Oct
30
2016

My PJ Lifestyle piece on fixing broken campaigns.

Found here. Short version: a blown-up campaign is not always the GM’s fault, but it usually is the GM’s fault and that’s the way it goes. I tend to light-hand my campaigns, myself.

2 Comments

  • Luke says:

    Without looking: “or I’ll bury you alive in a box”?
    .
    There’s a fifth option, to run with it, and see how big a crater you can leave.
    Most of my most entertaining GM stories come from a single campaign that ran less than a handful of sessions.

    • Luke says:

      OK, it’s mean of me to throw out something like that, without sharing at least part of the serial disaster.
      .
      Here’s the set-up. It’s roughly cthuhlupunk (cyberpunk, but with a cosmic horror reality under the chrome). The PCs are part of a police task force officially set up to look into crimes involving clones, but that’s mostly a cover story that allows them to heavy-foot their way into estoric and disturbing cases. Two of the players play it absolutely straight, they’re career narcotics officers. The other three are weirdos, ranging from a wheelman who drives the General Lee, to a street informant with a 3’ pink Mohawk and filed teeth. (Surprisingly, the weirdos caused relatively few problems. Although there was briefly a fourth weirdo who would have. Don’t put Compulsive Arsonist, Bully, Bad Temper, and Bloodlust together as disads. It was generally agreed that the character died during creation.)
      .
      Most of the first episode wasn’t too exceptional, except towards the end. An evil cultist had kidnapped the child of a prominent citizen. The two narcotics officers tracked him and at least one accomplice down in an old abandoned orphanage that had closed amidst a lot of dark rumors. Locals swore it was haunted. One turns to the other, and says “I’m going in. If you hear anything, or I’m not back in ten minutes, call for backup.” He went in the front door. Door chimes, check. Bad guy, check. Accomplices, check. Soundproof walls, check. Evil spirit, check. It didn’t go well for him.
      But I didn’t want to kill anybody during the first session, so when they finally broke down the door, they found the bad guys gone (except for the one bleeding to death from the .44 hole in his leg). Their partner was unconscious, sprawled naked on a blue chalk outline of a sun, and now possessing the “eunuch” disadvantage.
      The party quickly tracked down the villains, and practiced overkill. They thought they got the bad guy (and saved the children!), but there really wasn’t enough of him left to identify.
      All in all, an auspicious start, I thought.
      The next episode, they went to the hospital to question the perp from the orphanage. One of the professional cops was in the infirmary (naturally), and the other wanted to follow up on other leads, so it was just the three weirdos. Their interrogation was… Less than professional, if enthusiastic. Had the villain not died shortly after (unrelated to them), they’d have been in quite a lot of trouble.
      I had two real motives in sending them to the hospital. One was to unknowingly make contact with a group of vigilantes working out of the hospital (the perp’s nurse was one of them).
      The other was to meet the pathologist in the morgue. As intended, he set off every variety of PC radar there was. They investigated him, and found he was in some sort of cult that called themselves “The Third Horseman” and was an outspoken member of Zero Population Growth, until he’d had a public falling out over the movement’s lack of commitment.
      So naturally, they broke into his house. (Yes, they drove the General Lee. It is, after all, a badass car. And they might need to make a quick escape if he comes back early.)
      They spent the first half hour of the break-in obsessing about killing the bad guy’s yapping little dog. At this point, they still had enough sense to realize that gunfire would probably draw more attention. After a comedy of errors, the dog escaped through the door they left open, and escaped into the night.
      So they started investigating. There was a nice black velvet painting of a skeletal rat carrying a scythe in the living room. The refrigerator was full of tissue samples. (They threw eyeballs at each other for a bit.) The bookcase was full of texts by Malthus, Erlich, and about Microbiology. The third bedroom was full of cages containing white rats. They also found a case of airtight vials containing white or grey powder, clearish liquid, or seemingly empty. These mysteriously labeled “SMLPX” “BOTLSM” “ANTHX” “BBNCPLG” etc. They released the rats, grabbed the vials for later investigation, and torched the place. (Like you do.)
      The weirdos went home, with the narcotics cops took the samples back to the precinct. Then they began to open vials. I asked them if they were using the fume hood. They looked at my funny, and said “of course not”. They’d decided that these were illegal drugs, and how do cinematic cops identify drugs? You got it. They put their finger in, and give the powder a taste. Before this got going, I thought I’d interrupt, and ask if anyone knew what microbiology defaulted to. The hint went sailing right over their heads, and the HT checks began in earnest. After about 5 or 6 vials the narc cops were getting frustrated. One said, “This is ridiculous! Between us, we should be able to identify any drug on the planet!” His partner agreed.
      Then that player’s eyes got really big, he looked over at me to see me trying to maintain a poker face, and said something absolutely in character.
      .
      This was the start of the crater. The same incisive judgment would continue for another three sessions of absolute trainwreck. At the end of it, we could only stand back and marvel about what we’d done. It was the least successful, most destructive campaign any of us have (still!) been involved in.
      And it was a blast. SO much fun. This was 20 years ago, and if we got together it’d still be a main topic of conversation.

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