Friday, August 2, 2013

When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry, You Must be Playing Dungeons and Dragons

The game had been going on for five hours. Poot, the Master Planner, Bus, Biggboy, Thief 1 and 2, Neverwas, Step-up, Baby Momma, Loveless, the Great Big Cat, and the Eternal Virgin had been working their way through a massive cave complex. They had been captured and escaped; hid from a Taint Elemental (Heroes of Horror pg 145); and had walked in on a rather tense series of negotiations between a Lich and a vampire. It was then that the Eternal Virgin did something I had not prepared for: she pulled out her signal whistle and started blowing on the damned thing.


At a certain point you begin to know your players and how they play their characters. In the Kimber Campaign, where the incident with the Eternal Virgin took place, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on my players after 80 hours of play. I was able to push the right buttons, at the right time, to provide moments that they’re still talking about some five years later. But after all this time I still couldn’t tell you why she did it.

That’s one of the inherent dangers involved in playing the co-operative narrative style of Dungeons and Dragons. There is no set script, so the players can literally do anything that is possible within the frame work of the situation – even to their detriment.


After thinking about the situation, and others that have occurred in the years since, I started formulating some hypothesizes about why these sort of events happen:

  • It’s an Off Night: Everyone has a bad game, a bad day, and even a bad year. Sometimes these nights result in outlandish behavior, like when the Master Planner got in a fight with a trained boxer – interesting side note, it was a bad idea.
  • The Words May Be the Same, But the Meaning is Completely Different: There are times when I fail at the table in my descriptions. Perhaps I used a word that not everyone is familiar with or I forgot a key piece of information that would change everyone’s actions. Even worse though is when I say one thing and one of the players hears something different.
  • Piss Poor Preparation Always Leads to Failure: While it is rare for me to have a night where I have nothing prepared those nights do occur, and when they happen my players can tell. I fumble with my words and seem lost when I should know right where we are. It’s then that they sense blood in the water and move quickly as they attempt to make a big score before my feet can plant again.
  • I’m Playing with a Bag of Dicks: There are times when the Master Planner, Poot, Step-up, and Kid Icarus get bored. When that happens they will entertain themselves; and it’s then that all my misdeeds in life are called to bear and there’s Hell to pay.


When it comes to dealing with one of the above situations I’ve found that there are only a few choices available to me:

  • The Fifteen Minute Break: In life and in my game I have found that there are times when we all need a short break. In many cases a fifteen minute break can give me all the time that I need to formulate my action plan. So when things start spiraling beyond my keen I call a time out and allow everyone to stretch their legs. Usually it gives me enough time. 
  • Play Through: There are times when it becomes impossible to break the game (momentum being king and all) and the only thing left to do is just keep going. At these times I tend to react quickly, thinking little of the consequence, only to review the audio of the session and wonder what the fuck I’m going to do next week.
  • The Night’s End: If the situation is far beyond any of our control and is threatening to overtake us all spiraling the campaign down the tubes I will stop the session. This has only happened twice in the ten years that I have been running and both times it was the result of the players going so far along that I completely ran out of places to go and needed a to end the night. 

Credit where credit is due. I was inspired to write this entry after reading an article over at Gnome Stew. My words are my own as are my thought processes but it would be a disservice to both the reader and myself to pretend that the inspiration came from only within. 

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