DM Notes: When Players Attack

The Gloriana campaign started this weekend, and it was a lot of fun. Depending on how the party feels I might share their adventures here/on Obsidian Portal–stay tuned on that. There’s at least one story I feel the need to share, and it’s something any DM will be familiar with: That moment when the players assume something that, while untrue, is cooler than what you came up with, and therefore needs to become true.

Our heroes traveled to the burial ground of an ancient Druid in search of answers to a personal mystery. I gave them a brief description of the mound–covered in green grass, trailing with mist, and dotted with silver whorl flowers. Before long they’d found their way in (not before picking one of the flowers) and studied a plaque depicting the story of the druid. I read off a description of beautiful paintings in berry ink, with scene after scene of emotional drama–here’s the king of the forest passing judgement, here’s the druid turning into a bear and battling a knight, here’s the druid’s mother weeping silver tears over the grave–and immediately a player interjects. “The flowers must be her tears!”

This wasn’t true before someone said it. I was making up the pictographs on the fly (from some basic notes) and hadn’t planned on using the word silver. In fact, I had a completely different idea in mind for what the flowers signified (they were always supposed to be important). However, I recognized how much better this assumption was than my original plan, so now, that’s the case. It hasn’t taken too much adjustment to the lore or plotline and it opens up some interesting new opportunities.

Traditionally Dungeons and Dragons is the archetypical game of power dichotomy–the Dungeon Master has control over the plot and everything that isn’t the player characters, and the players have control of their characters (within the agreement of the DM). But the trend in roleplaying games is towards more story/narrative focused systems. Just look at the success of FATE for an example. I’m a big fan of a system called PDQ put out by Atomic Sock Monkey press. It has built in mechanics that allow the players to add characters and details to the world (much like the Declarations system in FATE). That said, the power bestowed on the DM by the writers of D&D has always included power over the rules and stipulations of the game itself, and 5th edition has done a fantastic job of making this clear. When my players have good ideas, I want to incorporate them. Anything that encourages participation and investment in the lore is a good thing.

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