In our D&D game this past Saturday night, the climactic battle of the evening was a real nail-biter. Things looked very bad for awhile, and winning was far from assured.

And around the halfway point, one character’s survival came down to a single die roll. I had to make that roll to save my friend Don’s PC, and Sam, our GM, did something very smart: he talked it out with me.

This one requires some setup, and I’ll include D&D specifics along with more general context. Sam’s technique isn’t D&D-specific in any way.

Our quirky 5th-level party (no cleric, no rogue) was matched up against an invisible mind flayer (CR 8 ) and, a bit later on, two giant snakes (CR 5), and two of our characters had already failed our Will saves to avoid having our minds read (so he knew who to pick on). In other words, a very tough encounter.

After the flayer took down our tank (Don’s PC), we blew our chance to drag his unconscious body away, and the big bad did something very smart: he latched all four tentacles onto Don’s character, and told us to back off or he’d kill him.

That meant we had one full round of actions before, on the following round, our tank’s brain would be sucked out of his head.

We talked it over as a group (minus Don himself, who elected to stay out of the discussion), and decided that we needed to have our strongest character — my wildshaped druid — try to pull our tank away from the mind flayer. If that failed, Don’s character was toast.

Since I was going to gamble his fate on one die roll, I wanted to make very sure I understood my chances. Some GMs would have clamped down on our table talk before that, or refused to help out in any way, but Sam went a different route: he pulled aside the curtain.

We confirmed my current grapple bonus, and he told me the bonus the illithid was getting for having all four tentacles attached (a major factor). He mentioned that I’d be able to spend an action point if I needed to — a nice reminder.

When it was time to roll, I knew exactly what I was getting into.

With the action point, I succeeded and saved Don’s character. We went on to win the battle, and it was an awesome evening overall.

Our group is generally very good about reminding each other of things, even when it’s not in our best interests — our GM mentions things we might miss, we bring it up if it looks like he’s going to forget an attack of opportunity, and so forth.

That approach won’t be a good fit for everyone, but in one situation in particular — when a PC’s life is on the line — it’s one that you should at least consider. It didn’t keep Sam from trying — fairly, and as he rightly should — to hand us our collective asses, and it was exactly the right way to handle the situation.

If you’ve never tried this, give it a shot the next time a scenario like ours comes up. Your players might hate it, but they also just might love it.