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Worst Campaign Train Wreck

By Shamus
on Wednesday Dec 17, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games


No GM advice this week. The Big Project continues to bear down like an unbearably overbearing… bear. I don’t have time for the fancy writing and whatnot, which is why the previous sentence was so appallingly lame. Seriously, I don’t even have time to highlight it and hit “delete”, that’s how amazingly busy I am. So let’s have a topic for discussion instead:

This won’t apply to people who run or play freestyle off-the-cuff games, but for those who strive for some sort of specific plot:


What is the worst derailment you’ve ever perpetrated? Usually player cleverness leads to more interesting situations, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it just wrecks an NPC / location / dungeon / conversation that promised to be fun. Maybe you killed the bad guy without even realizing it. Or you alienated a key ally. Or caused a cave-in of a dungeon before you even set foot inside. What is the one thing you did that put the GM off his script, and which you later regretted? (As opposed to all the other times you put him off his script, just because that’s half the fun.)

Game Masters

What is the worst railroading you’ve ever perpetrated? Maybe one time when you manipulated things so that they went according to some overarching scheme, and afterwords you realized your plans sucked compared to what the players had in mind, or you realized that things would have been more fun if you’d let the players have their way.

If you want to answer both, go for it. You can even do so in two different posts, if that helps. I know it sucks trying to write long comments in that little box.

Comments (128)

1 2

  1. Shamus says:

    I’ll go first, although mine’s not very interesting:

    In the first game I ran, I had the players caught up in a crazy cursed, lifeless land where everyone who entered fell into a dream state and saw things as they were hundreds of years ago, when the place was green and full of life.

    The players KNEW they were in a dreamworld because they had discovered the curse going in, but they weren’t sure how it worked or what the rules were. They tried a lot of actions to try and find out how it worked. They had a different idea of how it should work than I did, and since I wrote it, I stuck to my version. But there was no real reason to do so. If I’d reacted the way they had expected, then the world would have been more intuitive to them. They would have understood it better, and a lot of later confusion would have been avoided.

    Sometimes their way is best simply because that’s the way they understand it, and its easier to roll with their idea than to teach them yours.

  2. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    I remember in my first campaign I ever played in, the DM
    had this boring storyline about some curse on the land or some crap like that. (i wasn’t really paying attention) The land we were in was suffering from famine to the north. So we as the players took it upon ourselves to transport food from the south because the local govt. wasn’t going to. Long story short the GM hadn’t seen that one coming and had to stop the session right then and there. HE took the next week coming up with the rules to transport food to feed communities

  3. MintSkittle says:

    As a player, I don’t really have any derailment stories because either the GM was so hidebound that we couldn’t get off the rails if we wanted, or was flexible enough to adapt.

    As a GM, probably the worst railroading I did would have been my first game, where I used an adventure book. I didn’t do much planning for that one, because I had the book, and I thought that was all I needed to pull off a game. For those interested, the game was Shadowrun, the adventure book was Brainscan. We didn’t do more than a couple of sessions before it fell apart.

  4. Sarah says:

    It’s likely someone already informed you, but I thought I’d give a shout, anyway. In this week’s edition of The Escapist, the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section seems to be based on a forum post that is a direct quotation of one of your own posts.

    Have a look: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/letters/5583-Letters-to-the-Editor-Guilty-Pleasures

  5. patricles says:

    My group just started a 1950’s Cthulhu game and the group went to a new city with some vague information. In an effort to find out more information, 2 of the characters walked up to the back of a hotel, scrounging through the garbage. The GM had a cook come out back, and thinking they were homeless he offered them a plate of food, plus a job in the kitchen, which gave the players a chance to gather more information. The problem was both players rolled extremely high for their ability at the jobs, and were rewarded with an almost instantaneous pay increase. The money was good (even though we didn’t have much need for it at the moment) and they didn’t want to leave. Our joke now is “How do you split up a Cthulhu party? Offer them jobs.”

  6. EvilGod says:

    Our GM sent us on a voyage on a ship to someplace or the other. We encountered a ship with its crew all dead and a cargo hall full with treasures. He planed for us to grab the loot and for us to find out that it was cursed and haunted by the ghosts of the dead crew. But our group’s priest/cleric decided that we would have to give the ship and its crew a “proper” burial and torched it before we could argue or get some of the cursed treasures. The GM had to end the adventure because he couldn’t even argue that the player’s actions were out of charakter.

  7. Sven says:

    I had a player sort of deflate my plans in a D&D game I was running. They were working against the Church of Bane (Forgotten Realms 3rd Ed.) and I had been building up the reputation of the high priest all adventure long. There were rumors about his atrocities, underlings that were more afraid of him than of death, and assorted other details I’d thrown in that had my players genuinely afraid of this guy.

    He took them by surprise by coming out of a door in an temple the players thought was abandoned and crushing the Ranger with his mace for a ton of damage on a critical hit. The players were scared, the mood was excited, everything was perfect for a great encounter.

    Then the Shadow Mage won initiative and cast Phantasmal Killer using Shadow Evocation. In order for this to work, he first had to overcome spell resistance, which wasn’t too high so he passed that. Then the high priest got THREE saving throws, two Will and one Fort, to completely ignore the effects of the spell. His saves in both of those categories were very good, he needed only low single-digit numbers on each, and he proceeded to fail them all.

    The high priest dropped dead.

    As it turns out it wasn’t so bad, because that is a story we still tell around the game table.

  8. Ken says:

    My one experience gaming at a convention was involved a session of, as I recall, the space-opera expansion for GURPS. I was assigned a sort of Indiana-Jones-in-space type character. The mission was to explore a deserted temple on a moon or something and determine what bad things had been happening there and why.

    The Big Baddie was some sort of space vampire. For no particularly good reason, I concluded with absolute certainty that the big secret/plot twist was that the space vampire was actually some sort of good-aligned benign spirit that had been badly misunderstood, and that we were supposed to figure this out and befriend him and clear up all the problems resulting from cultural clash between him and new settlers, etc.

    Of course, that theory was complete ass. It was a space vampire. There was no plot twist. But when my character — the best combat character in the group — basically surrendered to the space vampire, telling it how sorry we were for the misunderstandings, it threw the group into an off-the-rails turmoil that culminated in the entire party being slaughtered.

  9. Probably the worst derail I’ve ever managed was in a shadowrun game with a novice GM when I almost managed to be paranoid enough to not get gassed by the Johnson’s tricks (who of course we were scripted to get captured by).

    Luckily I fluffed a few rolls at the end of my daring escape attempt and got tasered down, but if I’d made that last test we’d have had a party split problem.

    Railroading-wise, I’ve had to run several campaigns out of books, and sometimes the investigation-style things rely on the PCs figuring out one or two things. If they miss them, you sometimes have to basically tell them so that they get back on track.

  10. Illiterate says:

    Worst derailment?

    It wasn’t with ingame actions.. The GM described how we were surrounded by ghouls..

    And I started a round of awful Ghoul puns involving songs.. “Shalalalaala my brown eyed ghoulll…..” “Ghouls just wanna have fun!!!”

    I felt bad for the GM. It was a lowdown dirty thing for me to do.

  11. Nevermind says:

    We had this one game where the GM just didn’t have what it takes to run a campaign, so we (the characters, I mean) just went to a big town and started a business there selling alchemy potions. As opposed to defending our home village from goblins and then avenging its destruction…

    Ah, you mean “not fun” derailings? Well, in one game the PCs were supposed to be some people who accidentally meet behind enemy lines (in a war setting) – like, a soldier who’d been cut off from his regiment, a spy, a lost camp follower, a marauder. And we were supposed to somehow form a party so that we could survive together. But the characters were far too different for that to work. We met, we quarreled a bit and we parted. The game pretty much ended at that moment.

  12. I once played in a campaign – probably the worst one I’ve had the misfortune to experience – run by a guy who has, thankfully, been removed from our social circle.

    The setting is thus: An island, the size of England. It’s beaches are made of gold-dust, exactly half of the land is Limestone, and the other half is Obsidian. There is only one city on the island, owned by the Elves. They prey on small tribes of “Supreme Builders” Humans (despite having the design skills of a herring, and living in mud-huts). But it was ok, because Raven (his GMNPC) was a god-like psion who could make it all better.

    We tried to have fun with the setting, come up with our own ideas, but whenever someone came up with something that didn’t *exactly* fit the GM’s story, thier character had an epileptic fit – I am not kidding!

    There were about a million different ways our creativity was restricted. It ended with us storming the Elf Palace, arriving just in time to deal with the Elven Lord’s bodyguards (while Raven battled with the Lord, of course), and then got to witness the Big Bad get beaten by a different NPC (It was said that “He defeated him single-handedly, barring a few small distractions”. These “small distractions” were our 2′ arrows sticking out of him, and our 5′ Thief clubbing the b*gger over the head.)

    I’m pretty sure this constitutes as very, very bad railroading.

  13. locusts says:

    I dislike D&D for the railroading DMs I encountered early on. I jumped the rails in two games and never went back.

    In the first I asked about the party so that I could build a character that would be balanced. When I got no feedback of any sort I came up with a fighter that had a grudge against mages. I show up to the first game to find the rest of the party were mages of one ilk or another. The first encounter was an illusionary door that they all pass checks for and proceed through. My character fails his save and can not find the door, nor can he charge the section of wall the rest of the party walked through. So I sat through most of the first session rolling a save throw versus illusion to see if I could find the door, while the rest of the party went on to the adventure. Finally, getting bored with the “stupid mages” I swiped the horses, rode back into town, and sold them all at auction. Then I used the money to hire goblins to wait for them outside the entrance. The DM, a friend of mine, was so shocked that I would hose the party like that he did not retcon that part out, even after I left the game.

    The other was a long character gen to make a very interesting highwayman. Classic Hollywood style, “Stand and deliver” character to the hilt. First adventure the party gets “beamed” to a sci-fi setting where our skills “some how translate” to the sci-fi setting. Then we find out that the DM is running the plot of Aliens. The mood was slow and the combat hackers in the party were loving it. The guy that convinced me to play and I hated the adventure. So between the first and second session we hatched a plot. First encounter with the aliens in the second session, our characters stand behind the fighters as they rush the aliens. Our characters shoot the fighters in the back, hit their knees, and open their mouths as willing hosts. The DM was so pissed that he grabbed the character sheets and as he ripped them up in front of us said, “This is a graphic display of what the aliens are doing to the party. I hope you jerks are happy.” The thing was, I was just glad to be done with the adventure.

  14. Jimmy says:

    Since this is my first time commenting on this blog. I just want to say that I enjoy reading your blog very much. I found it through a link to DMotR and have been surfing the archives. I very much enjoyed reading about your D&D campaign.

    With that out of the way, my story involves a campaign where I was DM. Overall the campaign was a success. I managed to take the players from level one to level nine, which makes it the longest running game I’ve been involved in as player or DM. That being said I did have some bad railroad tendencies.

    One time in particular I had the players travel to the heart of a lost city to destroy an evil artifact they found on their travels not the most original plot, I know). I had decided that the city was enchanted such that many of the buildings in the city were actually illusory. The city was located in a desert was enchanted such that every few minutes a wind would pick up and a cloud of sand would blow through the city. While the player’s vision was obscured the locations of the illusory buildings would shift so the players would get trapped in a constantly shifting maze.

    How they were supposed to solve it was by using detect magic to determine which buildings were real and which weren’t. Attacking an illusory building would cause it to disappear and the players could walk through. If they attacked a random building it had a one in three chance of being an illusion. The players attacked a random building and it turned out to be solid, so they figured the buildings were probably all solid. They decided to put a stake in the ground and tie a rope to it to keep track of their position and make sure that they were heading in the right direction. I forget the details, but the plan would have worked, it just would have been a little slower.

    If I had let them solve the maze their way it would have been more fun and more challenging for the players as they faced more random encounters. Unfortunately, my railroading instincts kicked in and I tried to steer them toward the “correct” solution. I changed the maze so that it shifted the player’s locations as well when the winds blew through. The rope and stake came with them so they didn’t lose them, they were just no longer useful in gauging the player’s progress through the maze.

    Eventually, the players became suspicous and the party paladin used his pegasus (this was a 3.5 game) to survey the situation from the air and see how the party was progressing. He discovered that the party’s location was shifting when the winds came through.

    As my players would later point out, the trick of having the player’s location in the city shift ruined my intended solution as well. In the end the party decided that it was better to just fly into the center of the city. I had warned them that flying straight there would be risky and might not even work, but they saw no other way to solve the maze.

    I gave up trying to railroad them and decided to let them fly straight to the heart of the city. When they landed they got stuck in a web hiddin by an illusion and ambushed by a giant fiendish spider. It was a fun encounter, but not too difficult. They killed the spider, destroyed the artifact and went home.

  15. Jay McKinlay says:

    @Sven – Phantasmal Killer is a sure climax killer. We were in a high magic campaign and my Pixie Warmage hit the enemy Deuregar Cleric with it. Despite the SR roll being lower because of the LA adjustment, and the Cleric having high Fort and Will saves, he failed, and died . . . whoops!

    The worst railroad derailment was not *entirely* my fault. The DM’s pet FR campaign had my Kobold Rogue with two forces battling for his soul. My relative inexperience with FR meant that I had no idea what was going on. Bane was apparently shielding me from a demonic posession (I think), but I was under the impression that no matter what, I was a killer. So, when the Curse Life Stealing Dagger of Evil appeared, I took it and started killing. . .the Druid abandoned the party for RP reasons. . .and the campaign ended. I don’t think I was supposed to do that.


    PS – yes, I do have a thing for non-standard races.

  16. Nilus says:

    Our GM had planned an epic battle with a Mind Flayer in a sewer. At our current level it should have been a tough fight(I believe it had class levels and such). What he didn’t expect was that our Wizard had just got polymorph other. First round of combat, on botched saving throw and instead of a big bad mind flayer we were fighting a big bad kobold. Sure he had all his HP and technically some of his psychic powers but he couldn’t eat our brains anymore.

  17. krellen says:

    I can’t tell any stories, because I’m hardly ever a player and I don’t railroad. I could tell a story about players ruining my game as a GM, but that’s not in the parameters. :D

  18. Roxysteve says:

    How about we flip it? How about I tell you of games effectively trashed by unnecessarily idiotic play by my players?

    I once ran a game of Villains and Vigillantes in which the single clue the team needed to identify and thwart the menace du jour was in a locked filing cabinet draw. Two minutes into the game Player X says “I grab the drawer handle and use my powers to heat the cabinet to red heat”. No earthly reason to do that. Player Y could have easily pulled the cabinet apart with his super strength powers. Two minutes in and it was Game Over due to incinerated paper clues.

    A couple of months ago, during a Call of Cthulhu game, Player Z went off-script and decided to play the “Action Adventure” phase of the scenario before the “Information Gathering” part (Call of Cthulhu scenarios have a long-recognised overall schema that it behooves players to adhere to). In doing so he alienated an entire village of otherwise helpful NPC people who held the key to his solving the mystery and figuring out how to beat the mosnters without getting substantially hurt. No earthly reason to do what he did. He called it “role playing” but if a real person had behaved so spontaneously erratically they would have been in jail pending transport to a lunatic asylum in a heartbeat. I played it through, but it became D&D in the 1920s instead of the thing it had been carefully put together to be, something that never ends well in Call of Cthulhu.

    I venture to suggest that in both these cases the enjoyment factor was reduced to a logarithm of that available to the players at game start by stupid and irrational play. In the V&V episode, the player was good enough to admit he’d been a tad dimwitted and appologised to the others, but the CofC player honestly believes to this day that he played “well”, despite his “team” not having succeded in even one facet of the challenge presented to them by the scenario.

  19. Dys says:

    I used to DM for a few friends, games were usually informal and rarely lasted long, but they were fun for a while.

    I remember one time I set up a small maze in which there were hidden teleports linked in pairs, with some random rules for if and how they worked. It should have been fiendishly difficult to figure out how to get to the exit.

    The guy playing came up with his own idea of how the place worked and by some fluke chose a route through my shifting labyrinth which took him from start to finish without a single error. I still have no idea how that happened.

  20. Ozzie says:

    So we’re playing Eberron. I’m a Gnome Paladin of the Sovereign Host. Veeery low wisdom.

    We are hired by a member of one house to escort a caravan to a town. Our escort is supplemented by a bunch of Minotaurs, some of whom detect as evil. This being Eberron, though, I say OK.

    Then we’re stopped by a rival house. One who controlled shipping. Seems not everything was in order, legally. After looking at her papers, what she said legit. Between the law and the evil Minotaurs, I switched sides. My party members didn’t.

    My side lost, but the battle was bad enough that the party was unable to deal with some Bodaks later on.

    We started over the next week with new characters, and things went quite well after that.

  21. Mike says:

    The worst one I was a player for was when we were supposed to be infiltrating a city, we found an alternate route through some caves – the DM, however, wanted us to get caught and imprisoned, so when we escaped after getting the information we were after, actually RETCONNED the escape, saying that one of the characters did something that was impossible so we had to replay it – with guards OF COURSE entering the caves now to find us. *sigh*

    The worst one I perpetrated was in Greyhawk. The party wanted to go to the last of Ash, but I had nothing ready, so I put a forcefield over it. ALL of it.

    Unfair, but at least it wasted some time while they beat on it and tried to research it. :)

    As for players wrecking a game – we had one player that was infamous for screwing things up. To the point where anytime his character received a clue of any sort, everyone else made sure to harass him until he shared it.

    He ALWAYS kept all clues to himself, wanting to be the hero by figuring it out, I guess. We missed several missions and treasures because he never shared info.

  22. Robert says:

    Locusts, you sound like the kind of player that all DMs dread to have. Expecting you not to be a dick is not “railroading”.

  23. Scott says:

    As a player playing Alternity with a first time GM we were double crossed by a “supposed” ally. He stole some valuable cargo we were carrying, and left us with a bomb about to go off. The GM forgot we had a teleporter onboard our ship, and the next thing he knew we sent the bomb back. He lost his flagship and the main villain should have been killed. He scrambled for several minutes to come up with a plausible reason why the guy survived the blast and we continued on with a greatly shortened adventure.

  24. Christopher says:

    In my first DM experience ever, I had a whole plot line worked out in the seedy underbelly of Waterdeep. It involved a well-intentioned rogue, his father, and the Thieves Guild. It was a great story arc. The only problem was, the rogue was my PC in a game I was running. So the other players were basically watching me tell a story about my character. When they decided to do something entirely off the rails, I got angry and basically ended the game. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my mistake. Now, there are no more DMPC’s and I write my games for my player’s characters, not for my NPC’s.

  25. Casper says:

    To Robert & Locusts:
    The mages should take some blame as well. Couldn’t they have led him trough the door or something? Even if there is no friendly feelings, the fighter is still their “meatshield”. You need one in a dungeon.
    To Scott: The villain could have had a anti-teleportation field there. Otherwise everyone would be using teleporters as weapons. Unless the teleporter was an ancient alien artifact of course.

    As for railroading, I only decide what the villain is planing and where the PCs first encounter the evil plot. After that I improvise a lot- players are too unpredictable anyway. I do usually adjust things so than PCs would be challenged but had a good chance to win.

  26. Matt K says:

    The closest I ever came to screwing with an adventure was a D&D adventure where we were in town and supposed to help the rulers with something (so sue me it was a long time ago). At the time I was flipping through the Monster Manual and came across the JuJu zombie entry. I thought the name was hilarious (I was thinking of Jujubes candies) so when it came time to mention what our pay was I suggested a hefty Juju Zombie clause (some ridiculous amount of money). The problem, which became apparent later, was the we were in fact going to encounter Juju zombies (it was a pre-planed scenario by the DM). The ruler eventually talked my PC out of it by essentially dropping the treasure amount if we didn’t encounter them. It was pretty funny during the adventure when it turned out my odd instincts were right though.

  27. Eric says:

    In one 7th Sea game I played, 5 of the 8 players were related (note: not characters, players). They were two brothers and three of their adult children. We were the top crew of a pirate ship and we encounterd a mysterious, abandoned ship out in the middle of nowhere.

    The mystery was completely killed when all 5 recognized the mystery ship as the Marie Celeste, which was connected to their family history in some way. This totally derailed the GM’s plotline, and remains a group in-joke….

  28. Martin! says:

    This just happened in a game we were playing. We were becoming the heroes of a town. The church even built a statue of one of our fallen comrades. And then, we went on a little, easy, side quest.

    Long story short, as a result of our actions, a NPC killed himself. My (bad, but in character) idea was for him to pay for the information as who was bankrupting him. He could not pay for it because our thief stole all his money. (My character didn’t know that… But I did)

    We were accused of pushing him over… The statue was brought down. We were ban from the city… This was really bad for the team spirit as the paladin won’t speak to us anymore!

    And to make thing worst, we needed to be in the city to finish the main quest.

    The DM was crying… He has this whole town with a lot of details and we can’t even go back…

  29. Matt C. says:

    My regular DM wasn’t initaially used to having a cleric as a PC so I managed to inadvertantly spoil three encounters that were each intended to take most of the night.
    -A demon burst in to stop us from following our long time nemesis. I won initiative and cast Dismissal in the first round of combat.
    -A team-mate touched and was posessed by an intelligent weapon while I happened to have Detect Evil running. I cast Magic Circle Against Evil focused inward and then had plenty of time to remove the curse properly.
    -Some variety of homemade end-of-the-level uber-naga starts to mouth off at us from across a pit. I cast Circle Against Evil focused inward again but with reach metamagic this time. We got locked out of reality for a year of game time immediately after this one. Odd that.

    I seem to make up for these though by critically failing some basic skill checks. I don’t really mind though. Frankly I have some great fun enabling our DM to screw us a bit while my PC refuse to be convinced of his mistakes.

    My first attempt at DM’ing was an on the fly session. Since there was no planning I chose a story I knew well but the players were unfamilliar with. I didn’t realize then how much time players spend messing up your plans by being “clever”. Eventually I had to give up and say “I need you to run away now or your characters will die.”

    Also, in immediate retrospect I realized that real life siblings shouln’t have been allowed to pick the characters that become lovers in the original story. Never, ever do that.

  30. Anaphyis says:

    Very first tabletop session.

    “Don’t worry, this is your first game and this is a fucking beginners adventure, you really think you are going to die?”

    [30 minutes later]

    “Ahem … well … ah fuck it, lets do that battle again”

    [5 minutes later]

    “Ok, suddenly the tentacles of the swamp monster retreat due to it suffering from food poisoning after chewing off the wizards arm.”

    [60 minutes later]

    “This module sucks! Seriously, why are they putting that piece of shit in a god damn beginners box? OK, Ill improvise from here on.”

  31. Claire says:

    I was an awful player. I once got myself and my friend killed by a shopkeeper, after he refused to haggle on a ring of protection +1. (Not worth 20,000 gold in Forgotten Realms, btw.) I decided the appropriate response to his bullheadedness was to defile a dark corner of his shop. My hide check went off fantastically. My move silently, not so much.

    Eventually, I got such a reputation for screwing around in town and getting myself stabbed without ever advancing the plot, the other players would turncoat on me whenever they suspected I was scheming. Simply creating a bard, rather than a barbarian or sorcerer, was sufficient grounds for them to kill a guard, frame me for murder, and attend my hanging.

  32. Martin! says:

    One day, I was DMing a nice classic adventure. The story was about the daughter of the mayor of a small town that was supposed to be abducted by orcs. The players were supposed to be unable to prevent it. Well, they where planning the fight with a lot of teamwork, which they never do normally (Fighter to rogue: I don't care about flanking your target and allowing you to get 5D6 of sneak damage. If I move here instead, I'll have some cover. ).

    So they would have teamed, and would have saved the lady. I decided they would not be wearing weapons and armors as it was a party with ladies and dancing and that they add some drink so where to have a -2 on all to hit… There was some protesting but the daughter was abducted (and a rogue almost died)… When I reDMed this adventure for a different group, I let them prevent the abduction… Now the adventure was not to get back the daughter, but to learn why the orcs just wanted her and didn't kill anyone else, which was a lot more fun…

  33. quicksilver_502 says:

    this one wasn’t my fault but our party was in an inn trying to finish this quest when we bumped inbto this npc. he was rude so we killed him.m(we were all playing fairly morally dubious characters). turned out he was a prince. we get hauled in front of the king and are desperatly lying to avoid execution. we were just about managing it when my friend(who was playing a very stupid orc) said “you talking about that prince we killed?” things degenerated quickly after that.

  34. clouviere says:

    As a player in a Star Wars table top campaign, I shot the Jedi that the GM had us escorting. Couldn’t help it. I was broke and in debt, and one of the guys in our group said he would pay off all my debts and I would end up with some spare change after the deal was done.

    So I calmly told the GM in a note that I was going to shoot the Jedi in the head and push him off of the speeding…um…land speeder we were in. I roll, I got the shot, he failed to defend, he died, fell off the speeder and the game ended right there and we never went back.

    So yeah, didn’t even get paid…


  35. Factoid says:

    @Roxysteve: In your first example with the incinerated paper in the drawer couldn’t you just have ad-libbed a bit? Maybe the clue was inside a box that resisted the inferno and was only slightly damaged?

    Or maybe despite the fact that they destroyed the clue in the drawer, another clue or method of success would be presented to them?

    And in your second example why should an entire village be alienated? Surely they are not all of a single mind. There must be one or two people that agree with the actions of the players for whatever reason, or at least aren’t mad enough to withhold vital information. They might have to work a little harder to find people willing to help, but eventually they should find someone.

    Some would call that railroading or destroying the notion of actions having consequences, but people are sometimes unpredictable and I don’t think it’s right to deny them the most fun an adventure can offer just because of that.

  36. Tango says:

    In one of the first games I played, the heroes had been given a letter from the ruler of the land they could use to enlist help as needed on their quest. Having never met said ruler, and perhaps being a bit over-wary, we failed to use it, ever. As a result, our GM kept having to have more and more interesting excuses as to why these friendly NPCs we’d been avoiding giving details to kept showing up to help us.

  37. john_alexander says:

    I think the worst railroading I ever did was, in fact, a literal railroad. In my first game I ever ran, we were playing D&D 3.5, and there were magic trains (I know it’s lame, but I was 17. It was cool at the time). They got on one, only to find that one of the big-bads henchmen was there. The point was to have them capture him, or defeat him, or SOMETHING (I wasn’t too specific). Instead, they said ‘hey! This dude is one of the important baddies, and we are only level 4. He’ll kill us’, and promptly tried to leave. I just said that the train was going through a valley at the time, and to jump off would be about 100 feet down. In the end, they still didn’t get him; they avoided the dude the whole trip. So I had the dude get arrested at their destination, and had the Captain of the Guard (whom the PC’s were there to met) do the interrogating. It was rather lame, having an NPC interrogate another NPC, but they needed the info.

    As for jumping the rails as a player, I don’t think I’ve ever completely ruined a story, but I have ruined a single encounter. We were fighiting a bunch of priest-like dudes in 4e, and when they died their bodies either exploded, or they got up as zombies. The first time one stood back up, the DM said we were afraid, and had some penalties for fear (provided we failed our rolls, which most of us did). Then I piped up with a few points: a) We had just fought goblins, kobolds and a goddamn MAGE who threw fireballs at us, why do guys getting back up surprise us?, and b) my character was 40 years old, if zombie-people are common enough to be a random encounter on the roads, I think I’d have heard of them by now. The DM said no, I was wrong. I brought up MORE things about his world that probably would have numbed me to zombies (dungeons that operate like the matrix? I still don’t know what that was about), but he still said no. Finally, I let it drop, made my roll, failed it, and was content to move on, but apparantly I had convinced the other players that I was right, and now THEY argued my point for me. That was the only time I ever ruined a game session, but that whole game was one long series of crap, and I felt like saying ‘okay, I sprout wings and fly away, because everything else seems to be possible in this world, why not that?’

    In the end, we killed the zombie-priests and never played that campaign again.

  38. locusts says:


    I asked the DM why, if the mages could walk through the illusion my character couldn’t try the blind rush. After watching four party members go through the same patch of wall, something must be wrong with the wall. “You can’t,” was his reply, “It’s solid for you until you pass your check.” When I asked why one of the party couldn’t lead me through, I got the same answer. As to why no one would simply dispel the illusion? “It’s too powerful to dispel.” Hence me sitting for the session making saving throws every ten minutes.

    Perhaps you are right, perhaps I am a dick. I just thought that asking to make a character that would not be a hindrance to the party in the first game was a good thing to start asking about. I was not trying to make the anti-party character, but it made me very grumpy to find out that that was the result. So I roleplayed accordingly, the mages would not help my character and the DM said I could not join the party until one roll was made, what am I to do? Perhaps my solution was not the one you would have chosen.

    As for the second adventure, I did the ground work for that one, or so I thought. I picked a character that helped balance the party and then got to get a level progression, because the “adventure was too hard for first levels.” That should have been my clue, but as I said a friend had invited me to play and so I stayed. When everything went south, obviously my friend was in on it, but the fighters loved it. They were stunned and then spent the time laughing as my friend and I got our character sheets shredded. My friend dropped out of that game and the other two said that the game was never as fun as the double cross. However, again, perhaps you would have made a different decision. Looking at it from a different perspective though, I agree with you. I was out of line. Thank you for giving me perspective.


    • Rheylix says:

      Amazing. I realize that I am posting this years later, and those involved will probably never see this, but I simply had to say: This is one of the most mature and reasonable responses (to what could be construed as a judgmental attack) that I have ever seen on the internet. It is things like this that gives me hope for the internet and humanity in general. Thank you.

      • Slothdon says:

        Y’know, when I go on Archive delves like this, it’s always cool to see remnants left by other people who were doing the same thing. in a weird “finding the corpses of the preceding party” kind of way.

  39. Hotsauce says:

    Did it in neither case occur to you to say “Hey, this campaign isn’t what I was looking for. Have fun with it, and let me know when the next one starts”? Because “I’m not having fun, so nobody else is allowed to either” seems a touch immature.
    On the other hand, since you’d created a character with a thing against mages, I suppose what he did was kind of in character…

  40. Hotsauce says:

    My comment above simulposted with your second one, so I hadn’t seen it.

  41. Mistwraithe says:

    Frankly locusts, both of your examples of GM railroading actually sound MUCH more like the first of Shamus’s questions, deliberate player derailment of the destructive kind.

    If there are others in the group who are loving it then the problem isn’t that the GM is railroading you into a boring game, the problem is you and that the game doesn’t suit you.

    In that case you should gracefully say as much and stop playing. Trying to destroy everyone’s fun instead is akin to throwing your toys out of cot because the GM had the gall to make a game which didn’t suit you perfectly.

  42. Namfoodle says:

    I used to know a guy who was the worst railroading DM ever. Not only was the plot on rails, but the DM had his hands up the backs of all the PCs so he could work them like puppets. This guy would actually take over both sides of a conversation between two player characters, even when both players were sitting at the table.

    With that guy as the paragon, nothing I’ve pulled comes close. There was the 1st level party that tried to use a good great tracking roll to go straight from the initial encounter of the campaign all the way to the 3rd level boss fight. Even though the party cleric and one of the fighters were down to 1 or 2 hp each. I threw an extra unscripted fight in their way and introduced an important NPC early, but they were having none of it. They wanted to keep charging on. Finally I just gave up and said “oops! night falls and you lose the trail; time to go back to the inn.”

  43. Kevin says:

    As a player I once got really scared going into a town that the DM had stocked with plague zombies. He’d walled us in, and had set up several sessions of gaming there “” unbeknownst to me.

    Unbeknownst to him however, was my spell for making man-sized openings in stone walls. Bye-bye zombie town! (And bye-bye three weeks worth of adventure!)

    As a DM the worst railroading I ever did happened when one of my players suddenly piped up that he didn’t like the city magistrate anyway, and that the party should just go off and find their own adventure. They began to argue with one another, and I just crossed my fingers and let the clock run out on them for the session. Between sessions I wrote an update detailing how they had proceeded to the adventure from that point, and were now deep below ground in the dungeon. When the next game started they tried going back the way they came, so I flipped the map and told them they were lost. (That WAS twenty years ago… though I still get teased about it today.)

  44. Ozzie says:

    I’m currently playing with a railrod-happy DM, and rather enjoying it. He always has at least 3 hilarious DMPCs in the group, and all our fights are far too much for us to handle and end with some sort of Deus Ex Machina or us running away.

    This used to piss me off till it was pointed out that this style is more of an interactive story than a D&D game.

  45. SiliconScout says:

    I have a group that gets together once a year for a mega “man weekend” that lasts about 4 days of gaming. It’s almost the only gaming I get and we have been doing this for going on 12 years now.

    This takes place in a custom world with an RPG system that we developed ourselves.

    The party we are playing with is a group from the “Great Gorge”, it’s an area chock full of monstrous humanoids. In our case we were some of the few of these types who become heroes. So we had an Ogre Shaman, and Ogre warrior (who rode a giant boar), and elven orphan (who thought he was the monster)and a half-Ogre Scout.

    My Character is a Minotaur named Xaviour who wanted to be a Paladin but is actually more of a Divine Champion of Siridawn (God of justice, honor and the like), in many ways better than a standard Paladin.

    So about 4 years ago nearing the end of our weekend, our Heroes managed to defeat some Bugbears. Now in our world a Bugbear is a fearsome opponent, I'd rather battle a giant (and they generally kill in a single blow even a Hero) than a group of Bugbears. The group we downed was a particularly nasty bunch but the Heroes prevailed barely. Once item that we recovered from them was an Iron Arrow. Merely touching the item attempted to corrupt and influence the Character. Wielding it as a melee weapon however gave it great power, the ability to consume souls even (on a lucky roll). In fact during a subsequent battle it was the only item the party possessed that could harm one of our foes. It nearly corrupted the 2 different Heroes that ended up wielding it however.

    Xaviour being the most steadfast (highest Will Power) and the one who found the item took it in his possession. It was locked in a small chest full of tin and copper pieces and packed around by him with is avowed quest to find a way to destroy this minor artifact of evil.

    That is where that session ended.

    So a year passes of real time and our GM spends literally 200 hours or so planning out a new campaign direction given Xaviour's avowed quest.

    We get together 12 months later and learn of an Arch level enchanter of tarnished character but good intentions who would be likely to either possess the knowledge of how to destroy the item or be able to discover it on his own.

    The party journey's to this NPC's Tower and works their way through his various traps and obstacles meant to keep out all but the most dedicated and worthy visitors. Arriving on his doorstep relatively unscathed and in good spirits the Heroes are granted and audience.

    After some discussion and a nerve wracking event where the Enchanter needed to actually handle the arrow (we were sure we would have to try and kill him) he leaves us to discover what he can about the item.

    Returning some hours later he declares that he knows how to destroy the item and possesses much of the materials needed to do so already and those he does not have he can procure in the near future. We were happy with that news but he states that unless we do him a service (I honestly don't remember what the mission was but it wasn't anything “evil”) he won't destroy the arrow or tell us how to.

    He also added the caveat that the arrow must remain with him while we do the mission.

    Well Xavior being the Holy Zealot that he is had some significant issues with this. The GM played the Enchanter as some what ambiguous and gave off a huge vibe that everything he did had ulterior motives. He purposefully gave the impression that the man spoke in half truths. Xavior feared that he was under the arrow's influence or worse yet wanted to divine all its secrets to be able to produce more of the same so he refused the deal. Xavior felt that the arrow was safer on his back in its chest that in the Enchanters arms and the party walked out.

    The GM was somewhat shocked, and had the Enchanter toss some of his more creative baddies at us when we were nearly out of there and that only further cemented in Xavior's mind that he could not be trusted. In stead the party decided to follow a very minor subplot of one of the characters background and see if there was more to that. Further they decided that the arrow would be destroyed when they found a nicer Enchanter or the method on their own.

    A full year of real-time preparation was tossed out the window and the GM had to completely improvise 4 days (about 70 hours of playing) gaming creating a plot from scratch around what was essentially an irrelevant footnote in one characters backstory.

    It was by far the worst derailing I had ever seen or been part of in 28 years of gaming, AND it was my fault to boot.

    I felt horrible but there is no way that particular character EVER would have agreed to those demands and the GM really should have known it.

  46. rlor says:

    This isn’t the worst but a better story than the worst.

    We had a GM that liked to punish the party for not having a certain class present for a game. This included if a player of said class called in sick. In this case the rogue’s player was unable to make it due to being out of state for a month which meant that the GM seeded every place with 10 times more traps to “prove to us we needed a rogue to do anything”. We couldn’t really hire an NPC rogue either or gain access diplomatically so it seemed like a pretty hopeless situation. We were either supposed to basically not play the game or else just eat the traps.

    In his world lead was a common material and for something completely different my wizard character had purchased a large amount of lead. To make it easier to carry he had used shrink item to turn it into smaller bits of cloth. So when we get to super trapped structure #5 we began cutting up cloth, sticking it by or in doors and setting them off with command words.

  47. Galen says:

    I was playing D&D 3.5, and we were in a dungeon crawl. My orc cleric and a few others had just crossed a lake via a little lift and were approaching some ruins when we were attacked by a handful of spawn of keiss (or however you spell that). Naturally their first move was to attack my cleric who managed to fail his save and quickly became diseased. We all turned to run but my Int. finally hit 0 and my new zombie began attacking the party members. I managed to infect both of them before they killed me, and the two ran for their lives. They reached the platform and the one with less intelligence operated the platform for the only survivor. He managed to make it back to the town and fight the guards who he infected. From there we decided that the whole city (like 300,000 or something) eventually became infected. Eventually another party member who had been waiting in the city because he was trapped in a bubble, returned to reality and managed to get a few blocks before becoming infected also.

    It’s also worth noting that the cleric I had was officially the high priest of banthulu (from the Order of The Stick comics). We made a deal that if I could convert 6000 people to Banthuluism then the true banthulu would be resurrected. It was nice to remember that with the whole city of zombies the 6000 quota was filled and a new god of chaos had been born from the uh… chaos.

    We decided to rewind and just skip the battle with the spawn. I kinda wish we had continued with a new party and tried to infiltrate the city…

    On the plus side we DID save the city form the cult trying to set of the volcano…

  48. Vadimirin says:

    I’d have to say the worst derailment my friends and I ever did was the thorough trashing of a hotel in a Scion game, and it’s repeat in another game. The first time we were Legend 5 (powerful, but not the top of the food chain) Demigods and some of us decided to A: order the menu, B: order the beer and wine list, and C: order a rugby set from the local sporting goods store. We ended up playing Extreme Hallway Rugby and trashing a whole floor of the building!

    We then wanted to perpetrate a repeat of it in an Exalted game while in Yu-shan, the game’s equivalent of Heaven (AKA The Bureaucracy of Heaven). Our GM didn’t want us to that time though :’-(

  49. Gotelc says:

    I have never been railroaded or railroaded my players all that much. But i have Foced DM’s to do some quick thinking to keep their games from locking up. and the same has happened to me.

    The most recent was In a 3.5 game my friend is running. I had been out a few sessions and in order to get me back in hte game he thought it would be a great idea to have me as a captive by the enemy. Great idea on his part unfortunately i am a wily bastard sometimes. The Enemy was planning to make an attack on a fort later in the session and they had a big army and a massive amount of captives on the order of a few thousand. Well i was a cleric so i could not do much with locks so I schemed. I asked for a spoon with my gruel so I could carve a holy symbol. the DM said “they just throw raw meat into the cages” so I was stuck. Until it hit me to carve one out of some bones in the meat! The DM let that go since i was so determined. so i get a full compliment of spells, only used spell that had no material components (i was lvl 15) and had no other equipment than a bone holy symbol. I manage to bust th cages open, freeing all the captives and get to my equipment without much hassle. then i run into the big bad wolf, well he was a half Iron-Golem werewolf. He blows this whistle and all the captives i was freeing turn into werewolves and go ballistic killing everything and each other. Needless to say i get recaptured but i took out the main part of the army in the process. so there was not epic war that session much to the dismay of the barbarian.

    In one of my 3.5 games the party had snuck up on part of their evil counterpart. And they were eavesdropping the evil wizard and the evil fighter, when the rouge says he wants to make a called shot on the evil fighter. i think to myself “the odds of him hitting are really low, he would have to roll a 20 even to hit” so i allow it. He rolls… well low and behold a nat. 20… well i said “roll to confirm” and he rolls a second nat. 20… Now I know some people use an optional rule that if on an attack a player roll 3 20’s in a row it is an instant kill. I was using that rule. I asked him to roll again… and as i feared he rolled another nat. 20… i was flabbergasted. He killed the NPC that I had made the previous day, for the specific reason of kicking their asses in one surprise round with the only non-magical weapon that the party possessed. All i could do was laugh.

  50. Abnaxis says:

    This isn’t so much my own actions of derailing, but rather my players. Any time I have ever tried to run a modern sort of game, it usually goes like this: 1) miscellaneous intrigue, 2) players defend themselves from an attack 3) players go to the police (because in The Real World ™, that’s what people do when they’re attacked), 4) I try to figure out some way out of roleplaying weeks worth beuracratic happenings as police investigate and can never come up with anything that doesn’t seem contrived.

    I still haven’t come up with anything really good that doesn’t involve ludicrous amounts of railroading. Maybe I just stink as a DM…

  51. Bill says:

    Back in the mists of time when dinosaurs walked the earth (1988) our GM had planned a final climatic battle at which he could kill off one of his greatest NPCs and some of our high level PCs and close the entire campaign.

    Unfortunately for him he gave us far too much information beforehand and so with some planning and five minutes game play we’d created an impenetrable fog, invoked a vast horde of demons/devils (I can’t remember which) headed by major one which a score to settle and buggered off via other planes.

    The look on his face when we explained what would happen when the fog cleared was priceless.

  52. Alan says:

    Ok, as a player I am proud to say that I have helped prevent several fairly major derailments, sometimes to the detriment of my character – eg shadowrun, spotting that the Johnson didn’t have the money to pay us with, but knowing that the GM didn’t have anything else to play, just thought, “Eh, run with it. Should be fun”. I quite liked the GM style of that guy, so I trused him enough not to screw me over with it.

    Actually, still as a player, the biggest major derailment I have seen was perpertrated by the guy who gm’ed the above.

    The game was WFRP, and this near the end of a long campaign. We were supposed to rescue the original Hammer of Sigmar. This is an awesome item of mythical power which had a full page of stats encompassing various abilities, and would unify the Empire which was falling apart at the moment under some internal problems, so in short, this was an important item.

    We had just rescued the item, which unbeknownst to us, was holding back a giant rift in the fabric of the world. Not a problem this was in the plot, all we had to do was run.

    Ok, I can do that.

    We were then cut off by a stretch of water which threatened us until we found a conveniently moored boat. We got on the magically powered boat, and were easliy outpacing the rift (Which was going at the speed of plot), until we started arguing about something, I forget what, and the GM decided to hurry things along by moving the vortext close to us to focus our mind.

    Thinking to stave off imminent death-by-rift(tm), the person holding the Hammer of Sigmar threw the hammer into the rift, presumably landing somewhere in the Chaos wastes, leaving our party still in as danger laden territory as before, but minus one hammer.


    There was a pause at the table at that point where we struggled to absorb the ramifications of this.

    Having an idea, my character tried and failed to catch the hammer (He was a dwarf with abysmal dexterity), but the roll to crack the player that threw the hammer round the head succeded.

    In the end, after shaking off plot related stun damage, we went to the nearest Dwarf hold and begged them to make a replica hammer of some kind. The GM then -badly- re-wrote the game to fit this in, and the ending of a few months worth of mostly very good gaming came to an unsatisfactory end.

    As a GM, I have had players try and run away with games, but normally, because I -now- create games that have a definite target, but no other real rails. However, my first game that I gm’ed, was admittedly a horrible railtrack builders dream. I basically forced the players to get to a mansion. After a couple of armed squads failed painfully to knock them out leaving corpses around, I pinned the blame for their deaths on the characters, put them in jail, then had the owner of the mansion come and bail them out into his ownership.

    After another small bit of plot discussion with the main NPC, what followed might have made an interesting survival horror type game, were it not for the fact that they were cooped up in a large walled mansion garden o’death where I had to contrive ways to stop them climbing out because that is what the pseudo-plot required.

    The players then displayed little originality, not using any of the cunningly placed items of rocks or items, just sat in a hole and got picked off. Although having said that, there was an amusing aside where the players got attacked by squirrels which is still referenced.

    Hmm, just realised that this post is getting a little long, so this other one will be a little shorter.

    My second player problem where a player broke the rails was again in WFRP, I was running a game from a sourcebook where events built upon themselves and would eventually lead to a climax. There were about 120 fully detailed characters, intricate plots, and amusing asides.

    The players spotted the plot express and decided to jump away.

    They made a bandit camp on the outskirts and started attacking people as they came in or out.

    -Thanks guys, you made all that preparation worthwhile.

  53. Anders says:

    Was playing in a Feng Shui campaign. I was playing a Monster Hunter, specializing in hunting down and destroying dangerous demons and doing quite well too. The rest of the team was your typical hero group for Feng Shui.

    In the previous campaign we played, which sort of was a prequel with some charaters showing up as NPC in the later one, there was this kind frog demon. The frog demon people had been almost extinct but where slowly recovering at the moment.

    We meet the frog demon to talk about helping out, already a possible no-no for my character but he was aware that not all demons where bad, and we get to visit the spawning chamber where the frog eggs are resting.

    Due to the description by the GM instead of us seeing something positive we get a strong feeling that this is like the egg chamber in Aliens … not the right feeling at all and with me as a monster hunter there was arguing. The other players agreed with my conclusion and it ended up with us leaving and me with planing about returning with more guns.

    Next session we created a new group, the new description of the room was rosy, good and clearly shiny without any sort of trace of Aliens or anything bad.

  54. Bryan says:

    I used to play with a political science major. While not every issue was strictly railroaded, when it came to his politics it was his way or the graveyard. Here’s an example:

    While in Greyhawk our party was relaxing in an inn when one of his major protagonists came in with “several guardsmen.” Earlier in the campaign this guy had set an ambush for us which we spent the evening avioding. We didn’t know the guards were the city watch, or that the guy had blamed us for a village he had destroyed, until after the fact. The guards rushed in to grab us, and we fled thinking that these were the villain’s personal guards. The city’s citizens then began throwing rocks at us and trying to cut us off. We managed to escape by hiding in the water under the docks and freezing half to death.

    This type of thing happened to us a lot for the first 3 months of the campaign. Finally, when we all told him how tired we were of sneaking out of every town and disgusted with his campaign in general, he mentioned that we were supposed to be captured in the first ambush so we could help a noble escape from the villain, and that since we hadn’t eliminated the villain he had been free to rain distruction on local villages and blame us for it. His recurrence was supposed to put us on the tracks so that he could continue his original campaign which we had avioded for 3 months.

    I learned a valuable lesson from this for my own campaigns: NEVER predetermine what the players are supposed to do, especially when they don’t know or have any clue what you are planning.

    I think the worst railroading I’ve done was when I decided that a PC couldn’t determine the effects of a magical clothing item by placing it on an animal. I let the guy try on several animals before the guards arrested him. It seems that the animals’ owners did not take kindly to a mage experimenting on their animals. His guild was forced to give him a trial, and he was forced to pay for the animals he experimented with. He also got a stern warning from the guild to never try that again. In the end, I believe he threw the girdle of giant strength away rather than getting it identified.

  55. Miako says:

    “How We broke the Game Session”
    basically the plot was that our Werewolves (WoD) had stumbled into a self-modifying video game (sense wyrd and sense weaver both positive) that was slowly decaying. We were supposed to solve the adventure game, and leave. This was SUPPOSED to be aided by a genie who would show up, talk to us and give us a few clues (basically that you had to use stuff in places where it wasn’t found). Well, my friends’ characters pissed the genie off. Broke it really, and it disappeared before telling us anything useful.

    We understood about one of the four puzzles, and the rest of them were REALLY hard. One involved cutting Hydra’s heads off until you had 256, at which point you would get zero. Again, self-modifying video game (not that the characters knew they were in a video game).

    We basically spent the whole freaking game session trying to solve puzzles, and getting flummoxxed. Again and Again. Four hours. It was BAD.

    Then we went over to Kulthea.

    Wherein occurred a GM’s railroading. Or Whatever You Want To Call It.

    Basically, out of character the GM decided he wanted to have a Magic the Gathering game to test out his new deck. He claimed that the priestess to the Goddess of Invisible Gears (involving i at some point), had been transported to the main library, and that she had started a fad with some Magic cards that she had possessed when she came from the WoD world. So we had to play the GM (a world-class strategist) in Magic the Gathering.

    I did get a nice spellbook out of it, though.

    I don’t know WHAT you call “let’s play magic now”, but to me it seems railroading…

  56. Scott says:

    Kinda hard to de-rail a campaign that has no tracks but, as players, somehow we managed to do it in a homebrew Rollmaster game.

    The party was ‘supposed’ to become suspicious of the owner of an old house that we were staying in and try to find out what was behind the plans of this old man who was trying to ‘heal’ his daughter. We never figured out, until the very end, that his daughter had died (even though we were explicitley told a few times) and that he was searching for a method to ressurect her. Unfortunately, the party was used as a tool for her ressurection and ended up inadvertently destroying a fairly large city (killing all but 3 of the inhabitants) by unleashing a horrendous blood monter.
    Looking back, we sided with the wrong people and faught the wrong people… It was a mess, but it ended up okay in the end. Well, not for the city and all the people in it.

  57. I once enjoyed a game of 7th Sea in which the GM’s plot was something that we players dignified only with an occasionally glance. Most of the time we were far too busy making our own entertainment.

    We had acquired some property, presumably as part of a GM plan to get us to a particular city. Upon claiming it, our first thought was “How can we make this place turn a profit?”

    Problem one ““ the local gang wanted protection money, and we weren’t willing to part with our cash.

    Dismissing the obvious ideas of opening a brothel or a casino (given that there was too much competition), we eventually landed the idea of opening a theatre.

    Problem two ““ the other two theatres in town weren’t too happy.

    We took a look at the competition and started working on our own production. We needed a cast, so we lured the actors away from one of the rival theatres with promises of exciting new innovations in theatre.

    Problem three ““ a theatre, which had access to big strong men, was very unhappy with us.

    Obviously we had to get the word out, so we attended a few balls and put the word out. One of the player characters started a brawl.

    Problem four ““ brawls are not gentlemanly. We had made an enemy of half the nobility.

    We needed a plot, but lacked great writers. The obvious solution was to pinch something ““ so we decided to perform The Garden of Eden.

    Problem five ““ theatre plus the Bible, a sure fire way to offend the religious.

    We also had a distinct lack of budget. So, we settled for a plain white set, no props, and no costumes.

    Problem six ““ nudity would cause a scandal.

    Problem seven ““ religious nudity would cause a huge scandal.

    I’ve no idea what the GM had in mind when he guided us towards that town, but I rather suspect the mob chased us out before it could come to pass.

  58. Lethe says:

    In one Shadowrun session, our party was tasked by an unnamed Powerful Individual to bring a breifcase from Seattle to New York. We were then accosted by another Johnson who offered us a very large sum of money from his employer, “The Dishwasher” (the GM didn’t have a code name ready, and opened the Yellow Pages randomly), to take the briefcase to Denver instead. Given that we all lived in the Denver area at the time, I should have taken the hint. Instead, I was instrumental in convincing the group that betraying our current employer was going to bring down more trouble that it was worth, and that we probably didn’t want to work for this Dishwasher guy anyway, since he was clearly shady. (Yeah, I know, in Shadowrun, all of your employers are shady.) So, we declared that we would remain on I-80, bypass Denver, and continue East. The GM looked at us for a beat, chucked a large stack of papers onto his discard pile, and said, “So much for THAT adventure.” To his credit, he was able to improvise or retask bits he had written to still give us a pretty good gaming session, though.

  59. ehlijen says:

    The worst derailment a player has done to me also led to some of the funnest adventures that party had:

    They players had gotten themselves caught up in a power struggle between the king of an evil city, some his internal rivals and the leader of a orc war tribe besieging the city.
    More than one party had hired them to kill the king, steal the crown and bring it one of their employers (killing the king and claiming the crown was the standard procedure of succession in that place, although the PCs were never specifially told that).
    What does the halfling rogue do after his buddies kill the werebear king and just as more guards arrive?
    “I claim the throne!”
    It suprised the party as much as anyone else. Just as it actually working suprised the rogue…
    Suddenly I had to write adventures for city rulers instead of a band of lawless opportunists…

    Not sure it qualifies as a derailment as the players had several options open as to what to do with the crown. I just didn’t expect that.

  60. John Callaghan says:

    To Abnaxis: There are two methods of preventing your players letting the police solve all their problems for them that occur to me. One is the Call Of Cthulhu solution – the goings-on are so weird that no-one official would take them seriously.

    The second might work better Рhave your players take on the r̫les of the police!

  61. Annikai says:

    I’ve got a few stories of me derailing a game as a player.

    The first time me and a group were playing Call of Cthlulhu and from the very start I was trying to derail it. I had just gotten a lip ring that week and it had kind of become a huge topic among my friends. So much so that I added it to the character that I was creating (which was out of place considering that the game took place in the twenties). So me and the GM spent about 10 minutes convincing the group that it was possible (the DM is a really good friend of mine). So we get that passed and I realize that I have to leave just as we are about to start playing because a girl called me for a date. So I tell the GM to play the character for me for a while and I leave.

    So I make it back and the game is still going on (College is fun like this). Well I take the reigns of my character back just as me and on of the other characters is breaking into a house inhabited by two other characters. So we hold them at gun point. One of the characters was played by my friend Josh who is very religious and he made a Catholic Priest even after we spent about a half hour convincing him that his god did not exist with in the Call of Cthulhu universe. But he insisted so I wrote in my character background that my character had an intense hatred of the Catholic church. Well the game goes on for a while and my friends take out the main monster (I hid outside for the fun of it). Well I run back in and see the blood left from their battle and then I role play that my character had gone into shock. His shock took the form of becoming trigger happy and he began to shoot his gun at the priest. The priest was injured on the ground from the earlier fight. I did this once and missed when one of the other characters used his abilities to soothe me. So from there when it was my turn again I say “Okay I shoot the priest but this time of my own volition,” and I shot the priest agian. I did this about 4 or 5 more time when we heard sirens (my character had really bad aim). The cops entered the building as all of the characters left with the exception of me and the priest (who was severely wounded at the moment). A cop looked looked at me and said “Freeze Punk!” To which I responded by shooting the priest. The Cop shot me and I shot the priest. The cop shot me again and killed me but not before I reduced the priest to about -9. A few paramedics came in and saved the priest as I lay on the ground dead.

    The after math of this was that not only did I die but the priest was sent to the hospital. Now you’d think that the priest would be safe at the hospital but you would be sadly mistaken. He was kidnapped twice, tortured, and attacked by a star vampire. To make things better, during the torture the torturer asked him the names of his comrades. I told him out of character that it would be fine to give my name because my character was dead and it would be unlikely that they could track down the rest of the group. He thought of this for a second and he gave out my character’s name. The thing is that my character’s name was X which sounds like an obviously fake name. From there the GM had his character beaten more. This lasted for about two or three more sessions and it was all because of me.

  62. Wonderduck says:

    Once upon a time, half of my party of adventurers killed the other half without knowing it.

    They had been captured by the evil lord of the land, and had hidden them away somewhere in the town. We figured that they’d be in the keep, so to cause a distraction, we found an abandoned warehouse-type place (so as not to cause civilian casualties) that was near the keep, lighted a small, smoky fire, and ran away to watch the guards put the fire out.

    The warehouse-type place burned merrily, the guards went out to quench the blaze, we took down the remaining guards, got into the keep, and went into the jail… or, what we thought was the jail.

    It turned out it was more of an underground passageway, well constructed… and filling with smoke.

    The “abandoned warehouse” WAS the jail. It looked abandoned because there were never any people entering or leaving from the warehouse because the passageway was much more secure.

    We did, eventually, find what we thought was the other half of the party. Maybe. Kinda hard to tell. Did you know that burnt elf smells like roasted chicken?

  63. Jeff says:

    As a player, I’m probably one of the most cooperative guy you can get. Every one of my characters will have a justification for getting along with the party, and I tend to choose a class based on party needs. I tend to follow plot threads – probably because of old school adventure and RPG computer/console games. I like to explore and discover the story. As is, the ‘worst’ derailment I’ve caused was giving my DM a headache from my mage being overly prepared.

    Two stories as a game master. My most heavy handed move was when I once had a recently joined player who totally tried to take the game in a different direction then what had been happening. Of course, he was a problem player to begin with (he wanted an Evil character, I refused – from the beginning of the campaign a few months back the rules were already in place, that there were to be no Evil alignments and that everyone had to get along. He went to neutral, and then proceeded to act exactly how he intended to in the first place, continuously trying to bait me into switching his alignment to Evil for his actions.) At one point they reached a set of celestial monks (they had the sole purpose of giving them a reward after a rather insane dungeon) and picked a fight. His own party member ko’d him from behind – with me making it automatically succeed. He subsequently did all sorts of things that finally had me arresting and exiling the character. Player left as character exited, stage left.
    I don’t regret tossing him out at all, but the railroad I DO regret… I had a big campaign idea in mind. What happened was that the throwaway start area (an university) actually was the primary focus for a while (the PCs were students). It was great, the interactions and interschool activities. Then I more or less launched the main story that sent them out into the wilds to explore, away from the university, and it kinda collasped from there. I shoulda seen how well it was going and instead had events occur in and around the school. Ah well.

  64. Brian says:

    Can I flip it, and do the worst derailment I’ve ever been subjected to as a GM?

    I was running Star Wars d6, and planned out a story arc set after the Timothy Zahn trilogy. The idea was that a faction within the New Republic was plotting to control the Corellian shipyards, build a capital ship comparable to the Death Star in power, and use it to stage a coup of the Skywalker/Solo controlled Republic. The players, a third party to the conflict as a team working for Talon Karrde, would stumble upon the plan accidentally, run into the “grey Jedi” who was part of the plot (the plotters were more of a “Greater Good” type than Palpatine-like evil,) and would have a significant say in the finale whichever side they decided to fight for.

    When the party ran into the Grey Jedi, they refused to join him, as expected. That was the end of the second to last game.

    The last game opened with the party on their ship, leaving Corellia, when they discover that their engine’s been tampered with, and a few electronics checks later, they discover that their ship is being forced to Tatooine, so they won’t be able to warn and help the Republic leadership. I let them decide…

    “Eh, we’re not on anyone’s side. Let’s just go to Tatooine.”

    “You can fix the hyperdrive! You’ve got a mechanic!”

    “Yeah, but why?”

    And I sit there stunned, realizing that I have no good way to put them back on the rails. And go straight into epilogue mode, as the New Republic is overthrown.

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