Ninth Session (15 page pdf), “Holiday In The Sun/Flat On Rat Street” – The characters help Saul celebrate Swagfest in the streets of Riddleport, and there’s a startling amount of violence. Then, they go to a local moneylender to find out what happened to the bar’s floor manager… and there’s a startling amount of violence.
First, I ran “Holiday in the Sun”, an interstitial Freeport adventure from the Freeport Trilogy. There’s a big street festival, like Riddleport’s answer to Mardi Gras. They got to have some random fun, choosing costumes, drinking, that kind of thing. An assassin tried to take out Saul, and though the PCs stopped her, she totally took out Tommy in one shot. He didn’t take that well; he took her back to the animal cages and tortured the crap out of her. Explicitly enough that it took the other players aback. And when they came back and she was missing, he really got scared. Mmmwah hah haaaa!
Then they participated in various festival games. Sindawe had a bad turn when he ran off solo and stumbled into the lair of an ettercap and some dream spiders! In the original adventure it was a rogue aranea; in this one I decided it made sense for one of the crime lords to have an ettercap working for him as tender for the dream spiders, whose valuable venom is used to make a drug named shiver. He got bitten repeatedly by the spiders till he was tripping his balls off, and then he got webbed up. Bruce (Ox) spent an Infamy Point to have him rescued by the Splithog Pauper. Funnily enough, when the rest of the PCs found him in an alley with a note from the Pauper, their reaction was “We told that guy to leave town! We hate him!”
Then, the Yellow Shields organize a hit on the PCs, which they get out of without a lot of trouble. After, when Tommy’s back at the Gold Goblin, he complains to Saul that they’re all pretty beaten up and don’t want to go back to the festival. He tells him, not unkindly, to “Sack up and get back out there.”
Next, it’s “The Flat On Rat Street,” from Shadow In The Sky (the first chapter of the Second Darkness adventure path, which I am somewhat using for inspiration). Saul tells the PCs that the floor manager, Larur Feldin, went to make a payment to a moneylender named Lymas Smeed and hasn’t come back. The PCs go, bust in, kill his baboon, and beat him with a phone book for some time.
This scene really frustrated Sindawe’s player particularly (he was already a little ill-humored about the spider thing). He was convinced that he just wasn’t beating the guy hard enough or searching good enough to find the answer, and it just wasn’t appearing – that they must just be doing something wrong. He got pretty upset about it (not till debrief afterwards did I fully understand what was going on). Of course, in this particular scene, there is absolutely no way to figure out what really happened from within the scene; you have to move on and find out from other sources.
I blame training from bad D&D modules for twisting players’ expectations. Too many D&D scenarios wrap everything up nice and cozy. Whenever you kill a bad guy, he always has a long note on him detailing his God-damned life story. It’s from the same playbook that states “monsters” fight to the death, et cetera. There’s always a convenient self-contained answer to the problem in the dungeon – the “silver weapon when there’s lycanthropes coming” syndrome. Real mystery, intrigue, or complication is rare. I try to run things very “realistically” – meaning if something in the game world doesn’t make sense to a reasonable person, it’s not because Gary Gygax decided that “weather is magical” or other such bullshit, but instead because yeah, there is something wrong here. Afterwards, I told the frustrated player that really he was more on the right track than everyone else – that yes, it doesn’t make any sense that a common moneylender would let himself be tortured to death rather than give up the info they wanted, and that it shouldn’t be a source of frustration, but instead an opportunity to use that correct first step to re-engage with the game world and find out the next step. We got things back on track, but I think it’s so unfortunate that there’s so much crappy D&D that trains people to not trust their own senses because the answer’s always “GM fiat” or “that’s just what the module said” or whatnot. In my mind, the acme of achievement (in a simulation-focused game) is to get it to where everyone feels like they can engage completely in the game world, without having to second-guess about what metagame stuff is going on. Metagaming is for pussies. Yes, you can quote me on that.
It is not only D&D where you encounter this kind of plot device. Just about every computer RPG suffers from the same kind of problem. I usually try to give out hints when it looks like my players are getting a bit frustrated.
For example, in a situation like the one with the money lender I would have everyone make a sense motive check, then explain to whoever rolled highest that the money lender was acting strangely and it made no sense that he should be holding out like this.
I do not know the details of your specific encounter but I know I have to use the technique I just mentioned because, as the DM that knows everything, sometimes I have a more vivid picture of what is going on than my players do, this allows me to make sure the players are getting the same view of the scene that I have running through my head.
Yeah, but I hate to get into “hinting mode.” The more the DM gives in and gives those kinds of hints, the more players rely on metagame guidance and it feeds the exact syndrome I’m talking about.
Since the player got so upset I decided I’d start with a little more on the hints myself, but I think in the long term it’s corrosive.