OR, How my Campaign Imploded
November sees a new theme for the monthly RPG Bloggers Alliance Carnival. Last month it was Spooky Spots for Halloween, hosted by Scot Newbury at his blog Of Dice and Dragons. My entry for this was The Pillbox at the Crossroads.
This month the Carnival is being hosted by Mike and Liz at Nearly Enough Dice. The chosen theme is;
A topic that is very close to us Brits for the month of November.
November 5th is the Guy Fawkes night, or bonfire night as it is also known as! The day that Guy Fawkes attempted in a plot to blow up the houses of parliament!
So this month’s topic is situated around plots and treason!
For my contribution I will explore the controversial events that played out in Chapter 42 of my Tales of the Hero Wars Campaign. First of all, however, it would be helpful for me to set the scene.
Overview of the story
The Heroes were in pursuit of the Flaming Stag, a flag that had belonged to the previous High King. The trail led the Heroes to the island of Karn’lothra out at on the rim of the world. Sadly, the Players did not research as much as they ought to have done about the isle, and thus they were blissfully unaware that this was also the main base of The Ghost Fleet.
Therefore, they moored their ship in a secluded bay and unwisely set off to explore the island. The situation was compounded by a plot Intrusion that saw the Ghost Fleet capture their ship.
Eventually the Players were summoned to an audience with the Bloodless Queen, ex-lover of the lich who commanded the Ghost Fleet. Due to the Heroes’ apparent tomb-robbing in the Necropolis, their negotiation for news of the Flaming Stag was progressing very poorly.
Then, one Player suddenly announced that he wanted to pursue a personal quest, and began to plead for aid with that goal. As the two debates developed, it became clear that this personal goal was likely to be granted, aided by the Player’s willingness to sell out part of the captured crew to facilitate his quest.
This proved to be the last straw for most of the other Heroes, who proceeded to attempt to slay the dissenting Hero in the throne room.
Group dynamics deteriorated fast from this point onwards.
Betrayal or Plot development?
Kill the traitor!
So, was this declaration of a personal goal, in the midst of delicate negotiations with the Queen, a betrayal? There are plenty in the group who seemed to think that it was, hence the rapid descent into violence in the Throne Room.
As with so much that happens at the table, it depends upon viewpoint. The Captain and the other officers of the ship seemed adamant that this was a vile betrayal. The mage, of dubious morals, stood back and refused to participate, which spared him from the mass arrests that ended the combat. The Player with the personal quest was not intending to betray the group, but wanted to implement a surprising plot twist.
So, was this a betrayal?
The decision to pursue a personal quest at this point in the debate was a controversial one. The willingness to sacrifice crew to this goal, was definitely a betrayal of trust. I am sure that it felt like a betrayal to some of the other Players, and in this sense it was a betrayal.
It was clearly a fracturing of loyalties, and has proved to be the catalyst for the premature end to this part of the game.
Yet, this introduction of a previously established quest did not directly injure the other Heroes. In my view, the initial request regarding the Flaming Stag was already falling apart.
If the new quest immediately led to the disgruntled Heroes attacking the lone Hero, and it was this fighting in the Throne Room that caused the Heroes to be arrested, then whose fault was that? A strong reaction from the other Heroes was likely, but it was their choice to seek to pummel their colleague to death in front of the Queen.
Was this just Plot?
All’s fair in love and war
On the face of it, the sudden highlighting of a personal quest is nothing more than a plot decision. I encourage the Players to improvise within the game, and this shift of focus was just one more in a long-established tradition.
Yet, to do so at a delicate point in the negotiations was always likely to have an impact on the search for the Flaming Stag, if only because now the Heroes would be asking for two things from a suspicious Queen.
Two sides to every story
The introduction of a personal quest in the Throne Room was pure plot, which had the game played out was likely to be instrumental in the Heroes reaching the hiding place of the Flaming Stag.
The willingness to sacrifice crew in the pursuit of the personal goal was a betrayal of trust towards the crew, and an attitude that many of the Heroes would not tolerate.
Combined, the action WAS both of these things. The debate will rage as to the proportion of each trait within the action. As ever, the two sides of the issue feel strongly towards their own position.
So now what?
In the one Session played since the events outlined above, the impact upon the plot was quite profound. My dominant problem as the GM was having the Players split into three groups, with the bulk of the Heroes in prison. By the end of the Session, the Heroes were united once more, but the longer-term effects upon the plot were not fully explored.
The fractured nature of the Session, as I cut between the groups as much as I could, meant that a lot of the plot was missed. As the prison Heroes discussed their own matters, they were not paying attention to the actions of the other two Players, and thus seemed to miss out on the information that was being imparted.
Inevitably, there was no sense of satisfaction at being united once more. Indeed, the Players suddenly grew wary of fighting their enemies. The preferred course of action was to hole up in a ruined house, and turn to arguing.
Thus the major result of the alleged betrayal was an extended argument between the Players. I think that this was merely the casus belli for a series of underlying issues, but that is merely supposition. Heat of the moment, frustration at the loss of opportunity to petition the Queen, and perhaps several other factors led to discomfort and anger at the table.
The irony is that after the Session in the Throne Room I asked the Players whether now was the time for a long-delayed discussion about the Social Contract of our group. Overall, there was no enthusiasm for this, and yet I cannot help but wonder if things might have played out differently had I insisted. We could have discussed many of the issues that the recent Session had raised, but outside of the context of the game.
I have certainly been left with a great sense of loss at the way things played out, and the way it seems that the game was broken.
Doubtless there are as many views on this as there were Players at the table, and the full impact of what happened will play out over time. Personal relationships have undoubtedly been harmed, but the full extent will not become clear for weeks, or perhaps months.
What can I learn from this?
I understand that this was not perhaps the style of article suggested by the Blog Carnival. However, I offer up my experiences to fellow GMs as a warning about the potential impact of a betrayal in the game, either actual or perceived.
For my part, it has certainly become clear that any new game would have to begin with a discussion of the Social Charter. Not only does it need to be made clear the types of behaviour that are acceptable at the table, but also I should spell out the type of game that I will try to run.
I feel certain that there was a wide gap between the style of story I was facilitating, and the expectations and assumptions of some or all of the Players. Indeed, without my making these things clear, it would be virtually impossible for any of the Players to understand what I was aiming for with the game, and thus the types of behaviour that would be acceptable within the game. I will not make that mistake again.
On a personal level, I found recent events within the group to be very upsetting. My motivations and energy levels are evidently closely linked to the game. While I like to think that this is an indication of my commitment to the game, it also means that I am a little too emotionally bound up with events in the setting. Thus, I need to manage my own well-being by taking regular breaks from the intensity of the weekly game routine.
The game is now on hold, and it is uncertain if we will return to it in the near future. I currently feel that I need to shift to a smaller, more focused game, with a short-term story. If I can build a stronger foundation to my gaming as a result of the lessons learnt recently, then perhaps I will be able to build up the size and scope of the previous game once again.
So, have you ever experienced personal fallout from a game Session? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
Something for the Weekend next week; Warlock’s Journal Voting