Was I being unfair?

Wasn’t sure where to put this so I’m putting it in uncategorised. Basically, one of my players was feeling very frustrated at the end of our last session and I’d be interested hearing what you guys think of it.

What happened

  • Players discovered their home city was under seige from an orc army they understand to be somehow linked to the BBEG of the campaign (an illithid)
  • They worked their way through the city, usual stuff, skill checks, a few easy combat encounters before running into one of the illithid’s generals.
  • I didn’t intend on them beating this character, but they did so I let it happen in as epic a fashion as I could.
  • Players enter the keep of one of their allies, all the guards are slaughtered, they get to a large door they know leads to his private study and through the door they hear the illithid and his surviving general (a character who betrayed them earlier) monologuing to their ally - both the illithid and his surviving general have kicked the players’ asses before.

This is where the controversy begins

  • The players burst into the room, no plan, no recon, no preparation
  • The illithid, who has already demonstrated his strength, throws them around like rag dolls
  • They get in a few good hits but the fight is not going well and is beginning to drag out as his surviving general hasn’t even joined the fight at this point, instead being ordered to go complete another objective (they’re there to steal something)
  • Eventually the illithid uses the darkness boon and the session ends in a tense moment where the fight has come to a temporary pause.

Why the player was unhappy

They were essentially in an unwinnable fight. Not because of plot armour or me bending any rules, but because they were completely outclassed and didn’t prepare for the fight.

The player said that they felt like they couldn’t do anything and that it would have been better for the illithid to just throw them around and make a quick escape - like a cutscene.

My thoughts

In my mind I just played the fight as realistically as possible. I put the illithid in the room but I didn’t make the players fight it, that was their choice, and having the fight essentially be a cutscene goes against the spirit of tabletop games.

While it would have saved time, that would truly have made the players’ actions redundant.

So what do you guys think, would you have played this differently? Was I being unfair or did the players get themselves into this mess?

Giving them a fighting chance anything can happen in ol, even more so then other games with the nature of exploding dice.
The fact that they had the option to not take the fight and knew it was a powerful enemy and decided to just kick in the door is more on they’re end not yours.
You could maybe have asked some leading questions like; do you have a strategy or plan for taking him out this time?

Now I don’t know how much of a gap in levels this character had compared to the party, so maybe it was too far fetched. And I don’t know to what level of utility the players had and how many, but in a team Vs one character the one can be in a bag of trubble especially if the team users crowd control on him.

At first glance it looks to me that there were a lesson for the party that they can’t just take every fight heads on without planning

The illithid is boss level 7, his general is standard level 20 but did nothing in the fight. The party is three level 7s, one of whom has a companion fire elemental.

They probably could have beat him in an extended fight since Influence based banes can only be used once an hour/day after they’ve been successfully resisted - but the general would have joined in if things got bad.

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Here’s the thing, most players will always fight. If you plan on them running away, that’s usually not going to happen.

From what it sounds like:

They have fought him before, and he didn’t kill them

have they gotten stronger since (leveled up?)

If what they have learned is that they can fight a Big Bad and he just lets them live, then even more reason they’d not worry about just jumping in. If they’ve also gotten stronger since last encounter, they might have figured they’d be alright.

  1. Yes, from your perspective is sounds like it is mostly on them for what they did
  2. They were in the building of an ally hearing that they ally was alive and being talked to after going through a city where most people were killed
    • They would have been worried about him being killed after the discussion, the tension was built up
    • Players are typically the heroes of the story, how could they not get into that fight and protect their ally

So the question is, what expectations have you caused the players to have in your game thus far? Why does the Illithid and General not kill them in past encounters where they got themselves totally beat up? What has happened since that fight?

If you put a possibility in front of the players, expect them to take it, expect them to not surrender and to not run away unless you have setup the expectations for them to do that in the past.

Unfortunately I don’t know everything about your game and your players and the situation, HOWEVER, what I do know is that it is a community game that you are playing together. If someone is unhappy, and you hear them, and then you explain yourself, and they are still unhappy, consider that. In this case, again, I don’t know how much of a conversation it was, and how much you told them. It also could have been just in that moment, emotions are high. Have you talked again afterwards? Have you present the “My thoughts” that you wrote out here for them?

Also, it sounds like the fight is not over yet, they are just in darkness, which can potentially be dispelled, or people can get blindsight and/or truesight and keep fighting him and prolong that fight.

BUT, again, limited info.


Community game, it’s always a little bit on both sides. Right after something happens, emotions are high, what conversation have you had since?

Personally, from the sound of it, I would have played it out the same, I wouldn’t ever do a cut scene and take away from what players can do. But I don’t know everything, and I don’t know what kind of expectations have been setup via previous encounters and story in this campaign.

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I believe they last encountered him at level 6 and they’re now level 7 so it’s really not much of a difference - the illithid has only just made himself known to them.

Truthfully, I don’t want the PCs to die, this is our first campaign and I will let them live whenever possible. In the case of the illithid I’ve made it clear that he’s using them for something which is why he didn’t kill them before. In this fight they’re no longer useful but they have caught him off-guard so it makes sense for him to get what he came for and make a break for it.

This is a funny one because while he is an ally - he is most definitely an ally of opportunity and not someone they actually care about. He’s made it evident that he’s a bit of a bastard, regularly beats his servants, is ruthless in his business and has retained his position of power, wealth and privilege by stepping on others.

That being said - he does all of this to try and find a cure for his daughter who is under a sleeping curse. The players basically had a choice at that doorway to burst into a fight they know they are very unlikely to win or to go and check on his daughter (one of the players is also the bastard son of this ally and only found out in the course of the game that he has a half sister) who is a true innocent in this situation.

I was honestly expecting them to hear the voices through the door and think “oh shit, we shouldn’t go in there” and decide to go and make sure the girl was safe instead which would have lead them to an encounter against the general on her own which was a much more winnable fight.

While I don’t mind that they didn’t do what I expected, it does bother me that the player in question was upset with me over what I consider to be a fair consequence of their actions and choices.

This is more of a side-note than anything else but I don’t believe they have any way of combatting the Darkness boon other than a ring of light to cancel it out - but the player with that is currently Stupefied.

This is fair and I’m willing to accept equal blame for any confrontation or misunderstanding - if the players felt like they had to fight the illithid then perhaps I’ve not set up the correct expectations that they have freedom to do what they want but at the same time I feel like all I did was realistically respond to said choices.

A more severe DM would be likely to party wipe them at this point - but that’s not my style.

Currently I’m thinking that the Darkness boon will give the illithid enough time to escape and his general enough time to get to the girl. Kicking off the next session with a brief moment of reprise before they realise the girl is in danger and having a showdown with the general that they are much more likely to win.

Sorry for how long this response got by the way haha, I just felt that some clarification was needed - obviously it would be too time consuming to both write up and to read the full details of the campaign thus far but I think I got some key points out that shed some more light on the situation they were in.


There’s a subtle but enormously important difference between the players hating you for it and hating the illithid. I regularly pull crap like this on my players, and then commiserate with them afterwards:

“Damn, I thought you almost had him for a moment there.”
“What a bastard, right?”
“Ooh, he’s going to regret doing that to you the next time you meet him.”

That sort of thing. It helps remind the players that it’s you portraying the character that screwed them over because that’s what would have happened, not you yourself screwing them over because you wanted to be a dick.


Always good to have more information. Like I mentioned, I would have handled it in a similar way by the sounds of it.

The main thing of that comment was that the initial knee-jerk response is to be upset that you got yourself into that situation as a player. Afterwards, and more time thinking, they may have realized it more and not be as upset about it now.

I’m very much in the belief that the players choices have consequences. While they are free to make those choices, they aren’t free from the consequences of the choices.

Also, to note, Level 6 to level 7 is HUGE. That is when your main attribute goes to an 8, which means you can now start to keep 3 attribute dice instead of 2. This is when your rolls really start to build to high numbers more regularly. Though, I imagine that isn’t something the players are completely aware of yet.

See how things are when you start the next session. If you need to, explain anything could have happened and that you will never just do a cutscene. The dice are fickle, and anything can happen, but when you make a choice, be prepared for the consequences of that choice.

I’d also check if the other players feel that way. Now, important, if the player talked to you privately, you should respect that, and talk with them privately back and not end up calling them out for it in front of the others of course (though I’m sure that’s obvious).

Remember no one is perfect. And as I posted on twitter to someone else:

This is every GM/DM/Narrator ever. If you aren’t making mistakes, you are either:

  1. a liar
  2. not growing or getting better
  3. both

This is something I’ve done to communicate “BEWARE FIGHTING THIS VILLAIN”

  • Give the players at least one ally that is stronger than them (visibly rolling bigger attribute dice).

  • Have that NPC roll to inflict Provoked.

  • Have the bad guy kill the NPC brutally.


Coming in late here. I realize I don’t have all of the information, but the hardest thing for a lot of players to learn is to embrace failure as a part of the story. It’s tough to find players who will embrace failure. Most of them want to win every swing of the sword, let alone every encounter.

Just my opinion here, but you did nothing wrong. It should be a learning experience. From what I’ve read you’re running a deep, rich game that I would be excited to play in. Everyone is correct, players will rarely surrender or retreat, but instead fight to death. If you’re running the kind of game where retreat is a good idea every now and then, simply tell the players that. (By now all of this is surely resolved.)