Years ago, I was running a game that included a player who was a young teenager. He was son to two of the other players, and despite the fact that I felt he was not quite mature enough to play Dungeons & Dragons, I had to go along with it because I was outnumbered. However, that did not mean that I could be creative when dealing with some of his quirks and behaviors, not to mention his gullible side. There were a few moments when he showed signs that I felt were a definite warning for him to not be allowed to sit at the gaming table. One incident involved his character dying. He became emotional when I requested his character sheet be handed over to me as the character was now forfeit. We had not been playing very long, so perhaps only 4 or 5 levels at most. He wanted to keep his character sheet so he could look at it from time to time in the future. Clearly he had become too attached to a figment of his imagination, especially something that was still very new with little investment. The second incident was when he triggered a fairly nasty curse that caused his magical weapons and items to become mundane. He didn’t lose anything significant like an artifact, and his gold jingling in his coin purse was more than an enough to pay for most of the important things. Yet he lost his cool and threw a tantrum at the entire game, making a rather embarrassing scene. He had become too involved in the game and was taking things seriously and on a literal level.
It wasn’t that the young teen was mentally imbalanced or needed to see a shrink for these moments (although I would have kept an eye on his experiences in other areas to make sure it wasn’t carried over). He was simply still at that transition of understanding not to let simple games get the best of us. We sometimes will do that even as adults when we play an intense video game. Our characters die, and we lose our cool, perhaps even slam our head on the desk in frustration, but these are moments of just frustration that soon pass. When we linger on something as trivial as losing a character or suffering from a particularly nasty curse, we need to reevaluate ourselves on understand this is purely a game and 6 months from now none of us will really care about it (I guarantee being 6 or 7 years ago that kid has long forgotten it).
I do recall one moment that I enjoyed having a fun time tricking him to fix a mistake I had made. He had managed to acquire an enormous ruby that was valued much higher than the characters should have in gold at the time. It was meant to be an unattainable item for aesthetic purposes, but naturally leave it to the younger teen to roll a natural 20 and somehow manage to acquire it. The one great thing about gems compared to gold is that they are worthless unless you either trade or sell them. Anyone will take gold coins, but what is a merchant going to do with a ruby worth 10,000 gold pieces? Few would even consider buying it from the character because of the increased risk of being a target for thieves let along coming up with the money to buy it.
My plan started out as a simple encounter and blossomed into an entire adventure for the session. They were resting in a crossroad tavern out in the middle of nowhere. The place was fairly crowded for the evening as there was talk of a storm coming later that evening. Of the patrons, one in particular was a gnome who had interest in the gem (the player was carelessly having the gem out on the table constantly looking at it so everyone in the bar knew he had it). When the gnome offered an amount that was below the value of the gem, he was rejected by the greedy player. It was a fair price for their location, and really the decision by the player went against his character completely (another sign of youth and immaturity for a game when they have inconsistency on their roleplaying to benefit themselves).
So I began to conjure up in my mind something a bit more elaborate for him. On the fly, the gnome became an extremely powerful illusionist unbeknownst to the party. As a GM, I knew that it would be risky with illusions because I had one player in the group who was a very seasoned veteran. The trick to fooling even those players with illusion is to make your illusion as believable as possible, keeping the pace moving so quickly that they have no time to stop and question reality.
It began with the approaching storm that everyone had talked about before the gnome encounter. This builds to my illusion. A traveler comes in from outside, panting and gasping for breath, shouting that the storm is bringing a colossal beast with it that is heading this way. Panic quickly strikes the patrons of the bar, and the bartender takes action being responsible for the safety of his paying customers.
He informs everyone he has a secret passage that leads underground to a subterranean safe house he used years ago during the war. Through a cleverly hidden door in one of the giant wooden barrels he stores his ale and mead in, the patrons depart into the tunnel below. Since the characters were not at a very high level, I gave them reason to go with the patrons. First, taking advantage of one of the characters having a lawful background, they felt compelled to go with the patrons to assure their safety in their travels. I further gave encouragement by giving examples of the creature’s power by throwing giant oak trees from a mile away to almost land on the tavern, whatever the creature actually was I never had to come up with because they bit the bait and went into the tunnel. I was railroading them, but in this case, the railroading was caused not by the GM but by the clever gnome.
From here, I unleashed more nasties by showing signs the tunnel has been breached recently by creatures from underground, making the trip tougher. As the travel continued, and the safe house seemingly “just a little further” the number of creatures continued to appear, whittling down the party’s resources.
Eventually they became surrounded on both sides with the rumbling sound of the creature above heard pounding down on the soft earth as threat of a cave in grew more. The goal was to cause chaos and stress for the players, especially the young teen who was easily convinced. When all hope seemed lost, the gnome puts on an acting show of the century, informing them he has the ability to get them to safety, having a device that will grant them safe transport, but requests payment in the form of the gem or else he will simply abandon everyone. If you play it out right as a GM, the players are on the edge of their seats by now, reacting before they can logically think. As suspected, the gem was handed over (something I believe a more experienced and mature player would have questioned), and immediately the walls, creatures, rumbling, and patrons melted away around them, revealing them all casually standing in the middle of the bar. Everyone besides them is casually sitting at their respectable tables as they were before. Outside the rain softly falls on the rooftop. The gnome winks and gives advice to the young player that greed can lead to poverty as the illusionist vanishes in thin air.
I give credit to the veteran players of the group as I suspect they had caught on at some point before the exchange was made, but they knew where I was coming from, recognizing that the gem was really too much for their characters to have a the time, and allowed their son to learn a lesson. The situation was helpful for the young teen in general as he showed signs of being more cautious, logical, and less greedy in the future sessions. I was further pleased when he didn’t throw a tantrum at the loss and swindling of the gem (as it was substantially valuable). As a gesture to his good sportsmanship on the situation, the bartender walked over to the character after the gnome disappeared and handed him a pouch the gnome “forgot.” It contained the amount of gold the gnome originally had offered, which was a much better amount the party could handle.
The encounter was one that I will enjoy and think of for many years to come as it was challenging to me to convince everyone the illusions were real, but at the same time I could help with players who struggle at grasping the understanding of what role playing is all about. It’s not necessarily to be greedy, over powered, omnipotent, and meta-game at every turn. It’s about letting yourself enjoy a story that you control, but at the end of the day, you can satisfyingly close the book and look forward to opening another with fond memories.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.