The one when the Paladin died twice!

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I have mentioned this tale a couple of times live on Howreroll, so I figured it was time to tell the entire story with all the juicy details.

Many years ago I was running a game of second Edition Dungeons and Dragons for a group every Tuesday evening. The group of players consisted of a Dwarven Fighter, an Elven Ranger a Human Paladin, a Human Barbarian, and a Human Druidess. The alignments spattered from Lawful Good (in the case of the Paladin) to Chaotic Neutral (the Barbarian). We had been playing a couple of years and had run through many adventures and campaigns including the most excellent “Curse of the Azure Bonds”. During the parties adventures, several times the Barbarians choice of actions would be borderline questionable when it came to the morality of his decisions, and typically the Paladin was there to keep him on the right track and prevent or dissuade him from carrying out his desired plan. Of course, this lead to several arguments between characters, and often the Druidess (being true Neutral) would find herself stuck in the middle playing devils advocate and trying to find the compromise. One such situation arose when they were rescuing a prince from an evil mage, and had to break into a stronghold to free him. On the way in they had a scuffle with a patrol or guards, and after defeating them, took one alive to question for information. Well firstly the Barbarian wanted to “slap him around a bit” to get him to talk, and the Paladin protested this course of action and instead wanted to make a deal with the guard. The paladin (like always) got his way and approached the tied and bonded guardsman. “Now my big brutish friend here would see harm done to you, where I would seek to avoid such unpleasantness” began the Paladin. “I am sure you are guarding this citadel for payment, so I shall offer you fifty gold pieces and your freedom if you tell us how many others are inside, and show us a way to get inside undetected“. Well as the Paladin had correctly deduced, the guard was indeed only here for financial reward, and had no real loyalty to his employer. He agreed to the terms and after informing the party that the citadel had a Garrison of forty men at arms and the wizard that employed them he showed them to a secret way in through the water drainage tunnel of the citadel. At this point the Paladin intended to just let the man go, but the rest of the party did not like this course of action. “I don’t trust him to sod off quietly!” said the Dwarf. “I agree” said the Elven Ranger, “what if he alerts them to our presence“. “I gave him my word!” said the Paladin, “and I shall not go back on it!” As was often the case the Druidess stepped in with some sense of compromise. “Why don’t we tie him up and gag him, and leave him just inside the tunnel for now“, she began. “We can free him on the way out, that way he can not raise the alarm and you sir knight will not be breaking your word.” After a little more discussion they agreed to this plan. All except the Barbarian. “I say we kill him to be safe“, he protested. “It’s the only way to be sure, besides what if we don’t come back this way?” “well then his fate is tied to ours,” said the Druidess. The party decided to tie him up and leave him in the tunnel despite the Barbarians protest, and made their way down the tunnel. The Ranger scouted a little ahead, with the Paladin not far behind and the Barbarian brought up the vanguard. However the Barbarian decided to lag behind a little and once he was sure the Paladin was out of ear shot, he promptly broke the guards neck, and caught up with the rest. Our heroes saved the prince and left the citadel by way of the same tunnel they entered through, as the Paladin was insistent that they go back to free the guard. Well upon finding the guard with his neck snapped, the Paladin immediately suspected the barbarian and set to questioning the rest of the party as to how the guard came to be killed. He stated that only the Barbarian and perhaps the Dwarf were strong enough to literally snap the guards neck like a chicken and  stated that he did not believe the Dwarf would do such a thing. The Barbarian denied the accusations, and eventually the party let it go and moved on, but the Paladin stated that he would be keeping a very close eye on the barbarian from here on out, and that he did not trust him in the least. These kind of things happened often through out their adventures and a deep seeded resentment began to take hold of the barbarian.

This brings us to where this tale really begins. During the Curse of the Azure bonds, our heroes had made some very powerful enemies. One of which was an Ancient White Dragon named Shiverlended. The Evil Dragon had sworn revenge on the party, and a couple of years later had found them and was ready to enact his revenge. He setup a trap in which one of his sons, an adult white Dragon named Ebenblight would attack some local farms and villages, and make sure he was seen retreating to some nearby mountains. Our heroes (as per the dragons plan) would seek him out to destroy him, and when they came to do so Shiverlended would also be waiting and together he and his son would destroy the heroes once and for all.

The party did indeed take the bate and set out into the mountains to find the white dragon and slay him. Eventually they found evidence of a lair upon a large ledge on the mountains east side, and prepared to enter and slay the beast. They made their way into the large cave and in doing so found not one white dragon but two! “Remember me you filthy human scum?” bellowed Shiverlended. “Now DIE!” Both dragons unleashed their breath weapons in unison, and the heroes were terribly injured. Although none died (partly due to good saving throws) the Druidess was down to only eleven hit points and it was clear to the party that this was not a fight they could win right here and now. There only option was to retreat, but they had no time to discuss an exit strategy.

Now I will take this moment to mention these were some decent players. They did not meta game, or abuse player interactions around the table to discuss things at length that should happen in mere seconds in the game world. There was none of the common reactive actions that you often see from players. for example, when a player says something like “I rush forward and attack the wizard,” and another player says “No don’t do that we need to take him alive.” The players character did not SAY he was about to do it out loud before he acted, he just did it, therefore by the time the rest of the party was aware of his intended action it was happening. Their was no time to discuss it, so they could only react to it after it happens. This is a pet peeve of mine, and while I will be a little tolerant of it from new players, I have zero tolerance for it in players that should know better.

Anyway getting back to the story. With this in mind, the players did not discuss any plans, but just reacted in turn. The Paladin at this point declared in a bold voice, “There is no way we can outrun these beasts, I will hold them off as long as I can, you all save yourselves!” and before the rest had time to protest he charged head long at both the Dragons with a valiant war cry. This of course was suicide but as a Paladin he was willing to lay down his life so that his friends may live.

The rest of the party did indeed retreat as they realized if they did not they would also perish and his great sacrifice would be for nothing. The paladin of course was killed but it was a memorable death, and one worthy of a fifteenth level Paladin of Tyr. The rest of the players commended the player of the Paladin for his selfless act (one that I know many players would not have done, as they would not have voluntarily gave up a fifteenth level Paladin that they loved). At this point the Barbarian surprised everyone by simply saying “NO!” “We can not allow such a sacrifice to be made for us without trying to save our friend”. “I say we wait, and go back up there and reclaim his body, then find away to have him resurrected. Such a valiant act deserves no less“. The party agreed and I wrote a new side adventure in which the party would quest to have the Paladin resurrected.

The side quest took several weeks and during this time the player who owned the dead paladin was playing a twelfth level rogue in the short term. The quest was not easy, and the Druidess almost lost her life in the process, but eventually they were able to have the Paladin resurrected.

It was a joyous time around the table top. The Paladin was back! His heroic sacrifice to save the rest of the party was going to be talked about for years to come. And of course the Paladin himself was glad to be back among the living once more, ready to face the forces of evil in Tyrs name once again. And then it happened.

Freshly resurrected, the Paladin was low on hit points. A simple matter of a few healing spells from the Druidess would solve this minor issue however, that is it would have if she had been given the chance. Suddenly the barbarian launches a full attack on the Paladin and hacked him to pieces making him dead for the second time. The Paladin had barley been alive enough to thank the rest of the party for bringing him back and now he was dead once more. The rest of the players looked on in horror as this even unfolded, and as the Barbarian stood looming over the twice dead Paladins body he utters the words that to this day get repeated by the players. “I hated that guy, but no one kills the Paladin but me!“……

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The one with the enraged college student.

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Many years ago I was running a weekly game for a group at my local college. I was attending this particular institute one a week as part of a course I was taking at another learning establishment. Meeting new people was always something I enjoyed, and I was eager as ever to expand my social circle. A few of the other students informed me that they enjoyed tabletop gaming, and asking if I would be interested in running a game after class each week. There were four individuals, three guys and one girl and one of the guys had a friend who was taking another class that he said wanted to join too. We all got together in a vacant classroom and rolled up some characters. The group make up was a Fighter, Magic user, Cleric, Thief and a Barbarian. The game started that following week and my initial impressions were optimistic.

We continued for several weeks. As I recall they were exploring a sunken temple in search of a lost scrying orb that belonged to some priestess. The Party had battles with several undead and a few unsavory underground denizens, but eventually they recovered the orb. It was then that their troubles really started. You see they were not the only ones looking for the orb. An evil warlock was also after the prize, and he set his minions against the players and tried to take it from them before they could deliver it. He succeeded, so now our players had to recover it from him.

This is where the first red flag went up. If you remember I mentioned one of the students in my class wanted to bring along a friend? well the friend became very irate when they lost the orb to the Warlocks minions. Now I would like to make the clear distinction that it was the player and not the character that became irate. He began raising his voice at his displeasure, and slung his pencil and sent several dice flying. The look on the other players (all except his friend) was one of surprise and awkward discomfort. I am sure my face displayed a similar look. When Mr angry realized how everyone was viewing his little outburst, he tried to play it of as role playing his Barbarian, but I do not believe there was a single person who bought that excuse. As it was the end of the game session for that week, we all moved past it and tried to ignore it.

Then next week we were back at it. The party had traveled to the Warlocks citadel and were contemplating how to gain entry and steel back the orb. The players were having an open strategy discussion on how to go about gaining access and a few different ideas were floating around. The thief and Magic user wanted to take the covert approach, and have the thief scale the wall and try to find a way to let the rest of the party in. The Fighter and Cleric wanted a more direct approach, but one which still employed strategy, and the Barbarian wanted to just bust down the gate and charge right in. As the players discussed their various points of view, I could not help but notice that the player who had the little tantrum last week was becoming noticeably agitated. He was fidgeting a good bit and getting a little red faced. He was also struggling to keep his voice at the same volume as the rest of the players. Once again he (speaking as his Barbarian) reiterated his opinion that he could lift the gate and they could charge in, catching the Warlock and his minions by surprise. This is where things turned ugly.

So the Fighter of the group (still being in character), looks at the Barbarian and says something along the lines of “Well this is the kind of stupid and fool hardy plan I would expect from you”! Well Mr angry lost it. He stood up and hurled his D20 at the player who was controlling the fighter. He then threw loud and enraged verbal insults at him and made his way to the end of the table where the other player sat. The player stood up to meet Mr angry, and said “hey, its all in character man don’t take it personally. I am talking to your Barbarian, not you”! “BULLS**T” was Mr angry’s reply and he then shoved him. Everyone got up and moved away from the table, the girl protesting that this was absurd behavior and the situation was clearly out of hand.

I dived in between the two players, and told Mr angry to cool off and that I was not going to tolerate that kind of emotional outburst, let alone anyone getting physical. I called an early end to the session and everyone went home. That evening I called Mr angry’s friend, and told him that his friend was no longer welcome at the game, and did he want me to tell him or would he rather do it. “Oh no you tell him”, was his reply. He then informed me of his friends anger issues, and that he often was the cause of social unrest. I asked him why? if he knew this, would he invite this person along. He told me that he did not so much ask him, as he overheard a discussion about the upcoming game and invited himself.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this:

One. keep your emotions in check. While bringing a little acted emotion to your character is a good thing, allowing actual unchecked emotion to surface is not.

Two. Keep a line of distinction between player and character. If your character is unhappy with the actions of another character, then that displeasure should be confined to within the game.

Three. There should never be a situation where two players allow things to become heated between them. We are all human and as such will have disagreements, but they need to be handled with civility and decorum.

Four. It is the Dungeon Masters responsibility to deal with these situations should they arise. It may become necessary to involve the players in making decisions, but it is ultimately down to the Dungeon Master to finalize and execute.

At the end of the day, A Role Playing Game can be very engaging. It can cause a variety of emotions to rise within us. It is still our responsibility to control those emotions, and if you can’t, well you probably shouldn’t be playing…………………..

The one when a riot interrupted the game!

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So lets go back to the early nineties. I had been playing with a particular friend from school for many years. We had participated in many weekend long sessions and had played all manner of Role Playing games together. One day he asked me if I would consider Dungeon Mastering for he and a few other friends he had made in a different social circle. Always eager to run games for new groups I happily accepted so the following week I found myself pulling up on my motor cycle outside the town apartment for one of the new group. My friend had already arrived, and he introduced me to the group. The apartment belonged to a couple (who were both playing) and other than my friend there were two others. He had a huge black board table top, so we used miniatures for this campaign, and drew the floor plans with chalk as we went. The games ran every Friday evening and I have fond memories of listening to “The Blues Brothers” and the “Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band” in the background as we ran through our table top adventures.

Weeks of play had gone by and here we all were on yet another Friday evening. My group were eagerly wading through a mob of Orcs when we heard helicopters flying over head. Thinking nothing of this we continued play, but the helicopters seemed to keep returning and spending a lot of time directly overhead of the apartments in which we were playing. We decided to look out of the window, and were able to see the police helicopter circling around a parking lot not to far from the building we were in. We could see a group of local yobbo’s gathering in the parking lot and they seemed to be a little high spirited. They were yelling up at the police helicopter and I am sure they were using colorful language and probably not asking directions.  They continued their verbal assault for several minutes, and a few even attempted to hurl rocks up at the helicopter (which was at an altitude far to high to be at risk from the stone projectiles).

It was not long after that, when an East Sussex police van pulled up. Several of the local Bobbies piled out of the back and we could see they were wearing riot gear and carrying riot shields. By now our game had come to a complete halt as the adventure going on outside was far to entertaining. The police began to form a line, but what happended told us they had clearly lost the initiative roll. The local thugs charged with extreme vigor directly into the police line and we saw the police pushed back behind a building, and beyond our scope of vision (much to our dismay). We could hear the yelling and hollering but could not see what turmoil was in fact occurring.  Suddenly the gang of thugs came back into view, and were back pedaling and hurling rocks as they did so. The police had clearly instigated a Bull rush maneuver and were pushing the gang back. It reminded me of the scene in Star Wars when Han Solo charges the group of Storm Troopers down the corridor, only to come running back with them blasting at him a moment later. Now at a range of some thirty feet, the gang continued to hurl projectiles at the police (to no avail due to the additional Armor Class the shields afforded them). The gang at this point realized that they were being forced back towards a brick wall, that had a chain link fence on top of it. Clearly not a favorable position for them to be in. At this point (as if some hive mind was at work) they all scattered in different directions. The boys in blue gave chase and soon they were dodging through parked cars, diving through hedge rows and scaling fences all over the place. We watched as several of the thugs were apprehended in the initial melee, but several had clearly evaded capture.

Soon there was really nothing to watch outside the window, so we tuned into the police scanner that our host owned and listened to the police coordinating their efforts to apprehend the rest of the thugs, on the private police band radio “COUGH”. The helicopter continued to make random passes over head, but by ten O’clock, all was quiet. The police scanner kept us informed of the goings on but by eleven O’clock they had called it quits and the regular weekend chatter of arresting the drunkards or responding to break ins was all that was left to entertain us.

Needless to say very little gaming was done that evening, and the Orcs they were fighting before all the real world excitement kicked in, probably breathed a sigh of relief and crept off into the darkness……….

The one with the player plant.

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So at a table long long ago and in a land far far away. Actually it was like twenty years ago and in Hastings England. I was part of a New gaming club that had been created. We met weekly above a local pub, (in their function room) and all manner of gamers came to play. Board gamers, Magic players, Role Players and so on. I was running a new Advanced Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Several of my players from different groups I had previously ran for showed up, and formed as a new player mob. There were five of them in total. We were about to get underway rolling up characters when a sixth long time player showed up. He asked politely If I minded him joining, which I of course said I did not mind in the least. He then pulled me aside and told me that he was moving in five months so couldn’t play long term. Hearing this I saw an opportunity to try something I had always wanted to do. What if one of the characters was a plant and secretly working against the group from the inside? More importantly what if the players never knew, and thought that this was just another player? Metagaming would be removed for the most part, and how fun would it be when the main group of players found out that the very person they were out to stop had one of his best agents infiltrating them.

Well me and player number six rolled up his character sheet, and then made a copy that was slightly altered. Player six had rolled a Lawful Evil cleric of a particularly nasty religion, but on his “other” sheet it said he was a Neutral Good cleric of another more pleasant deity.

With the other players completely unaware of the rouse we were playing, we commenced the first play session the following week, and began the campaign.

The party of adventurers, had been beseeched by a local lord to remove a curse that had befallen his family. Many years ago one of his ancestors destroyed a powerful Necromancer, but not before the Necromancer had chance to enact a terrible dying curse. The curse would cause each and every member of his slayers bloodline (upon death) to rise as a member of the living dead. Each relative for the past two hundred years has risen from the grave as a terrible specter that haunts the remaining living family members. The lord had made it his life’s work to rid his family of the curse, but now in his latter years he was unable to complete the task himself.  He knew of a powerful holy artifact that can undo the curse. It was a holy blessing bowl, that if filled with holy water and poured upon the remains of the Necromancer, would remove the curse forever. He wanted the players to seek out the artifact and then use it to rid his bloodline of the curse.

The party adventured for several weeks, working their way towards finding the artifact, unraveling clues to its whereabouts etc, and all the time unaware that one player is in fact a descendant of the Necromancer, and as part of his lineage has sworn to ensure that the curse does not get broken and that the lords family will forever suffer.

Several situations arose that our evil cleric player skilfully twists to his advantage, and the long and the short of it is he sends the entire party off on a red herring. Now due to the fact that the players do not know that this is going on, he is able to do so fairly easily and no Metagaming comes into play as the rest of the players are blissfully unaware of his actions. A few carefully slipped notes here and there, and discussions away from the table allow him to maneuver and manipulate the situations to his advantage, all the while enjoying the trust of the players and the other characters.

Eventually the players get back on track, and finally we get to a climactic battle where our hero’s are attempting to save the life of a man who is known to be one of only three people that knows the true location of the artifact. He is being held captive by some particularly nasty individuals, and the party is infiltrating their stronghold, and planning a daring rescue. In the final battle just before the party are able to save the man, our evil cleric character kills the man they have fought so hard to rescue. At this point we are only a week away from the player of the evil character from moving away so it is time to let the proverbial cat out of the bag. The look of shock and surprise on the rest of the players faces was priceless, and they absolutely loved the fact that they had no idea for twelve weeks of play what we were up to. The party ultimately killed the evil cleric, and set out to find on of the other two people who knew the artifacts whereabouts, and the campaign went on. This campaign, and in particular the opening three months was talked about for years to come.

There are two points I want to make by telling you this story.

1. You can play an evil character amongst a good group if you play smart and understand that being evil does not mean you have to act evil all the time. In this situation the evil cleric, healed, battled undead and did everything a goodly cleric would do for his party. All of his evil actions were hidden from the rest of his party. The fact that the other players did not know about it made it real, and allowed him the luxury of acting without unfair suspicion. Only the acts that he did in character that were witnessed by the other characters were under scrutiny at any time, and as the players themselves did not know, the  role playing is what mattered with no fear of the Metagame being a problem.

2. Sometimes, no matter how good your players are at not Metagaming, it’s better for them not to know certain things, as not only does it avoid temptation to act on player knowledge, but it also allows them to enjoy the real surprise and shock when certain things become known………

The one with the two brothers.

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This is a tale of sibling rivalry and one that demonstrates several techniques a GM can use to deal with common and potentially disruptive issues such as Party conflict, party splits and otherwise disruptive game play.

When I was in college I met two brothers. One who was my age and his older sibling who was I believe a couple of years older. The younger brother expressed an interest in the game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay we were running during breaks and at lunch time, and soon he joined our group of five players. It was not long before we were running the game at his home almost every evening after class (he lived close to the campus) and by doing so piqued the interest of his older brother. Now to say that they had very different personalities would be an understatement. The younger was volatile, mischievous and emotional. The older was calm, thoughtful and clear minded. Both were very intelligent. The younger brother clearly suffering from a case of sibling rivalry was always trying to get “one up” on his elder sibling, and in doing so would often try to either humbug his plans or go out of his way to KILL his character at any opportunity. This often lead to a party split and many times would derail the current game session and take it off an a tangent that had less to do with the current adventure, and more to do with the younger brothers agenda. This course of action caused the younger brother to lose several characters to party in fighting and yet he still did not refrain from his chosen course of play, and each death only seemed to spur his vindictive streak further. I would point out that their were nine players in the group by now.

So how did I handle this situation? What course of action did I pursue to resolve the game disrupting behavior? well to start with I took the rational approach of trying to appeal to the younger brothers sense of reason and explained to him how this continued course of action was just not fun for anyone but him, and it was disruptive. This of course fell on deaf ears, and at this time quite honestly if it had not been for us needing to play at his home for convenience I would have probably asked him to leave the group. However instead this is what I decided to do.

The next time Claus Rasic (the younger brothers character name) decided to break away from the party for no good reason and demand to “speak to me in private” wherein he then detailed his chosen plan of action that would result in his brothers characters death, I went along with it. Upon returning to the table I proclaimed that each player deserved an equal amount of playtime and as such I was going to devote five minutes to each player in turn but those that were together would get their time cumulative, so the eight players that were together had 40 minutes and then Claus Rasic got his five minutes of limelight . This achieved two things. Firstly it prevented the majority of players from sitting around with their thumbs up their ass while Claus hogged a good chunk of the play time, and secondly it caused Claus to endure that inconvenience instead.

Also I began having the game world at large and NPCs throw bugbears (not literally) into Claus’s plans from time to time that would cause his efforts to often become detrimental. As an example, one time while he was carefully positioning himself across the street from his brothers Inn room window, and awaiting night fall so he could climb up into his brothers room and slit his throat (the evil little bastard), I had a young lad notice him. Now of course the young lad didn’t know what he was up too but he did find the strange black clad figure who had been watching the Inn for hours suspicious, so he went into the Inn and made mention of it to the patrons he found therein. Well of course the players feeling apprehensive about the situation decided to take measures to secure their safety and as such when Claus made his move that night, he met with unfortunate consequence. Now bear in mind I had already expressed to the youngest member of this sibling war that his actions were not conducive to the game and the enjoyment of others, I felt justified in my my choice of behavioral deterrent. The end result is that the younger brother refrained from such behavior in the future, and in fact came to realize how much fun the game could be if you worked with your fellow players as opposed to against them.

The key points here are to realize sometimes the DM has to take inventive measures to correct a players behavior. Yes kicking them from your group is always an option but I feel as a DM it is part of our job to train the players and teach them when they are not acting in a way conducive to the game at large.

The one thing I can tell you is that too this day I can not remember any of the other eight character names, but Claus Rasic will forever be infamous…………..