People who know me extremely well probably don’t realize that my favorite movie of all time is the syrupy sweet and over-the-top sappy as a maple tree film “Pollyanna”. It has everything. Great cast of award-winning actors, superior writing, great moral lessons delivered with a velvet glove and of course children falling out of trees. All of these are things I enjoy.
With this in mind it should come as no surprise then that my Dungeons & Dragons campaigns lean towards being wildly prone to cheerful and uplifting conclusions. That doesn’t mean that they are rosy-glassed jaunts through Mr. Rogers Neighborhood all the way through, though. In fact some downright horrible things will happen along the way because as we all know from the classic rock song from Nick Lowe, you have to be cruel to be kind. The challenge of course is to not be so evil and sadistic that your players don’t literally flee from the game session.
In that effort I utterly failed this week. It was a train wreck. I was searching all week for a way to really drive home the fact that the Viceroy is a truly evil and insidious monster. Oh sure he has done some jerky things but nothing has really marked him as evil. And then, on one of my morning neighborhood strolls, it hit me. The villain in this story has the inside track on what he views as the player’s individual weaknesses. For a couple of games now this foul creature has been trying to get at one of the players in particular, a person who in game and out has a soft spot for children. Heck, they even opened an orphanage in the game. Now if you were the Viceroy, what might you lash out at in order to hurt this player the most? Did you guess orphans? Because that is what the Viceroy settled on too.
It worked way too well. Not only was the player forced into an almost no-win scenario as to how to proceed but the Viceroy sent an ambassador to make sure that this character knew it was his magic behind the suffering. Result? The player character drew his sword, lopped off the head of the unarmed ambassador, and things rapidly sped downhill from there. So dreadful was the entire scenario that the player shortly thereafter left the session on Discord and fell silent for a couple of hours. This is the proverbial “I went too far with that, didn’t I?”
For this I take full ownership. I dialed it up past eleven and the results were predictable. This was too much. The player left the game before they could see that the orphans weren’t in serious jeopardy in the story, but not before the murder of an official emissary made the story infinitely worse in every other way possible. This is all my fault. Now we need to steer this beast back on track. Luckily my stories all have one inherent safeguard built in from the foundation on up. My love of a Pollyanna story. No matter how unholy dreadful everything might seem at any given moment there is no way the story will end on that sour note. Might it be unpleasant for a while? Oh I hope so. Not so dour that people feel compelled to leave, though. That’s too far. Just hang in there and we’ll get to a happy ending, usually after every single game. But you gotta stick around and weather it out with me.
Until then let’s go back and rewind the tape and watch her fall out of the tree again. See the music tells you something is up and you know she is going to OH DAMN THERE SHE GOES AGAIN HAHAHAHAHA OH MAN THAT HAS TO HURT! Ok rewind it once more. And turn the sound up. I think that popping sound is her pancreas.