An infrequent yet agonizing occurrence in Dungeons & Dragons is when players just cannot deal with something that happens in the game. Whether the Game Master did something intentionally cruel or idiotic, or accidently allowed a twist in the plotline that the players find stupefying to the point they can’t continue is one matter that falls squarely on the Game Master to sort out if the campaign is going to continue. Far more agitating is when the players themselves make decisions in the game that aren’t in their best interests and then cannot cope with the repercussions those decisions bring about. Game Masters the world over have at least once thrown their hands in the air in frustration and bellowed “YOU WANKERS ARE THE ONES THAT INSISTED ON KILLING THE GIANT! YOU KNEW HE WAS THE ONLY THING PREVENTING THE DRAGON FROM KILLING EVERYONE IN THE VILLAGE! NOW THE DRAGON KILLED EVERYONE IN THE VILLAGE AND YOU ASSHATS ARE TICKED OFF AT ME??? DAMN IT ALL SO MUCH YOU STUPID, STUPID IDIOTS!!”
Ok that might have been a little more specific than it needed to be, but you get the point. Players almost always read clues incorrectly, misidentify enemies, and will want to steer the story in the direction they think it is going in rather than ask more questions and find out where it is really headed. When this happens Game Masters have to make some painful decisions about how to proceed.
The natural thing to want to do is to let the story play out as it is and let the players take their lumps. If the players are sporting enough this is the ideal thing to do. Of course the Game Master may well have to explain to the players outside of game play that things are going to be highly unpleasant for a while until the plot gets back on track and things begin to be more pleasant again. If everyone agrees then the story goes on. However, it is quite unlikely that players really can handle how bad things are going to be. They might want to shift the blame for their predicament on to the Game Master because they after all control how the world reacts to the jackassery of the players therefore the players facing consequences is all because the Game Master is a jerk. Don’t let the players get away with this. Remind them in vivid detail how they made the choice and as Game Master you merely allowed them the luxury of exploring the ensuing punishment. Again, few players are going to be able to stomach this.
And so it falls upon the Game Master to resort to another angle of trying to keep the players happy. The only way to do this is to fall back on the sort of crap writing certain filmmakers are accused of exploiting. Changing the storyline drastically to give the players an effective Mulligan should not be done recklessly or regularly. This kind of garbage must be held in reserve for use only if the players dig themselves in so deeply into trouble that only divine intervention, a miracle, or a time-warp rift in the multiverse can bail them out. Any Game Master that confronts such issues on a regular basis needs to reevaluate their campaigns as well as their players. The players might not be able to latch on to the story well enough if this is a normal crisis that repeats indefinitely.
Which brings me to this weeks upcoming game. Damn it all so much.