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Tabletop Tuesday: Player Characters Keep It Interesting

D&D Party Planning by CarmenSinekNot long ago, I wrote about how important it is to be able to improvise when running a tabletop roleplaying game, whether the genre is fantasy, sci-fi, or something altogether different. This is because players are, above all, mad creatures who do not listen to either reason or instructions. If there is room in your plot for them to wander aimlessly in the wrong direction, they absolutely will. Having played various roleplaying games over the past ten years, both as a player and a GM, I’ve managed to amass a collection of stories that defy all logic and, as part of my ongoing therapy from the abuse my plots have received at the hands of neglectful players, I am going to share one of the maddest with you.

During a Pathfinder campaign I ran during my university days, I sent the party on a bit of an escort mission. Their task was to transport two elven brothers from point A to point B, which would take them through a reasonable sized city. The name of the city escapes me these many years later, but it was filled with side quests for the party to get involved in. A case of mistaken identity. The revelation of a long-lost relative for one of the PCs. A bit of insight into the nature of their greatest enemy. All were available for them to find and take part in, designed and planned by me to give them a break from the heavy “Save the World” plotline they had found themselves in. And it all would have come together, if it wasn’t for one player.

Bazaar of the Bizarre by Patri BalanovskySee, these brothers the party were transporting were, by their own admission, used to the better things in life. They spent their youth adventuring and had amassed a sizable fortune and intended to use it as foolishly as possible. They insisted on packing enough to ensure they would not have to wear the same clothes or drink the same wine on any two days of the journey, requiring an entire cart to themselves. This did not sit well with Rit, the elven ranger who could not abide by such frivolity. He decided, in his infinite wisdom, to take the brothers’ clothes out of their cart, put it into a pile in an alley between two buildings, and soak it in the brothers’ wine.

Wine that I had described as highly flammable.

Buildings that I had described as primarily wood.

One thing led to another and, after setting the clothes ablaze, Rit quickly found himself faced with a fire he could not extinguish with his current skills. So, being a great adventurer, he did precisely what he did best: he ran away and let someone else deal with it.

After a few minutes, the party (minus Rit who had caused the whole mess) were fleeing from the guards. They used a lightning spell on those who chased on foot and a grease spell to trip the horses of those who were mounted. They were confused as to why they were being blamed for the fire and concerned that their ranger companion was nowhere to be found. Still, they escaped from the commotion with their lives intact and determined to continue on with their mission to save the world.

Mercenary by Alexandr MalexRit, however, was not done. Seeing the chaos that he had caused, he wanted to make amends. Before meeting up with his companions, he crept back into the city to observe the madness he had wrought. Seeing a crowd of people franticly trying to put out the growing fire spreading across the city, he wanted nothing more than to apologise. To express the guilt that he felt at causing so much destruction to innocent lives. He wrote a note saying how he never meant for any of this to happen and that he was sorry. Being a ranger, he knew the best way to deliver the message without risk them attacking him in retaliation.

What follows is a conversation I cannot forget, no matter how hard I try.

Rit’s Player: “I’m going to tie the note to an arrow and fire it into the crowd.”

Me: “… What?”

Rit’s Player: “I’m going to tie the note to an arrow…”

Me: “Okay. I am with you so far.”

Rit’s Player: “…and fire it into the crowd.”

Me: “… What?”

So, having written a note apologising to them, the brave adventurer delivered it via bow, hitting a man who was remarkably confused by the mixed messages he was receiving.

It was at this point that it became clear that I was probably not going to be able to play out any of the side quests I had written. Notes were crumpled. Files were deleted. Players were stared at in stunned silence as the table howled with laughter around me.

The Life of Soth by Ben Wootten and Keith ParkinsonAnd, as frustrated as I was on one level, I was soon laughing along with them. They were my friends, after all, and they were having a great time. Which is the point of gaming, either around the table or on a computer. True, I wasn’t able to use those plot lines for the campaign and needed to improvise for a few weeks while they powered toward the main plot, but I have used them in other campaigns so they were never truly lost. Everyone was having fun, telling a story together about a ragtag group of misfits who tried to save the world. I even used the incident to develop Rit’s character, having his god appear to him and threaten him if he didn’t start thinking before he acted, adding more depth to his story and giving him a search for redemption. It was crazy and mad and remains one of my favourite moments as a gamer.

Got a story of players doing something crazy? Have you done something that left your GM speechless? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook! Here at Fantasy-Faction, we love a good tabletop tale.

Title image by CarmenSinek.

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