Content of the article: "How my 2-year-old game died. (So yours doesn’t have to.) (Light Tyranny of Dragons spoilers)"
My two-year-old game died three days ago. There were warning signs throughout and likely since the first session, but I would like to catalog the slow death of my game before more details become forgotten. Perhaps like the Fall of Rome certain important moments could be highlighted.
So this game was a paid game, (which might be enough of a reason for it's failure for some of you). It was an online game as many are now. I tend to like paid games more because there are more guarantees in what you are getting (my only long term free game had the dm rape us in our sleep as a plot point) It started at 10 pounds per week (this will be important in the future). Anyway, we were to run through Tyranny of Dragons with the option to continue into the Rise of Tiamat if we wished. Allow me to introduce the principal characters of this story (obligatory these are not their names). Light spoilers for the module.
DM-The DM, I guess I will just refer to him as such.
Jacob-Plays a Bard for this leg of the campaign. Late about once a month because of sleeping in, ironically the least responsible for the game's failure.
Molly-Plays a Cleric to start.
Sean- Likes playing Dragonborn. Plays a Dragonborn Barbarian to start.
Karl-As you will see a whole character.
Barney-Dude who was only there for two sessions.
As you will see, I can only relate my side of things and despite my best interest to point out my own failures, the narrative will probably still make me look more sympathetic than I am.
The module starts in a village on fire by Kobolds. The first thing that happens is that Karl makes an intelligence check to find out if the village is a Kobold village that the human characters fleeing from are attacking. He rolls low. He then attempts to attack a villager, but we stop him and manage to talk him down. We then proceed through the first three levels of Tyranny of Dragons which are a notorious meat grinder. Barney leaves after two sessions, but the dm is breathing life into the module and bsing a little so we don't die. At one point my character makes an intimidation check to scare off like thirty kobolds. There are plenty of near deaths, many of which involve Sean's Dragonborn. Karl is apparently playing a Marxist Half Orc (somehow) but after a few levels becomes a Capitalist Oil Magnate type, (it was honestly hilarious imo) However, one of the first big issues of our campaign began to be felt, every social encounter with Karl's character involved discussions about Marxism or Capitalism (and it wasn't that we hated these topics necessarily but there was little actual rp to be done with his character, almost complete joke character). My character was a Zorro type half-elf so my character would not be a problem for this campaign. After the first three levels of ToD, we went on a "side quest" that involved exiled Kraken worshippers or something, it was pretty fun but almost caused a TPK, but nobody died. We visit Elturel and have some adventures (but mostly separately) and pretty much skip Baldur's Gate. We are all powergamers to some extent but Karl goes out of his way to sign a blood pact with a shopkeeper for Gauntlets of Ogre Power and to save his life we have to clean out Dragonspear from a completely different set of cultists. (This made every other player except me mad) We sneak in, fight some cultists, lose, than arrange to fight some demons in the basement to end the curse. (This is when the matter of difficulty became discussed) We fight the demons, Karl's character almost dies many times (he would always use the -5 GWM attack, every time, I thought it was funny, everyone else hated it), the dm pretty much gives him plenty of chances not to die and he barely survives. After Dragonspear, Molly and Sean retire their characters because as the tanks of the party, they have been downing the most and they and their characters are tired of it. Sean brings in another Dragonborn, but Molly brings in a Manic Pixie Dream Girl or a Manic Eladrin. We visit Daggerford for the best? part of the campaign, as the dm has designed something for every character. The Bard has been tracking down his sister and she is being taken captive by some Drow underground. (Apparently an Underdark subplot in the background, we found a Mindflayer chef, it was cool.) Sean's Dragonborn's boyfriend runs a tavern there. Karl finds pots and becomes a pot merchant (I dunno) and my character's brother tracks him down. Eventually, we all decide to go underground to rescue Jacob's character's sister. We fight sewer stuff and farther on Drow pets. Molly's character leaves us and finds a Medusa underground and they bang. We later have to rescue her as she wanders on her own (this becomes a thing) We argue about how to approach the Drow for two hours before deciding to buy Jacob's sister back, he shorts them some gold, they don't kill us for some reason and my character punches his. His character's sister joins the party crushes on my character but my character thinks she is too young. More plot happens, minor disagreements on what is reckless and what isn't happen, we get through it. We visit Waterdeep, fight some zombies, fun fun fun. We tail the Dragon cultists to a fort, we have a big argument about whether or not we are being too cautious, we decide to infiltrate, we develop a plan. Karl's character decides to Leeroy Jenkins it, DM adapts and we save the situation with clever use of illusion spells. I and the others get mad at Karl and I talk to the DM about Karl derailing our plan after we discussed it. DM thinks Karl needs to a talk. Karl decides to leave the game. New guy Ted comes in shortly after. At another fort, Molly's character infiltrates by herself on her own volition and sequences breaks the encounter for us, it seems suspicious but I do not mention it. (I do now believe some of the players had the module and were "cheating"). After a few more weeks we complete the module, though we do suspiciously skip a whole level's worth of content. We have an epic fight with a dragon, good times.
Instead of continuing onto Rise of Tiamat, DM proposes starting a homebrew campaign, everyone except me is down for it. DM also raised prices to 12 pounds per session at this time. I join reluctantly, I insist we start at lv 5 because I run a multiclass that doesn't come online until Tier 3 and I was barely beginning to tap into it. Everyone agrees, we start the new campaign. It is an exploratory ship adventure campaign where are characters act on behalf of benefactors to explore new lands, my character is from one of these lands an elven empire that enslaves humans, he is a half-elf bastard as a result of stuff and things and his elven father and siblings are powerful paladins with varying degrees of sympathy who enforce the regime. My character is actually the same character as my last one but younger and more callous. He is trying to keep his identity as a runaway a secret but even more than the last one. Jacob now plays a rogue, Molly plays a human noble with authority on our ship. Sean plays his Dragonborn boyfriend from the last game. Ted plays a Warforged Death Cleric who will bad touch you (Inflict Wounds) hard. All the characters are competent and most are optimized except my character whose abilities are more subdued becomes he is trying to become a nobody (he gets carried). My character does not want to be part of the adventuring party and this causes some friction early on but my session two the dm has a dragon prince onboard essentially strongclaw me onto the team because he likes me and presumably knows about my past.
So we adventure onto islands, investigate ship intrigue, good stuff. People wonder who/what my character is in and above game, good stuff. Easy first island, harder second island. An in-character disagreement combined with some elemental mumbo jumbo has us transported to the Elemental Plane of Air. Despite my character's backstory, he is only one "pure" enough to complete a Hyperion's chore. Gets a boon. We make it back, Huge fire caused by the explosion that transported us, Molly's character believes some family members have died, our characters have to prevent her and us from dying because she wants to look through rubble in the fire, good stuff. Later we visit an island I will call hag isle because unbeknownst to us there were hags on it. We investigate and do things "out of sequence". Characters argue about what constitutes grave robbing and what constitutes resource gathering. Find a Queen's crypt. We argue about entering it, Sean's character meditates and doesn't contribute to the discussion. We enter, fight a Mummy Lord (at lv 8 wtf) Rogue loses a piece of her soul. Rogue is also comes from a undead slaying family and starting catching onto my character's shit but my character deflected questions about himself onto her. Molly's character finds a Rod of Rulership which sort of makes her more authoritarian. (People would start to ignore curses and flaws given by objects which would make me mad) Despite Molly's character being against graverobbing her character graverobs a king, queen, and holy man because the items are nice (which caused some friction in and above game). Sean gets mad that we are not role-playing "right" and engaging the character in the proper way he needs to. Causes an argument between Sean and Molly, Molly leaves crying. I and others tell DM about this and DM talks with Sean. Sean would sort of indicate his character wanted to talk but my character did not want to connect with others so I would pass on those opportunities. Anyway, we fight some hags and then this fight happens. Despite Sean telling the DM he did not want to change characters and the dm offering to make a transition, Sean would tell us he wanted to change characters. After DM has a talk with Sean about the argument, Sean does change characters into a Tabaxi monk a few minutes before such a transition would have seemed natural but okay. Warforged Cleric reveals huge loredump about how the entire mission is about gathering resources to fight Tiamat in this world, Ted was tired of waiting so long to reveal that. It had been around six months. Molly and her character are getting tired of my reluctance to share. We visit our first (and last) major port. This is where the cracks becoming noticeable. Molly's character is an officer and is in charge of establishing diplomatic relations and an embassy and she gets to work on that. Warforged decides to get upgrades. Tabaxi visits friends from the port. Rogue tries to repair her soul. My character grieves over the loss of another character, and help repair Rogue's soul, talks to trees and discovers that there is some serious lore/magic underground. DM is good and many of these overlap, Warforged gets repaired by Tabaxi's friend. Reports this finding and believe we should explore, gets laughed off by Molly's character who decides we will spend a month establishing relations and researching the underground, we all acquiesce because she has become the leader below and above game. However, the dm has a habit of every social interaction being performed, every shopkeep is a crafted npc likely with sidequest hints. It takes 7-8 sessions to buy supplies, meet with a king and a council member, and do the above stuff. By the time this frustration gets voiced, we are all mad at each other for not speaking sooner and this and that. I did not speak up sooner becomes some characters were getting more shine than they ever had, but I was not having fun which is something I since learned is not okay in DND. Molly is angry her diplomatic side is not getting the focus it needs. She accuses of all undermining her and the mission just like in ToD (we didn't) and me specifically because my character's brother (they don't know that but know I have somewhat related to it) threatens to destroy the port with his ships, for reasons. She and Ted sit me down for two hours and tell me my character has to reveal their backstory to the party (he had just revealed it to the captain) next session or there will be problems for the game. They also tell me I am role-playing wrong and I gaslight myself into believing them. After all, I am hurting their game experience by selfishly playing the character the way I want right? Next session, my character does, it is not the most unnatural thing in the world (I assumed they had told the DM they had not) but after the shopping episodes, we are playing at a much faster pace now. Brother doesn't even know I am there, wants the Wand of Orcus underground and joint special task force is made to collect it. He threatens to destroy the port in a few hours if we don't collect the wand for him, and based on bad intel and their technology we believe that to be the only choice. My character remains hooded and quiet the whole time. Eventually, it becomes do or die so we turn on each other and win. My character reveals himself and after a talk and lack of alternatives, kills him and levels up from one to two in Paladin and can now smite. We fight a Devourer to get the wand, we lv 11 now, my character tanks and kills the Devourer, my character is cool now. Molly's character grabs the Wand of Orcus which talks to her, instead of going back to the port to see if we can save it or go back to the ship like most of us were planning. We instead planeshift with the help of a npc because Molly's character doesn't walk through the dungeon because she inadvertently made a deal with a demon for the horn and doesn't want to see him again. My character almost doesn't go with the rest of the party but I acquesice. After the game, there is a huge argument between Molly and Sean, but Ted and I are there as well. Sean doesn't want to help Molly with the Wand for in-character reasons. Molly says damn the in-character reasons. Sean threatens not to show up next session. I talk with DM, DM reveals both Molly and Ted have talked to him and think it's mostly Sean's fault. I vouch for Sean and say while he should have kept a cooler head, Molly was also at fault and I do feel that she has been deciding the plot for a while. I state that there are in character reasons for her behavior but it does feel that she is controlling the party. I mention the incident where they had me reveal my backstory ahead of time, DM is aghast and claims I am roleplaying right, that shouldn't have happened, and to tell him next time it does. I tell him I partly did it because Molly made feel guilty because she was crying, DM reveals she always cries to get her way. DM also raises prices to 14.50 pounds per session and I was about stick with it to finish the game and write a post on here about paid games and their issues. Game is going on break for a week, we ask for a Session 0 V2 to talk about rules and issues the game is having. Every time we have a disagreement with Molly she cries and leaves the chat and we acquiesce. I acquiesce on almost every issue and just decide to be more assertive on what I want in game. If a player wants me to do something, it is perfectly alright for me to say no. We ask if the DM has railroaded us with my brother and the destruction of the city, DM is dumbstruck that we all feel that way and that there were plenty of alternatives, we just assumed we had no alternatives. This might be the biggest reason the game is over. After the chat, Jacob, Sean, and I keep talking and complain about Molly. Ted comes in and disagrees. DM comes back with Molly, and I describe we are helping Sean vent because Sean was venting his frustrations to his boyfriend in the real world and his boyfriend was tired of it (this is by no means okay, but I rather Sean vent at us) Ted voices disapproval at us talking about Molly behind her back (despite the fact that she left and would leave any time someone would disagree with her much less criticize her) and the DM closes the chat. (I now think Ted told the DM what we were talking about and had him end it). I offer before chat ends to talk to all the players because I feel we are becoming out of touch with each other. I talk to Sean the next day and help him vent and he feels we are becoming factionalized. I talk to Ted the next day, and he is really nice and I think a year prior I would have been in his shoes defending Molly. I encourage Ted to talk to Sean but say it is fine if he doesn't, he says he plans too. I plan to talk to Molly about everything but the game because if I criticized her as soon as I talked to her she would feel like that's the only reason I was talking to her. I plan to talk to Jacob last because he is the most chill dude. I offer to talk to Molly twice but get postponed ( I do believe we would have and it would be congenial.) Later that day, DM reveals that the game is over. Too many people complaining about the game and he can't do it, we all want different things (which is true), and he is not having fun anymore. We all argue in various ways. Molly asks for Sean to be removed. Ted thinks it's appropriate that the game end. I ask for a one month recess to gather where we are and who wants to continue. I also stress the current situation is not the DM's fault. DM does not agree that one month would do anything. Chris bids all a fond farewell. Sean doesn't say anything.
That's it. The game is over. What is the lesson? Maybe play with people you like and can talk to? Session 0 very hard? Don't play paid games? Do play paid games? There might be clear culprits from your perspective but I do think we all had varying levels of responsibility. I do wish the game was still going. The more I think about it, the more I think my time and money ($1400+) were wasted. One of the last messages my DM sent me was that if you aren't having fun while playing DND you aren't playing right and maybe that's the true lesson.
- Was worried my campaign may be getting stale from lack of role playing. One tension filled session & fight among party members later put that notion to rest.
- Ways Around Being the Forever DM
- How do you keep track of all those different monster abilities and enemy spells?
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