Saturday, October 1, 2016

That One Time A Sorceress, A Rogue, and A Bard Broke The Game

I've told gaming stories about a guy named Rob before. Most notably on this blog were the tales That One Time I Got A Job Offer From A Sith Lord, and the ever-popular That One Time A Cheating Player Got His Comeuppance Via A Cyclops. This week I'd like to share another of the amusing memories I have from this period of my gaming life. A time when we had a simple party of a bard, a sorceress, and a rogue, and we ended up completely breaking our DM's brain.

To The Island of Treasure! No, I've Never Heard of That Book

And besides, this game is completely different!
We were between games one day, when Rob got hold of me and a few of my friends and said hey, who wants to start a new 3.5 campaign? Nothing huge, just a simple level one to level five game. Nice and crunchy, and it shouldn't take more than a few months. Oh, and just to sweeten the pot, it's going to be a game that starts at sea, since we've been playing around so much in underground dungeons, and fantasy forests.

We were definitely intrigued.

Because of the unusual setting and introduction, we decided to pick character classes who can function with little to no armor, who have a lot of skills (to justify their place on a voyage that isn't a pirate ship), and who are the kind of free-wheeling adventure lovers who would sign up to crew a ship knowing little to nothing about its destination.

As the title no doubt told you we had a sorceress (with a bat familiar who constantly nagged at her), an incorrigible rogue (who found being at sea with a mostly male crew to be limiting, but by no means free of opportunity), and a bard (who was as work shy as they come). We go through a day or so of average ship life, and then in the late evening the ship is smashed on some rocks. Our three PCs snatch everything of value they can find (food and water mostly, though there was a case of magic weapons in the captain's quarters that came with us), and make for the life boats. We get two of them, tie them together with some rope, improvise a sail, and make our way out into the ocean, hoping for the best.

An Island Paradise... What Are We Doing Here, Again?

After a series of hot days and failed Fortitude saves, we all pass out on the sea, and wake the hell up on an island paradise. White beaches, lush jungles, and coconuts aplenty. So the first thing we do is drag ourselves, and out boats, ashore to figure out what tools we managed to salvage, and what the hell we're doing here.

All right... what the hell was in that case?
The first thing we checked was food and water. We had enough rations to get us through a day or so, and that was a good start. We had cantrips aplenty, along with some basic armaments and weapons. As well as some sail cloth, a frost longsword, a flaming greatax, and a few enchanted daggers. So, since we were not actively being menaced by anything, we set up a tent with the sailcloth, drove the magic daggers into the stone to hold it in place, and since none of us could wield the longsword, we used it (along with prestidigitation) to create some air conditioning and cool drink storage. The sorceress's handy familiar found some kind of fruit that fermented on the vine (booze apples, my bard named them), and I managed to bring down a deer with my crossbow. We cooked steaks on the greatax, and by the end of the night we were fed, watered, and otherwise comfortable.

The problem was that we still didn't know what the hell we were supposed to be on this island for.

Beware Letting Scoundrels Into Your Sandbox

The difficulty Rob had was that he had never told us about the lost treasure the ship's captains had been hoping to find. We had no map, and no inkling that's what we were supposed to be doing. There were no bands of pirates, or crazed men who'd been marooned on the island in years past, and with our skills and magic, surviving was proving to be a piece of cake. So our plan was to build a ship, sail back the way we'd come, and then bring an expedition here to build a tropical retreat. We could have some folks manage it for us, and rake in the cash from bored nobles looking for some adventure.

All we need are some trees... hand me that greatax!
When he realized we were totally serious about this plan, and had no intention of combing this island for treasure, he started throwing bizarre challenges at us. One was an Easter Island style statue which was clearly supposed to be a serious encounter (it was also based off the heads featured in Night at The Museum). Instead of fighting it, though, we bribed it with booze apples, praise, and the promise of exploration. That was when we acquired a big head with little feet, a tireless constitution, and an impossible Strength modifier. So we all climbed aboard, making hammocks to swing from front and back while someone sat atop him, and we were shepherded up the mountains.

That was around the time the captains (who had also survived the ship's sinking) came back into the game. Apparently they had scuttled the ship, planning on using the magic items in the island's treasure to get out. It was also made clear to us they were quite unfriendly. While he was not a fighter, our new stone friend was a natural when it came to snowball wars. So after we pelted him for a time, he made a massive ball of snow, ice, and rock, and hurled it. It missed us, bounced down the mountain, and flattened the captains' camp site. We declared him the winner, and celebrated with more goodies.

And Then it Just Sort of Petered Out...

There were one or two sessions after that, but the game sort of fizzled out. Despite our unconventional victories, we were never awarded XP, or gained any levels. We were never set upon by tribes of cannibal halflings who wanted to eat us, nor did we discover any strange or unusual cults. There were no giant gorillas, no Benjamin Gunn stand-in to tell us about the treasure and the challenges surrounding it. Not even a battle with pirates to get passage off the island, and back to civilization. It just sort of... fell apart.

As all the really fun games seem to, for some reason.
There are several lessons I learned in this game, though. First and foremost is that unconventional parties, and unusual solutions to problems, can really break the monotony of dungeon crawls and endless battles. Party cohesion (even if it's three directionless hedonists who are looking for the easy way out of any perilous situations) is also the key to victory.

Most important, though? A DM needs to be able to provide challenges, and to provide proper motivation to the party if he wants them to go down a particular path. Whether you want them to escape a dungeon, fight the monsters, or go after the treasure, you need to make sure that information is conveyed. Assuming that players are going to think the same way you are, and automatically go after the goals you have for them, is the fastest way for your game to go completely off the rails, and to have vacation resorts build on what was supposed to be the Isle of Peril.

That's all for this week's Table Talk feature. Next time, though, I should have something a little more thrilling. Or a lot more groan-worthy, if nothing else. If you'd like to support Improved Initiative, then all you have to do is stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, then what are you waiting for?


  1. That was very helpful. Honestly I have started a new game and this sort of is exactly what is happening. No one has spoken to any of the NPC's who know whats going on and now off to do something that is fun and interesting to them but not how I envisioned things going. So thanks for the good advice.

  2. My friend Linda started a campaign where we were all duped into joining a goblin-run guild that we contractually couldn't leave, and basically treated us as slave labor. Her plot was supposed to take us down a path that involved guild faction warfare with us caught in the middle. What ended up happening was, we got quickly fed up with our bosses and staged a three-way war between our guild, the local dark elf mafia, and an insane local lord. All three parties slayed each other, we burned our contracts and skedaddled. Our killing spree in the woods also started local rumors about werewolves being afoot, and it took us the whole session to realize that we were the "werewolves" they spoke of. It was all pretty hysterical and one of the best games I ever played. If I remembered enough concrete details I'd add it to my own list of RPG tales on my website.