Tales From The Tabletop
Last week, I finally finished writing the first draft of the sequel to NPCs (no, it won’t be called NPCs 2, that was just a working title until I came up with a good one). It went longer than expected, but I’m pretty happy with the book overall. For those of you about to ask in the comments, release is slated for Fall of 2015, but it will be a while until I have a more concrete timeframe than that.
Anyway, one of the best parts of writing the NPCs books is getting myself in the mindset of a player. As a rule, I try to never put the characters in situations where I know how they’ll make it out alive, and there’s a reason for that: true D&D, or really any tabletop game, shines best when players have to think outside the box. That’s when tabletop RPGs do something that no video game can ever match, they allow for truly infinite possibilities. Thus, having to think my characters out of problems like I would as a player can occasionally lead to situations that are more fun, and honest to the genre, than I’d accomplish if everything were neatly planned out.
Today I wanted to talk about some of my favorite examples of these situations I encountered in decade and a half of playing D&D, as well as to encourage you to share your own stories below. These are the tales we tell among fellow gamers; the culmination of years of fun and fond memories.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, this one will be a repeat, so feel free to skip ahead. One long weekend, when most of our friends were gone, me and two other buddies decided to do a good old fashioned dungeon crawl. Since I avoid using real names on this site, let’s call my friends Ninja and Curse. Ninja took on the DM role, while Curse and I rolled up characters. I played a warrior type with a big sword and a little bit of magic, and Curse rolled up a weird spellcaster from an obscure 3rd party book. Magic and might are two key elements to any party, but in a dungeon setting, we were sorely lacking since neither of us could do dick about traps.
The solution we hit upon came from one of Curse’s obscure class abilities: he could summon a horse without spending a spell to do it, meaning he could effectively infinitely summon a single horse as many times as needed. The horse quickly became our metaphorical canary; walking ahead of us, going into rooms first, just generally acting as a mobile weight that would activate all the traps (and there were an abundance of them) before our characters could reach them. Whenever it would die, and therefore vanish as summoned creatures aren’t technically alive, Curse would summon it right back up. In this way, we slowly made our way through the dungeon, slaying monsters and killing that poor horse over and over again.
Now Ninja was not a DM who feared going off book, and after a while of this he was clearly struck by inspiration. When our characters neared the end of the dungeon, Curse’s summoning spell suddenly stopped working. Pressing on anyway, we soon entered the final chamber of the dungeon…
Only to see the horse, now fueled by an infernal pact with an arch-devil, waiting to take it’s revenge. We laughed at first, but damn if that wasn’t one of the toughest fights I’ve ever had a character survive. That horse was pissed, and I suppose rightfully so.
We’re More Pragmatic than Evil
Once upon a time, one of our regular players decided he wanted to try his hand at DMing a game. As this a natural progression for many tabletop lovers, we supported it and agreed to roll up characters for his campaign. Things were going along nicely until one of my fellow players asked our DM, Rookie, the question which would define the campaign.
“Are there any alignment restrictions?”
Rookie, in a move he would soon come to regret, said no, which meant we were free to roll up a full party of nare-do-wells and indulge in one of the most hectic and chaotic playstyles there is: an Evil Campaign.
Here’s the thing, an evil game can be lots of fun and just as fulfilling for all involved when handled with a skillful hands. But for a first-time DM, that’s way too high of a hurdle to try and vault. Being evil complicates many things, and adds dimensions to what the characters can do that no sane-minded person would conceive of. There are an abundance of anecdotes from that relatively short-lived game, but my favorite is the tower.
Our party, on a quest to reassembled scattered pieces of a magical key, arrives at a tower in the middle of a forest clearing. We know through research and interrogation that inside is a piece of our key, as well as dozens of guards, warriors, and traps meant to defend it. Now, we’ve already gotten a piece or two by this point, so we know the things are damn durable. After a brief huddle, we decided that fighting our way through the tower was dumb.
Instead, we planted the warrior right in front of the door, while the wizard used magical fire to start burning the place down. Our poor DM watched as his painstakingly structured encounter went literally up in flames, our warrior easily knocking back or killing the few who tried to escape. When the fire was done, we just scooped up the artifact from the ashes and went about our way.
In our defense, it was the most expedient way to get what we wanted. Not shockingly, the campaign ended soon after as Rookie decided to launch a more classic styled campaign with very firm alignment restrictions.
That Fucking Baker
Usually, going way off-book and getting crazy in a game is the purvey of the players, the DM is the straight man to their insane antics. One DM I played with in college, however, was having none of that shit. He enjoyed screwing with us as much we screwed with him, and the guy had an odd talent for it.
My personal favorite example was from when he was running a pirate game where our characters hopped about between islands, searching for treasure and battling monsters. The whole thing was just the best kind of shitshow, with us having to battle squads of organized dolphin mafias and trying to loot a dragon’s cave while it fought a giant. But the best of it, by far, was when we stopped at a port and suddenly fell under attack from a rampaging creature that burst free from a local shop.
That monster? A Dire Cookie. Fucking thing hurled chocolate chips at us for ranged attacks, and it could do a charge where it rolled on its side and smashed through us. Worse of all, it had massive damage reduction: DR15/Milk. For those of you who don’t play, that means it ignored the first 15 points of damage from every physical attack, unless the attack was milk-based. Thanks a nearby farm and a wizard with teleporting spells, we managed to get enough milk to kill it. In the next town, however, it was a Dire Gingerbread Man, and that son of a bitch nearly wiped the party.
In the midst of this pirate, swashbuckling campaign, we would periodically stumble onto rogue monsters made by a wizard/baker, many of whom made up the hardest fights of the campaign. Silly? Obviously. A little childish? That’s up to interpretation. Fun as all hell? Holy shit yes.
To me, that will always be the magic of a tabletop RPG. If everyone on board has an open mind, and accepts that options truly are unlimited, you can help shape insane, awesome, wonderful stories that live on even after the dice have been put away.