The Gassy Gnoll: GMing for a Ship of Fools (April RPG Carnival)

Time to join the carnival! The topic for the April RPG Carnival is hosted at the Elthos RPGand the question for the carnival is: “What is the most memorable experience you have had GMing for your own Ship of Fools?”

The Gassy Gnoll has already spoken about his own experiences with letting campaigns get out of hand (see here) and maybe someday I’ll talk more about that experience, but instead I want to turn the tables slightly and talk about how one of *MY* characters tried regularly to steer our campaign into the rocks…

RPG Blog Carnival logoI’ve mentioned Didius Cato (aka DC), the escaped slave and rogue I played a few years ago in a fairly lengthy campaign I played in up in Denver for a couple of years. He was a ton of fun to play and I miss him, but damn if he occasionally steered the group wrong. (Others would likely say it happened often, but potato – potahto…)

The first time I got an inkling of his capricious nature, we were investigating a strange place where shadows were moving but there was nothing visible to be casting them. I suddenly got this bizarre thought to pull out a die to determine which of two courses of action he’d take. Odd, he’d take the risky one. Even, he’d stay the path. Of course, I rolled odd. And DC suddenly decided to jump feet first to land in one of the shadows. It was cold as I recall, but there were no bad effects beyond that. (I may be remembering it wrong, but we’ll leave it at that for now.)

Much later, our group was walking through the capital city of Rauxes when DC and his companions passed near a slave market. As an escaped slave, you might imagine that DC had a bit of a negative reaction to ongoing slavery in the world. This was an analog of Ancient Rome with magic thrown in for good measure, so slavery was a part of the social landscape and a minefield DC had to tread carefully through every day. At any rate, there was a slave auction going on that day… so the dice came out. Again, the die landed on an odd number and DC was compelled to act.

During that particular battle, DC’s companions were also compelled to act… to try and save him from himself. DC ran in like a mad man, sliced at the ropes holding these long lines of slaves prisoner, likely stabbed a guard or three, and screamed at the newly-freed individuals to run for their freedom. Somehow DC and the party managed to work their way out of that situation without a) dying or b) getting locked up in prison and becoming slaves themselves.

But this brings me to a point on this very topic. If the opportunity presents itself to turn the current campaign or adventure on its head, that means the GM must be prepared for it, right?

The entire concept of tabletop role-playing revolves around being social. Asking and answering questions. Improvising to solve (or create) problems for the players (or the GM).

Some of the most fun I’ve ever had GMing has been winging it as I chased the players through the campaign world trying to figure out where they’re going and what they’re going to do when they get there. So whether I deliberately or accidentally put the option on the table for my players to do something dumb or screw with the plots I have winding around in my head, that’s my challenge as GM.

And as a player, it’s my job to see possibilities in the world the GM has created and run with them. It’s likely we’re not going to run quite in the directions they want us to, but we’ll meet in the middle somewhere usually.

In a Battletech campaign in college, my best friend and GM set up a scenario for our group of ‘mech warriors to take care of. We had to take out everything along a particular landing strip on a planet. When asked if there was anything we needed, we gave him a list of a few items… Big metal pieces we could assemble a box out of and “1, shitload, mines.” Yes, that’s what we asked for. And… he gave it to us! So we put the mines in the box, rigged the whole damn thing to explode and had one of our air-‘mechs drop the box onto the tarmac.

We finished the whole scenario in less than 7 seconds I believe. He was in shock. And we were all laughing.

So if you give your players the rope to hang themselves, that’s great – but sometimes it’s enough to hang the GM as well. Prepared or not, you roll with the punches and hope you have something ready or can create it on the fly.

The “Ship of Fools” sails on my friends… It sails on…

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