Games that went wrong and why – Part One
This series is about the games that failed.
System – Pathfinder.
Setting – Utanskea, homebrew fantasy setting.
Premise – Heroes were troubleshooters doing quests for two factions against their enemies. Over time the factions became more direct working towards their interpretation of a prophesy about the end of the world, where Jormungand the world snake would be released.
What worked – Players had access to the Pathfinder SRD and Herolab application, so they could reference skills, feats and spells without problems. Players worked together as a team during combat. Using the system was not an issue.
What went down – They characters were gathering ritual components in various locations for an Arcane Guild, and removing threats for the church of the Knowledge.
Some of the threats they removed had lore about a prophesy, and after chatting with both employers the heroes discovered both groups had different interpretations of the prophesy, and then hired the heroes in higher risk missions.
What happened – The players did the bare minimum in each encounter, and made no effort to hang around each other between quests. They were ticking boxes with no enthusiasm. I asked if they wanted more exploration or more combat or more puzzles, they gave me a bunch of meh responses.
What went wrong – The heroes enjoyed the rewards, but the players were not interested in the big quest.
They did not want an epic quest like War of the Lance in Dragonlance or Lord of the Rings. What they wanted was a dozen small quests for 6-8 factions, like in Daggerfall/Morrowind/Oblivion – Elder Scrolls series.
Game ended – When I ended the campaign they were annoyed they could not keep their characters going, but showed no interest in linking characters together for group cohesion or to the setting for an ongoing plot.
I had already set things in motion so could not just say nah the World serpent goes back to sleep or someone else takes care of it, that cheapens the whole thing.
What we can learn –
1 – Session Zero is critical. You must discuss and agree on the style (exploration vs slaying vs investigation), tone (all works out, sometimes works out, rarely works out) and scope (save the town, save the nation, save the universe) with everyone in agreement at the start.
2 – An accessible system can work well, but it’s only part of the equation.
3 – The characters don’t have to be best buddies, but they need reasons to hang around each other, not just at the start but evolving reasons later, be in ongoing threats or quests.