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March 6th, 2009
10:23 pm
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Gaming stories from hell
paka passes on a meme for the weekend: "What's the worst [role-playing] game you've been in?"

I've only been in a tiny handful of actively bad games. If the group is good, problems can be worked around and resolved before the next session -- and I've been lucky to fall in with some damn good groups.

But when I was working at the newspaper with a huge number of non-geeks, I lived in the middle of nowhere and my roommates had no interest in tabletop gaming ... out of desperation, I accepted an invitation to an irregular game that one of my coworkers played in. I showed up at the spotless and largely empty house (I know, I should have run screaming right then and there), sat down, rolled up an AD&D character (IIRC, 3rd Edition), and started to get a sinking feeling when I realized that our gamemaster was using a monster manual as the entirety of his adventure notes.

For no explicable reason (not even "you all meet in a tavern"), everyone gathered at the dungeon, which was an abandoned mine, and we gave marching order and wandered in. A sample interaction, recorded as faithfully as memory will allow:

"Alright," the GM asks, "the corridor you're walking down splits into two. Do you go left or right?"

"Uhh ... I dunno, are there more footprints going down one of the passages?"

"No, not really."

"Are the walls different? Is there any light down either of them? Is there anything at the intersection?"


(The players all look at each other; finally someone speaks up)

"Um, we'll go right."

"Okay," the GM says. "You continue down the passageway. It starts sloping slightly downward. As you continue walking, water rises around your feet. You look down the tunnel and realize it goes totally into the water." (Naturally, none of the characters has any sort of water-breathing gear.)

"... Um, okay, we back up and go left."

"Alright. You walk for a while, and then the passageway splits into two again. Do you go left or right?"

Finally, after four or five Y-junctions, we reach the first sign that these tunnels have a purpose: a slightly wider room with a couple of exits, and (gasp) a coatrack with some of the miners' coats!!!11!

My face lights up. Finally, after enduring the tedium of a "Detective"-quality pathfinding game, something in the environment to interact with! Maybe we can find out where all the miners have gone or why we're here. It makes no sense to put your coatrack several miles into the mountain, but never mind that: finally we can start gaming. "Alright," I say, grabbing my d20 and double-checking my thief's skill load one more time, "I'm going to examine the coats, first checking the pockets. My search roll is --"

"What's your AC?"

"... Huh?"

"Does a 17 hit you?"

"Uh," I say, thrown, "yes?"

"Alright, the cloaker hits, take 11 damage. Everyone roll initiative."

I try to say "..." but what comes out is one of those vanish-marks that looks like an asterisk with the guts removed.

The party mops up the monster with minor hit point loss.

"Good job," the GM says, and consults the rewards table in the Dungeon Master's Guide. "Everyone gets 300 experience points. Which exit do you take from the room?"

At that point, I think my brain cast Cause Serious Wounds on itself in order to inhibit memory formation. The only other thing I remember is walking from one of the mine tunnels into a gigantic and inexplicable natural cavern, where we fought off a shrieker (the living stalactite monster) and a bunch of stirges (bloodsucking flying things). At some point there was a token trap, which of course got immediately set off by someone other than, y'know, me, the thief, because I wasn't first in the marching order.

The coworker who invited me to game noticed the trauma on my face the next day and wisely never spoke of the experience again.

It took several years for my dice to forgive me.

Current Location: ~/couch
Current Mood: goodgood
Current Music: Everclear, "Here We Go Again"
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(12 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2009 09:54 am (UTC)
To my shame, the worst roleplaying game I've ever been in is the one I tried to GM. Fortunately for all involved, it wasn't nearly as horrific as the events you describe here! I thought games like that were just a stereotype that had been picked up over the years, and never actually happened.

...is that a d16?
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
That is indeed a d16! It has a place of honor next to the d30 in my dice box.*

There's no shame in having GM'ed a lackluster game. GMing is hard work. You're telling a story, spontaneously, with an audience that is continuously trying to throw twists and turns into your plot; playing the part of every single person and monster and piece of scenery that the players meet (as opposed to the single individual that you have to play as a PC), and at the same time playing referee to a group of people using a system of arbitrary and complex rules to determine the results of their actions -- rules you have to be familiar with off the top of your head. It's a wonder anyone can do it at all.

I really ought to write up a few posts on GMing tips ... there's a real art to it, and a lot of tools I've had to develop along the way that I wish I'd known from the start.

* Yes, I actually have a tackle box for my dice and miniatures. I outgrew dice bags years and years ago.
Date:March 7th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
Not the worst game I've been in, but the worst that I thought about being part of, until the following exchange, more or less, happened:

Him: "So yeah, we'll be starting off our D&D game as level 40 characters, I've got a dark elf assassin/rogue rolled up already and Ed's got an illithid sorcerer/monk. Game is usually Friday nights."

Me: "Sorry, did you say this is D&D? And you're starting at level 40?"

Him: "Yeah, we can totally drop three Tarrasques in a couple of rounds."

Me: "Y'know, I think I forgot I'm going to be busy Friday. Uhm, every Friday. Forever. Until I get my degree and leave the university."

The next week I heard the same guy talking about the absolute worst pile of Monty Haul I've ever heard. Fortunately, I've forgotten most of the details...
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
Dear god. Yeah, playing a level 40 character has nothing to do with roleplaying and everything to do with pretending you're someone badass beyond all human possibility.

It's bad enough at level 10. Our gaming group started an evil campaign as a sideline with some pre-buffed characters; mine is a skulk assassin/rogue/ninja that is minmaxed to have a ridiculous *+46* to Hide and equally abusive Move Silently. I had to pull out the Epic Level Handbook to understand the full depths of cheese available at that skill level. He can hide in plain sight -- as in, while being actively watched without any cover available, hop a little to the left and become undetectable -- on a roll of 4 or better. He gets a still incredible +16 to hide WHILE ON HORSEBACK (including hiding the horse with him!) I can't even imagine what another 30 levels would do.

The thing is, campaigns at our power level can still be fun with appropriate challenges. We're at just about the right power level to be threatened by large armies and still vulnerable to half the monsters in the Monster Manual. One of the more memorable battles so far was a running sniper war with a group of hound archons (which can teleport at will). The group has goals: to establish and spread the cult of an outsider deity. We can win battles and yet suffer setbacks in our actual goals. Political intrigue is rife. It's epic in the true sense of the word.

But level 40? Where you sneeze and knock over gods? Brrrr.
Date:March 8th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)
To the +46 to Hide/Move Silently I have only two words: NINJA VANISH!

As for higher power levels, yeah, there are all kinds of challenges for higher-level characters that don't involve things like multiple Tarrasques. The one thing I've discovered to make gaining power a lot more fun, though, is to avoid minmaxing a lot - that way there's suspense on the die rolls in combat and out of it because the character isn't nigh-impossible to beat at his chosen shtick.

That urge can be hard to beat, though... especially when you start seeing bonuses stacking on bonuses and swirling in the air in front of you like delicious fruits waiting to be plucked and made to explode your wrath upon your enemies like grenades.

Hmmm. That came out a bit food-ly, maybe I should eat breakfast now.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
The worst game I was involved in was (I am not exagerating) comprised of 16 people (it was supposed to be two groups in one location but the other DM didn't show and a couple extra people did). The time it took to make characters was hell in the first place but then the first hour of game was beyond slow so the second hour the DM culled out 10 people in 10mins but because he was so peeved at the missing DM he culled everyone from the other group without checking to see which characters would be more useful or explaining why he was cutting the folks he did (granted we all figured it out quickly but still it could have been handled better!). Plus he did it in such a way that the other characters were obliterated. Subsquently there were a bunch of hard feelings and the night was a total bust.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2009 12:47 am (UTC)
Yeah. paka made the same point in his thread, which is that good games can turn bad from overcrowding. It gets harder and harder to keep everyone having fun as the number of players increases. 4 is great; 6 requires careful planning and a sharp GM; 8 is a real stretch; 10 is beyond mortal limits; and 16 is simply mad.

Date:March 7th, 2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
"Cyber Commandoes", 1st edition, by E. Gary Gygax.

I will merely say "it kills brain cells" and leave it at that.
Date:March 7th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
Correction. "Cyborg Commando".

I did my best to forget it, really I did...

[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2009 11:05 pm (UTC)
Mega facepalm.

Props for the "Detective" reference. Oh man.
[User Picture]
Date:March 9th, 2009 06:14 am (UTC)
That's the type of gaming we used to do before .. oh god, Bard's Tale? :P

There's a reason why pure hack-n-slash is just completely obsolete.
[User Picture]
Date:March 9th, 2009 12:09 pm (UTC)
((is elynne))

About (oh god yes it really has been that long) twenty years ago, I was in one game session with this one GM who my gamer boyfriend (the one who introduced me to gaming) raved about, as an excellent GM, a lot of fun, makes exciting games, etc. etc. What I remember about that experience is two things.

First, the GM's household included a psychotic cat. It was large and very fluffy, and it acted like it wanted desperately to be petted, complete with rubbing frantically on one's leg or arm while purring and making adorable little mewing noises. If one attempted to actually pet the thing, or made any move of which it dissaproved for any reason whatsoever in its tiny dim fluffy crazy brain, it would immediately ATTACK (bite/claw/claw) and run away. Then gradually creep back, and the cycle would start again. The damned animal would not keep away from me. I tried to shoo it off, but the GM got irate when I bapped it on the nose AS I WAS BLEEDING FROM ITS MOST RECENT CLAW STRIKE. I spent most of the evening watching the demonic feline and dreading its next approach... or trying very hard not to move while it rubbed on my arm.

The other thing I remember is that we rolled, I think maybe 2nd level characters... there were a few people in the game, I don't remember how many, but I'm pretty sure nobody was above 5th level, and we couldn't have had more than six people in the party. And the first thing we encountered - as in, we go into the dungeon, go around a corner, and there it is - is a FREAKING BEHOLDER. Which promptly disintegrated one party member, killed another, and turned a third to stone, I believe in the first round. My character RAN THE F*SK AWAY, along with another character. We cautiously came back later, found the petrified party member, dragged him out of the cave and buried him with a marker, in the hope of being able to eventually somehow get somebody to fix him. That was my introduction to his game: make character, party wipe on first monster, bury co-adventurer, the end.

I never saw that GM again. OH DARN.
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