Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Missed Opportunities

Yesterday, LTW wrote in reply to my description of my recent campaign,

"I do love reading the adventures you create. I like to see how you apply your methods to your own campaign. I've also read that you don't care for sharing war stories. I hope this does not cause you to shy away from sharing yours because you think they are boring to us."

Fair enough, but I also think it is interesting to consider what might not have happened in the game as well.  To remind the reader, in the post linked above, I mentioned that the party had remembered an association with a djinn that gave them the information they wanted.  But what if the party hadn't thought of the djinn?  What if the party had called someone in to answer the question, "Where are the crown jewels?", only to find themselves with someone who didn't know?  Then what?

It is always assumed that as a DM I have another plan up my sleeve that will be sure to get the party to the adventure, right?  I mean, isn't that more or less the standard practice?  I've done all this "work" with the adventure that would be wasted if the party didn't go, so naturally no matter what the party does, they're going to get to the site of the treasure anyway, so what's the big deal.

My players know better.  I do not DM that way.  Every time I put the players in a situation like this, they know they're up to bat and they know they can lose.  I am under precisely ZERO obligation to put them in the same place as the crown jewels.  I frankly don't care if the party finds them or not.  As of right now, I have done no physical design work of any kind.  Why would I?  The players haven't found the adventure's site yet, they haven't done their full due diligence ~ they don't even know exactly where the site is right now.  The djinn wouldn't tell them; he gave them a general location, south of Gran Canaria, told them that the site was under an illusion so that it couldn't be seen by just sailing past and wished them luck.

Until they actually know where the adventure site is, I won't draw a line.  I don't want to waste time prepping a game the players won't start and that they might get bored of and quit to find something less obscure.  They're loss.  In the meantime, everything that could happen is in my head. Best place for it, given the stage of the adventure.

So the players know I won't give in and tell them.  That treasure (I am conservatively estimating it at somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 g.p., enough to put 20 characters from 7th to 11th up a full level) can sit at the bottom of the ocean south of Gran Canaria until it rots, until some other party fifteen years from now, when I'm running at 67, decides to find it.

Why am I going at this adventure this way?  Or why do I do all my adventures this way?  Because I learned long ago that I fucking hated genre-savvy players who scoffed at dilemmas, saying, "What difference does it make?  He's going to tell us where it is anyway!  Why don't we just skip all this shit and get started?"

It is that "anyway" that's the killer.  The nonchalant apathetic cry of the smarmy toad who thinks he's got it all figured out, he's the dude, he's the shit, he's four steps ahead of the DM and fuck if he isn't ready to slam the "I told you so" button at every opportunity.

I could try to circumvent this guy (it is always a guy - this is why I'm dropping my usual gender-neutral language) by making things super weird or totally unexpected, inventing twists on twists on twists . . . but I think those who have tried that will agree with me that it just makes the campaign indecipherable and ultimately contrived.  As such, instead I guarantee nothing.  I won't even guarantee that the treasure is where I say it is, because nope, sorry, once again I am under zero obligation to tell the truth.  People in the world lie.  Djinns lie.  I won't play the game how everyone else does because my game is not based on player service. I am not a cruise director. I am a player enabler. Success only comes from taking a risk; there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Now, let me be clear.  The Portuguese crown jewels in the game were lost.  That's confirmed by a lot of sources, reliable ones, so it is fact.  The two Spanish ships definitely disappeared in the vicinity of Gran Canaria.  The djinn is a good friend of the party and has no reason to lie - moreover, the paladin in the party did not detect malevolence, which is what a lie of this magnitude would be.  It is very probable that the ships contained the jewels and that they're right there, somewhere, lying on the ocean floor.

Fundamentally, it doesn't matter if the party succeeded in finding the right entity to call for information.  Some being in my world has seen those jewels since they were lost.  There must be a way, somehow, to find that being.  The key point, however, is that I'm not responsible for helping the players find that being.  I'm responsible for knowing where the potential being (or beings) would be, what they would probably say when asked and how helpful they would be.  That's it. The rest is the party's problem.

I have no idea why other DMs don't see it this way.


  1. Your party may never find out, but you will tell us where the crown jewels are, right? (wink, wink).

    I have come up against something like this in the past. A few years ago, my players figured out all they had to do is remain silent for a few moments after I described someone or something and I would jump in to fill the dead-air with additional details about the subject. Often giving away details or twists I had in mind for latter sessions. I had very weak stuff--player servicing at its worst. What a difference practice and a little confidence makes.

    From you, I learned to shut up and rebuff pointed questions, feelers for the freebie details I used to divulge. I have much more fun now, letting the stew come up to a simmer and watching the tension creep to the surface.

  2. Totally agree. I'm only a few sessions ahead of my players and I try and run NPCs with motivations. If the players do nothing, the world keeps moving.

  3. "I am not a cruise director."

    I literally (not figuratively) laughed out loud when I read this. I worked as a cruise ship musician for about 3 years, most of which I spent with a Certain Cruise Line (CCL). The culture and marketing is such that the word "fun" appears about twice per sentence. (Clocking into work hours was done through "fun time".)

    Cruise directors range from genuinely decent, upbeat people to the guy in middle school who really, really wanted everyone to like him. I don't relate to the "entertainer" model of DMing because it's exhausting and leads to predictable outcomes. "Succeed now or I'll create a way for you to succeed later." has two major flaws. For me, knowing what's eventually going to happen is pretty boring. For players, the stakes are small or illusory. They know this deep down. The interaction with the Djinn is not a stepping stone to "the good part". It's where the game lies.

    I'll add that cruise directors have their shtick well planned, sometimes word by word. ("Groundhog Day" for the band.) One of them hadn't changed his for decades. I suppose "They will eventually defeat 'the campaign villain'." has similar appeal.


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