Eyes Up – Starting to the Side of Things

Something weird happened with the last Eyes Up, people asked questions and commented. Here’s one that I knew would take me longer than a 5 minute response to have the answer be any sort of use.


Having bad things happen if the players don’t do an action is quite acceptable, but having the main thrust of the plot not happen is unacceptable.

Given this, and starting in media res, how do you get players invested in the plot? I’m thinking of the D&D 5E YALP, where we were thrust immediately into a town in danger… and we pretty much decided we didn’t care and tried to run for the hills.

Should the GM always have a carrot or stick ready to go from the outset, in case the PCs decide to not be all valiant and self-sacrificing? Or is it the GMs job to have a secondary session on deck that can take place at wherever they run to?”

– @kolbe

With @kolbe’s question there is a tiny semantic difference that can lead to some problems.

The opening setup for the adventure described was that we woke up from being blotto in the morning clad with our equipment and seeing a deserted bar around us with fanfare going on outside. This is an extra complication to the cold open of action and almost guarantees that the players are going to fight through the current action and then regroup getting as far away from what the initial goal is as possible.

It can be a very good opening which is the cause for a very memorable adventure. The changing factor is if the party has a goal that they know about. While the group that started up in the adventure saw a demon possessed king there was no imperative that any were trying to “Buffy” the situation. If the players have a reason for being there they’ll fight and move forward, otherwise they’ll look for a goal. Which is what the players did there, they tried mightily to retreat until it was nice and calm but the GM and circumstances didn’t let them.

Considering @vladepsyker was improvising the entire plot based upon a half remembered potelbat1, which most of the players only half remembered, I’m fairly impressed with how well it turned out. I’ve also played in a game where everyone wakes up with amnesia with guns pointed at each other in a vault a few moments before the security alarm goes off. In both of these situations the players tried to get away from where they started as quickly as they could and as far as they could.

Since I’ve been asked to Monday morning quarterback the opening, I’ll give a few thoughts as discussed by @vladepsyker, @fiddleback, myself, and a few others late one night (or about noon for those in the mirror world) as well as how I would fix it for my own table.

What ‘went wrong?’

The biggest problem was that at least three of the players had heard the plot before and weren’t too keen on it. The thought of escaping and seeing for themselves what was really going on was foremost for them. The king being a body snatching doppelganger isn’t exactly new, but the trick to the whole thing going sideways was there was no immediacy to killing the king. It wasn’t until a chambermaid discovered the group and screamed, calling the attention of the crowd and the guards to them, that the party did anything.

This is the point you’d expect a group to run away. If the group isn’t going forward and you force action the only direction you can expect them not to go is forward. In this case they went up and then into the back alleys. This is the same action every party I’ve seen reacts to having a shop owner point to them and says “stop thief”. The chase opens up and running happens.

There were several things that went against the players attacking, the city being described as a place where people wanted to be, many people turning out for the parade, multitudes of guards. These things all added up to the characters ending up dead if they flew from the balcony and did the pin cushion thing with the king. The guard now being alerted to them they have to escape since, like all characters, they don’t want to be incarcerated and they run up since all other directions were occupied.

How would I get the players to willingly go and commit regicide in the opening act of an adventure?

I wouldn’t. I would expect that the party would do exactly what it did with the set up as given. If I wanted a place where it was okay for the players to overthrow the government I’d make sure that the populace would be in support of this change in circumstances.  There needs to be a problem for the players to deal with, at the outset there was only the mystery of what knocked out the characters. This could be an interesting mystery, but that wasn’t the way the GM wanted to go and it progressed in such a way. The king could have been known to do evil acts, the populace could be destitute and unable to leave, or the king could have been unguarded and offered a hope of escape.

When starting off in the middle of action you have to give a direction for the players to go and let them quickly get there. The direction is almost always to safety for a moment when the GM can then do exposition as to why things are the way they are through knowledge checks and player investigations. This is done to give a feeling of action, but not to have much relating to the eventual plot construction. Many things can be set up this way from revenge to a desperate need to understand why a scene just happened, but expecting an impromptu assassination is not one of the most likely things.

Though if that’s happened, please let me know of your parties actions in the comments below.

1 18:30 into the episode

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