Stealing the Staff of Darkness: Out-of-hand Escapades and Fierce Friendships

C: In my game, we’ve just begun the newest arc, returning to a town the party had previously passed through but which is now under martial law.

A: We’ve snuck in via teleportation to find out what’s what. We need to be sneaky, as last time we were here, we did sort of leave under a cloud.

C: And it’s already got pretty spicy. This session ended on a cliffhanger created entirely by the players.

A: What? No! It wasn’t entirely our fault.

C: Well…

A: I guess maybe as a DM, it seemed like that to you—that there were other choices and we didn’t make them. But as a player it felt like we we’re on a pretty linear path. Were there other ways to get out of the cellar we teleported into which didn’t involve using the door?

C: I was more thinking when you guys were in the bar—since you teleported into the back room of a bar, and then walked through to the main room—there were a number of interactive elements: NPCs, doorways, things like that.

A: The two classic interactions: NPCs and doors.

C: My point is, there were a couple of different things you could have interacted with, and you guys leaned into the NPC-side, chatting to a halfling called Tanner, and it ended on a cliffhanger that I wasn’t expecting when Patience, our tiefling inquisitor, dramatically referenced his past.

A: That’s true. I was going to see if Frieda, our druid-rogue, wanted to break into his room, but before I had time to suggest that, Patience intimidated him with her secret knowledge of backstory.

C: I didn’t realise that’s what you were thinking of doing. That was smart! I thought you were just trying to distract him by flirting, asking him what his room number was and all.

A: I wanted to uncover his secrets, only Farrar’s sleight-of-hand isn’t great, so she was going to see if Frieda wanted to embark on a second escapade.

C: That’s right—because the two of you are already involved in a first escapade—if we can call it that.

A: Operation Steal Staff of Darkness.

C: Yeah, this is a plan to steal a staff belonging to Hamish, another player character. So morally dubious shenanigans and definite theft.

A: It’s an intervention. It’s with the best intentions.

C: Absolutely.

A: We’re worried that The Void, the thing from which he gains his power, is consuming him. Though admittedly, it’s fun to have escapades on the go. Also, it’s nice to discover that we’ve got to the point as a party and as players where it doesn’t feel exclusionary when only a couple of people are doing a thing.

C: All the players, including Hamish’s, know about this plan in a meta-way. They know Frieda and Farrar are teaming up to do this.

A: Yeah, and it’s a nice chance for us to bond as characters. Frieda’s been away for a little bit because her player has been busy in real life, but now she’s back, and she even bought dice!

C: It’s a power move, bringing your own dice.

A: True.

C: It also means that I’m immensely powerful because I have forty fucking sets.

A: It also means you lose legitimacy for ordering any more because your excuse was ‘I’m letting our players pick their dice’ but now they’re bringing their own. We could even get rid of some…

C: Let’s not go crazy. But to return to the topic, all the player characters have a couple of stronger bonds in the party. Like Gil and Conrad are best friends, but then Gil and Emer are also close, and Emer and Farrar, and so on. I think the Farrar-Frieda connection has been there before, but it’s nice to see it again.

A: Yeah, all the characters have these different relationships with each other. Like, Patience and Kalika are locked in a battle of who can figure the other out first while maintaining their own edgy exteriors.

C: I think Kalika has that same vibe with Hamish. Will she learn his secrets or will she end up joining The Void?

A: Haha, true. But to return to my original point, I think that for a long time I was paranoid that, if I didn’t invite everyone to join a plan, players would be hurt. And likewise, if another character looked like they were going to go escapade, everyone tried to muscle in on it. Whereas now our characters are developed enough, and the players are comfortable enough, that we can sit back a little more. And that means that it’s easier for escapades to happen.

C: Seeing all those different dynamics and knowing that there’s enough solidity and cohesion that people can go off and do stuff with one other member without it being detrimental to the group experience was a really nice part of taking the campaign a little slower for a couple of sessions. It gave people time to explore their characters outside of the immediate narrative or challenge.

A: You guys aren’t quite there in my game yet. You’re really good as a party, and you operate as a unit; there’s less focus on individual escapades.

C: Yeah, we tend to all barge into someone’s room and all start hollering at them at the same time.

A: Though that may be partly because you’re a small party, so it’s easier to do things all together.

C: Also, not to get too meta, but we’re in a big city and we know there are people in the city who want to kill us, so we’re extremely cognizant about splitting up. We don’t even want to split the party for shopping.

A: I was going to say that that’s unfair, but then I remembered Saoirse.

C: Yeah, our sorcerer arrived in town on her own and immediately got stabbed. She almost died.

A: She was fine.

C: Eventually. But I wouldn’t worry about there being fewer escapades in your game. It’s not a weakness; the introductory stages of any campaign are setting up the group dynamic. It’s got to come first, and then capers can happen.

A: Yeah, I guess I wasn’t wanting to compare my game to yours and to analyse the ways in which it’s weaker. It’s more like your game acts as a promise of things to come.

C: That’s a nice way of thinking about it.

A: I think for a while I would watch Critical Role and wonder how they managed to be such good players—always letting each other take the limelight with individual endeavours and personal moments—when I felt like I was not able to do that as a player. And I worried as a DM that there weren’t any of these moments in my game where the players are laughing so hard at improvised moments that we’d have to stop playing for ten minutes to recover. But now I think that, having seen it gradually happen in your game, I understand that it’s (hopefully) just a matter of time for mine too.

C: I think the SJWs will start embarking on their own antics pretty soon.

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