Going off the rails and loving it!

While running any role playing game, be it a tabletop live game, a play by email (or blog) game, or whatever, there are players, and there’s the GM.

The guy with the script.

There WILL be a script.

Whether the game he intends to run will be relentlessly structured with little room for wiggle (or originality), tight as a railroad…

Or whether it consists of no more than a written paragraph to kick things off; “You all meet each other, friends of long standing, at your usual table in the Pig and Whistle Tavern. Suddenly, a passing stranger gives out a groan of misery and collapses onto your table, knocking beer tankards aside in disarray. A knife is stuck in his back hilt deep.” and that’s actually all the GM knows, and plans to make the rest up as the night goes on.

Either way… there is a script. Even if he’s making it up on the fly, the GM is still making up a script as he goes, moment by moment, trying to take the actions of the now and see how he can fit them into something fun. “Something fun” meaning a story of some sort.

It’s the same as writing a story… but when you say the characters develop a life of their own… by God, you mean it!

Most GMs I’ve known lament over the destruction innovative players will cause to their carefully laid plans.

They’ll wax nostagically, wistfully over their carefully laid plans, their subtle undercurrents and subplots, their dramatic theme and awesome backstory that makes this the BEST STORY EVAR… if it weren’t for those damn kids.

Me, I come from the chaos school of role play. In California, we called it the Surfer Style RPG Kung Fu.

Come up with a story you think is awesome, spend lots of time on it, knock yourself out. But as soon as you start playing,  always keep in mind, the players’ characters are what the story is really all about, those self centered little bastards, and when they do something completely unexpected, don’t just sit in shock and brainlock at them bringing in the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!), take it as a direct challenge to see thier introduction of derailing ingenuity, and raise them a “What the hell? Holy shit!” shocking plot twist.

That’s why, when I see a comic strip like the one here at DM of the Rings, while I’m laughing I’m thinking “Oh, what a glorious bunch of bastards those players are… and how I would make them pay. And they’d thank me for it.”

11 thoughts on “Going off the rails and loving it!

  1. I’m the outline sort. Kind of like Kirk mentioned… this is now, and this will be later if they do nothing. These are a few events along the way that I want to happen, and they can probably be bent to fit if necessary.

    In one game, a constantly absent player ended up being the big bad. I got tired of them not showing up, or if they DID show up, mainly sleeping through the game.


  2. At least for myself I have to disagree with your “there is always a script” – in many cases my games start with a setting – and an objective I want my players to meet. No plot or script whatsoever. For one reason – because I have NO idea in advance how to reach the objective myself. For instance there was the situation “how do you tell the Daimyo he is STUPID”.
    And trust my players to destroy any plan I have been working on the last half year ……….

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT


  3. That comic remonded me soo much of one of my favorite sessions as a GM.
    Similar setup, the party captured and facing “the mob boss in his office” and one character says, I’ll lunge at him with my secretly contained arm-blade (GURPS cyberpunk). Crit, max damage, and a spray of bullets everywhere, ending with one character also critting the skill-check to grab a belt of grenades on one of the thugs and pulling one pin off as he rolled past out the door later… Fun times!


  4. I haven’t read through DM of the Rings, but I love Darths and Droids, which is pretty similar, just from the standpoint of starwars.


  5. What Phelps said about the NPCs’ script. I found that what worked for me, eventually, was to turn the whole ‘the players are trying to ruin my story’ concept on its head. I wrote the “script” (vague general outline, key points, timing notes, that sort of thing) based on what would happen if the players DIDN’T “interfere”.

    You wanna go play pirate, pick on some passing ships? ok, no problem. Down the road you learn what a lawful evil’s anti-piracy force looks like. After, of course, (maybe) noticing the changes in cargos to include refugees.
    .-= Kirk´s last blog ..Coakley-Brown =-.


  6. Awww now I’m missing my D&D days. I have a feeling my DM had those plans carefully laid out for me too, but being very much neutral chaotic when it came to that DM, he got more headaches than gameplay done from all the random input I churned to disrupt those said plans. Us as players had a lot of fun, the DM was reeling clutching his head.

    50% of the players’ fun was derived from watching our DM spiral into a dark vortex of mind!@#$. 😛

    I’m sure there was a quiz out there somewhere that tested which kind of D&D player you were… fun tmes.


  7. The best RPG story lines evolve from players doing the unexpected.One of my most memorable ones involved a long convoluted trek back and forth through time.It was intended so they could get a better understanding of how their actions affected their surroundings.What did they do? One of them ran over and gave their past-self a great big hug.The temporal paradox ended up nuking an entire city.One simple action and I ended up having to rewrite an entire history on the fly.Always said you can’t trust the little buggers.

    And thanks for tipping me off to the comic series.All I can say is -Amazing
    .-= mythcreant´s last blog ..WoW Players =-.


  8. I love that comic series. 🙂

    I’ve had a few discussions on the nature of games recently. I definitely think you have to be willing to “go with the flow”. If you want to craft a magnum opus, write a book or make a movie. Games are inherently unstable, and highly dependent on players and GM. That’s what makes them so interesting.
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..PSA: Haiti, RPGs and PDFs =-.


  9. Oh, and they asked me afterwards how I would have handled it, and that was easy. “I would have had a dungeon creature come out, steal the Windlings two (yes, two) peg-legs and run into the dungeon with them.” (Bluebeard the Windling Pirate had two peg legs, two eye patches and a giant beard that he glued on his face after stealing a giant hunk of the elf’s blue hair while the elf slept.)


  10. I’m certainly a roll with the punches type of GM, but my players quickly learn that just because they don’t feel like following a certain story doesn’t mean that the NPCs don’t continue with theirs.

    My favorite though, is one when I wasn’t there to GM and another player took over for that night.

    My group made him cry. Literally. And he’s not the weepy type.

    They were playing Earthdawn, with my brother playing a Windling elementalist. And the trees in this forest kept trying to talk to the Windling. The problem is, the Windling had decided in the last session that he was a pirate while riding in an airship, and decided that pirates don’t care what trees think. (Before that, the Windling was at different times a swordmaster, a rodeo clown, purple, and a tiger. All in his own mind, of course. But there were costumes involved.) So the GM has an NPC come up and start telling them about a dungeon. “Harumph. We’re going off to steal an airship and be pirates.” So then, on the way to the airport, they run across a giant dungeon entrance. One of the players starts making “chugga chugga chugga” sounds, and the Windling elementalist seals the entrance up with a giant ice block and heads off the other direction. And then the GM started crying.


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