It’s Wednesday, and that means it’s Comic Book Day! Huzzah! I’m incredibly fortunate to have a significant other who enjoys comic books just as much as myself (maybe more!), though our tastes differ. What this means is a pull list that, at one point, included nearly all of the All New Marvel titles. But, I’ll be honest, Marvel is relaunching – AGAIN – this fall under the Marvel NOW label, and some of the titles are getting reboots and some are continuing. It’s enough to put a bad taste in my mouth for the whole thing. DC’s Rebirth series, on the other hand, I’m enjoying, even more than New 52 a few years ago. But I’m trying not to go nuts with adding DC titles to the pull list as well.
Enough about comics, though. On to #RPGaDay 2016 Day 10!
10) Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?
Hands down, the largest in-game surprise for me came from my first big, story-based campaign, which I ran in high school. I was weaned on the Dragonlance novels (Chronicles, specifically) and enthralled with the fact that it was a series of D&D modules before it was a trilogy of novels. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? So I put together a campaign setting, Cosmic Forge, and built a story that honestly hit many of the same story beats as Dragonlance.
It was a great time and my players seemed to be invested in the game as well, which made things all the more enjoyable. This was AD&D 2nd Edition, and mages were not a popular choice for characters – they tended not to live past the first few levels and the options available to them at those entry levels were quite limited. But, one of my players – Jesse Towers – created a mage named Maverist. He was the Raistlin character of the group, though I’m confident Jesse had not read Dragonlance – he had just rolled badly for Constitution in this case!
Maverist was a member of the adventuring party that fought dragon armies, elven ghosts, and horrendous monsters, and through it all he was a … well, he was a bit of a dick. Jesse played him as a self-centered, selfish mage who knew he was destined for greater things, and he viewed the other characters as mere stepping stones on his path to power. He was an interesting, engaging character and helped to create a lot of dramatic moments for the campaign.
But the most surprising in-game moment came pretty late in the campaign. I don’t recall a lot of the specifics, but I had introduced the Hand of Vecna to the party as a major relic. Maverist became obsessed with it, and after they recovered the evil relic he volunteered to lop off his hand and attach the artifact to the stump. As I recall the party needed some information that the Hand of Vecna was supposed to possess so this was met with grudging approval from the rest of the party.
The Hand … changed Maverist. I used it to whisper suggestions to the player representing the baleful will of the powerful artifact, and Jesse took to the suggestions with particular glee. Under the influence of the Hand, Maverist became more and more brazen, and seemed to care less and less about his companions. It all came to a head in a small dungeon the party was exploring (the Lost Shrine of Bundushatur as I recall, an RPGA module released by TSR) where some calamity befell the party. When the smoke cleared, Maverist had failed his saving throw and lay dead.
And that’s when the players, sans Jesse, met to discuss what to do. It was a great roleplaying moment – as the DM I assumed the party was going to raise Maverist from the dead. They had the means, and it was another player’s character. It was assumed on my part, and not just because I had more things I wanted to use Maverist for in the campaign.
But the party decided NOT to raise Maverist, and they came together to tell Jesse about the decision. It stands as the most surprising in-game moment that I can recall, and while Jesse understood I’m pretty sure he was very disappointed. I worked later to bring Maverist back as an NPC villain, and Jesse made up a new character, but I could sense a major shift in the campaign at that point. It was thankfully towards the end, and to this day I remember Maverist and the decision made by a party not to bring him back.