D&D Gone Off the Rails

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It’s no secret that I’m a nerd and a geek, but I’m pretty new to the gamer scene. In fact, my first Dungeons & Dragons experience was at Gen Con a few years ago. And it was a lousy experience, to tell the truth. The scenario was written so badly that even the GM (assigned to run it, not his choice) realized that it wasn’t possible to save it.

How bad? Well, we’d been playing for about two hours before I had to roll dice. (Since role-playing games are about cooperative story-telling, and that means I basically had no story-telling for two hours, that’s bad.) And then, on that first action, I died. Died. Because I was a Level 1 sorcerer set against a Level 6 caster using Invisibility and a Wand of Fireballs.

If you don’t speak geek, please allow me to translate: The high school freshman powderpuff football quarterback was jogging onto the field, waving to the bleachers at her first game, when suddenly a college linebacker plowed her over.

The GM, realizing this disaster was about to guarantee the two new players at the table would never touch dice again, announced that the healing potion in my pocket could work on dermal contact as well as orally and that, as my almost-corpse hit the ground and broke the vial, I was revived. Not quite by-the-book, but a darned good GM decision.

(And then the scenario author came by the table to ask how we liked the game. At the underwhelming lack of praise, he got defensive and left. Dude, not our fault….)

Cool Story, Bro, But Where Is This Going?

Anyway, I was just digging through some files and I found a short piece I wrote immediately following the event. This brief scene might have taken place shortly before that ridiculous invisible fireball-wielder appeared. It’s certainly what most of us were thinking and even saying aloud while we forced ourselves to play to the scenario instead of logically.

So I’m sharing it with you, just for fun, because it made me laugh. Also, it’s a good way to review my own writing and make sure that setups actually, you know, set up properly.

Anyway, this is it, raw. One draft and un-retouched. Enjoy.

[D&D scenario title redacted to protect the guilty]

The Players:

Sandir – rogue ?
Midorian – ranger elf
Kettle – sorcerer human
Gwen – paladin human
Sin – barbarian gnome
George – cleric human

“I don’t know why you’re bothering,” said the kid.

Midorian glanced at the boy impassively. He was seated on the ground, extending his arms to form a bridge for the weasel which twisted round them playfully. He didn’t look like someone who expected to be filled with a dozen arrows at any moment. Midorian sighed. “I smelled something – someone – out there.”

“Of course you did. It’s called the Elven Forest for a reason.”

“They weren’t elves.”

“Could make sure of that,” grunted the gnome from his hiding place beneath the wagon. “Could kill all.”

“None of that, not yet,” snapped Gwen. “We aren’t killing anyone who doesn’t require killing. We are supposed to be on the side of law. We are employed by the king himself.”

“Kill bandits.”

“There aren’t any bandits here,” insisted the boy, cupping his hands for the weasel.

“No bandits?” repeated Gwen. “Then why do you think the king sent us here? Who do you think killed everyone in that caravan?”

The boy rolled his eyes. “Look, my lady paladin, I can appreciate your enthusiasm, but give me some credit, too. There may well be bandits, but they’re not here, anyway. We don’t need to bother with this kind of hyper-vigilance.”

The cleric stirred for the first time. “I didn’t think you could detect intent from this distance in an unknown party,” he said flatly. His gaze continued silently, or at any distance, boy. The young sorcerer was yet a novice.

The boy rolled his eyes again. “I don’t need magic, just logic. We only got into this because the caravan’s wagons came bursting through the common green. The horses were panicked, remember? Wounded? Driver near death, needed arcane help? Sound familiar?”

“We were there, Kettle. Don’t bore us. What’s your point?”

“That driver was mortally wounded. If he were meant to carry a message, as he said, whoever did it would make sure he got to deliver it. Even more, there’s no way those horses had come far. They were in a full panicked blind run, and we’re talking about an animal with a natural flight distance of a few dozen feet unless there is pursuit. Even a really upset one, maybe frightened by magic or pain, is going to recover in a few minutes.”

“Again, what’s your point?”

“My point, friends, is that we are now four days’ travel from where the horses came galloping in. The most spooky horse in the world couldn’t have been frightened there by anything that happened here. Whatever is in the woods, it can’t be what we’re looking for. We’re in the wrong place entirely.” He held open a pocket for the weasel, who disappeared into it.

Gwen hesitated. “Are you doubting the king’s charge?” she ventured at last.

“I’m not doubting that the king sent us out here for some reason, if that’s what you’re asking.”

The cleric frowned. “You have a lot of lip for a loyal servant and royal knight.”

“I didn’t exactly choose to become a loyal royal, if you recall. I was shoe-horned into this to keep the state secret that a half-dozen panicked wagon teams crashed through the common green during the fair.” He rolled his eyes.

“That’s so,” mused Midorian. “The king did urge secrecy most strongly, though it was impossible to conceal such an arrival.”

“And the many lost caravans before that,” added the cleric. “That makes no sense at all, now that you mention it.”

“Yet,” continued Sandir, appearing unexpectedly like the rogue he was, “he then publicly announced our departure and our purpose as a decoy.” He paused. “At the very best, that looks – unwise. At worst, it’s nearly….”

“Betrayal,” piped Kettle.

“Watch yourself, boy!” snapped the cleric. “Whether this was your idea or not, you–”

“I’m sixteen,” interrupted the young sorcerer. “You’d worry more if I didn’t mouth off.”

There was a moment of quiet. Then the paladin Gwen spoke. “Aw, stink. The kid’s right. Forget this.”

The caravan turned and started homeward, marked only by the grumbling of the frustrated gnome.

(Yes, the original scenario was written that several teams of startled, injured horses ran four straight days, pulling fully-loaded wagons, right into a popular festival. so a single mortally-wounded survivor could deliver a threat. Then we six were sworn to secrecy about the disturbance everyone had witnessed. And then the next day the king publicly announced our secret mission to decoy the bandits and sent us off with a festive fanfare. Totally logical.)

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It Got Better

But I didn’t quit there. My clever husband contrived to get me into playing Pathfinder by winning me a boon to play a kitsune (normally a non-playable race), and now I play her regularly and am known for running just a wee bit loose with my party’s safety. Because my character likes fire, and chaos, and chaos with fire.

I’m kicking around the idea of trying to write a game scenario or two. Maybe someday. Because I’m actually having fun with better game stories, and this might be a good way to stretch my brain to a different kind of writing challenge.

So, anyone have any disastrous or hilarious gaming stories to share?

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  1. Enjoyed your blog post. :) And speaking of game-writers-[and-filmmakers]-
    Last night Larry & I were watching a movie in which men on
    horseback were racing across rough ground and then up a mountain.
    Excellent camera angles showed the horses struggling up the mountain
    while trying to run, bodies heading up at a 45-degree angle, really
    working hard to make the incline. So far, so good. But then the dialog
    shot when they’ve supposedly reached the top shows two men with horses
    standing there perfectly sleek and groomed, not sweaty, ears up, looking
    around interestedly, and nostrils not flaring from being out of breath.
    Any animal that made that climb at a run should not look like he’d just
    walked from a stall. So, tricky, dealing with those darn horses in
    telling stories! If only they’d just act like cars! (oh, wait — that’s
    that the storytellers think!) :D

  2. Disastrous: having your game-world eradicated by soul-eating zombie tribbles. Humorous: same.

    Ah toon d&d, bane and hope of existence.

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