The dice are trying to kill you.
I have an affinity for Dungeons and Dragons, one of the most geeky of games. In the right circumstances can be hugely enjoyable, with those circumstances largely being “not taking it too seriously”.
One of my first attempts to get a couple of my friends interested in “proper” Dungeons and Dragons did not go well. It was a standard basic-set adventure involving a dungeon for a dark wizard’s salt mine that started the players in a prison cell and was meant to lead them to an exit that turned out to be a lost city, or something along those lines.
The two players in question only made it to room number two before killing each other following a dispute about what to do with an unconscious hobgoblin that they were dragging along behind them.
The warning bells for this scenario were probably starting to warm up around about the time the characters were rolled up and given the names “Keith” and “Derek”, the former being a thief, the latter a cleric. I’ll admit that this was an early version of Dungeons and Dragons which was a little low on character customisation, with Dwarf and Elf being a class as opposed to a race, but in terms of fleshed out characters, Keith and Derek were particularly poorly dressed skeletons. Of course, this didn’t register as a problem, as after all, these were pretty much new players to the game, and it was probably best just to get on with the adventure and let them work out their characters from there.
What followed is probably more likely my fault than theirs, as I proceeded to allow things that a more seasoned DM would work around. Keith and Derek, with the help of burly NPC Axel, tricked their hobgoblin gaoler, Jerj, who I consistently mispronounced as “Jerry”, and broke from their bondage. However, being without any equipment other than the soiled rags they were wearing, they were keen to keep a set of manacles that happened to be in their cell. Not only this, but they then decided to fill the manacles with an unconscious hobgoblin gaoler. Now the warning bells were starting to clang a little. I allowed it, regretted it, and then decided that I would have the hobgoblin regain consciousness slowly, leaving them plenty of time to leave him behind.
Dragging their captive along behind them, for reasons they did not fully comprehended, their captive hobgoblin started stirring into consciousness. They promptly entered a discussion about what to do with it. In a reversal of what you would expect, the thief thought it would be immoral to slit the creature’s throat whilst it was out cold, whereas the cleric practically had the knife to its throat before anyone could think. I can’t quite remember what happened immediately following this, but either Keith killed Derek, or Derek killed Keith, or Keith and Derek somehow accidentally killed each other with some unfortunate rolling of dice (the Killer Dice principle).
Taking a few things away from this misadventure, I learnt some fairly useful lessons.
1) Don’t always let players have their own way.
2) Learn to fudge the dice.
3) Don’t always let players have their own way.
4) Make sure your players actually want to play. A bit of a no brainer, but I have suspicions that Derek and Keith were less than keen.
5) Don’t always let players have their own way (but not at the expense of point number 4).
If anyone out there recognises the adventure I’m talking about (something along the lines of “Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon) and has actually played all the way through, I’d be interested to know because I’m convinced nobody actually made it. It seemed to go on forever and so in many ways, I’m glad Keith and Derek never made it past room two.
Years later I would start a campaign and allow a game-breaking Barbarian-Wizard to be created. I swear the player used loaded dice to roll for his characteristics. It is an all new variant on the Killer Dice Principle resulting in a long slow death from exasperation for poor soul trying to run the game.
Incidentally, if anyone laughs at you or otherwise teases you for playing Dungeons and Dragons, remember the following two things:
1) They have heard of the game and therefore probably know what it is thus maybe just as geeky as you.
2) They are secretly jealous.