In the last post, I described a player created assassin named Bloodless Jack. He sprang from the character’s minds fully formed and all I had to do was give him a character sheet and a band of minions. The players even gave him a very cool name. Somehow, minor details of a handful of traps inspired them to create a character out thin air. And he was so epic, I had to make him real.
I decided that he had two types of minions, one group of sword slinging fighters for security and targeted attacks and a second group of cleric-rogues for sneaky infiltration type work. Bloodless Jack would have a chief of operations, a warrior named Marcus Bastion. A nice strong name for someone who handles front line fighting and defense. It makes sense.
How these two met in my mind was very natural. They were brothers. Bloodless Jack and Marcus Bastion. Everything makes sense… Wrong?
Of course it’s wrong. Brothers would never have different last names; Jack is as stupid a last name as Bloodless is a stupid first name. I completely understood that, so Bloodless Jack was obviously a nickname. And a character/player created nickname. Obvious. Or so I thought.
Bloodless Jack, or just plain Alexander Bastion launched ambushes, targeted assassinations and finally outright treason to topple the crown prince for fame and glory.
So when the characters cornered Marcus and his brother in an attack on the crown prince, they asked:
“Which one of you is the assassin known as ‘Bloodless Jack’?”
Alex and his brother Marcus chuckled. The follow up question, “Who lead this attack?” was also met with a snort of derision as Marcus was suited in full plate and obviously leading the assault.
Marcus went down fighting… and upon his defeat was outed as the deadly assassin know to all as “Bloodless Jack”.
And thus, “Bloodless Jack” was truly born. Alex rallied his and his brother’s minions and relentlessly attacked the characters at every turn. An epic battle to the death, fought in back alleys and shadowy corners of dozens of towns, across an kingdom, all the way to the brother’s mountain top enclave.
Player inventions… How many times have you had a player try to invent something and complete throw a campaign into chaos?
Many years ago, I was running a campaign that had too many rogues to be well rounded. There was not much need for traps in this world, they only came in three varieties:
Noise making traps on homes, Animal traps, Generic fortification defenses.
Being made up of thieves, the party kept checking for traps where there were none. Since it was a point of interest for them, and one player rolled very well, I decided that a box did have a trap. I described workings in great and gory detail. The players and their thieving characters ate it up. Of course, the next door had a trap. Lacking any foresight, I described this trap as exactly as the one before.
And the seed was planted.
The next chest had the same trap as the first two, except this time it killed a character. My bad, I didn’t expect this to happen, but the players had. As the play paused to reroll a new character, of course another rouge, I overheard the strangest thing:
“Bloodless Jack got ya.” “That was awesome.” said another player. “What do you think he wants?” “Don’t know. It could be that chalice.” “Naw, we are going to give it away and a priest is a much easier target than us.” “Fame,” added a third. “Yes! It makes sense that someone would want fame and notoriety. Sort of like the guy in the cabin mailing bombs.” “Ted something, right?” “Yeah. We should nail this guy before he gets us.”
In just a 30 minute character generating session, the players had worked out that they were up against an assassin. A very detail orientated, cunning and evil assassin. A man who called himself Bloodless Jack. Bloodless as in so cold, the blood didn’t run in his veins. They had gathered all these details from the repeated description of a single trap described the exact same way, three times over.
Oops. These traps were simply on the fly details in response to the character’s expectations. At no time did I picture a mysterious assassin. I didn’t say anything that would have laid such an awesome name on him. In fact, there was no assassin except in the players minds.
Guess what? The very next session had a very fleshed out assassin bent on killing the characters. This assassin was neatly merged with the prior story, assassinating the priest who hired the players. He then took out the boat captain that hired the characters for security. As time went on, the characters were defending the crowned prince against this diabolical fiend.
Have you ever had a night of gaming go off the rails?
I had a 3 hours session turn into a 6-7 hour marathon of gaming. We should have cut it off, but everyone was having too much fun. The players had reached a remote village and were trying to set up a trade agreement. They offended the villagers and the party tried an Indiana Jones style escape to a rope bridge and escape.
The one magic users who could have stopped the villagers with a spell instead flew to the bridge with axe. He was prepared to cut the bridge after his fellow adventurers made it across. This is when the game exhaustion hit.
All of the players shouted “Cut it now!” And the magic user complied, trapping everyone on the wrong side of the bridge. Note that it was the players that made the request, their characters obviously were to far away. A little meta-gaming goes a long way when injected into the story.
We ended right there with everyone high-fiving and congratulating each other. Only the player who cut the bridge looked concerned and perplexed.
At the start of the next session, everyone was sheepish. With a little sleep, they realized the implications of last session. I started the next session with the characters toweling off from their heroic leap to into the river and swim to safety.
Sometimes, you just have to end with a gag to keep the fun alive. Die rolling and tactics are great, but a story sometimes has to jump to stay alive.