Today as a GM I got a valuable lesson in the craziness of reaction rolls and how it can cause some utterly unique moments in gaming. This is the kind of thing that happens when you run a “decision loop” as Bradford Walker has laid out, and the world is a simulation with the GM being the arbiter instead of the narrator of a “story” game.
Background. We’ve got a 1HP cleric in the party, “Three Steps”. His stated goal is to “advance the candle into the darkness.”
In the past encounters with orcs, some interesting reaction rolls to him doing a “you shall not pass” with his candle-staff had resulted in not only orcs leaving him alone, but setting up a matching shrine of candles wherever he has placed his at the end of a delve into Dwimmermount… though where the wax for those came from I’m not sure we want to know.
So they run into a new group of Orcs because they’re too busy checking out a door to notice that the orcs in the room down the hallway – no door – saw their lights. Very positive reaction roll. “Oh, you’re the party of the candle!”/”you killed the gelatinous cube plaguing this part of the halls!”. Orcs love them, let them pass, treat them with good humor. Insofar as beastmen can.
Party wanders around, finds another group. Check for reactions. They get a “immediately attack”. Given that the orcs have usually been respectful of the party, know who they are, etc., if not consistently friendly – as several dead groups of orcs would attest – now I had to figure out what this group of orcs would have against them.
Time to pull out the “you killed my brother” in a past delve ploy. And no, this is “death at all costs” degree of violence/morale on the part of (at least) the group leader. No attempt at intimidation will stop him, he’s in a full rage.
The party cleverly bottlenecks them – though orcs manage to nearly kill one of the front line henchmen with the first hit having beat most of the party in initiative rolls – and one of the fighters with a spear manages to kill the leader and following up with an immediate “cleave” attack then kills the other orc in the front line as other party members lob flaming oil.
Morale check time. Failed. Barely. Fighting retreat. Suddenly, instead of having several henchmen very likely dead, the orcs are being routed.
“OK guys, looks like the biggest orc standing is a sharp cookie and orders his men to fall back in good order. He’s got enough charisma to pull it off.” and so the orcs, getting a high initiative again, move to disengage. Party follows and kills off a few more – only two are left. Another morale check.
Surrender. They know they don’t have room to back up more than one doorway into a small room even if the party doesn’t yet know.
But now I’ve painted the remaining orc leader as brave, competent, wise… so I decide on a reaction roll – and amazingly, friendly. The orc actually stands up to the party and negotiates terms, tells them he knows of the men of the candle, and that he has no desire to emulate his hot-headed idiot of a sergeant. The party insists he reveal what’s behind the next door – and the orc decides getting more orcs killed is not wise, reveals there are more orcs if they let him deal with it.
And so the new squad leader goes to the door, and “convinces” the four in the next room interrogating a dwarf it’s wiser to leave than die. Three go along but one bellicose sort had to get koshed by the other three. All six leave without further incident, two dragging the now-unconscious orc less than gracefully.
And so the legend of the slime slayers, men of the candle, carries on in Dwimmermount.