That One Time


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pemerton

Legend
This was more a misunderstanding than actual malice, but it still sticks in my memory.
This reminded me of a story from decades ago.

I had designed a 30-ish player scenario for our University RPG club. The system was a D&D variant, in which everything needed for a character or creature was on their sheet. The setup was 4 "zones", each with a different theme and set of opponents (the diabolic cathedral zone, the lich zone which I think also had a vampire, etc) and then a central zone that could only be entered after having collected the relevant item from multiple zones (I can't remember the details any better than that). And I'd prepared a big pile of pre-generated PCs. So the idea was that players could drop in over the course of the afternoon, pick up a pre-gen (or grab a new one if their existing character died), enter one of the zones - and then whichever group(s) made it into the central zone would have to cooperate and/or battle one another for the final prize.

Each zone needed its own GM. So I'd recruited the other GMs I needed: two friends, and another guy who I didn't know very well but who was a prominent club member. At the start of the event I briefed them on the set-up, sketched out the details of each zone, and gave them the notes and creature/NPC sheets for their respective zones. And then let them loose.

So it all seemed to be going pretty well. In due course my zone got cleared out, and so was a safe pathway through to the centre for anyone who wanted one. And the same happened in two other zones. Except for the lich zone, which was being GMed by the guy I didn't know very well. And it turned out that instead of using the mechanical details I had given him, he had given the lich a phylactery and was bringing it back to life every time the players killed it, so whoever went into that zone had no hope of getting through to the central area.

The event was still a success - two different parties made it into the central zone, and there was a battle royale between them to determine a final set of winners. But I felt sorry for anyone who spent their afternoon stuck in the never-ending cycle of lich smackdown set up by they guy who couldn't follow simple directions . . .
 

Back in 3.x, my druid had shape-changed into a bird to do some reconnaissance, but I got captured by the villains. So instead of just killing my character or letting me play an NPC (or heck, even telling me to not come to the sessions), the DM had me sit there for more than two 5-hour sessions doing absolutely nothing. And to keep from knowing what was going on with my character (or for my character with them), I had to sit in another room by myself.
Well, you win the thread, but take penalties for actually coming back for a second isolation session.
 


South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Back in 3.x, my druid had shape-changed into a bird to do some reconnaissance, but I got captured by the villains. So instead of just killing my character or letting me play an NPC (or heck, even telling me to not come to the sessions), the DM had me sit there for more than two 5-hour sessions doing absolutely nothing. And to keep from knowing what was going on with my character (or for my character with them), I had to sit in another room by myself.
I agree with JD Smith1: for services like that, you had a right to expect payment. That's just completely nuts.
 



James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
The last time I suffered from "separation anxiety", the DM wanted us each to choose a patron deity from among those in his campaign world- due to the story, we were all outsiders and didn't know much about the world. So one by one, we each got pulled into another room to talk to an Avatar of the Gods. My Dragonborn Fighter felt his ideals aligned with the Dragon King, so I was in and out in like 15 minutes.

Then the last player, my friend Eric, went in. And time passed. And passed. And passed. It got so bad our Druid player up and left. Finally, with almost no time left for the session, the DM and Eric come out. The DM explains that Eric's character was "difficult", and Eric said, his character simply didn't see how serving any of these unknown Gods was necessary. In the end, he was given an ultimatum by the Dark God, Root, who the other Gods hated and feared, and received that God's mark.

It set up a lot of tension in the game, as it turned out Root was opposed to our efforts to save this new world from destruction. Which occasionally led to other incidents of Eric being dragged to another room to receive "instructions". Then, in the final battle, Eric's character sacrificed himself to betray Root, which, you know, bully for him, but it really made me wonder why the DM bothered in the first place.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
but it really made me wonder why the DM bothered in the first place.
For situations like this and where a player sits while waiting to be introduced/gotten back to, I think a lot can get chalked up to the DM not really expecting things to go that way or play out the way they did. In the post I excerpted the quote from, I'd bet the DM didn't expect Eric's character to be so... difficult. And I know, from my own experiences, that managing time can be difficult, particularly when a player (or even multiple players) are taking extra long to accomplish something that I estimated would be over and done relatively quickly.

As an example, I was DMing a session way back in middle school when we were adding a player into an ongoing adventure. There was place just ahead where there were prisoners and inserting a new PC would be a breeze, no kludging the encounter necessary. But the other players were just taking sooooooo loooooooonnnng to actually get there! Nowadays, I'd just say "Let's condense this searching and security a bit so we can get X into the game, OK?"
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Knowing when to condense time is an important tool. I remember a lot of long, dreary sessions of overland travel with random weather and encounters, that quickly settled into "you make camp, bandits attack, you travel a few miles, you make camp, wildlife attacks, you travel a few miles"- simply because the DMG has rules for travel and surely, tracking rations and water means this is important, right?

I usually make it my job to say "no, no it really isn't" by playing with Survival or even something as basic as the Cleric spell list, which, depending on the precise game, can make extreme temperatures, rations, fatigue, and needing to worry about keeping watch a non issue by level 5.

If something isn't important, then it's skippable content.
 

Shadowrun has what I call the hacking problem. In games where it is a completely seperate subsystem there can often be a whole lot of thumb twiddling at the table. Snooze.
I've had the same problem running Star Wars. Fighter pilot PC. Every fight on the ground, the pilot is feeling useless . Every starship combat, everyone else is twiddling their thumbs (except the guy flying the beat-up freighter everyone else travels in). I kept trying to have simultaneous starship/ground combats like the end of Return of the Jedi so everyone had something to do, but jeeeez that wore out my GMing ingenuity after a while. Oh, and our scoundrel-type was a slicer and wanted to spend all his time hacking systems too, just to add to the fun for everyone.

Eventually the pilot got sick of it (after one of my more egregious GMing failures, admittedly) and rolled up a Jedi. Pretyy unsatisfying.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Yeah Star Wars does have "The Guy Who Flies The Ship" problem. Jedi are space wizards, and they can basically do anything if you put the word "Force" in front of it. Force lightning, force healing, force flight, etc..

This makes Force users able to do things beyond normal characters ken and thus, the games fall into one of two metrics: no Jedi, or all Jedi. Anything else is just unbalanced.

And I actually don't care for the "no Jedi solution", because who as a kid watching Star Wars didn't want to be a Jedi?

As for Shadowrun, they have tried various fixes, such as having Deckers operate in real time, but at 10x speed, so there's no split in the action. But it just goes to show why tv and movies opt to make hacking magical, able to get any sort of result as long as you can type on a keyboard fast enough. Real hacking is not so exciting, and even Shadowrun's use of Daemons to make it seem like a dungeon crawl only goes so far.

Hopefully Shadowrun will eventually embrace augmented reality, and allow all characters to adventure within the Matrix in some capacity.
 

Retreater

Legend
One would think that designers would've figured out how to handle these disparate elements by now, some 50 years into the hobby. Like maybe you don't want 3/4ths of your group twiddling their thumbs during a prolonged minigame?
Maybe the solution is to not do mass combat with D&D and instead go to Warhammer for those segments? Or for ship-to-ship combat, resolve those scenes with X-Wing miniatures?
I can't engage all players all the time due to the differences in playstyles and situational distractions, but the system shouldn't work against player engagement based on character design.
(I apologize that this is the bourbon talking.)
 

Maybe the solution is to not do mass combat with D&D and instead go to Warhammer for those segments? Or for ship-to-ship combat, resolve those scenes with X-Wing miniatures?

Yeah, that's a perfectly good solution - if all PCs are pilots. But they're often not. Movie characters have the advantage of scriptwriters on their side, so they can be good at everything. PCs in RPGs tend more towards specialisation. And in the movie nobody cares if I dunno, Leia fades into the background for one combat scene. But in a game, that scene might be the majority of the session and Leia's player is sitting around rolling their eyes for three hours.

And conversely, you have big climactic lightsaber duels. This should be the Jedi PCs big moment to shine, right? So what does the pilot and the scoundrel PCs do while this is going on? The movies always separate people at climactic moments - the jedi is swordfighting someone, the pilot is dogfighting overhead, and rebel soldiers etc are making some daring infiltration or sabotage raid. Everyone's doing their thing, nobody's sidelined. But that's a very complex setup and you simply can't come up with a reason for it to happen in even a majority of the many, many, many combats in an average campaign. It's just really hard work.
 

Troupe play is one way around this problem. I first encountered playing WEG Star Wars... What was the campaign called... (Edge of Empire? Nah.) Anyway, each player got one bridge character, one away-team character, and one fighter pilot. One of your characters was experienced, one was average, and one was a mook. Your choice as to which was which. It worked well. Depending on the scene you might be playing the star or you might be playing a support character, but you always had something to do.

But I'm in danger of turning this into a thread about useful hints and tips. Not why I'm here. I'm here for stories of terrible games.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I think the best way is to be open to your players suggestions on how they might interact. I have an experience from a Star Wars: Saga game along these lines. I was a Soldier but told everyone I was a Medic. Early in the campaign, I could offer support fire, but my main role was to wander up to allies while in a firefight and offer them medkits to patch them up. I was specialized in doing the one thing nobody does- wear armor. But as a Duros, I was also a good pilot, so you can guess what I did most of the time.

As the game went on, my role became more and more marginalized. Force Healing was just better than my skills, and my heavy blaster carbine was useless against enemy Force Adepts. In the last session, we were in the hanger of a starship and a Sith Inquisitor rolled up, backed by battle droids.

The Force using characters were fighting off waves of enemies trying to deal with Darth Jerkwad, and I was like, wait...you said we're in a hangar?

"Uh, yeah, there's a lot of these ships which were the direct ancestor of the X-Wing (this was pre-A New Hope)."

"I get in one!"

The GM blinked and said...okayyy.

"I use my hacking skills to disengage the bay locks and I start the engines."

The GM, realizing what my plan was, started looking up stats.

Needless to say, I was able to save the day armed with turbolasers. And that's the kind of cinematic, outside the box thinking you need, otherwise, yeah. Just roll Jedi or something.

EDIT: this really isn't a thread for terrible games, though I don't mind if that's what people want to post, lol. The intent was more to showcase how otherwise great games have those moments where everything goes wrong through no fault of your own, and you can't even blame the dice. Victim of no information? Bad mechanics? A DM flubbing a ruling? A player suddenly saying "hey, hold my healing potion!" and everything circles the drain?

Even a mechanic that unexpectedly turns a great game into a slog, like Decking in Shadowrun, or "Death Spiral" mechanics that, once you start taking damage, quickly lead you to taking more damage...
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Troupe play is one way around this problem. I first encountered playing WEG Star Wars... What was the campaign called... (Edge of Empire? Nah.) Anyway, each player got one bridge character, one away-team character, and one fighter pilot. One of your characters was experienced, one was average, and one was a mook. Your choice as to which was which. It worked well. Depending on the scene you might be playing the star or you might be playing a support character, but you always had something to do.

But I'm in danger of turning this into a thread about useful hints and tips. Not why I'm here. I'm here for stories of terrible games.
Oh I love that!
 


Oh I love that!

It was a published campaign... Cannot for the life of me remember the name of it just now. But it was a lovely boxed set with all the mod cons (modern for mid-90s.) You could use pregen characters if you liked, they all came with a cool little card with character art. I remember the hotshot pilot I took looked like Nicole Kidman. And, IIRC, there were no Jedi.
 

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