Save vs. Player vs. Player

    “I’ll let the thri-kreen know we’re back so we don’t startle them,” the dragonborn female explained as she slipped past the wardens. The tunnels were cool and dark and Kiveya, the daughter of a dragonborn merchant, was eager to finish this trek and return home. The Wardens thus far had tolerated her presence, but the hostility was palpable from certain individuals. It was because of her father. They didn’t trust him – for reasons she didn’t know – they wouldn’t discuss it with her. It didn’t matter though, she got the goods she came for and she’d be out of their hair as soon as they got back to the city. Striding ahead, Kiveya began clicking and trilling in the thri-kreen language, calling out her customary greeting into the silent tunnels ahead.

    “That’s a good idea. Billy, why don’t you join her? You speak ‘kreen too don’t you?” piped up someone in the back of the group – it sounded like Melwyn. Kiveya snorted derisively and looked back over her shoulder, “You guys, he doesn’t actually speak ‘kreen! He lied about that.” Rolling her eyes, she turned her attention forward again, frowning at the significant lack of response to the groups’ presence. The hive tunnels were eerily silent.

    She heard his booted feet behind her, but she never expected what happened next. She started to turn, opening her mouth to speak – to remark that something was wrong up ahead – when cold steel bit into her scales and explosive pain blossomed somewhere in her lower back. The scream that ripped from her throat was shockingly loud – overwhelming the cries of confusion and surprise from the rest of the Wardens. Billy slashed across her unprotected back again and Kiveya staggered away from him. She stumbled. Knees and palms barked sharply against the rough stone floor, she barely realised she had fallen. The noise of scuffling feet and shouting voices came from behind her, strangely muffle and distorted. Kiveya collapsed, spasming weakly in a slowly growing pool of dark blood.

    “BILLY! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Morwen’s shout echoed down corridors.

-=-=-=-

What followed was chaos. Billy was turned into a rat and then yelled at by his superior officer. Kiveya (my character) was healed but not happy. She was eventually put in a headlock by the goliath fighter to keep her from ripping out and wearing Billy’s entrails as jewelry. There was a lot of angry name-calling and accusations of betrayal by various parties. Feelings were hurt and even one member of the group quit in utter disgust of the unfolding events.

… and we all had a TON of fun!

You see, while the exact circumstances weren’t planned, Billy’s player and I had come to an agreement that our characters were at odds and if the roleplaying opportunity presented itself, then one of our characters would spontaneously take advantage of it to escalate the hostilities between our characters. After “joking” all evening about a secret signal for the entire group to turn against my character, Billy finally struck first and was rewarded with a critical hit on his surprise attack – the result was magnificent. The conversation at the table went something like this:

Myself: Oh, I know Billy doesn’t speak thri-kreen!
Billy: Oh that is it! I attack her! [rolls] Natural 20!
Everyone: [laughing, they all clearly think Billy's Player is joking]
Myself: Holy crap, seriously?
Billy: Oh yeah, Billy’s serious, he’s sneak attacking.
Everyone: [laughing dies] Wait… what?
Myself: You are serious… [enormous grin] Okay, what’s your damage?
Billy: [math] and extra damage from my encounter power [more math]
Myself: Awesome, I’m bloodied!

We rolled initiative after that, the DM treated the first attack as a surprise round for Billy. Billy won initiative so he got to attack again, used an action point, and reduced me to negative hitpoints. After healing me, the rest of the fight consisted of the party trying to keep us from attacking each other by various means. Enjoying ourselves immensely, Billy’s player and I shouted insults and accusations across the table, roleplaying our characters to the hilt. Having concealed my class from the group the entire time, it’s finally revealed my character was a (reflavored) vampire, thus heaping more suspicion on my character as I needed to steal healing surges from the others to keep Kiveya alive and fighting.

Eventually the leader of the party negotiated a cease-fire and Kiveya compromised down from tearing Billy’s heart out personally to settling on him being arrested and taken back to her home city be charged with attempted murder. She is, after all, the daughter of a wealthy and influential noble who loves his daughter more than anything (seriously, I took “Well Loved” as my background!) so Kiveya is confident she’ll have no problem having Billy strung up for his crimes.

Player vs. Player rarely works as well as it did that night. The reason this session turned into an epic win was because the key people involved were already in the know. We had a mutual understanding and an agreement on how far we could take things – he actually had permission to kill my character if things went that far. I agreed not to kill his character if it came down to it. The DM was aware of our plans and approved. The rest was luck and good roleplay.

Usually when I see PvP at a D&D table it fails enormously because someone wanted to surprise someone else: the player thought the other player would pick up on the hints, or they thought just surprising them would be more fun. A DM orchestrating PvP without telling the group ended up with a table full of awkward hostility, not sure why everyone was taking things so personally! It’s hard to resist the urge to have everything be a surprise – it always seems like such a good idea! Unfortunately, I’ve never seen it work well that way.

PvP is often upheld as the Unholy Grail of Never Attempt This Or You Will Regret It. I disagree by merit of last Monday’s D&D game. PvP can be done and it can be great. It should not be over-used, and it should be pre-planned to some extent by all individuals – not spontaneous. You don’t necessarily need to tell every person in the group – but you do need to inform the targeted individuals in advance. Approach the actual roleplay carefully, gauge reactions. If half the group is surprised, they’ll look to their teammates for their reactions. While Billy and I were relaxed, smiling, and sitting back in our chairs calmly watching instead of being tense, frowning, and sitting forward then everyone at the table knew things were okay. From there, everyone can realise its all part of the plan and have a good time.

So has anyone else been in a PvP situation? How did it turn out?

Age of Syzygy – Prologue

Thrown together haphazardly in the circumstances of war, the group is an odd mix of a dozen or so. Among them are species to odd to be fighting side-by-side, yet they are determined mercenaries. They find themselves together in the vanguard, fodder for the hungry horde. They fight desperately against the pressing surge of undead bodies. Gryphon warriors soar overhead, screeching their war cries as they twist and attack snarling wyverns. Arcane thunder crackles nearby and the concussive force staggers everything in a sixty foot radius. An armored rider on a skeletal horse stabs through the walking corpses, black hooves crushing enemy and ally alike.

Gone in darkness and pain. A young man named Francis, clad in blood-slicked armor, stirs and opens his eyes. A horrid stench assails his nostrils and even as he recoils a suffocating weight presses down on his chest. Panic surges through him and with a cry he claws his way out from under the burden. The corpse does not claw back as he expects. Standing, the acolyte of light feels his heart drop into his stomach as he surveys his surroundings.

His horror doesn’t have much time to build. The small green-skinned form of the goblin stirs, startling the human into clutching at his symbol of Pelor. Then another body groans as it sits up, but not with the rigor of the undead. With a small cry Francis lunges forward and pushes a heavy armored half-orc off of a feebly kicking legs, revealing another survivor. In a grim silence, the four survivors cluster together uncertainly.

Moonlight illuminates the pile of corpses. Discarded, left afield and reclaimed by the enemy as a valuable resource, the bodies are piled high enough to give Francis a hill to stand upon. Like gruesome kings, the survivors look over a domain of blood, buzzing vermin, and the stench of viscera. Worst yet, all the faces that they can make out in the silvery light are ones they know. Some horrid mistake has placed them here:  rare survivors among the casualties. Then the corpses move again.

The dark energy of necromancy lights the eyes of their earlier companions-at-arms. No groans or growls, undead stumble forward quietly and grasp at the only living flesh within reach.

I’ve started up a new home campaign that plays about twice a month. The first session was intentionally abrupt in its introduction and horror-themed. I led the group through a couple of undead encounters to set up the history of the Rift War by making them participants in it. The real campaign begins in the next session: picking up a year after the war ended

In previous campaigns I’ve written up journal entries of each session to document the party’s progress and refresh memories. I found it also really helps me focus on preparing for the next session. Normally I would post these on Obsidian Portal in the campaign’s private journal for only the players to read. I’ve decided to instead post them here, along with notes or insights I have about the session. Hell, maybe someone will get something useful out of it, at the very least be entertained by it.