In RPGs, players play the campaigns. The campaigns should not play the players. There’s a fine line between guiding players and super-gluing them to the plot. Players want to affect the world around them, shape its events, and defeat its obstacles. They do not want to sit passively by while plot happens or be led by the nose on a predetermined path.
So when the party was taken hostage by undead pirates, I purposefully left the scenario open to let their creativity shine through. Sure, they were on their own, outnumbered and out to sea with no clear escape, but I presented several options for their problem-solving enjoyment. Would they use the warjacks in the hold to take over the ship? Would they wait for the pursuing warships to arrive and make their escape during the attack?
Or perhaps they would barter with the undead pirate captain for safe passage. After all, a posse of heavily armed, highly skilled mercenaries has a lot to offer a band of pirates. Especially since between the four of them, they have about half a conscience.
So what did they do?
I’ll tell you what. They sold their souls to the captain. That’s what.
Did not see that coming.
Jacob Holo: Okay, Radcliffe finishes writing the contract. He places it on the table. The terms are laid out in plain language and large script. There’s no legalese here. The paper glows with a faint ethereal aura. The words are written in blood. You get the impression this is a very binding contract.
Ferrous Claw: I cut my finger and sign it in blood.
Jacob Holo: Wow. That was fast.
Erik: I guess I’ll do the same.
Sam: Yeah me too.
Fiz: I’m doing it!
Jacob Holo: Right … Okay, then.
And now I’ve got a mess on my hands, because these players have clearly not read my script.
Unbeknownst to them, I’ve been slowly setting up a major plot twist. And (strange as it may sound), I need to kill off the entire party for the twist to work. You see, there’s going to be a switch of employer soon. Right now, they’re working for the good guys. After the twist happens, they’ll be working for Cryx, the undead bad guys of the Iron Kingdoms.
Yes, you guessed it. I’m going to turn the whole party undead and have them work for an Iron Lich. Besides, with this crew, playing the bad guys is going to fit like a glove. Yeah, like a glove stolen off a stranger they just garroted because he looked at them funny. That can happen with this crew.
Only, now I’ve got these contracts to deal with. And it’s even worse than you might think, because one of the players figured out a loophole and fulfilled his contract. At the expense of the other players, no less. Because, when you play a complete bastard of an assassin, why not backstab your friends?
So now, three of them are contract-bound and one isn’t. Things could get messy. But, when it comes to roleplaying, messy can be fun, and I’ve already got some ideas for a new twist. After all, the only one who isn’t contract bound has been playing the rest of the party for fools. It may be interesting to reveal his actions to them and let them decide his fate.
Come to think of it, I’ve never seen party members slaughter their own before. This could be a first for me.