This DM was, by all accounts, a major tool. The sort of guy who would purposefully make a game strewn with things like a six-sided die that only had 5 sides, dealing 10 sanity damage to anyone who saw it. No save, no story, no explanation, not part of the ongoing story, just screw you, that's why.
|And unto this fuckery came a crazy old man, with a gleam in his eye, and a blunt in his hand.|
But a lot of folks miss the point of this story. It's not a tale about how a player stuck it to a bad DM. It's a story about how bad DMs will allow players to ride roughshod over them, and create an avalanche of ridiculousness that completely derails anything you were actually trying to do. And that, if you want to retain control of your game, you need to learn when you say yes, and when to say no, not today.
Henderson Never Should Have Passed Muster
A good DM should work with their players to bring a character that fits the game, and that the player actually wants to pilot for the game. However, out of the gate, Henderson should have been rejected. The detailed backstory is great, but the fact that it was used as a lever to justify things that didn't fit the game or setting is a big red flag that a competent DM would have said no to, and negotiated with the player to find some sort of middle ground.
|Red flags EVERYWHERE!|
Even if the wooge that Henderson had out of the gate was justified, the character's behavior should have been enough to get him killed. As a good example, there was a particular scene where Henderson was driving a truck, with a blunt in his hand. Two underaged characters were having sex in the back seat of his truck. Two cops, who'd pulled him over, were on the scene. Henderson, rather than being persuasive and logical, smarted off to the cops.
The proper reaction to this scene is not for the NPCs to fuck off because Henderson's character rolled well. The proper reaction is for the cops to, at the very least, demand to see everyone's ID, and to radio it back into the station. With the attitude Henderson had taken, and the in-plain-sight breaches of the legal code in a world as dark and awful as the setting for Call of Cthulhu, what should have happened is the cops arrested him, or called in back-up to arrest him. And if Henderson escalated? Well, that's how your PC ends up getting shot and killed, or becoming an incarcerated felon in a three-strikes state. The player now has to come up with a new investigator to play.
A good DM would have known that. Because every game makes it clear that you can't accomplish certain tasks, no matter what you roll. You can't bluff someone to believe the sky is acid green when they can look up and clearly see that it's blue. You can't jump to the moon, whether or not you roll a natural 20 on the check. And when you're playing in a dark, modern setting full of cosmic horror, you are not some big-dick adventurer who slaps people aside with a single swing of their hips. You're just a guy, same as any other guy. A bullet is just as fatal to a new PC as it is to one who's been around since the campaign got started in CoC.
Keep The Tone, And Apply The Consequences
I said this way back in Let Them Reap What They Sow (Actions and Consequences For PCs in RPGs), but one of the most important things to remember when you are a DM is that you are not obligated to save the PCs from the consequences of their own actions. If they want to threaten a cop while smoking marijuana after they got pulled over, that's their business. If they want to go around shooting people, and then don't bother to get rid of a gun that's got a body count on it, that's not your problem. All you have to do is take notes, and allow the pendulum to swing back in their direction.
Sometimes the PC will dodge, and sometimes they won't. Either way, the important thing to remember is that it was the player's hand that put so much momentum into that backlash, not you.
|Of course, you need to also not be a dick to your players. That helps.|
The most important lesson to take away from The Tale of Old Man Henderson, though, is that you need to be fair as a DM. You need to make a game that's challenging, rather than spiteful, and you need to make sure everyone is genuinely having a good time. Because if the DM in question hadn't turned every session into a grueling slog, the player behind Henderson would never have felt the need to create the derailing plot device that was his character in the first place.
That's all for this week's installment of Table Talk. Anyone out there have stories of PCs like Old Man Henderson? If you've got a story you want to share (especially one that teaches a lesson to players or DMs), feel free to send it in so I can feature it! If you enjoyed this installment, and would like more content from me, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to Dungeon Keeper Radio where I and fellow gamers offer advice and world building for players and DMs alike! If you want to keep up-to-date on all my latest updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is $1 a month to make a big difference, and to get some sweet gaming swag as a thank you.