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Fear the Well-Meaning

I have come to realize, after yet another D&D session that ended with Kevin holding his head in his hands and moaning as the plot jumped the rails, went down an embankment, and burst into flames, what precisely the problem with our D&D group is.

We mean well.

This is what gets us into trouble.

When there are straightforward bad guys, we kill them. Occasionally we flirt with them and then kill them. We’re complicated people. But the situation is hardly ever straightforward, and if the NPCs say anything—or god forbid, Kevin attempts to provide a little local color—it’s all over. We begin to sympathize. Unless they’re mindless zombies or malicious demons (the paladin belongs to a demonslaying order) or abominations (the druid has issues) we have a bad habit of trying to work out the best possible solution, because damnit, we are all well-meaning, basically decent people. (The rogue has a heart of gold. Really.)

So we rescue the little caged monster because it Looked Sad, and we joined the local adventurer’s co-op and we bend over backwards to make sure that Lawrence, the artificer’s spirit-toad familiar, never finds out that he’s not a real toad, to the point where we started buying ghost-cicadas on a ghost-stick to feed him.

In this most recent extravaganza, we were fighting a wood-woad, and it occurred to me to ask it why it was so angry. Kevin, who had not actually expected us to talk to it—it’s been sending wasps to poison the water supply—summoned up his growly wood-woad voice and said “Uh…humans take water supply! Humans cut trees! Always cutting trees!”

Well. What can you do? Clearly the wood-woad had been wronged!

The paladin wanted to find it a nice new home, the druid thought it was an invasive species and wanted it killed. It came out that it had slain all the local beavers, which was enough to enrage the paladin. We beat on it for awhile. Finally:

PALADIN: Can we ask it to surrender now? Offer it terms?

DRUID: It’s a wood-woad! It…y’know, sure. Fine. See if it’ll accept terms.

PALADIN: (Rolls natural 20 on Diplomacy roll.) Excuse me, Mr. Wood-Woad, sir…if you stop now, no more of your little wasp friends will be hurt, and surely we can work something out where nobody will take your water supply again…?

DRUID: (sighs heavily)

GM: (weeps into hands)

So now we are traveling to an orchard owned by the paladin’s order, with a wood-woad stuffed in a half-barrel full of potting soil, which is tied to the back of an elephant, because the rogue happens to own a wondrous elephant. Y’know. Like you do.

Mind you, being well-meaning also means that we have put several towns to the torch, sowed the fields of one with salt, tied a priest to a bed on at least one occasion and spent much of last week trying to figure out how to burn down the sky. And don’t get us started on orphanages. There is always something evil going on at orphanages. It is better to simply burn them down preemptively before they get all Children of the Corn on you. No good ever comes of sparing the orphanage.

I have been in other campaigns where we did not Mean Well quite so aggressively, and they were not nearly so much fun. On the other hand, since apparently killing the wood-woad was kinda a plot point, Kevin is now scrambling to figure out what to do next, but hey, that’s the GM’s life…

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.


Hysterical! I wanna GM you guys.

...hence the reason why "d&d" always comes out in my head as "drunk & disorderly"..... I once played a pixie. I got stomped to death by a homicidal druid. Next game, I played a druid... who was mistaken by the Pixie Police for another druid who was on the lam for stomping to death an innocent little pixie. Karma isn't just Murphy's cousin, Karma is a thug.

"Karma is a thug" belongs on shirts. :D

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Aww! I would totally play this game. Especially because you have an elephant.

My group is taking bets on how long it will take our DM to recover from last night; wherein the use of the phrase "thermonuclear suppository" saved us from a red dragon with severe brain damage from ravaging our planar yacht.

Don't give ursulav ideas! Worse, this sounds like something gardenwaltz's artificer would do.

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Remind me to mean well next time I get to play D&D. ;)

(actually, last vampires-are-bad-guys game we played, Ted, who was GM, had us so paranoid that when a big bad appeared and spoke in a heavy slavic accent, every one of us, including the pacifist, opened fire as soon as he said "Velkom..."

Ted said "...do you *really* do that?" and we all said HELL YES! and all of Ted's local color was obliterated in a firefight. Which we lost. :))

Running con games with pick-up groups is always an adventure because they can go in such different directions with the same scenario. One extreme was the player who shot a surrendering bad guy "just in case." On the other was the ship crew who took a bit of local color ("Want to buy this extra container of frozen beef?") and were prepared to spend the entire session on finding restaurants to sell that beef to.

Our party has the same problem. We spent two gaming sessions trying to save an turtle that was an island, when the GM thought we'd just kill it in 10-15 minutes and move on. We felt sorry for it and wanted to save it... Oops!

As did my skype game. We would get to the climactic battle with the evil rat-guy who's been making it eternally winter in a local village, and we want to negotiate, and the gm has to surround us with rat minions and have them jump us before we would actually fight him.

When I was GMing the group, I had to throw a small spider child (plus baby spider) out the window, because I was really worried that the party would insist in bringing her along after disarming her, even though she hated us (justifiably, since we'd killed her parents when they attacked us) and would have fought ineffectively the whole way. (Not that I even know what 'the whole way' would entail, because there's a shortage of human towns looking to foster vengeful spider children . . .)

This reminds me of a friend's DnD group. They were a group of well-meaning individuals who, apparently, couldn't seem to avoid burning entire villages anytime they came to the area. It wasn't necessarily their fault, but after a point word of their deeds traveled far and wide and eventually townspeople started to say they couldn't stay there.

"Yes, yes, slay the dragon, but for the love of the gods, please don't enter our town!"

And we're... banned from Argo, everyone....

This reminds me of a game I was GMing online. Let me get the quote (names changed to protect the guilty).

Beth's spouse: How goes the battle?

Beth: They're not battling!

Beth's spouse: What, are they _talking_ _aGAIn_?

I told this to my players.

Player_S _cackles_! "It's all your fault, y'know, Beth. You made the honorable Balseraph our leader, made her give her word of honor about no smiting, and then _turned her into an even more honorable being_. ^_^"

Beth flails. But! But! But! It's Uriel's fault!

Player_S laughs!

Player_S says "([Player_S's character] would, by the way, be VERY HAPPY to fight. ... but suspects the party won't fight unless the dragon strikes first, and considers [NPC 1] and [NPC 2] more worrying right at the moment. Sooooooo. [giggling] We won't fight unless [PC Leader] okays it or the dragon hits first or you poke the angels in the trauma buttons, the dragon isn't hitting... ^_^)"

The dragon would've hit, but they kept TALKING! *bethsob*

On the other hand, the ending we came up with was pretty awesome anyway, so... Take heart, Kevin! Take heart! You can come up with something even better!

Honorable Balseraph? That brings up fond memories of your IN IOU campaign.

Okay, first: You are all doing it right. One of the things I treasured the most in my GMing days was when the players did stuff like that. I ran RuneQuest games set in Glorantha, which meant everybody was morally ambiguous. Kinda like real people. ;)

Second: Kevin, your wood-woad sounds like a plant critter. There are eighty-six gazillion and two ways to rejuvenate a plant critter, from simply regrowing from a seed in its innards to hybridizing it with Jack's magic beans to making it an offshoot of a plant elemental like Swamp Thing to the restorative powers of love or hate or cookies or alfalfa or faerie circles or dragon snot or distilled and thrice-filtered puppy or Christmas Eve snow or Pabst Blue Ribbon. You're the GM, man. Your primary skill, now and always, is to ride with it, think fast, and make 'em know in their hearts you planned it all along.

Oh gods, I remember Glorantha... I got though more characters than playing Paranoia! [note: always sleep with one eye open, and on the Rogue in the party.]

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Laughing so hard I can't breathe now...


There's a reason that when I run games, I don't bother pre-building stories - I build a world and let the players do what they will. Granted, this means players usually find out quickly about cause-and-effect, but I figure that's all for the best, and the games tend to be greatly entertaining even (and often especially) when the players start a children's crusade against mind-control and bed-time.

Yeah.. that's my method.. build a world, stock it with lots of shiny stuff and fun things, let them loose... and shamelessly eavesdrop as the players speculate just what the heck are you plotting and what evil thing are you going to do next.

You'd be surprised at just how little stitching together of loose plot threads you have to do actually... and the number of times the players 'lightbulb' moments of realisation have come just after yours.

A little bit of hand-waving, a lot of frantic improvisation and a really good poker face can get you further than meticulous planning, plotting and careful design..

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I'm not actually LOL'ing, since really there are few instances in which sitting by oneself pealing with laughter is not a sign of mania or worse, but I'm smiling loudly.

I don't do a lot of RPG, but if I did, that is exactly the dynamic I'd get into. The last time I tried, in a game based loosely on our actual skill sets, I lost interest and wandered off to read the host's books. (I was playing with people who would actually kick zombie ass there were a Zombie Apocalypse. I would survive only if the zombies could be charmed by songs or bedtime stories.) Then I wandered back at the end of the game when my team was in shambles, healed the fictional characters with my real-life herbal and first-aid skills and enabled them to win the game, and went back to the paperback shelf.