View Full Version : DM's: Most gratifying Rail-Jumps?

Dr paradox
2011-04-14, 02:11 AM

Simply Put, what was the best time in your DMing career when the players did something you didn't expect, and made it an even better story than you had imagined? what was the time when the party defied expectations, and DIDN'T mangle your carefully crafted adventure?
What was the adventure that reinstated your love of RPG's as a cooperative game?

Slaver outspost, discovered when the party followed agents of the local crime syndicates to some ruins. just outside the entrance, they accidentally alerted some of the guards that someone was there, but then the criminals went to check, the wizard was waiting there for them with a face full of Sleep. three of the adventurers took the distinctive cloaks and badges identifying them as members of the mob, and in the darkness posed as the ones who had gone looking for intruders. They got the rest of the party inside by "taking them prisoner."

In the dead of night, they initiated the escape plan on two fronts. The captive wizard used an acid spell to burn through the lock in the holding cells for all the prisoners, while the undercover members of the party worked to clear the guardroom. In the fight, the 30 or so other slavers heard the commotion and came running, only held at bay by the ranger/druid turning into a bear and holding the door shut.

What particularly impressed me was how well roleplayed this whole seqeunce was. they never considered trying to just fight their way out, or fight their way in as I had intended. Instead, they took the effort to avoid combat because it made for a better story, opting to escape through the toilet leading to the underground river used for slave transport. They found clues to the larger story, and while the slavers were searching the holding pens, slipped the prisoners out the front door.

Unfprtunately, as the last of them were escaping, they were spotted, and as they were being chased, the Wizard accidentally cast a fireball right into the supply of lantern oil, setting the whole place on fire as they escaped. So really, from my perspective, not unfortunate at all.

What's YOUR story?

2011-04-14, 02:25 AM
I try to set up problems, work out as many different ways of solving it as I can, giving (or withholding, but usually giving) them the resources to do them, and letting them come up with their own methods. The best one where this worked, they completely ignored all the resources I had set up, and their solution was brilliant.
(note: repeat of an old story, everyone's probably heard it before)

A sailor on the ship they were travelling on wanted to leave the ship to inform a friend's family of his death. However, that would require deserting the ship, a heavily punished crime. So, he approached the party for help.
They were coming up to an island, the last populated one for some time. If he could get off there, he could catch another ship back to the mainland.
This was a small island, with a small fishing community. I decided that there was a cave on the far side where the sailor could hide out, and one or two sympathetic residents who would help. But, with their plan, they didn't need either of those...
The Druid cast Control Weather to bring up an ominous-looking storm.
The sailor left the boat and headed onto the island.
The Illusionist cast Greater Image (or something like that) at the same time as the Rogue cast Invisibility on the sailor.
When the invisible sailor was clear, the Druid cast Call Lightning on the image.
The Illusionist caused the image to appear to explode in fire, leaving nothing but ashes of the poor, unfortunate sailor.
The Rogue gave an admirable performance of shock and grief, and the sturdy, reliable Knight confirmed what apparently happened without actually lying.
The captain saw it all with his own two eyes, that his poor sailor was well and truly dead of a freak lightning strike...

I thought that was pretty cool :smallbiggrin:

My group is pretty good about keeping on my "rails", though. A little too good... When I let slip that a character's decision was taking them way off, the player changed his mind and stuck with my expected plot. A shame, cuz I felt bad about that and was just formulating a way for them to end up in my intended next encounter anyway.
On the other hand, they're about* to stumble into an encounter with an epic-level Rakshasa because, dammit, this jerk had a party member assassinated so lets kick his arse! :biggrin:

*If I ever run it again... :smallfrown:

2011-04-14, 03:33 AM
Probably the one where, for once, the picked up on my subtle clues (you know the ones you point back to and they all ohh and ahh at?) and cut through my campaign in the first session with naught but intuition, some quick misdirection, and a lucky rogue.

Then there was that other time when they were all '**** it, let's walk along the coast.'

Killer Angel
2011-04-14, 03:44 AM
Still AD&D.
The PCs were passenger on a commercial ship (property of a merchants' guild near their homeland); before entering the port (on a desert coast line), they knew the city was plagued by a mysterious disease.
The captain didn't enter the port and wanted to unload goods and passengers
then turn back home. I prepared a city adventure, with the PCs developing the mystery, involving a cult and a demonic Otyugh (in it's subterranean lair between the sewer).

The PCs seized the ship, diverting toward the next city (more then 100 Km away). :smalltongue:

2011-04-14, 04:42 AM
Once my players met a not quite random group of goblins in the forest, and the goblins were a bit jumpy and they got into a fight. However, the players thought about capturing the last one alive to question him and learned about one of the BBEGs lieutenants opperating in the area, whom they should have first heard of much later.

2011-04-14, 05:06 AM
I was actually the player in this one rather than the DM but it deserves a mention nonetheless!

The adventure all started within a city we were meant to be doing a usual city campaign, the guard had been infiltrated by a cult of Naberius binders.

We discovered that they were planning on pulling the outer planes onto the material plane and wreak abberant havock for fun and giggles. We were arrested and taken to court by the corrupt watch and put on trial for a framed murder.

Before that trial we discovered that the leader of the cult was in fact also the dictator of the Isle of Chains (A big evil nation full of slavery) and instead of us running around doing jobs for the corrupt watch and bringing it down slowly while gaining a resistance I rolled a ridiculously high diplomacy check in the court room and long story short convinced the nation to go to war against the Isle of Chains.

From there it just got worse I think the changeling character may have even choke slammed a dragon...

I can still remember our DMs face as he watched his campaign fall from between his fingers :smalltongue:
Ended up being the most fun campaign we had ever played as a group though :smallbiggrin:

2011-04-14, 05:07 AM
I am introing a new player into a PbP game I was running. They fight this assassin who killed a key witness they were supposed to be protecting, the new player (a rogue) steals the plot mcguffin and leaves a card as to where to find him.

The party goes searching and finds him, he starts off by insulting the party cleric and she gets annoyed, the warforged doesn't find it none to funny and bashes the rogue players head in with a warhammer and they take the plot mcguffin back

2011-04-14, 06:00 AM
I've been playing so long, that I can't point out any one situation for your first question.

Second question: All the time. The group I'm in now will follow an adventure like they thought of it all themselves.

Third question: I've never been through a period where RPGs weren't cooperative storytelling wargames to me. Granted, I hear stories from other groups that make me cringe, but (thankfully) I've never experienced any of it.

2011-04-14, 06:34 AM
As a DM, I don't get easily derailed because I don't expect the players to do anything specific to begin with. Did a pretty nice plot-hijacking as a player, however:
It was a multi-world low-magic campaign, currently in a setting resembling ancient Greece, and the starters of the hijacking were Harald Wiedmann, an old librarian/historian from our world (five minutes in the future) and Alexis (my character, a local architect/inventor/philosopher). The world had problems with a monster infestation and the richer people barricaded themselves inside their city walls, leaving the poor outside (none of the NPCs showed even the slightest sign of initiative). The capital's food supply was mainly secured by fishing boats sailing down about 20km of river to the open sea - because nobody in the city dared to leave it to harvest the crops outside; but still the guards on the city walls would shoot at anyone who harvested 'their' fields. We brought the poor people to out side (using communist rhetoric and food we hunted in the forests outside the city), built a small palisaded camp and a barricade in the river and started to demand 'tolls' from the fishing boats. At the same time some other party members entered the city, burned down the food stores and stirred up civil unrest (I don't know in what order). So, effectively we forced the city to negotiate. We managed to get the rights to build our settlement and harvest the crops around the city in exchange for free passage (or a more reasonable toll, I don't remember) for the fishing boats. With some more advanced technologies and ideas our historian provided us with (especially mechanical threshing mills next to the river) and the huge amounts of grain we harvested around the city (in proportion to our population), we got a solid economy started and managed to attract lots of talented people from the region. With them, we built up a small army, patrolled the region for monsters and convinced (or 'convinced') other settlements to join us. After a few months we gathered out troops, brought up some support from nearby cities and forced the BBEG and his monster armies in a pitched battle. (We even hacked together a little RTW mod for this)
The DM probably just wanted us to find his base and sneak in.

We came back 20 years later with a different group and found a steampunk world ruled by Emperor Alexis...

2011-04-14, 07:23 AM
Not my character.

1st round of a tournament game. The PC in question is a LN Samurai (duty, duty, duty).

The basic plot hook of the adventure was a small-town clergyman approaching the PCs and telling them that the local Baron is corrupt, etc.

The LN Samurai responds with "How dare you question your lord!", then draws his sword and beheads the clergyman.

Round over.

2011-04-14, 08:19 AM
Surprisingly, the largest rail-jump I've had to deal with was when the players were going from point A to point B. They got bored. They decided to go get a dragon to be their ally. And they darn well got a dragon.

This was actual useful in that said dragon's death later on was quite cinematic.

2011-04-14, 08:38 AM
. However, the players thought about capturing the last one alive to question him
My players ALWAYS do this, and yes, it's derailed quite a few campaigns, and yes, improved many of them in the process.

It does mean I have to have a backstory ready for any "random encounter" humanoids they fight, cause there's a decent chance I'll need it. Which does mean some extra effort for me.

My current campaign was supposed to be a undead fighting murder mystery setup, but it's turned into a defense of the homeland type campaign against dwarves with giant mecha warforged. Which I considered a turn for the better, but I didn't necessarily know if my players wanted that level of silly.

The Glyphstone
2011-04-14, 08:57 AM
As a DM: The party was infiltrating the citadel of a arcanist's cabal that had taken over a city. There were eight members, each thematically built around one of the eight specialist schools; the diviner was in a room full of traps, the necromancer had a personal graveyard, etc. This story is about the evoker, who was actually a single-classed Warmage. His room was themed like a WWI battlefield, with trenches and fences and razor wire creating a maze to navigate while he bombarded attackers from his fortified bunker. Now, the guy was crazy, basically suffering from severe PTSD related to an actual war he fought in, and convinced he was still fighting it.

So, the party enters the room, he sees them, and gets ready to start shooting, yelling about 'the enemy' and such. Cue the party Rogue, who blurts out "Sir! Reinforcement squad from High Command, sir!" 1 natural 20 on an untrained Bluff check later, versus a natural 1 on Sense Motive, and they'd both bypassed a difficult fight and won a valuable ally. Captain Boom became such a beloved NPC that he earned an actual character sheet, and eventually a (self-awarded) promotion to Colonel, right before he sacrificed himself holding a chokepoint against a horde of minions so the party could engage the BBEG alone.

Titanium Fox
2011-04-14, 09:01 AM
I was a player in this one myself. We were leaving a Theocracy of Pelor, and my character is a cleric of Pelor. The theocracy was in civil war, and the South Gatticans were seen as traitors. Well, a group of South Gatticans approached the party and told them of an unexplored trail to fort Ogeron, where the party was already headed, and offered them twice the gold that the Theocracy did. Naturally, my character goes to the Clergy and informs them that this would be a good opportunity to colonize the area to the west of Gattica, and spread Pelor's word. The Clergy agrees without consulting the Archbishop. My character's duty was to God, not country, so she went to go inform the party that yes, they could indeed do that. She comes back to a group of guards calling the rest of the party traitors. My character essentially taps one on the shoulder and says "I am a member of the Clergy of this nation, and your minister. You are interrupting official church business. Since this is a Theocracy of the church of Pelor, you answer to that clergy, and by that logic I am your superior. I order you to leave, or you shall be the ones branded as Traitors to the one true God!"

That completely skipped every single combat the DM had planned while we were still in the Theocracy itself.

Kol Korran
2011-04-14, 09:12 AM
ha... I either do not plan well, or my players do all kind of unexpected things really well. probably both. the last time was in the last session- the party was helping a group of half giants to defend against a siege of a powerful necromancer cleric (several levels above them), and his undead minions. now this guy is supposed to be the second in command to the BBEG, and they have met him once before, where he nearly killed two of them before they escaped through a portal.

on the siege they have met him again on a bridge. the battle was supposed to frighten them into losing that bridge, and holing back. i had quite a few other encounters and dealings for the rest of the evening, including a final attack by the necromancer and his minions on the center of the settlement, where he gains his objective (which was essential to the villains plot), and teleport away through a teleport stone.

he fired enervation rays at them and more, but they decided to stick it out. what followed was a bloody epic battle that took over 25 rounds! they expended all their potions, all their spells (the dusk blade was down to his acid splashes, and the wizard relied on her last charges of scorching ray wand), and most of the cleric scrolls (she had more than 20!). i have used most of the spells of the jnecromancer (including pre battle buffs for him and minions), and some of his scrolls. two times they thought to escape, and at both times they decided to stick it out. twice two members nearly died. but they were PERSISTENT... persistence paid in this case. :smallamused:

when i finally realized i was to run away, the half giant suddenly grappled the cleric, and upon the escaping the half giant made a massive crit, and lopped of the head of said necromancer. :smalleek:

huzzah! they were victorious! but i was without my number 2 for the campaign! and he didn't get his objective... yet, this was really really fun, and they bloody well fought and earned the victory! but since the meeting i've been having great ideas about what this means now, how the campaign just changed, how it all just evolved. and you know what? i love it! the players just caused me to develop a better campaign! can't wait for them to play it! :smallbiggrin:

for those interested, there is a campaign log under my sig, though i haven't yet wrote this last session.

2011-04-14, 09:24 AM
As a player, this one takes home the gold for me.

It's an Eberron campaign. Two of our party of three hail from Cyre, kept alive during the Day of Mourning because of an experimental weapons program being tested on them deep under the surface (and without their consent...the last thing they remember is the program back when it was still testing methods of providing relief to wounded soldiers). They now have a bevy of strange, weaponized abilities, know there are clones of themselves running around, know that one of them was actually killed and yet is still somehow alive, and have seen evidence that House Cannith has been using this technology to weaponize warforged (at great expense to the warforged's sanity, health, and life), and may have been responsible for the Day of Mourning. Further, we've seen versions of ourselves and other experiment subjects who are literally consumed by these powers, which ruin their minds and bodies in horrible ways.

So we finally find Merrix d'Cannith's hiding spot, in time to see him fighting another of the experiment's victims. Our DM no doubt expected us to prevent the NPC from killing Merrix and strike a deal for answers, as Merrix promised to give us all the information we wanted, provided we took him to the proper authorities.

Instead? My character and the NPC tried him for crimes against humanity, and summarily executed him on the spot. The DM was flabbergasted, and ended the session there for the night.

This was a couple months ago...he's still thinking what to do about it. That said, he DOES admit that it was the perfect reaction for those characters. :smallbiggrin:

2011-04-14, 09:28 AM
My PCs took a boat to an island where they were supposed to perform a small quest in exchange for some documents related to their hunt for the BBEG. So, they're seated in the office of the ruler of the island, who explains them what they have to do ... and then, the Arcane Trickster decides the quest isn't worth it, and just steals the document straight from the desk drawer. One Ranged Legerdemain roll, that's it. No quest.

I take a deep breath, and decide I can work with that. So, they return to their inn, celebrating, and try to get a boat back to the mainland. Oops, there are actually no boats for the next three days. Uh oh, the theft will surely be uncovered in three days. They have to do something.... So they go to the docks and ask all sorts of shady characters to get them a boat. They stumble upon one guy who tells them there will be a boat later tonight, for a fee, and they're required to keep their mouth shut.

At night, the boat arrives. The PCs see some wounded men being unloaded, some supplies and new men brought on board. After a brief conversation, the PCs are allowed on board as well, for a fee of course, and are instructed to stay in the cargo hold for the entire trip and never poke their head out. They don't protest much, being just happy to get off the island.

Two nights later, they hear the sounds of feet running on decks, and orders to prepare for battle. One thing leads to another, and they realize they are actually on a pirate ship, that is about to attack a merchant ship on high seas. As a mostly-good party, they can't allow it. The Cleric and the Arcane Trickster sneak on deck (the Paladin and her half-ton fullplate are kindly asked to stay down), and see the impending battle.

The Trickster casts an illusion of a cloaked man standing on the deck of the other ship, waving his hands, while the Cleric casts Flame Strike on their ship. Did you know wood is weak against fire? Yup. Part of the bow completely burns off, the pirates scream "Oh crap" and turn around, leaving the poor mechant ship alone. Two more days later, the PCs are dropped off at the mainland, at some unpopulated shore, with the pirate leader in an unsusprisingly foul mood.

Honestly, it turned out a lot better than the quest I was planning.

2011-04-14, 09:39 AM
When the party leader in RHoD vowed allegiance to Tiamet, and swore to take over from these bumbling goblin and dragonkin fools and lead the horde to victory over all.

2011-04-15, 09:01 AM
Player in a campaign where PCs started out as having been raised in the same orphanage. Our "mother" had been murdered (in a foul black magic ritual to boot) and we were investigating. Through some clever investigating, good rolls and putting together some subtle clues, we figured out what the murderer was and where she was.

The GM had no plan for us to face the BBEG yet but his DMing philosophy is that the bad guys have the things they are doing and if we find them we find them (alternatively, if we don't they do what they are doing unopposed). Now, we're not dumb and we know that a party of 3 2nd level characters going up against a band of githyanki led by a half-red dragon will not go well so the DM thinks we will gather more intel and wait until we are higher level.

Nope, in the course of our investigation, we figured out that the head of the thieves guild was once one of mom's orphans as well. We go to him with what we have. He agrees to accompany us and bring along some of his people (small guild as it was in a LG theocracy). Frankly we are still a bit outclassed. We add two things that help a bit.

1) as the bad guy is on, essentially, a barge converted to an inn we mount some light ballistas on some small crafts
2) to make sure the githyanki don't have time to prep some buffs or just shift away, we need something to be distracting and want them to stay there. Well, the guildmaster has a hat of disguise so he makes himself look like a mind flayer.

Opening volley of the ballistas keeps some heads down and severely wounds the githyanki sorcerer. The others are enraged at the sight of the illithid apparently trying to sneak up on them with a bunch of minions. Fight does not go well for the gith (admittedly we had some incredible rolls).

The DM has a house rules of fate points that can be spent to allow you re-rolls or to avoid crits and the like. He originally developed them to prevent a bad roll from offing a PC and allowing us to try to do over-the-top things. He didn't think he'd have to use them to allow his BBEG to escape from the clutches of some 2nd level characters.:smallbiggrin:

2011-05-12, 10:53 AM
My personal favorite campaign derailing moment was blowing up the BBEG (a LV 18 Sorcerer Lich called Kirhavan of the Nine) at LV 6. He was pulling a McGuffin Delivery Service on us, pretty much insisting we retrieve a greater artifact from a vault on the Elemental Plane of Earth. I pointed out that in the time it took for him to send his golems to retrieve us, explain this, and watch us as we did it he could have gone and taken the thing fourty times over during his lunch break, and wondered if he was lazy. We don't know what the staff is beyond it's in the location he teleports us to, we don't know Kirhavan's true power level (all he'd done in front of us was cast Wall of Ice and be VERY prolific with golems) or that he's a lich, but we do know the guy has been tied to the downfall of several civilizations in the past, including the And I Must Scream moment where he turned a city's populations into Wights bound to his commands for all eternity. In fact, we ran into him as we (successfully) quested to remove that curse by destroying the item it's bound to.

So we're there, meet the Young Crystal Dragon that's the vault keeper, have a pleasant conversation with him (seriously, guy was bored out of his mind), and he lets slip that the staff is called Caelinor's Staff and is an enhanced Staff of the Magi. We can't come up with a compromise, and frankly, Kirhavan scares the crap out of us more than the dragon, so we take on the dragon and win. Our Arcane Sorcerer/Oracle of Lore makes the absurd knowledge check (he has an ability that lets him take 20 on knowledge checks several times per day by going into a minute long trance) and finds out how Staff of the Magi when broken go off like a mini-nuke.

I then come up with a plan to assassinate Kirhavan with the staff when we get back. The home beacon teleporter he gave us teleports us into a mostly barren room (there's a pool and that's about it), and we don't have enough time or materials to rig up a remote detonator for it at the time, so the Psion insists on staying behind to blow the staff. We run like hell, Kirhavan eventually shows up, Psion declares "You Lose" and immediately breaks the staff. Which as it turns out, blew up a bit larger than a standard staff of the magi. And was fully charged. So Kirhavan eats 400 points of damage and dies instantly, it also destroys the wizard's tower, destroys his Phylactery (also in tower), and then the secondary detonation we didn't know about goes off, a weakened Apocalypse from the Sky powered by the initial charge like the fission reaction setting off a fusion bomb.

Queue 10-mile wide glassy crater and the party (and a nearby succubus) being the only survivors in the area (because Apocalypse from the Sky has terrible damage dice and they rolled low). And the DM being short a BBEG. And us instantly gaining two levels for killing something triple our CR. Not to mention unless Kirhavan told anyone else about us (unlikely, we were low in his eyes), all the evidence (we brought the dragon corpse with us and disposed of it later) has pretty much been atomized.

EDIT: Also, him leaving his phylactery nearby furthered my point of "Told you he was lazy." (Seriously, note for all wannabe BBEG's - retrieve your own doomsday devices in person). The DM almost agreed with that, pointing out how complacent being a high level Sorcerer Lich makes you over the years.

Bobby Archer
2011-05-12, 12:56 PM
I was one of four Storytellers running a V:tM MET LARP for about 30 players. The overall plot we'd come up with involved werewolves setting up a plan to wipe out all the vampires in the city in one fell swoop. Most of the plot for the first half of the chronicle involved the werewolves removing/destroying large amounts of silver and magical items and gaining influence, all in the background while the PCs dealt with problems caused by other PCs.

One group was playing a trio of infernalists (demon worshipers) who were trying to get other PCs to sell them their souls so that they could summon the demon Ba'al into this world. We (and they) didn't think they'd be able to get nearly enough people to go along with it and would likely be found out and killed while trying.

Well, let's just say they defied expectations. They managed to get almost a third of the PCs in on their conspiracy, and covertly eliminated most of the opposing factions in the city's government. By the end of the chronicle, this group of PCs were the BBEGs and the other PCs were teaming up with the werewolves to stop the summoning ritual. Not what we planned in the least, but most everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

(A little more detail on that year's chronicle is here (http://zombie4hire.blogspot.com/2011/04/night-pcs-stole-plotmas.html))

2011-05-14, 07:54 AM
I had one just today during our session of Dark Heresy. It was a pre written adventure, so the chance of a derailment was much higher, yet rather than the party continuing through the module, which had a time limit counting down as well a warp cult and eldritch abomination hunting the streets. So rather than try and solve all these problems, the psyker decided to go behind his party's back, sabotage them, try to get them killed and then become daemonhost through perils.

Plot completely gone, entire party enjoyment way up.

2011-05-14, 09:11 AM
As a DM, no. I tend to leave problems open ended so rail jumping happens far less often.
As a player, yes.
We were supposed to all see the same poster on the side of a tavern asking for help dealing with goblins that would lead to the mod. The thing was our characters still had to meet and find a reason to work together. We didn't, but we did start a barfight, and burnt the tavern down. Everyone escaped and found their way to a different bar where the fight continued. This bar was lit aflame as well.
Once the ash had cleared we were all arrested and after some RP sentenced to hang. But we broke out, killed the warden (who turned out to be a vampire) with a sharpened table leg, killed the warden's friend (DM hinting the he was a wizard who could easly kill us) with coup de grace. Levels all around for everybody. This was followed by stealing all the bounyy money in the guard station's vault (thank you dead warden's keys). Details like killing wardens and wizards aside we all got together and decided that stealing from the law was a good gig. So we did it a few more times, usually by posing as bounty hunters and turning one of us in to see the lay out and vault location.
Eventually the wizard's guild caught up with us and started a personal war between us and them. We are so very lucky we got away because they were not push overs. After some levels we will probably go back and try our luck again.

Short version, started with a great bearfight, lead to an on going war with a wizard guild. Much better and lucrative then fighting goblins.