I once ran a FATE game where I decided to take inspiration from a YouTube series that made fun of roleplaying games. I put a lady of the lake in the game that was going to give the heroes a chance to prove they were the chosen ones and take an amazing weapon to be used for their own. Of course the catch was that this lady just wanted to mess with adventurers and gave them random bits of junk that she promised was the magic sword she was to grant the chosen ones.
Then the guy in the group that is usually very quiet and constantly giving up treasure to other members of the group that want it more spent every fate point he had to be accepted for the task. Apparently he is a HUGE fan of Arthurian lore, and he so badly wanted to be the one to wield my game’s equivalent of Excalibur.
So to summarize, I had a plot set up to make a villain that the PCs would hate, and the nicest guy of the group was so excited about the plot he thought I was giving them that he did everything he could to make the game go in that direction. Unfortunately what he didn’t realize was that it was a fool’s errand, and that I had set him up for a terrible fall.
What Do You Do?
Before I get into what I did do, or maybe what I should have done, I thought I would just speculate on some of the options. There are several different directions you could go with such a problem, and I can’t honestly say that any of them are wrong. Each GM has their own unique style, just like every game has its own themes.
What has kept me thinking about this situation, long after it has occurred, is this idea that players are constantly throwing curveballs at us GMs. But this was not an intentional “I’m going to mess with you” or even an “I just want to try this thing to see what happens and no I haven’t thought about how it will affect the game” moment. This was a player getting excited about where they thought the story was going and wanted to be a part of it.
Now I am a huge supporter of making games fun for everyone, and when I run a game I want to encourage cooperation and critical thinking in my group. But this was the first time a challenge like this had ever been presented to me, and to be honest I had no idea how to deal with it.
So What Did I Do?
Well I played out the prank as was intended, and then I pretty much spent the rest of the adventure trying to make it up to him. I think it worked. He’s played 1 session of a game with me since then. That’s a good sign, right?
Well it sort of became a defining thing for his character, or at least had the potential to be. The group thought it was really cool that no matter what sort of scheme they had fallen into, this character would not lose faith. And from their point of view, the rewards for this character were well worth it.
Granted I never got to see any progress past that point, despite the campaign we were trying to push through. The game was never officially disbanded, of course. We just stopped having people show up and so played board games instead with those that did.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
It is easy for me to assume that the game dissolved because of what I did. Other factors could easily be involved that I am unaware of, and more than that I could be completely wrong about it being over. We could just be on a very long undeclared hiatus.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that I could have done something better. What should I have done? Should I have changed my NPC from a tormentor into a genuine lady of the lake? Should I have stuck with the story and not tried to make it up to the player? Should I have said something about the nature of the NPC, or at least given the players another chance to discover her true nature?
GMs are constantly trying to juggle story, player motivations, realism, and overall fun together. That is not an easy thing to do, and it is definitely a learn-as-you-go process. Maybe all of us jugglers could put our heads together and come up with a way to pass on some of that experience?
If you have any thoughts, questions, or especially opinions please share! I don’t have any answers yet. Perhaps in a future blog I will address the situation if no one has any input on the matter. Or if there is a lot of input, I will probably respond next week.