Co-DMing: Surviving the Game

2007 September 24
by Vanir

In my last post, I told the story of how Dante and I teamed up to co-DM, and the lessons I learned from that experience. (Mostly, the experience of not listening to him.) Then, less than an hour before we were to start the final session of the mini-campaign, he suggested the following to me: “Hey, how about you run the last one since it’s your baby?”

I almost told him “oh HELL no” and punched him. But Dante’s known me long enough to know that he’s faster than I am and can usually evade punches, and that he can push specific psychological buttons to make me curious enough about an idea of his to think I came up with it. And somehow, he managed to get me latched on to the thought that I could try to see this thing out the way I saw it in my head instead of him losing it in the translation. I suspect that his reasons for doing so were numerous, including being frustrated with my stubbornness, wanting to watch me wreck the train a little for a change, and giving me good valuable DM experience under fire. Even so, I decided to say the hell with it and give it a go.

Tracks? What Tracks?

I knew by this point in the campaign that the players were going to do whatever the hell they wanted. So from the first moment that I sat down at the table, I decided no railroading. If they decided to kill each other, set fire to the forest, and blow up the world, then I was OK with that. I would go down with my ship.

The plan for the evening was that the PC’s would go to this lumber yard up north, revealing the identity of their Important NPC. This guy was the half-elven son of an evil Chancellor who was famously anti-elf, even trying to turn the whole nation against them. They’d get enough people realizing the Chancellor was a big hypocrite, and the bad guy would stage an elaborate setup to discredit the PC’s, where they’d ultimately crash the party and bring this whole thing to a climax. It sounded great in my head, would have been a sweet novel.

“No railroading” turned out to be the best idea I had all night. About two minutes in, all hell broke loose and I found myself with one party member deciding to defect to the bad guys, 2 members of the party actively hunting him down to kill him, and our ninja character quietly knifing the Important NPC in the back with a poisoned dagger “to keep him out of trouble”. No problem. They’d been trying to kill the diplomat for a few sessions, if they rolled right he was dead. Somehow, he escaped. They kept searching. I rolled for that, making the DC higher as time went on until they gave up since there were no seasoned trackers. So I let him get away.

When Life Gives You Homicidal Maniacs, Make Homicidal Maniade

Instead of going where I wanted them to go, the PC’s decide the direct route is so much better, so they keep the half-elf knocked out and take him to the city. I decide to let the Chancellor’s little kangaroo court happen anyway, and they’ll show up as it’s starting. The reason that it’s going as planned is that our escaped diplomat has successfully made it back to the city and plead his case. And I offered him a chance to live: interrogate an impostor half-elf in front of the crowd to make the Chancellor look good — or die. Seemed like a good opportunity for some roleplaying.

The player playing the diplomat clearly disagreed with me, as shortly thereafter he tells me he has hung himself in his cell. Well, so much for that idea. I’d seen it as an opportunity to pull out some incredible bullshit and roleplay his eyeballs out, but it wasn’t fun for him. No problem. My original plan was to have an NPC run the tribunal anyway, so that was fine.

Well, until the PC’s show up, sneak in a little bit, and then start killing all the guards in sight and a couple of civilians with fireballs. (Did I mention the wizard was captain of the city guard?) At this point, I am pretty convinced that I am not going to have a whole lot of recourse except for killing them all. So I have a senator show up with about 50 guards in tow, and he demands to know what the hell is going on RIGHT NOW.

Stupid Ranger gets credit for saving the party in my book. She casts Light on all of their clothes and claims they are all on a Holy Mission to expose the Chancellor’s lies. I figure nobody’s going to buy that but it’s enough of an attention-getter to keep them alive for a minute (Tracy Hickman-style). Then they pull out the half-elf, who looks like the Chancellor but with pointy ears, Now THERE’S a reason they’d stop trying to kill them. The senator shits a brick and calls off the dogs. Then they round up a posse and dethrone the chancellor. VICTORY!


Yeah, I fudged a little. The story was weak in some places, and there were parts that weren’t exactly plausible. But you know what? Pretty much everybody at the table was engaged and having fun. There was rampant roleplay (albeit kinda scary roleplay) happening, especially with our ninja and our psionic characters making some very memorable moments. (“Huh? Where am I?” “Don’t you remember that awesome speech you just gave and everybody was cheering?” <psionic memory alteration> “Oh yeah, that was AWESOME!”)

In short, everybody had fun — even the guy who committed suicide, if that makes any sense — and last time I checked, that means the DM did his job. (Somehow!)

And I discovered something too — I was having fun the whole time. Once I finally let go and decided to let things happen as they went, things were a lot less forced and a lot more fun. Sure, I’d like to be a bit more prepared for the inevitable off-roading, but it doesn’t bother me like it used to. I simply cannot see how a session could go wronger than this one, and if I survived this….. perhaps I can do this after all.

But for now, I’m more than happy to let Dante and Eric take the reins again.

One Response leave one →
  1. ChattyDM permalink
    September 27, 2007

    I had never, ever heard of a character committing willful suicide in a serious RPG. And he was satisfied? Awesome!

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