Discussion:
Off the rails
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Spalls Hurgenson
2017-06-22 04:01:11 UTC
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I think anyone who has played role-playing games for any length of
time - as player or as game-master - has had this happen to them at
least once. The players are running through the adventure and
everything seems to be going smoothly - following clues and plot,
slaying all the right monsters and sacking all the right dungeons -
until Bam! Everything goes off the rails. Whether it is because the
adventure was poorly balanced, or the characters missed a vital clue,
or whatever, all of a sudden the PCs are heading off in a completely
different direction, essentially having abandoned the planned
adventure to go off and do their own thing.

As a DM, this is one of the most frightening, frustrating and - oddly
enough - exciting parts of being a game-master.

It starts with that moment of terror when you realize the characters
AREN'T going to find the magic widget that is so necessary to defeat
the Evil Foozle and ohmigod what-am-I-going-to-do-now
the-whole-story-is-in-tatters I-don't-have-anything-planned and oh
damn that part of the map isn't even filled in yet!

This is followed by the sour realization that all your hard work -
creating the dungeons, the intricate characterizations and
backgrounds, the clever set-pieces - is going to go to waste, never to
be seen. Worse, because of the abstinence of the players you are now
going to have to rush to create new material, which probably won't be
as good as what you had planned because you are going to have to churn
it out in a hurry.

But it's the third emotion that is the salve, although it usually
takes several weeks before I experience it. That's the delight as the
player's sudden change of course results in a brand new - and
unexpected - direction to the story. It is the exact thing that makes
role-playing such a fulfilling hobby. Without these accidents, the
game is just the DM walking his players through his story. It's fun
and imaginative, but somewhat hollow. But these diversions are what
make the story truly alive, as the players help shape the direction of
the game and the fantastical world that their characters inhabit.

I bring this up because my players went off the rails recently.
Actually, this happens to me a lot. It's not every adventure but it's
not uncommon. I tend to blame myself when this happens - Was my
adventure poorly written? Did I forget a vital clue? Did I misjudge my
players? - but in balance I think the players aren't completely
innocent either. Even the best players can sometimes make a bad roll,
ignore the obvious hint, or just act unexpectedly out of character.
Deep down I secret believe it is the duty of a good DM to predict and
smooth out these sorts of roadblocks, but intellectually I realize
that sort of perfection is impossible.

Still, I can't help but feel this one was my fault. The adventure was
fairly simple: sent out on a mission to a farming village (a punitive
raid on some peasants who weren't paying their taxes) the adventurers
find the hamlet all but deserted. The few survivors speak of plague,
and madness, and strange happenings. Attempting to leave town, the
characters find the escape blocked by flood. The clues spoke of
recently discovered artifacts, evil spirits, and of men who meddled
with things that were better left un-meddled with. The characters even
had a good idea where the villains were to be found - a nearby ruined
hill-fort, which was to be the climax of the adventure. Everything
seemed to be going swimmingly.

And they threw up their hands and said, "enough of this, we're heading
back to the city and letting somebody else deal with this mess." It
was actually a rather sensible decision but it did leave me somewhat
in a lurch.

Looking back, it shouldn't have been that unexpected. Players tend to
be risk averse, and I realize now I hadn't provided them much
motivation to keep them headed towards danger. The tone of the
adventure was somewhat Lovecraftian, and - while the players seemed to
enjoy the spooky vibe - I've concluded that it was my actions that led
to their decision. I failed to provide enough hope of reward (e.g.,
treasure!) and that too many of the clues on how to defeat the Big
Evil were buried in the latter half of the adventure. I was, I
realize, expecting the ideals of heroism and adventure to keep the
players on course. Unfortunately, in this particular campaign their
characters are most definitely /not/ heroic and - given it's an
extremely poor and low-magic campaign - practical decisions are
usually the correct one.

I have to admit, I was tempted to force the characters back onto the
path. It would have been easy to prevent their escape (another flood,
a fire, an avalanche) had I really wanted to, but that felt that sort
of obvious railroading was unfair to the players. I could have had an
NPC suddenly appear and drop a ton of useful exposition on them, but
that felt unrealistic. I even considered appealing to the players
directly by telling them that the expected course was to go to the
hill-fort, but then their characters would be acting out of character,
something for which I normally chastise them. So - not without some
grumbling - I let them have their way. If I threw some rough
encounters at them as they beat their hasty retreat, it was only to
keep them entertained and not spiteful revenge on the part of the DM,
honest.

So the characters bailed on the mission and it was probably the wiser
course of action; think of how many Cthulhu investigators might still
be alive or sane if they'd followed a similar course as my players.
They'll go back to town and report their findings; I expect they'll
get chewed out for not finishing their assigned mission /and/ for not
handling the new problem, but that will probably be the extent of
their loss. Of course, the Big Bad of this adventure did get away; I
suspect he'll wreak havoc in the cities to the east, probably
upsetting the political balance their and ultimately sabotaging the
intended end-game of this campaign, but oh the joy when I get to
spring the villain on my heroes again sometime in the future. I'll
have to start seeding in clues about his activities over the next few
sessions; the players will not only need to know he's coming, but also
that it's because of their failure that he's still out-and-about.

Fortunately, I have another adventure planned. Oh, I'll probably have
to shim in a quickie adventure first; it shouldn't be too hard as the
PCs are basically town guardsmen so a few "random" encounters should
suffice. I am not even too upset that half my adventure went unused.
After all these years, it's not unexpected; I've learned to write in
"escape routes" for the players, and while my adventures tend to be
long (50+ pages for this one) a lot of the material is world-building
for me to flesh out the setting. It's almost certain I'll never re-use
the dungeon and fairly likely that we'll not re-visit that town, but
creating both helped me get a better feel for the architecture,
culture and history of the region. This will come in handy because -
as I said - I think their failure is going to have long-term
ramifications for the region.

But that's just the sort of unexpected twist that makes role-playing
so much fun.
Anonymous Jack
2017-06-22 17:00:08 UTC
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Post by Spalls Hurgenson
Everything goes off the rails. Whether it is because the
adventure was poorly balanced, or the characters missed a vital clue,
IMO, the worst is when through a series of unlucky, against all odds type of rolls, the party starts to lose badly
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
This is followed by the sour realization that all your hard work -
creating the dungeons, the intricate characterizations and
backgrounds, the clever set-pieces - is going to go to waste, never to
be seen.
There usually a way to reuse a lot of stuff. If not for this group, the next group
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
But it's the third emotion that is the salve, although it usually
takes several weeks before I experience it. That's the delight as the
player's sudden change of course results in a brand new - and
unexpected - direction to the story. It is the exact thing that makes
role-playing such a fulfilling hobby. Without these accidents, the
game is just the DM walking his players through his story. It's fun
and imaginative, but somewhat hollow. But these diversions are what
make the story truly alive, as the players help shape the direction of
the game and the fantastical world that their characters inhabit.
Indeed, and why it will be a long time before CRPGs replace live RPGs
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
And they threw up their hands and said, "enough of this, we're heading
back to the city and letting somebody else deal with this mess."
I thought their way back was blocked by a flood? It's not unusual for a certain ford/bridge to be critical because the next ford/bridge is days away, held by trolls, or whatever.
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
Looking back, it shouldn't have been that unexpected. Players tend to
be risk averse, and I realize now I hadn't provided them much
motivation to keep them headed towards danger.. . .
I failed to provide enough hope of reward (e.g., treasure!)
Agreed, it's not that they are risk-averse, it's the risk/reward ratio

Greed is a more reliable PC motivator than heroism :)
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
Of course, the Big Bad of this adventure did get away; I
suspect he'll wreak havoc in the cities to the east, probably
upsetting the political balance their and ultimately sabotaging the
intended end-game of this campaign, but oh the joy when I get to
spring the villain on my heroes again sometime in the future. I'll
have to start seeding in clues about his activities over the next few
sessions; the players will not only need to know he's coming, but also
that it's because of their failure that he's still out-and-about.
Excellent
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I am not even too upset that half my adventure went unused.
It's almost certain I'll never re-use
the dungeon and fairly likely that we'll not re-visit that town
As they get clues that Big Bad came from that area, someone could say, "Maybe there is still a clue in that area on how to stop Big Bad if we only knew exactly where to look" and lead them back to the dungeon. Of course, Big Bad and most of the treasure is now gone, so mostly a dead end, but this is where you leave some clues that he could have been stopped back then, and that there was a lot of treasure there at one time (cast-off receipts, payroll ledgers)
Spalls Hurgenson
2017-06-27 14:32:13 UTC
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On Thu, 22 Jun 2017 10:00:08 -0700 (PDT), Anonymous Jack
Post by Anonymous Jack
I thought their way back was blocked by a flood? It's not unusual for a
certain ford/bridge to be critical because the next ford/bridge is days
away, held by trolls, or whatever.
The flood stream bounded the town on two sides, with forest on the
other two. Going through the dark spooky woods had hazards of its own,
not least of which was that - having lost most of their gear in the
flood - the trip back would have taken them twice as long (a long hard
walk without food or blankets).

I could have found ways to force the PCs back into the town, but that
would have felt dishonest; I really dislike rail-roading players like
that. I set up a situation for them to deal with, with its own rules
and expectations; changing those "rules" just because the players did
something unexpected is, I feel, contrary to the nature of the game. I
often criticize (and even penalize, if it egregious enough) the
players for acting "out of character"; well, as a DM's my "character"
is the world in which they play, and I'd be "out of character" if I
(unexpectedly) warped reality like that just to keep a story on track.
It's something my players seem to appreciate; while I may be sloppy
with the rules they can generally trust that my world will have a
certain consistency to it.

And as I said, while in the short term there's anger and frustration
that my planned adventure had been cut short, in the long run I
recognize that these impromptu detours can often result in interesting
changes. It certainly makes the players feel more involved in the
development of the campaign.

Here's another example. Years and years ago I had a whole campaign
that would have led the players through a war against an invading
horde of goblins; they would have stumbled upon the army's buildup,
warned the king of the invasion, helped fight in the battles to defend
the kingdom, and ultimately slay the Evul Wizuhd behind it all. But
this was cut short when - three or four adventures into the campaign -
the players all failed their saving throws and died in a dungeon (it
actually was a bit more involved than that but nevermind). I could
have invalidated the bad rolls, or swept in with some cavalry, or even
just have the players create new PCs that would take up where the old
PCs died... but even back then I was uncomfortable with the idea.

Instead, I just advanced the game-world two or three years and had the
players revisit the kingdom /after/ the war... a war which had
devastated the nation. All the places they had visited earlier, all
the people they met (assuming the NPC survived) had been changed by
the conflict. It led to an entirely new tone to the campaign; one that
was completely unexpected. It also made me change the development of
the gameworld, since a kingdom I had /expected/ to come out from the
war strong and united was now ravaged and weak; whole new plots were
spun up from that development. That's why - as frustrated as I often
am by players' failure to stay to plan - I recognize that it makes for
a stronger game. Certainly my players seemed to agree; each one of
them came up to me individually at one time or another to tell me how
much they loved how I handled that situation.
Post by Anonymous Jack
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
Looking back, it shouldn't have been that unexpected. Players tend to
be risk averse, and I realize now I hadn't provided them much
motivation to keep them headed towards danger.. . .
I failed to provide enough hope of reward (e.g., treasure!)
Agreed, it's not that they are risk-averse, it's the risk/reward ratio
Greed is a more reliable PC motivator than heroism :)
It depends on the characters and the players. I have had players who
preferred to Fight The Good Fight, to whom it was the lure of
righteousness far more than the lure of gold that drew them in. Other
players were far more interested in exploring the world; it was the
mystery of the strange that pulled them in.

But this campaign is different. While no paragons, the characters
aren't themselves evil, but I have set up the campaign to constantly
force them into situations where they have to chose between two
unpleasant alternatives just to survive. The ultimate goal is to have
these characters do the sort of thing that stereotypically "evil
warlords" would do - invade other nations, deal with black wizards and
necromancers, assassinate political foes - but each step that gets
them there is done "for a good cause". Resources are few, life is
short and you do what you can to survive. As such, the PCs decision to
retreat was 100% in character; it was the adventure that was wrong. It
was dependent on the idea that solving the mystery or saving the
villagers was the driving force. Ah well, lesson learned... and while
the heroes may have unwittingly released an evil demon onto the world
(that I now have to account for), it just adds to the danger that will
constantly be assailing them from all sides ;-)
Post by Anonymous Jack
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
Of course, the Big Bad of this adventure did get away; I
suspect he'll wreak havoc in the cities to the east, probably
upsetting the political balance their and ultimately sabotaging the
intended end-game of this campaign, but oh the joy when I get to
spring the villain on my heroes again sometime in the future. I'll
have to start seeding in clues about his activities over the next few
sessions; the players will not only need to know he's coming, but also
that it's because of their failure that he's still out-and-about.
Excellent
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I am not even too upset that half my adventure went unused.
It's almost certain I'll never re-use
the dungeon and fairly likely that we'll not re-visit that town
As they get clues that Big Bad came from that area, someone could say, "Maybe there is still a clue in that area on how to stop Big Bad if we only knew exactly where to look" and lead them back to the dungeon. Of course, Big Bad and most of the treasure is now gone, so mostly a dead end, but this is where you leave some clues that he could have been stopped back then, and that there was a lot of treasure there at one time (cast-off receipts, payroll ledgers)
Anonymous Jack
2017-06-29 20:12:49 UTC
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Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I could have found ways to force the PCs back into the town, but that
would have felt dishonest; I really dislike rail-roading players like
that. I set up a situation for them to deal with, with its own rules
and expectations; changing those "rules" just because the players did
something unexpected is, I feel, contrary to the nature of the game.
Thanks for explaining, and I agree.
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
the players all failed their saving throws and died in a dungeon
Instead, I just advanced the game-world two or three years and had the
players revisit the kingdom /after/ the war...
Have done similar, contributes to the feel of a real, living world.
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
But this campaign is different. While no paragons, the characters
aren't themselves evil, but I have set up the campaign to constantly
force them into situations where they have to chose between two
unpleasant alternatives just to survive. The ultimate goal is to have
these characters do the sort of thing that stereotypically "evil
warlords" would do - invade other nations, deal with black wizards and
necromancers, assassinate political foes - but each step that gets
them there is done "for a good cause". Resources are few, life is
short and you do what you can to survive. As such, the PCs decision to
retreat was 100% in character; it was the adventure that was wrong. It
was dependent on the idea that solving the mystery or saving the
villagers was the driving force. Ah well, lesson learned... and while
the heroes may have unwittingly released an evil demon onto the world
(that I now have to account for), it just adds to the danger that will
constantly be assailing them from all sides ;-)
Sounds interesting, their lack of altruism/heroism is going to make their lives harder.
Spalls Hurgenson
2017-06-30 13:42:45 UTC
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On Thu, 29 Jun 2017 13:12:49 -0700 (PDT), Anonymous Jack
Post by Anonymous Jack
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
But this campaign is different. While no paragons, the characters
aren't themselves evil, but I have set up the campaign to constantly
force them into situations where they have to chose between two
unpleasant alternatives just to survive. The ultimate goal is to have
these characters do the sort of thing that stereotypically "evil
warlords" would do - invade other nations, deal with black wizards and
necromancers, assassinate political foes - but each step that gets
them there is done "for a good cause". Resources are few, life is
short and you do what you can to survive. As such, the PCs decision to
retreat was 100% in character; it was the adventure that was wrong. It
was dependent on the idea that solving the mystery or saving the
villagers was the driving force. Ah well, lesson learned... and while
the heroes may have unwittingly released an evil demon onto the world
(that I now have to account for), it just adds to the danger that will
constantly be assailing them from all sides ;-)
Sounds interesting, their lack of altruism/heroism is going to make their lives harder.
Well, I may not actually have them encounter the demon again (well,
technically half of a demon - it was more of an elemental force of
hunger, madness and cold). It'll just go off to the east and wreak
havoc - driving people insane, killing, spontanteously forming demonic
cults - and upset the political balance there. Those changes will
affect the politics of their region. The player characterss will
probably hear rumors of these happenings. They may even put one and
one together and realize that it all ties back to their cowardly (if
rational) actions so many adventures back. Heck, players being as
unpredicitble as they sometimes are, their characters might suddenly
choose to see if they can right their wrongs and slay the spirit after
all, prompting me to create a whole new adventure as they slew off -
again - in an unexpected direction.

But at the moment I'm not planning for a reunion. I've different plans
for them. Ultimately I expect they will be a force for good (I don't
/LIKE/ running evil adventures), but many of the choices I will lay at
their feet will be morally grey. My main concern is keeping the heroes
invested in the region when things get hard (a problem I am already
wrestling with, as made obvious by this most recent debacle) as -
having little direct attachment to their home city - they can just
take off for the hills if things start getting too nasty.
Ubiquitous
2017-06-22 18:35:09 UTC
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Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I think anyone who has played role-playing games for any length of
time - as player or as game-master - has had this happen to them at
least once. The players are running through the adventure and
everything seems to be going smoothly - following clues and plot,
slaying all the right monsters and sacking all the right dungeons -
until Bam! Everything goes off the rails. Whether it is because the
adventure was poorly balanced, or the characters missed a vital clue,
or whatever, all of a sudden the PCs are heading off in a completely
different direction, essentially having abandoned the planned
adventure to go off and do their own thing.
The one group I played with for a decade ALWAYS did that! They never
derailed the campaign, tho.

I do remember one time, though, that this one group I was running was in a
pyramid trying to find the secret door to escape and spent the entire
session tapping the hallway walls looking for secret door, skipping the
section with paintings of doors, one of which covered the secret door!

The last time I played, our campaign went off the rails when someone made a
high-level Master of Many Forms and kept taking the form of some kind of
Troll that was immune to everything execpt acid damage.
--
Dems & the media want Trump to be more like Obama, but then he'd
have to audit liberals & wire tap reporters' phones.
Gutless Umbrella Carrying Sissy
2017-06-22 21:35:54 UTC
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Post by Ubiquitous
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I think anyone who has played role-playing games for any length
of time - as player or as game-master - has had this happen to
them at least once. The players are running through the
adventure and everything seems to be going smoothly - following
clues and plot, slaying all the right monsters and sacking all
the right dungeons - until Bam! Everything goes off the rails.
Whether it is because the adventure was poorly balanced, or the
characters missed a vital clue, or whatever, all of a sudden the
PCs are heading off in a completely different direction,
essentially having abandoned the planned adventure to go off and
do their own thing.
The one group I played with for a decade ALWAYS did that! They
never derailed the campaign, tho.
I do remember one time, though, that this one group I was
running was in a pyramid trying to find the secret door to
escape and spent the entire session tapping the hallway walls
looking for secret door, skipping the section with paintings of
doors, one of which covered the secret door!
I recall one dungeon crawl, where we were supposed to go retrieve
some important object from the dungeon. We knew where the dungeon
entrance was - it was clearly marked - but we could not figure out
hwo to open it. For hours (of real time), with, must have been, a
hundred or more failed die rolls. Finally, in a fit of utter
desperation, we took our one magic item, a rod we were told would
"burn a hole through *anything* - once" and burned a hole through
the capstone of the entrance, then dropped a very all tree trunk
into the hole, and pried the capstone out of the ground.

Turned out, the entire dungeon was supposed to be puzzle solving
pit of clever traps, all mechanical - and all armed when the
dungeon door was opened. So, having completely destroyed that
mechanism, we pretty much strolled through the dungeon at our
leisure, picked up the thing we were after, and strolled out.

The gamemaster wasn't even disappointed, at that point. It was such
a relief that the pain was finally finished.
--
Terry Austin

Vacation photos from Iceland:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/QaXQkB

"Terry Austin: like the polio vaccine, only with more asshole."
-- David Bilek

Jesus forgives sinners, not criminals.
JimP.
2017-06-22 18:52:14 UTC
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On Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:01:11 -0400, Spalls Hurgenson
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I think anyone who has played role-playing games for any length of
time - as player or as game-master - has had this happen to them at
least once. The players are running through the adventure and
everything seems to be going smoothly - following clues and plot,
slaying all the right monsters and sacking all the right dungeons -
until Bam! Everything goes off the rails. Whether it is because the
adventure was poorly balanced, or the characters missed a vital clue,
or whatever, all of a sudden the PCs are heading off in a completely
different direction, essentially having abandoned the planned
adventure to go off and do their own thing.
I took care of that by putting up 'Under Construction ! No Entry!'
signs on sawhorses. With oil lamps to lifght the signs up.
--
Jim
Gutless Umbrella Carrying Sissy
2017-06-22 21:36:51 UTC
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Post by JimP.
On Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:01:11 -0400, Spalls Hurgenson
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I think anyone who has played role-playing games for any length
of time - as player or as game-master - has had this happen to
them at least once. The players are running through the
adventure and everything seems to be going smoothly - following
clues and plot, slaying all the right monsters and sacking all
the right dungeons - until Bam! Everything goes off the rails.
Whether it is because the adventure was poorly balanced, or the
characters missed a vital clue, or whatever, all of a sudden the
PCs are heading off in a completely different direction,
essentially having abandoned the planned adventure to go off and
do their own thing.
I took care of that by putting up 'Under Construction ! No
Entry!' signs on sawhorses. With oil lamps to lifght the signs
up.
My players would assume that meant that's where the *good* stuff was.

And steal the signs. And the sawhorses. And the oil lamps, which they
would use to light things on fire.
--
Terry Austin

Vacation photos from Iceland:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/QaXQkB

"Terry Austin: like the polio vaccine, only with more asshole."
-- David Bilek

Jesus forgives sinners, not criminals.
Loren Pechtel
2017-06-23 16:56:14 UTC
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Post by JimP.
I took care of that by putting up 'Under Construction ! No Entry!'
signs on sawhorses. With oil lamps to lifght the signs up.
I just hung a sign. The party can see, they'll see the sign.
Sea Wasp (Ryk E. Spoor)
2017-06-22 22:07:17 UTC
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Post by Spalls Hurgenson
I think anyone who has played role-playing games for any length of
time - as player or as game-master - has had this happen to them at
least once.
"No plan survives contact with the enemy" applies to plots and players.
--
Sea Wasp
/^\
;;;
Website: http://www.grandcentralarena.com Blog:
http://seawasp.dreamwidth.org
Spalls Hurgenson
2017-07-11 13:09:07 UTC
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On Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:01:11 -0400, Spalls Hurgenson
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
And they threw up their hands and said, "enough of this, we're heading
back to the city and letting somebody else deal with this mess." It
was actually a rather sensible decision but it did leave me somewhat
in a lurch.
Unnecessary update:

So we played again. It's rather unusual for our group to get together
so soon - my players have families, jobs, lives and one is a traveling
musician - and we often go a month or three between sessions. But this
time we got together again a mere few weeks after the last game (I'd
like to believe this was because the campaign was so compelling that
it drew them in again like moths to a flame). Having had my adventure
derailed last time, I had quickly prepared a "mini-adventure" that
would then feed into the next part of the campaign; although done in a
rush I felt it was of some quality and was looking forward to some of
the developments caused by the party's unexpected behavior.

So of course, the players didn't do any of that.

Instead, upon reaching the nearest small trade-village, they decided
to go back to the haunted hamlet they had just so-recently vacated.
Cracking open their own wallets, they paid out to re-equip themselves
and hired a few hirelings and then immediately headed back. "We were
given a mission," they explained. "In this world, it's influence and
who you know that gets you places, far more than money, and
disappointing one of the most important people in the region,"
referring to the general who sent them on the mission, "is not a smart
career move". Also, "whatever it is in the town that was killing
people - whether it was a disease or ghost - was potentially a threat
to their own lives and livelihood." Thus, they said, their return was
perfectly in character, being done out of self-interest rather than
pure idealistic heroism. I couldn't argue the case.

We didn't finish the original adventure this time either, partly
because our session was cut-short by the needs of real-life, partly
because the resolving the detour ate into our playing time, but mostly
because I was unprepared for them to return and had to rapidly shift
gears. The whole tone of the adventure changed; originally it was a
very spooky mystery, with the PCs isolated and feeling powerless. But
having returned on their own volition the characters were more in
charge. Still, we got a fair bit into the second half of the quest and
the heroes now have a good grasp not only as to the possible cause of
the danger, but also its solution. When we next play, they'll start
their delve into the final dungeon (most of this session was just
FINDING the entrance to said dungeon) and they'll confront the big
bad.

I'm thinking of writing in some new twists to the quest; maybe they
big bad has flown the coop already, or something like that. But then
again, maybe not; it seems an unfair reward to players who went out of
their way to get /back on track/. But whatever I do, I'm pretty sure
the players will knock my plans for a loop again.

It's what they do.
Anonymous Jack
2017-07-11 14:45:54 UTC
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Post by Spalls Hurgenson
So of course, the players didn't do any of that.
LOL. of course not
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
and hired a few hirelings and then immediately headed back. "We were
given a mission," they explained. "In this world, it's influence and
who you know that gets you places, far more than money, and
disappointing one of the most important people in the region,"
referring to the general who sent them on the mission, "is not a smart
career move".
Nice, sounds very much like real life conversations. "Nope" is a sensible first reaction, then reality sets in that there is a job to be done.
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
But whatever I do, I'm pretty sure
the players will knock my plans for a loop again.
It's what they do.
This is what makes live RPGs better than CRPGs
Spalls Hurgenson
2017-07-12 13:08:18 UTC
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On Tue, 11 Jul 2017 07:45:54 -0700 (PDT), Anonymous Jack
Post by Anonymous Jack
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
But whatever I do, I'm pretty sure
the players will knock my plans for a loop again.
It's what they do.
This is what makes live RPGs better than CRPGs
It's also the very reason I got my current group together to play
table-top RPGs. All of them were professed fans of computer
role-playing games. I too enjoy a good CRPG, but while discussing the
topic (at the time, about Mass Effect 3 so you can tell how long ago
this all was) I expressed my dissatisfaction at how limited these
games were. The players just did not understand, so I invited them to
a game of D&D to see the difference.

The first few sessions required a bit of hand-holding; although
intellectually they understood the concept of the open world, they
just didn't really know what to do when put in a sandbox with only
minimal railroading. These days, as the recent example shows, they are
quite comfortable forging their own path and surprisingly good
role-players.

Amongst video-game players, there is a concept that people who prefer
playing on computers (as opposed to a console like the XBox or
Playstation) see themselves as somehow superior, and are derogatively
referred to as "the PC Master Race". Is there a "tabletop RPG Master
Race" label for people who realize the superiority of an old-fashion
pen-n-paper actually-roll-the-dice roleplaying game? :-)
Justisaur
2017-07-14 16:00:11 UTC
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Post by JimP.
On Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:01:11 -0400, Spalls Hurgenson
Post by Spalls Hurgenson
And they threw up their hands and said, "enough of this, we're heading
back to the city and letting somebody else deal with this mess." It
was actually a rather sensible decision but it did leave me somewhat
in a lurch.
So we played again. It's rather unusual for our group to get together
so soon - my players have families, jobs, lives and one is a traveling
musician - and we often go a month or three between sessions. But this
time we got together again a mere few weeks after the last game (I'd
like to believe this was because the campaign was so compelling that
it drew them in again like moths to a flame). Having had my adventure
derailed last time, I had quickly prepared a "mini-adventure" that
would then feed into the next part of the campaign; although done in a
rush I felt it was of some quality and was looking forward to some of
the developments caused by the party's unexpected behavior.
So of course, the players didn't do any of that.
Instead, upon reaching the nearest small trade-village, they decided
to go back to the haunted hamlet they had just so-recently vacated.
Cracking open their own wallets, they paid out to re-equip themselves
and hired a few hirelings and then immediately headed back. "We were
given a mission," they explained. "In this world, it's influence and
who you know that gets you places, far more than money, and
disappointing one of the most important people in the region,"
referring to the general who sent them on the mission, "is not a smart
career move". Also, "whatever it is in the town that was killing
people - whether it was a disease or ghost - was potentially a threat
to their own lives and livelihood." Thus, they said, their return was
perfectly in character, being done out of self-interest rather than
pure idealistic heroism. I couldn't argue the case.
We didn't finish the original adventure this time either, partly
because our session was cut-short by the needs of real-life, partly
because the resolving the detour ate into our playing time, but mostly
because I was unprepared for them to return and had to rapidly shift
gears. The whole tone of the adventure changed; originally it was a
very spooky mystery, with the PCs isolated and feeling powerless. But
having returned on their own volition the characters were more in
charge. Still, we got a fair bit into the second half of the quest and
the heroes now have a good grasp not only as to the possible cause of
the danger, but also its solution. When we next play, they'll start
their delve into the final dungeon (most of this session was just
FINDING the entrance to said dungeon) and they'll confront the big
bad.
I'm thinking of writing in some new twists to the quest; maybe they
big bad has flown the coop already, or something like that. But then
again, maybe not; it seems an unfair reward to players who went out of
their way to get /back on track/. But whatever I do, I'm pretty sure
the players will knock my plans for a loop again.
It's what they do.
I can't tell you the number of times I've run with parties that had
their asses handed to them barely escaping, in a couple times with only
one survivor who managed to retrieve enough to get most or all of them
back to the living, who then with preparation and knowledge of exactly
what they were facing returned and took care of it like a boss.

- Justisaur
Spalls Hurgenson
2017-07-15 13:55:53 UTC
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Post by Justisaur
I can't tell you the number of times I've run with parties that had
their asses handed to them barely escaping, in a couple times with only
one survivor who managed to retrieve enough to get most or all of them
back to the living, who then with preparation and knowledge of exactly
what they were facing returned and took care of it like a boss.
It's not the retreat that is so infuriating; that's just
wisdom-in-action. I've had players attempt that as well. It's that
these players gave up on the adventure (argh!) and then rubbed salt in
my wounds by taking it up again by returning to it after a I planned a
replacement (double-argh!). Players; ya gotta love 'em and ya gotta
hate 'em, but you never ever trust 'em ;-)

Also, retreat-and-return rarely works as well as the players hope - in
a low-magic campaign, ressurection isn't really an option and healing
takes an inordinate amount of time. Furthermore, the bad-guy never is
just sitting in his dungeon waiting for another attack; he's either
relocated, or moved on with his Evil Plans, or sent out his goons to
counter-attack the PCs. Certainly the gap in the defenses that let in
the PCs in the first place is going to be plugged. Just getting out is
often a challenge too, since dungeons are never static either; the old
"breach-and-clear" doesn't work when the enemy has an army and the
party is just a small band. The party more often than not find their
way of retreat blocked. I've always seen dungeon crawls more as quick
raids (for treasure, or assassination) than for completely clearing
out all the bad-guys (unless the party hires an army for themselves,
but then the raid usually costs more than they'll get from the
dungeon).

Not that all this takes retreat off the table; if anything, it makes
it an even more important option. But it is never an easy out for the
party. Players should utilize it long before the inevitable
last-man-standing.


(As an aside, surrender is also an important option, but sadly one
under-utilized in most campaigns. It is often seen as signing one's
own death sentence because villains are seen as heartless and evil and
thus it is believed that they will slay any surrendered PCs out of
hand. I try to counter this problem in my own campaign by having
monsters retreat and surrender whenever things start getting too hairy
for them and - just as importantly - having most monsters honor any
surrender terms, which helpfully sets an example for the players.

Thus, when the odds are turned against them, the players aren't as
fearful of giving themselves up into enemy hands because they know
that - while it won't be without cost - they won't necessarily lose
their lives. The PCs might lose most of their loot and gear but in a
low-magic campaign, this isn't as big a loss as might seem; you don't
have to worry about losing your +5 Holy Avenger because you don't HAVE
a +5 Holy Avenger, just a common long sword. Surrender might result in
imprisonment - which is good, because I've yet to meet a player who
doesnt' love a good prison breakout scenario - or the villain may just
release the PCs after forcing some sort of oath for them not to attack
him again or similar. Either way, it makes for some great
role-playing)


So "retreat" works, but players should find the "return" so
complicated as to be unwieldy; better to find a new avenue of attack
where their approach isn't expected. Fortunately, I usually take this
sort of thing into account when writing my adventures; it's why the
damn things are usually 60 or 70 pages in length, I need all that
space to try to plan for all inevitabilities. But players being what
they are, you never figure out ALL the options.

Damn annoying, these players; are we sure they are needed for the
game? ;-)
Anonymous Jack
2017-07-17 13:02:39 UTC
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Post by Spalls Hurgenson
(As an aside, surrender is also an important option, but sadly one
under-utilized in most campaigns. It is often seen as signing one's
own death sentence because villains are seen as heartless and evil and
thus it is believed that they will slay any surrendered PCs out of
hand. I try to counter this problem in my own campaign by having
monsters retreat and surrender
Sometime around 1E/2E, I played a fighter in a party with two others who were paladins. Rather than TPKing us when we lost to some evil/evilish enemy, evil enemy noted the paladins' holy symbols and healed us enough to extract promises to leave them alone, then ransomed us back to the paladins' church. Double win for them, they kept all our stuff and gold, then got extra gold from the church.
Spalls Hurgenson
2017-07-18 12:59:31 UTC
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On Mon, 17 Jul 2017 06:02:39 -0700 (PDT), Anonymous Jack
Post by Anonymous Jack
Sometime around 1E/2E, I played a fighter in a party with two others who were paladins. Rather than TPKing us when we lost to some evil/evilish enemy, evil enemy noted the paladins' holy symbols and healed us enough to extract promises to leave them alone, then ransomed us back to the paladins' church. Double win for them, they kept all our stuff and gold, then got extra gold from the church.
It's also a great way for the DM to create recurring enemies without -
you know - having to go to the effort of creating recurring enemies.
The world feels much more alive if the players encounter characters
from previous encounters, especially if they don't seem like planned
encounters that the DM tossed in just to get a neat cameo.

Plus, it leads to interesting adventures that almost write themselves.
In the example you gave, perhapsthe players try to retrieve their
goods from the paladin, all whilst not trying to violate their oath.

As a DM, I love stuff like that; anything which makes my workload
easier ;-)

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