For the past few months I have been running a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign every Tuesday night. It started as a zero-level funnel and lead into the continuing adventures of a group we have come to know as, “The Murder Cult.” Think Murder Hobos with fewer morals. I know…how could anyone enjoy that?
Well we have come to love our Tuesday night sessions. They are only a couple of hours long each, and up to now, are completely a sandbox. As the GM I provide a few plot hooks here and there and my group (which includes RPDNA’s co-host Ed) takes the story to interesting and fun places. The game isn’t serious, but has a deep and rich campaign history. I’ve become quite proud of it.
But last night’s game turned into a fun session into a chaotic beast.
I really don’t know how to put into words what happened. I don’t want to bore you with too many details so I will do my best to give you context.
The adventurers found themselves on the elemental plane of water. After arriving a player, who is new to the group, interrupted my introduction and asked if he could spot land. I had him roll and he was successful which led to this exchange:
Me: You look through a spyglass and off the starboard side of the ship you see what looks to be a collection of buildings. You also se…
New Player: This is a plane of water there is no land, what are the building standing upon?
Me: Well from this distance you cannot tell. But you can see structures for sure.
NP: Are they built on a platform?
Me: Well if you sail closer you can…
NP: Are they ships?
Me: As I said, you are at quite a distance. If you wish the ship can get clos…
NP: So they are built on rock?
This went on for a few minutes until someone else suggested they sail closer to inspect this interesting grouping of structures.
After arriving on this flotilla of ships that were crafted together to build a small town it devolved from there. Usually the players will see what plot hooks I come up with or explore something unusual. But either the new player or something else changed and every plot hook was explored for about thirty minutes then dropped. At one point in the game the players were trying to get information from an NPC that greeted them on the dock. Just as the NPC was about to answer one question someone else (to be fair it was the new player) would jump in and ask a different question. I kid you not when I say the NPC was answering a question about why the townspeople didn’t come out during the daytime when he was interrupted and asked what the currents were like under the town.
From there a perfect storm of confusing actions and interruptions created a scene I hadn’t encountered in a group of great gamers such as this. Some of the players just checked out completely, some tried to steer the party’s actions back towards some semblance of story. And a couple competed for who could ask any given NPC the most random question they could.
About an hour and half into the game I considered stopping things. But the sick part of my mind wanted to see what would happen. Things didn’t get any better. I tried to force action by having an assassin attack the party. For a while they jumped at the chance to do something. But after capturing the assassin and asking if he had any family in the area, I decided this line of story was going no where. I ended the game 30 minutes early and suggested next week we come back and try again.
Some of the players stayed after the game to debrief. No one knew what happened. Most tried to assure me that I had come up with interesting ideas and hooks, but they couldn’t identify what went wrong. To be fair I am partially to blame, managing a table is one of the GM’s duties and I could have been better at that last night.
I think the new player had troubles fitting in. It happens. Coming in cold to a new group can cause odd outcomes if you don’t ease yourself into the dynamic all around you. Plus the player in question wanted answers to mysteries that I placed in front of him by simply asking me, the GM, what was up. Which leads into a discussion that sometimes you have to play the game to get the answers you want. This also may lead into a great topic for the show, managing the table as a GM or player.
Lucky for me I have a great group of gamers on Tuesday nights. They all agreed they wanted to come back next week and do a mental reset. It has been agreed that I will set the game in a more traditional dungeon setting. And it was agreed everyone would help manage the table as a group. All-in-all the outcome was positive, which is great!