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Your worst campaign ever?

Started by Kenway, March 20, 2002, 06:42:59 PM

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moving swiftly on...

Of all the many and glorious blunders of my GMing career, one I remember was overdoing the narrow victory thing.  I'd whittle at the characters, more or less, in classic sim/gamist dungeon crawls, until eventually they had to sit me down and tell that they would like an honest to god clean victory, just once.  The gist of a fairly ugly conversation was that no matter what hell they went through to gain a level or whatever, they would go through much the same hell next time.  They never got to enjoy the fruits of victory.  It was especially gruelling because we were playing a heavily reffitted D&D with hit locations and qualitative wound levels; as a result the endgame often displayed a lot of limping and crawling, and improvised crutches.  A the time I understood this as my error in translating D&D conventions of hit point attrition to a specified wound system; more precisely, in light of the Forge, I would say that I was also serially deprotagonizing the PC's. Part of the problem, I think, is that D&D had little in the way of reward systems beyond power progression.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


What a fun topic; like comparing diseases (I had runny sores with mine!)

So, my three runniest sores:
One of the first D&D games I ever ran in. I ran a wizard, had henchmen, got them killed. Came out of the dungeon with 2 hits left, some magic armor, and a magic sword. Went to the good temple. Cleric wouldn't heal me until I killed a gargoyle in the temple. Found out I couldn't even hit it. "Why?" I asked. "Because you need a magic weapon to hit it."
"No prob. I use the magic sword."
"You can't."
"Why not?"
"Wizards can't use swords."
You see where this is going. Every situation was a frustrating trick, or an outright deathtrap, and the GM gave absolutely no slack for creativity. It made me hate D&D with a passion.

Runny sore #2: a very witty and creative GM named Karen was trying the then new Rolemaster rules. At that point, it was a box full of previously released supplements like Arm's Law and Spell Law, with very poor organization. We couldn't even figure out how much damage we took. We ran into a random encounter, had a fight that lasted about two hours, and spent the next game month recovering from our wounds and searching for medicinal herbs. Finally, Karen gave up, threw out the rules, and winged it. Much better.

The runniest sore: not a campaign, but a tournament at a con. I think it was at Towson State, it was Traveller. Our characters were recruits at a military boot camp. We were supposed to solve some mystery, but we weren't sure what. We asked questions. No one knew anything. We tried hacking into the computer. No info. We tried to steal weapons. No weapons available. We were told a ship would arrive. We said we'd wait for the ship. I had a feeling that the GM had no adventure prepared and was wasting our time. Each person around the table tried to do something, anything to relieve the boredom. And this was a tournament! I lost my temper and asked, "Do you even have ANYTHING prepared?" He said when the ship arrived, something would happen. I said, "In roleplaying games, here's how a ship arrives: you say, 'The ship arrives.'" This appeared to be a new idea to him. I walked out. My friends who stayed told me it got even worse. An hour stolen from my life that I will never have back.

Oooh! Look how runny it is!


One sure fire way to kill your ad&d campaign is to have the party find a Deck of Many Things.  Hopefully you remember this item- dig out your old DMG or search on the net if you're not sure.
 Whenever we found one of these things, some pcs would end up possessed, sent to another dimension, or killed irrevocably by Death.  But a lucky few would end up with a bunch of extra magic items and XP levels richer.  Not exactly the most game-balancing thing to happen!
 In fact, most of the unlucky ones- if they managed to be alive, would get so jealous they would gang up and kill the "lucky" pcs!

 Good things to come out of this:  when some of our later campaigns started to get stale, we'd all agree to find a Deck OMT just to spice things up and/or kill everybody off;).
 Whoever was left standing was declared the winner of that campaign! We were somewhat able to turn something that was originally really bad into something at least moderately entertaining.


I couldn't agree more. Nearly every random event generator like that can be a campaign killer. I one made the mistake of using "Hela's House of Dark Delights" by Ken St Andre. It was set up like a solo dungeon. The players are offered a menu of choices: do you want to change? do you want to be famous? etc. Ultimately, you reach a character altering event. It really threw a wrench into my campaign.

In an early game, we ran afoul of "The pillars of Judgement". Your character stood between them, dice were rolled, and good or bad things happened. One fellow kept going back to undo all the defects the pillars had given him, until his character exploded. He was so mad, he walked out and never came back. Can't say I blame him.

My friends used to kid me about my hatred of random encounters. You know: "orcs, 2-12, treasure type Q." Always a waste of time. If a GM has gone to the trouble of planning an adventure, why mess it up with something so, well, random? I would look through the lists, choose the ones that I thought related to the adventure, and  keep them in reserve for slow moments. I suppose that reveals my narrativist tendencies.

Why are some players so attracted to these things? I think it's the lotto fantasy: big jackpot, no effort. If you can walk into a room, or pick a card, and get a reward equivalent to weeks or months of playing, why not? It also may be boredom. Sometimes, when thing get slow with my group, they start chanting "Deck! Deck!" Always a bad sign.

Joe Murphy (Broin)

Great thread. Not just fun, but educational. I'm spotting two or three topics that really bug people, like the sharing of power, lack of preparation, and lots of miscommunication.

I ran a very and session of ShadowRun, at a tournament. The scenario was quite awful. 6 or 7 completely unrelated characters all have various reasons to break into a house I think the magic-using owner had just died, so one PC was a gang member who wanted to trash the place, another was a corporate mage who wanted plunder, and so on. However, the house still some aggressive squatters. Dungeonbashing ahoy.

One player came to me, pointed out the house was just made of stone, and that his heavy machine gun could easily fire right through the building. I let him take out a few of the inhabitants, but the rest 'hid', I explained. Another player was a chemistry genius, but I explained that cooking up a batch of sleeping gas would just 'take too long'. I had absolutely no idea how to cope with players who so efficiently could short-circuit the 'plot'.

The worst game I played in was a Kult campaign that lasted a year or so. My mousy editor character had a detailed, flavorful background involving various deals made with a demon. The demon had given him a lovely wife, a lovely home, and a good job, and so on. All set to get into character, having spent *weeks* considering just how to play the fellow, I was told that I woke up one morning to find my wife eviscerated.

Then the other players found me, sort of kidnapped me, and I was somehow expected to roleplay intense, psychotic grief for the first few gaming sessions. Worse still, the other characters (and players) never took it seriously. Yeuch.

There's nothing quite like trying to summon up grief and loss from your psyche while other players make ass jokes.



Worst campaign, hm.  Well, an earlier poster noted that one tends to leave bad games and that's precisely what I did with my own personal worst.

A friend of mine deciding to run Fading Suns.  I'd been wanting to either run or play it for a while, so I jumped at the chance.  I dropped out after about five sessions.  The problems, while small, were many.  I'll list and explain.

Who's Playing This Week?: Seven people showed up for the first game.  That's a lot of people for a group as roleplay and story-intensive as us.  Two dropped out, one joined later, and one just couldn't be bothered to make it every session.

So, You Did Read Through the Entire Book, Right?: The GM and I had *extremely* different ideas about what the FS universe is like.  I can't, of course, say mine is right, but everything I liked about Fading Suns... wasn't there.  I also knew the FS canon a *lot* better than she did.  This wasn't as problematic as the differing ideas about the game, though it did result in a nasty and probably unwarranted feeling on my part that she ran the game the way she did because she didn't understand the setting.  That is, I don't think the fact that it ran like Star Wars was a conscious choice - it was because she knew Star Wars and didn't know Fading Suns.

"Yes" and "No:" Every GM needs to know when to say each of those.  What is appropriate to say when depends on the GM and the group, but I can't believe it's purely a matter of opinion.  Basically, whenever a character asked for something, the answer was "yes."  Even when the question was "can my character become the Emperor of the Known Worlds?"  (I wish I was joking....)  Whenever any character tried to take an action that directly opposed one of her favored NPC's, however, the answer was "no."  I had a character already crippled by my lack of understanding of the (broken) Fading Suns system.  When all of my best-laid plans to circumvent system problems with sheer cunning were shot down out-of-hand, I got a little tired of playing.

Wow, Taking a Few Liberties, Aren't Ya?: This is a bit related to the above problem.  Every character had an extremely in-depth, often complicated past.  Even players who normally only bring in simple characters.  The GM took huge liberties with said backgrounds, however.  Despite the players discussing with her exactly how they'd like said backgrounds to be handled, exactly what they should mean to the character, and exactly the story they'd like to tell with them, several people walked away from the game rather dissatisfied.  One character had a background that was all about star-crossed love and the eventual death of his wife because of it.  A major turning point for the character was supposed to be when he got over his grief and managed to press on with his life.  He learned later that his wife was part of a Sathraist cult and was little better than the demon-worshipping antagonists we were pursuing.  I can think of no worse way to have handled it.  Neither could the player.  He attended one session after that game.  It was one session longer than I lasted (and I think it was the last session of the game).

What a Coinky-Dink!: For the majority of the game, there were five core players.  Four of us had backgrounds that involved a noble house called the Decados.  It just made sense for them to be an antagonistic group.  Though I eventually got my background retroactively altered to *heavily* overlap the background of another character, the rest of the backgrounds were unrelated.  Or so we thought.  Just coincidentally, all these disparate people found themselves facing off against a group of antagonist NPC's, each of whom was somehow related to the a PC's background.  This would have been fine if the group had been brought together because of their interrelated backgrounds.  As it was, it was just one of those million-to-one quirks of fate that make so many games look so cheezy.

All Wrapped Up in a Neat Little Package: This ties into the coincidences.  Every player expected over the course of what would presumably be a long campaign that the issues from their long, involved backstories would be resolved.  Little did we know they would be resolved within the first story arc, a period encompassing mere weeks of in-game time.  It left little to hope for, really.  Oh, it also involved five different angles running in the plot at a time.

Can I Play Now?:  Sadly, the GM couldn't handle all those angles.  We spent a lot of time with the characters split up and so, as players, we spent a lot of time roleplaying.  One night, the entire group hung around for an hour while she ran something with just one player.  That very night, one player wasn't involved at all.  That's right, he didn't game that night.  He played Black & White all night instead.  And it was about a 6-hour session, too.

This Ain't Call of Cthulhu: The GM drove a character insane.  Seriously.  He burned down a temple and torched quite a few innocents because he heard voices in his head telling him to.  This wasn't unwanted player action, by the way, it was exactly what she'd wanted.  I guess he somehow became sane before the next session.

Deus Ex Machina: During the climactic end of the story arc (the last session I attended), there was an event of serious religious importance.  It wasn't a miracle, but it was highly, er, mystical and it had some interesting effects.  Basically, the GM allowed each player one action that was guaranteed success.  This was in part because we were getting our asses kicked by over-powered NPC's and, I believe, in part because my character couldn't succeed within the system and had all his attempts to succeed outside the system shot down.  It is so... so... insulting to be *handed* an important scene in your character's development, without my roleplaying even being a factor.

BANG!: Worse, someone else used their action to totally destroy what little value this scene had for my character.  I'll explain.  My character had a long history with two young nobles of the aforementioned House Decados.  He was basically a servant to a Decados family, and the two sons of this family tormented him throughout his childhood.  My character had killed one of the sons as part of his backstory - the issue between the other brother and my character had gotten very personal indeed.  Anyway, after realizing that my character could not ever, barring loaded dice, take the NPC in a fair fight, and after every attempt to roleplay the situation into my favor was slapped down almost before it was out of my mouth, I was basically handed this NPC's life.  The Deus Ex Machina action it was assumed I would take was killing this man.  It was a weak resolution, but I'd take it.  Or I would have.  If another PC hadn't shot him.  Yes.  In the midst of my character's duel, just before he was struck the killing blow... someone else... shot him.  Since we'd all been given DEM, guaranteed success actions, the GM couldn't very well say "no," right?

That last session really was the final straw for me.  It didn't lead to any particularly hard feelings, though I'm leery about gaming with some of these people (and playing under this GM - though I'm about to start in a Star Wars game with her).  And it really wasn't a terrible campaign.  It was good to start with, then boring and contrived, and only truly bad that last session.  It's just that the rest of my games have been so good.

Anyway, sorry I'm so long-winded.  Didn't mean for my first post here to be this long.  But anyone who knows me from LiveJournal or the sorc-fan list a few years ago should be used to it.  ; )


For the last three or four months I have been playing in a game that just hasn't worked at all.  We have a good group of gamers, we've all played together before, and we've played successful campaigns together.  One person started up a 3e campaign.  The setting is one we've all played before, and that we've all had a lot of fun in.  

The last time that we played in the setting though, we were playing in second edition.  The GM is probably the best game master I had ever played with.  This campaign just never really got started well.  The first problem started with the change in editions of D&D.  Before, the GM wasn't afraid to make any call, and the players would never argue with him about a ruling during the game.  Now, we have a player or two who turn into rules lawyers and whine and complain about any call that he makes.  So, before we even get to the game often the mood is killed.  As the campaign has gone on though, this has gotten better as we've sat down and talked about arguing about rules all the time.  

Then came our next problem.  One of my friends used the term Plug-n-play roleplaying to describe it.  As we played we felt that our characters didn't matter in the game, like you could take any group of characters and throw them in(it felt kinda like playing in a module).  A lot of this came from underdeveloped characters and underdeveloped goals.  Our problem with this was that we only got to play once a month, so we didn't really notice what was causing the problem.  It was funny because one night after we were done, a few of us were sitting down and talking about it and we finally realized that we all had the same problems with the game.  

Since then, we've talked with the GM and the other players, and things have started to get better, but there is still a lot of work to be done.  Its funny how a group and a setting can be the same, but the results can be so different.


Blackmanxy:  All that happened in *one* campaign?  Ouch.  Very nicely organized post, though.

 One early bad AD&D adventure I was in:
 There were about 4 of us and we were about 4th level.  We had been using these characters since 1st level and worked hard for months.
 One day, a couple of us suggested, hey, wouldn't it be cool if we could kill Demogorgon?  Hopefully, you're familiar with this Demon Prince- he's ludicrously powerful and has the best HP and Armor class in the 1st edition DMG.  Everybody who has the 1st edition DMG or Monster Manual dreams of bagging him.
 Our DM says sure.  After a day or so of prep, we started the adventure.  Cutting to the chase, we found a dimensional portal to the Abyss, we entered and started a fight with the big guy and a couple of his servants.
 After a couple rounds of doing pretty well, the DM said we all got hypnotized (one of Demogorgon's powers I believe) and that was the end of our characters.

 We were stunned.  But then we realized "what did you think was going to happen?"
 I guess we (the PCs) were to blame because no 4th level characters in their right mind go into the Abyss looking for a Demon Prince!
 But maybe the DM should have just said, you're going to die you know, and stopped us.


My group just started using the D&D3 rules, too. Our usual DM, who had a firm grasp of the old rules, seemed a little intimidated by the new edition. We've been constantly interrupted by real life (I hate when that happens!), but I think most of his problems will iron themselves out with experience. I've been acting as kind of a rules gofer, looking up stuff because I have a good memory for where things are.

More daunting, though, is they way some of the players approach the game. If something isn't on their character sheet, they won't try it. I've tried to explain that, with the new rules at least, everyone has a chance to do almost any mundane task. You may suck, or crash and burn, but you can TRY! But in spite of (or perhaps because of?) the wide array of options listed (skills, feats, etc.) some of the players just plow the same old ruts. I'm hoping that they will become bolder as they realize just how much freedom they have, but I'm afraid years of routine play may have fried their imaginations.