book from being used.

We determined the location of the book and traveled to the entrance of the underground dungeon. Three rangers were on patrol outside the entrance. I (the paladin) attempted to communicate with them, assuming we could handle a few guards easily enough. They resisted but we were able to put them down fairly easily, and I was able to restrain one for interrogation. Then adamantine spiked logs began rising out of the sand and being thrown around telekinetically at us. They hurt the druid pretty hard (they were treated as a +5 weapon, the GM said). After spellcrafting that this was working via a telekinesis spell, the eldritch knight readied an action to use stop any other projectiles. But as the next one appeared, the GM informed him that the logs exceeded the upper weight limit of the telekinesis spell. The EK asked the GM “How are they moving them? If I spellcrafted telekinesis on the logs, wouldn’t that also not be powerful enough to move them?” No, the GM said. that telekinesis was not as powerful as this one. Not even for a deflection. We all exchanged glances but soldiered on. The EK ended up disintegrating the gem controlling the logs (apparently it was a psionic familiar of some kind).

My pali on his griffon mount was chasing down another ranger that was hiding but apparently missed the psionicist that was nearby. The psionicist attacked my mount with some sort of metal attack (I don’t know what … I never played a psionicist) targeting the mount’s CHA. I made the save but still lost 6 points of CHA to my mount. Then the GM said he used a quickened SLA to do it again. Again, I made the save but lost 4 points of CHA. At this point my mount was at 1 CHA. I was able to pull it out since both my mount and I had rings of feather fall, and I had scrolls of restoration (and awesome concentration). By this time the druid noticed the psion and flame strike’d him repeatedly until there was nothing left. My paladin mopped up the last ranger. I was annoyed but focused on doing better with the next encounter.

The portal into the dungeon could only be opened for one round every 5 minutes. After checking for traps, we entered. The GM cackled, and then informed us that there was a disjunction spell on the inside of the door, which we triggered when the door shut. DC 29 Will save for all our magical items or they were permanently broken. The assassin apologized for not casting clairaudience/clairvoyance to check the inside for traps, but I was feeling set up. Most of use lost only a few items, but some were more significant than others. I lost my best weapon (a +3 keen magebane rapier) and several stat items.

On the other side of the door, we could see nothing (deeper darkness). We held our actions while the EK cast daylight. We found ourselves in a 30’x40’ room with a construct from the plane of shadow (like an iron golem, its got all the joys of being a construct but no penalties). It advanced on us. I attempted to detect if it was evil. Nope, even shadow constructs are not evil. And I could not charge or even fly without provoking. The EK casts stone to lava and pretty much ends the encounter as it could not escape the lava.

The further we went, the more it became apparent that my paladin and the druid had nothing to do. We found an intelligent mace in one room but the room was filled with a T-Rex shaped plant monster. The EK got it out using an air elemental. No combat. We went though other odd conditions (flying down 4 miles in a narrow shaft, squeezing through tunnels, etc). Again, nothing that the paladin or the druid could do, but the EK and the assassin (with use magic device) had scrolls and spells for everything. The druid and I started checking facebook on our laptops.

We finally reached the final chamber. It was, again, a very small room with hardly any space for flying. Within was the tome on a pedestal surrounded by some flesh ooze. The EK did a knowledge check and told me to stay away from the ooze as it was quite deadly. THe EK then summoned a huge fire elemental that proceeded to burn out the ooze. After the first round, the GM asked me if I wanted to “shoot the ooze or something”. I shrugged and pointed out that the DR on the ooze for piercing was gonna negate any real damage, and besides, the elemental would kill it in a round or too. It did. We got the book, and were allowed to teleport out (all other rooms were restricted from teleporting).

The GM was very excited and pleased at how things had gone. I tried to talk positive, but I believe the following killed the game:

(1) The GM didn’t follow his own rules. He limited us on the application of telekinesis but not himself. He pulled monsters out of books he restricted us from using for spells and magic items.

(2) He knew what character I had chosen and either deliberately did things to minimize anything good I could do, or simply didn’t think to encourage me to try something more appropriate. Outside of the first combat there was no place to fly or ride a large creature, let alone charge with a lance. Nothing was evil (so no smite) and everything was immune to crits via my rapier.
(3) Wizards are simply way too unbalanced in 3.5. The EK specialized in polymorph spells and was amazed at what the GM told him he could do. Even the player later commented on how OP his character was. Outside of detecting for traps, he believed he could have solo’d the whole dungeon.

Now, I don’t want to be that guy that complains unfairly. Maybe I am just not experienced at 20th level dungeons. Maybe I just chose a bad character to play. But I felt seriously shafted by the GM. I want to talk to him about it. I already spoke to the player of the EK, and he felt the GM was pretty one-sided favoring his character and bent rules. The player of the druid was similarly pissed but did not show it the way I was. I suspect I’m gonna have to call him and discuss what happened. Am I off on any of my above points? Any suggestions on what I want him to know?


Yeah, it sounds like the main real problem was the wizard, and maybe his player. You could mention to the GM that it didn't feel like your paladin was able to accomplish much. You might want to touch bases with the other players and compare notes.


You should definitely speak to your GM. If it wasn't fun for you, then it's not worth the time playing. Losing is fine, not having fun isn't.

But remember as with all feedback, try to keep emotion out if it. Focus on your not having fun, not on feeling shafted. Not having had fun is an objective statement, feeling shafted is not because it judges the GM beforehand.

It does sound like a cool adventure though. The GM wants to win a bit too much ;-)

Grand Lodge

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The problem is the combination of level 20 and an inexperienced GM.

Balancing high level encounters and keep it interesting to everyone can be Extremly challenging. I doubt the GM did it by design. But a lot I'm reading is 'all or nothing' encounters.
They are great if you are the one being able to solve the issue and shine - they can be an issue for players watching.

I'm a five-star PFS GMbut would stay away from GMing such an adventure unless I felt I had loads of time to prepare and would know characters well ahead of time.

Some GMs (and players) love the high level challenge. But there always is an increased risk that it isn't balanced. So I wouldn't blast the GM but rather let him do something more simple next time around.


The disjunction spell, frankly, would've been a deal breaker for me. Not on its own, but with everything else that happened, certainly.

I would definitely talk to the other players. Start by telling them, calmly and without placing blame, that you did not have fun during that story, and why. Gauge the audience to see if they might agree.

If they had fun, then you may not want to personally play with that GM again, but at least the rest of them enjoyed it. However, from what you are saying, it sounds like several of them did not have fun either.

If you can confirm that, then yes, you need to confront the GM with it, and tell him why.

But seriously, using disjunction like that is a rotten move. Something tells me that even if the rogue had checked, he would've been told he was unable to disarm it due to the short amount of time the gate was open. Or the GM might have moved it to somewhere else where he could spring it on you.


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I would imagine even the most experienced GM might have trouble managing a game with insta-level 20 characters. When you slowly level PC's over months/years you have a better grasp of what then can and can't handle. This GM had no way to know this and I'm frankly amazing it went as well as it did.

But the end result is that you did not enjoy the game and I can't blame you. Talk honestly to your friends and GM. Make sure to point out what the GM did well as well. A GM can't get better without feedback.


I have to agree with what was already stated. I've been gaming some version of D&D/Pathfinder for over twenty years, never once had characters reach 20th level. If I was to run a one-shot adventure with level 20 characters, I would probably err on the side of making the enemies too powerful and environment restrictive, because I would be expecting earth-shattering things to be coming from the PCs.

Level 20 characters reminds me of a "nu uh" game.

Player A: "I do x."
GM: "Nu uh, monster is immune to x."
GM: "Monster hits you with y."
Player B: "Nu uh, I'm ethereal and plane-shifted and invisible and automatically dodge all y's."


Thanks all. Makes me feel like I am not off my rocker to believe that I wasn't unprepared or reacting badly.

The biggest thing for me was that the GM knew what I was playing and created the dungeon such that I had no way to do anything I planned for. No space for charging/movement, immune to crits, nothing evil to smite. I doubt he was shafting me purposefully, but it certainly seemed like a lack of planning/consideration on his part. Heck, after the first encounter (outside the dungeon) the only person that ever made an attack roll was the summoned elemental on the ooze.

@Kobold Cleaver: I spoke to the EK/wizard the next day. He was almost apologetic as to how well things went for his character. I did not feel any animosity towards him or his character. I have been on both sides of that fence and am comfortable playing support/secondary roles. Unfortunately the only secondary role was find/remove traps that the assassin did. As for the EK player, he also expressed concerns on the whole telekinesis and disjunction situations. His opinion was that the GM was trying to 'check off boxes' for cool level 20 adventure things (anti-magic areas, etc.)

@henkslaff: Other than disconnecting from the game late in the night, I did not act badly. I am trying to stay focused on the specifics issues but do still feel pretty let down given the time I invested in setting this character up. Your phrase about the GM wanting to win too much seems to ring true.

@Thod: Thanks. I think you maybe hit on it. The GM is probably out of practice in party balance / level efficiency. I don't want to not let him GM but I really want him to know how marginalized my character was by his choices. But I am not sure he does 'simple'. He regularly chooses characters on the bleeding edge of legality for the game. His current character is a 3rd party sourced psion that even the GM (for that campaign) admits to barely understanding how he does what he does. All his 'war stories' have to do with epic level campaigns. Since our other campaigns have run at the 8-15 level we have never seen this side of him.

@Alkenstarian: Yeah, the disjuction stuck in my craw a bit. The EK even had a contingency for something like that involving cerelity and a wall breaking line of sight because the GM had talked about disjuction several times beforehand as being an awesome spell. Even with the meta-game knowledge that he was planning to use this the GM engineered the disjunction trap so it seems to be impossible to have avoided it.

Again, thanks for keeping me sane.


Muad'Dib wrote:

I would imagine even the most experienced GM might have trouble managing a game with insta-level 20 characters. When you slowly level PC's over months/years you have a better grasp of what then can and can't handle. This GM had no way to know this and I'm frankly amazing it went as well as it did.

But the end result is that you did not enjoy the game and I can't blame you. Talk honestly to your friends and GM. Make sure to point out what the GM did well as well. A GM can't get better without feedback.

Yeah, insta-level 20 was weird. As indicated before, the player with the assassin was using an existing player but everyone else had to go back to 3.5 rules (we hadn't played with them for 5+ years) and build something from the ground up. He (the assassin) was able to adapt to the situation fairly well but the druid and I struggled to find a purpose. The EK player did pretty well, but he told me he spent 50 hours (?!?) researching spells before this session. Makes my 15+ hour build time seem minimal.


I'm going to take the DM point of view and suggest that the player also bears responsibility for his lack of enjoyment.

The DM forewarned it was going to be deadly, but did you know that there was going to be an underground portion to the adventure? If so, why would you create a character with a griffin mount for an old fashion dungeon crawl? Tight tunnels, small rooms, low ceilings, traps, and hazardous terrains are commonplace. I'm surprised you only spent 15 + hours to relearn rules and create a high level character; frankly, that doesn't seem like much given the game you all agreed to play. It appears you were out of practice with both the system and playing at such a high level game.

Was this a DM created game or module for Greyhawk? Most of what you mention are part and parcel for high level games: For instance have you ever played in Rappan Athuk? They have entire levels of that dungeon where environmental hazards exist and certain types of magic or abilities don't work or are ineffective. Many occur at levels less than 20.

Spoiler Alert, One RA example:

Difficulty Level: 12
Shielding: The entire level is shielded as is Level (deleted reference to which level, so not spoil), and no means of magical transport such as teleport, dimension door, plane shift, ethereal jaunt, and so forth functions. In addition, no spells or powers involving extra-planar contact, such as summoning or commune, operate on this level.

Granted since this was a one-shot game, so the DM probably could have provided more guidance. However, this was a 20th level game and those encounters should be challenging. It's easy to suggest that the DM was ill prepared, and he may have been, but sometimes you get what you put into the game. The EK put 50+ hours into his characters spells and he was reasonably prepared for the adventure.


I'd say that game design is harder than it looks and it sounds like the DM didn't design the scenario to give everyone a chance to shine. Probably best to stick to published modules in those instances so as to avoid unintentional character bias.

I agree with the poster above. You were pretty much screwed the minute you had to go underground with a mount. If you knew it beforehand that was a bad design choice. If you didn't know beforehand, then the next time you guys try this experiment you should ask your DM questions about the types of environments that you will enter.

Not knowing the answer leads to exactly what happened to you. Next time you guys decide to insta roll level 20's, someone needs to slide the DM a copy of Rappan Athuk or Slumbering Tasr or some other premade epic level adventure. Avoid having the DM try to balance it on his own. That would been an impossible task even for seasoned vets!

Sovereign Court

This is short term right? I wouldn't worry about it.

Shadow Lodge

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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

I have nothing constructive to say...but this is the part where I started laughing:

CloakedDarius wrote:
old school D&D 3.5 adventure

I'm sorry you didn't have fun. I hope the next one goes better.


Having played a mid-high level paladin in a 3.5 campaign, my experience was similar. With a mount and smite evil, you could participate. Once you used up you half dozen or less smite attacks, and your mount got dismissed, you were basically a weak sidekick to the casters.

I think the moral of the story is that if you want to have fun playing a high level 3.5 campaign, just play a full caster (unless the adventure takes place in an area without 'nature' then skip druids as well).


baldwin the merciful wrote:

The DM forewarned it was going to be deadly, but did you know that there was going to be an underground portion to the adventure? If so, why would you create a character with a griffin mount for an old fashion dungeon crawl? Tight tunnels, small rooms, low ceilings, traps, and hazardous terrains are commonplace. I'm surprised you only spent 15 + hours to relearn rules and create a high level character; frankly, that doesn't seem like much given the game you all agreed to play. It appears you were out of practice with both the system and playing at such a high level game.

See that's the thing. We didn't know until a week beforehand what the adventure was about or where it would take place. But for two weeks before that I had been emailing the DM my character ideas (he has lots of house rules about usable source books and spells). The closest thing I got to 'warning' was a mention we few days before that we would be underground and that if my mount was large he'd need to make the escape artist checks to squeeze through. But at that point I had already emailed everyone who my character was and was pretty much done.

baldwin the merciful wrote:

Was this a DM created game or module for Greyhawk? Most of what you mention are part and parcel for high level games: For instance have you ever played in Rappan Athuk? They have entire levels of that dungeon where environmental hazards exist and certain types of magic or abilities don't work or are ineffective. Many occur at levels less than 20.

It was Greyhawk setting but a homebrew design. It is possible he leaned heavily on modules for some of the encounters but all his notes were hand-written.

baldwin the merciful wrote:

Granted since this was a one-shot game, so the DM probably could have provided more guidance. However, this was a 20th level game and those encounters should be challenging. It's easy to suggest that the DM was ill prepared, and he may have been, but sometimes you get what you put into the game. The EK put 50+ hours into his characters spells and he was reasonably prepared for the adventure.

Since three of the four of us (players) had not played at level 20 before, I can certainly believe this. I am now more inclined to believe that we varied far too much in the class tiers. I had never paid much attention to them. Most of our games are played from level 5-15 and with Pathfinder which seems to keep the playing field level longer. According to the tier system, we had two tier 1 classes and two tier 5 classes. Probably not a good mix for the tier 5 classes (assassin and paladin) to be productive.

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