Please Just Play the Adventure (One Shots)

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This is very common. You see it all the time with "stranger" games. A lot of players don't "get" how to play the game from the meta side and a lot of players think an RPG is "just do dumb random stuff with an audience".

It's bad enough the players that don't "get it", as they likely never will. You can try to explain to them, "just follow the hook", but they will be clueless.
Or, as I probably would have in the presented scenario, the players think the guy in the desert is just a diversion or red herring designed to distract from the real adventure (very much possible in a tournament setting, which I realize this wasn't). Chances are were I a player I'd have asked him if there was a reward for his capture... :)
It is easy enough to Player Proof a one shot pick up game. First off trap the Characters on a Big Old Railroad. So the hook is a bit more of a harpoon. Don't have a hook flop around and wait for the players....have the harpoon strike right through them. In general, don't waste time with getting the players to take a job or help an NPC......just go right to force. And greed always works too....offer the player an artifact of their choice...you, know to catch a 1st level goblin bandit. Not like it matters as it's a one shot.

Then just make sure you tweak other things. Like the rich guy is.....wait for it....a ghost(or dragon, or demon). Yup, he looks normal enough, but he is Casper's best pal. That way no low level characters can hurt him.

Then you can have a normal game, no matter what the players do.
In-game physical constraints are useful. Here the PCs were in an open desert and thus could go anywhere and do anything, which makes it hard to get them to follow the breadcrumbs. Dungeon crawls where the PCs start already at the entrance to the dungeon work better here.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In my Experience, 9 times out of 10 players do dumb random stuff are just jerks. When most players get frustrated, they most often just stop playing the game.

Somehow, too many players get the wacky idea that they can do dumb random stuff in an RPG.
Better than doing dumb random stuff in real life. Dumb random stuff is what RPGs are made for! :)
One of the all time classics is too many players think pretending to drink in a tavern is the coolest thing to do. And they will waste hours of game time pretending to drink.
Those are sorry players indeed if they're only pretending to drink... :)
 

MarkB

Legend
Billy was a dandy who was quite proud of cutting a dashing figure in his well tailored clothing and did not want to dress like a miner. I didn't think it was odd that the PCs wanted to disguise him, I thought it was odd that they so quickly resorted to violence when Billy balked at changing his clothes. And while I found this part odd, it wasn't all that annoying because at least they were engaged with the adventure at this time.
Oh wow, the guy's on the run and he's more concerned about looking good than staying alive? Yeah, he's getting shot.

When the players are already on an enforced escort mission, already saddled with someone they don't know, who they have to protect for no reason other than that he assures them that he's innocent and the people chasing him are bad, the last thing you want to do is make him in any way annoying or unlikeable. Because as far as the players are concerned, this guy's basically already ruining their perfectly nice day just by existing.
Admittedly, I have an expectation that PCs are going to be one of the goods guys. Not necessary perfect, mind you, but the type of people who will help others, or, at the very least, aren't prone to threatening to murder someone who has done no harm to them. That's on me.
Yeah, one thing you learn running and playing con games is that, while it's a default assumption in many systems, people who play role-playing games aren't always interested in playing the role of a hero.

When you're running a one-shot at a convention or a Free RPG Day you can't assume that the people you're going to get are all experienced players who've had a wide range of experiences with a wide range of people. You're going to get straight-up newbies, you'll get people who've only ever played with one group and who've grown comfortable with specific ways of doing things, you'll get people who go to conventions because they like role-playing but for one reason or another people don't like playing with them.

And, unfortunately, you'll get the people for whom this is a zero-stakes situation because they're at a table with a bunch of strangers they'll never see again, so they'll feel free to indulge their worst impulses and just do whatever seems fun in the moment, and if that means the entire game goes sideways to the frustration of everyone involved, so what? At worst it's only a few hours out of their lives.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Your players, however, did. Because that's what they were started with. You know the hook is the guy with the dead horse. The players don't. And this is a perennial problem: what's obvious to the referee is not obvious to the players. When you think it's obvious, make it about 10x more obvious, then it will be obvious to the players.
We-as-players once did this to our DM in a regular campaign - I forget what our original goal was (to get somewhere and-or find something I think) in some hills but we'd either steered ourselves or been steered up a side valley where the DM had two or three potential adventures lined up for us.

We successfully a) found and b) proceeded to ignore every hook he threw out. He thought they were obvious; we thought they were irrelevant, and so ended up going back to plan A and following up on the original goal (and the subsequent adventure there would have been hella less nasty had we hit the prelim's first and had some more gear and-or another level under our belts...).
 

aramis erak

Legend
Better than doing dumb random stuff in real life. Dumb random stuff is what RPGs are made for! :)
NOW you tell me! About 30 years too late...
Those are sorry players indeed if they're only pretending to drink... :)
I've not seen an alcoholic beverage at game in some time... over 3 years, I think. I don't find it beneficial for gaming,

But some of the strange concoctions the kids bring to the table I'd die from drinking... (Allergies....)
 

Reynard

Legend
Setting the scene is not the same thing as presenting the hook.

"You've been on the Oregon Trail for nigh on 6 weeks now, but heavy snow in the Rockies has stopped you cold. One morning you wake to the Johnson's tent torn assunder and all members of that family missing."

No reasonable person is going to interpret the adventure hook as "continue on to Oregon" for a one shot or con game.

That said I do think OP should have hard sold the actual hook with "You think he is sleeping at first but soon realize he looks exhausted and travel worn. His horse was definitely ridden to death. Suddenly, the low thunder-rumble of hooves can be heard and you see a fast approaching dust cloud on the road ahead." At that point, it's incumbent on players to bite the hook.

What I occasionally find frustrating when running con games is the rare player that is so intent on their immersive experience that they decide to "act in character" instead of bite the hook. Most of the time they aren't actually trying to derail the game, they just imagine their character as the Reluctant Hero that has to get dragged into the action. Usually another player at the table recognizes this and rolls with the trope and things work out fine. Rarely, I have to just narrate forward and be the one to drag the player along. I have never had this player stop the game by refusing the call at that point.
 
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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
There's nothing wrong with 'plot' in a general sense (because that could really describe the connection of any two things the game, really, or any kind of cause and effect), and especially not for a one shot, which is what actually being discussed here. In general, I never plan for a game where X needs to happen or everything else goes bye-bye though, which is I think what some posters mean by 'plot' here.. I think we've mostly established that that can be problematic. For a one shot though, especially one played with strangers, you probably need strong sign posts to help the players navigate the scenario, and a good idea of what happens when they don't. That's not the same as 'the players must do X to continue though'.

A mistake I see a lot there is in scenarios that assume that only PC actions change things or set events on motion. What a silly idea. The PCs should have a lot of agency to influence, alter, and mitigate events, but they aren't the sole cause of them. As a mostly-GM, I find that as long as I have a good sense of what happens in either event of a PC choice then I can usually make the consequences work both ways. What I always try to do is make the consequences for PC choices appropriate and interesting.

To take an example from upstream, where a PC pulls a knife on an NPC to gain compliance, there all sorts of perfectly appropriate consequences there that don't match the stated PC goal. If that PC was doing some legit RP stuff, like maybe they are playing the heavy and a little light intimidation is in character, cool (although fingering the knife handle would have been more than enough there IMO). On the other hand, in the many instances where that could just me bad RP and really more of a player tantrum than actual RP, I might lean a lean harder into the consequences. Maybe the NPC screams loudly in fright, or screams and runs away (just to pick an example). It's tough to adjudicate in a vacuum, but what I'm getting at is that my job as GM (as I see it) is not to enable the players, but rather to fairly adjudicate their choices (mechanically or not) in terms of the current fictional state. So if a player makes poor decisions, or doesn't think things through, they are probably going to be disappointed in the results.

That said, I am also completely fine going the same way as @FitzTheRuke and telling players in a stranger game to shape up or ship out. I'd rather boot someone than let them ruin things for everyone else. I'm a GM, not a babysitter or an edgelord enabler.
 



MGibster

Legend
Because they didn't know that was "the adventure." That's the point.
If they had never played an RPG before I might entertain that idea. But I have a real hard time believing any of them thought to themselves, "I bet this thing that the GM brought to our attention and we've spent the last 10 minutes discussing has nothing to do with the adventure." I guess it's within the realm of possibility, but I find that very unlikely. Especially since the PCs were interested, until one of them got the idea of just leaving the rider behind, another jumped onboard, and the rest of the players were just willing to go with the flow until they ultimately decided just to wake the guy up and take him then and there. Ultimately they took the hook, so they must have been aware that this was the adventure.
If you give them a choice, they might choose "wrong"...so don't give them a choice if they don't actually have one. If they have to turn left, don't give them the option to turn right.
It's painfully obvious to me that you're correct.
Or, as I probably would have in the presented scenario, the players think the guy in the desert is just a diversion or red herring designed to distract from the real adventure (very much possible in a tournament setting, which I realize this wasn't).
That's the kind of play I think of as an attempt to beat the scenario instead of playing it. It's one thing if the character has an in game reason to think this is a red herring, but sometimes a player just comes to that conclusion based on what they expect from the scenario.
That said I do think OP should have hard sold the actual hook with "You think he is sleeping at first but soon realize he looks exhausted and travel worn. His horse was definitely ridden to death. Suddenly, the low thunder-rumble of hooves can be heard and you see a fast approaching dust cloud on the road ahead." At that point, it's incumbent on players to bite the hook.
I'm not sure they would have bitten. I think the hunters would have showed up, the PCs would have said "you have have him," and that would have been the end of the scenario.

What I occasionally find frustrating when running con games is the rare player that is so intent on their immersive experience that they decide to "act in character" instead of bite the hook. Most of the time they aren't actually trying to derail the game, they just imagine their character as the Reluctant Hero that has to get dragged into the action.
That's what I think was happening here. None of the players were jerks, and I didn't get the impression that they were trying to get their fun by kicking down the sandcastle. These weren't bad people.
 

MGibster

Legend
And to break the 4th wall when necessary. In a con game I think it's acceptable to say "this is the adventure, and I don't have time to prep something else."
Honestly, this is something I really need to work on in general. I got fairly good at it when running Gumshoe games where I would flat out tell players that they have found every clue necessary to move on to the next scene. And if they weren't sure what clue that was, I'd go over the clues with them. This was much preferable to playing out a scene for an extra 20 minutes when nothing else useful could be earned.
 


MGibster

Legend
And once again, I'm in awe of the variety of opinions we have about this situation and I don't mean that in a bad way. We're all influenced by our own experience and preferences when it comes to gaming. It does remind me that while its easy to find other gamers, it's much harder to find a group of people you're compatible with.
 


payn

Legend
Honestly, this is something I really need to work on in general. I got fairly good at it when running Gumshoe games where I would flat out tell players that they have found every clue necessary to move on to the next scene. And if they weren't sure what clue that was, I'd go over the clues with them. This was much preferable to playing out a scene for an extra 20 minutes when nothing else useful could be earned.
Yeap, during a campaign a few of these moments will come up. There is a point the players have turned every stone and got everything they can. Some players are just hoarders when it comes to planning and preparing for an adventure. That is fine in a campaign where time is copious, but a con game is premium in supply. You may have to hit that neon signage a lot sooner than later.
 


MGibster

Legend
If there is only one choice that a GM wants the players to make, why frame a situation that implies there is more than one feasible choice? What is the point of pretending the players are free to have their PCs do a range of things, when there is one specific thing they're meant to be doing?
Isn't it always going to be the case that the character are presented with a "choice" that isn't really a choice? I could start the adventure with the characters standing at the entrance to a dungeon and tell them that they've been tasked with finding the Mobile of Baby Vecna, but if they don't "choose" to walk through the front door there's no adventure.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Isn't it always going to be the case that the character are presented with a "choice" that isn't really a choice? I could start the adventure with the characters standing at the entrance to a dungeon and tell them that they've been tasked with finding the Mobile of Baby Vecna, but if they don't "choose" to walk through the front door there's no adventure.
In that's even a vague concern just start them in the dungeon, with a monster popping out of a box of crackerjacks or whatever. Imminent death has a marvelous way of focusing the mind.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
In my experience (as both a player and a DM, and only playing with established groups of friends), the issue arises when one or more of the players try to outsmart the DM and "beat" the game. I've been guilty of it myself, particularly when I get carried with my own perceived cleverness, and I know it annoys whoever is the DM.
In my personal game, this is part of the fun, but I would never do it in a convention game. It is similar to how many of my closest friends and I "rib" each other in a manner that would be very insulting in nearly any other context. In my home games, I don't mind my players trying the "beat" my game or when they try to "stump" me by asking for names and back stories on inconsequential NPCs. The Legend Lore spell is a particularly useful stump-the-GM tool that players can gleefully abuse. For the last four years my games are very much sandboxes and I do like to improvise. I'm not great at improvising but some of the best things in my current campaign have come out of poor improvising that started with an off-the-cuff and not very original (or downright dumb or silly) NPC who eventually evolves into an endearing reoccurring character.

But it is all in good fun with trusted friends. There are certainly times where I have had to say "okay guys, if you want to do that or go there, we'll need to continue next session." But that happens less and less, because I'm more comfortable in going "off VTT" and shifting to theater of the mind and making things up off the cuff. This is much more difficult in a convention setting. Even if the GM is ready and willing to do this, other players are likely going to be upset because they signed up for a specific adventure.

For me the best convention games for D&D-like games are where everyone is clear on where they need to go and what the object is and where the location is fairly confined, but where there the party has full reign within that confined area to explore and come up with their own solutions, rather than a specific string of scenes they must go through. The challenge is ensuring the session can wrap-up in a satisfactory manner within the time slot and that most of the allocated time is used. That requires a GM who is comfortable adding or removing challenges and encounters based on the party's progress. Not everyone is comfortable with that.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Isn't it always going to be the case that the character are presented with a "choice" that isn't really a choice? I could start the adventure with the characters standing at the entrance to a dungeon and tell them that they've been tasked with finding the Mobile of Baby Vecna, but if they don't "choose" to walk through the front door there's no adventure.
At least then they don't have the excuse that they were being clueless about the nature of the adventure hook. This couldn't be a failure of hook identification, this is outright and explicit denial to follow the hook.
 

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