I drove home after the last session, exhausted but feeling like we had a good game.
We fought two Ropers in the Underdark, in a cavern with a ceiling filled with Piercers that attacked twice every round. The wizard got nearly bitten in half, dropping to -3 after a critical hit by a Roper’s bite. But the party eventually triumphed after a critical hit from the Paladin, smiting the Roper into a puddle of goo. But we lost the guide that was hired to take the party through the winding paths of the Underdark. The game ended when they walked into a settlement, and quickly found themselves numbered and surrounded by a group of duergar barbarians.
I got home and read “Excellent game” and “great game! I’m weirdly happy our guide died”, and what followed were an endless stream of what-ifs: “I could have casted Sanctuary on him”, “The smite was awesome and it saved the wizard!” and “if only he (the guide) knew this path was dangerous, he might still be alive!”
The lesson this week is important: know who you’re optimizing the game for. The lore, the encounters and the monsters doesn’t exist but the players and their emotions are real. Your best laid plans might fail and the encounter you planned might not even happen, but as long as your friends at the table are having a great time, you’ve done your job as a DM. Optimize for that and everything will fall into place.