Managing Up: Failing Scenes

I just want to say at the start that this scene is inspired by the conversation of Fear the Boot #168, and not from a personal experience with my current GM. This particular epsiode was a wonderful mine of topics for me, and this one is about the comments the hosts made about staying in the game when the GM is floundering and the created scene is failing. Their suggestion was for the player to go along with it.

I think this is a great idea.

So much of the game burden is put on the GM to come up with the plot and keep the story moving, but you know what? Most GMs are people too. This means they have stuff going on their lives and can’t always bring their “A” game. Don’t let a yet another fat, balding innkeeper prevent you from enjoying talking to Srodo and Fam, the halflings that have come into the inn seeking help to get rid of some jewelry.

If the scene is about to crumble, there’s two ways to take it as player: prop it up or pull the legs out and run far away.  Let’s say the orc chieftain has just captured the party and is threatening to go all Sweeny Todd on them.  But his death threats as voiced by the GM unintentionally sound more like Galaxy Quest Alan Rickman and less like Robin Hood Alan Rickman. Amuse the GM and hold in your laughter and feign terror anyway. This is tough at first but it keeps the scene going, encourages the GM, and keeps you and your friends around the table focused and in the game.

The other thing to do is drive the plot in another direction entirely. You can do this in a way that’s fun, allows the GM to still respond to and regain the story, but you get to drive for awhile.

Suppose you surprise the GM by declaring you want to go to the shop and sell off that ancient amulet instead of carrying it around for when it’s needed later.  If he says “yes” lets you go ahead with the sale but hasn’t planned for the contingency and stammers and stutters, you can lead the GM.  Say “we’ll go over to Garog’s Fine Jewelery and Watches”, even if you have never encountered this guy before. You’ve just created an NPC for the GM to play with, and if they’re sharp come up with a quick description, back story, and store. They may have trouble coming up with a price for a priceless item. Suggest 250gp and let the GM haggle from there. Maybe he’ll force you to hold on to the amulet anyway by offering a price so low it’s insulting. After all Garog never liked dealing Half-Elves with no appreciation for beauty.

Not all GMs will like you taking over the plot, even if it just to help them out. I think, if anything, this blog is about not letting one ego ruin the fun for everybody. I think most GMs understand that D&D is about shared storytelling and will appreciate you helping out and keeping the story moving. Just don’t be a dick about it. If he doesn’t, it’s time to have a post-game talk and reestablish boundaries and make sure everyone is cool with a particular play-style.

Your mileage may vary.

I am going to be on holiday for the rest of the week. I have set a new article to be published here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5pm while I am out. I won’t be able to approve or respond to any comments in that time. Cheers and have a good American Thanksgiving.