I’m working my way through 30 Days of Dungeons and Dragons, and today’s topic is: Craziest In-Game Experience.
Side note: The concerned reader might ask, “Where did day nine go?” Actually, it was D&D session day, and after that, my brain is usually pretty fried. Additionally, the topic of “Favorite PC you’d like to play” is pretty close to my answer for Favorite PC in day eight. Given the chance, and the DM’s permission if it fit the story or setting, I would play a PC of “the good necromancer.” I wrote my thoughts on that concept, as well as a fantasy fiction scene imagining how it might work out.
Now for day ten!
I’ve enjoyed some really lovely groups, with some excellent role-players and a ton of laughter. Most of the crazy in-game moments happen when villains get slaughtered all too easily, or when players come up with insane requests that I can’t help but agree to.
Despite coming up with some prepared events and ideas of what might happen, a DM is often left feeling in the dark until moments play out, then forced to adapt. On the one hand, that can feel like panic, when everyone looks to you asking, “What happens next?” On the other hand, it creates a wild spontaneity, an energy born of impromptu acting, planning, and adjusting.
The collaborative part of tabletop RPGing is a key component to having a great game. Players who can act out a roll of 1 as well as they describe a roll of 20 are a great boon to my already-taxed mind when trying to keep the action going.
We had a moment where our rogue was trying to withhold some information or mislead a suspicious ruler in a city. Two of the players in this group were fans of rolling certain skill checks and then playing out the result of the roll. “It sucks when you come up with a good speech and then you roll a 1 on your diplomacy check. It feels off… so I’d rather roll, and then I can play it well or poorly based on how my character did.”
Any DM will say, “Yes, please, more power to you.”
So he rolls, gets a decent result, and offers a pretty good effort at giving the ruler what she needs without exposing compromising information. However, before I can respond in character, his buddy the fighter says, “I’m gonna help.”
He rolls a 1 and starts laughing. “Uhh… yeah. So…” He turns to his friend and whispers as loud as a normal speaking voice, “SHE’S TOTALLY BUYING IT. YOU SHOULD LIE TO HER.”
I think my first lesson concerning how easily a DM’s plans go off the rails came in the first session I ran. We had our 4th Edition characters ready: a dwarf paladin, a couple elf rangers, a halfling rogue, an eladrin warlord, and a half-elf NPC.
I went with “you’re hired as merchant guards for a caravan, on your way down the road when–Bandits!” That first fight went well and got us a little bit used to the combat rules. Of course, the party wanted to chase down the bandits that got away, and maybe find their hideout.
The dwarf paladin’s player starts up this elaborate plan, being all diplomatic and “let’s see if we can work some arrangements out” and “we come in peace.” He rolls well, and my bandits are suspicious but eventually, the party and the bandits are standing around the campfire under the night sky.
Things seem to be going well, though I’m surprised that the players went with parley as the plan.
“So,” the dwarf’s player declares, “as we reach this agreement… the bandits are all human, right?”
“I attack the fire.”
“It’s night time,” he says. “All of us have darkvision.” (4th Edition was so generous with darkvision.)
“I attack the fire. I want to hit it like a golf swing, just–you know, catching the main logs and throwing the embers up into the bandit leader’s face… but ultimately, I want to scatter the fire to where it’s no longer giving off that light.”
Me: “… roll, I guess.”
Two short rounds of combat later, cue the Final Fantasy victory music, because those bandits literally didn’t see what was coming for them.
And that’s when I learned what I was in for if I was going to keep DMing.
And that’s also when I decided I loved being on that end of the table, behind the screen, in the dark.