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Scenarios going off the rails

Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild

*** RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

This weekend I played a scenario

The Devil We Know: Part I

in which, through clever planning and cunning strategy, we managed to completely bypass an encounter (and the faction missions associated with it. *sigh...*).

So now I'm curious. Do you have any crazy stories of scenarios going totally off the rails? What did you do? How did the GM cope?

Dark Archive *****

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I'm curious, which encounter did you bypass?


I had one of these scenarios this weekend. It completely went off the rails, but;

From the GM perspective there is a fine line I feel we walk with making sure that the story gets told, that the main points including faction missions are hit, and that the players have fun.

There are times when the GM has to softly ramrod the table in the direction that they need to go, and a good GM can creatively come up with a way so that all three aspects complement each other.

In my example from this weekend, The scenario went off the rails pretty much after the mission briefing; I let the players say what they wanted to do, have the jokes and the fun, and inserted the parts of the story that I could to move the scenario along. That being said, we all were basically laughing hysterically for 5 hours, for me that trumps all the side rails we took.


Part of GMing is gently guiding players back on track! That said, sometimes players insist on sandboxing a bit.

In your case, though, it sounds as though they didn't go "off the rails" so much as "took the express train". Part of being a good Organized Play gamer is knowing that you'll be penalized for bypassing encounters - terribly meta-gamey, but there it is. Teleportation, for example, is almost assured of bypassing prestige points.

As for going off-rails, I GMed a run of "Murder on the Silken Caravan" in which I wound up improvising an entire hidden cultist community (the players just missed all the hints!), complete with encounters and NPCs - we spent half the slot doing this. Eventually they got back on track... and blundered their way into a TPK. They had a rollicking good time, though!

Grand Lodge ** RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

If I hadn't been (narrowly) voted down by the other players, I'd have made my GM essentially throw the scenario out the window when I played Cyphermage Dilemma.

A VIP is set to arrive by boat. We're supposed to protect him against a local pirate. Unbeknownst to us, the pirate's schtick is to join the crew of her targets' ships under disguise, then "mutiny" and take the ship to a prearranged location. Hence, no one knows what the pirate's ship looks like, since it never shows up. This is supposed to throw us off as we never find a pirate ship heading out to do the deed. We then have to track down the pirate's hiding place and have a fight in a cave to rescue our guy.

My idea, however, was this: Since we're supposed to both protect the VIP and also find this pirate, why not kill two birds with one stone? We head out to sea, intercept the VIP's ship, and come on board as bodyguards. We then lay low, and when the ship is attacked (in the tradional way that we were erroneously expecting) we "ambush" the pirates. No investigation required, the VIP is safe, and the pirate is caught. Mission accomplished!

Now consider for a moment: the entire scenario, as-written, takes place on dry ground - wandering around town looking for info, fighting thugs, and confronting the pirate in a cave. Had we gone with my plan, the entire scenario would have instead taken place on board a single ship. All the GM would have been able to salvage would have been the stat blocks!

*** RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

Leg o' Lamb:

When we discovered the slaves in the abandoned inn, I suggested we just camp out there until someone came to get them, and then spring the ambush. So instead of us going to the ship, the fight actually came to us. Then I got blinded, and we had to wait until daylight to have it removed, and by then the boat was gone, and we proceeded to the underground portion.

@Jiggy: I kind of derailed that one too. I did a Gather Information check to find any pirate outfits in the area, and the GM asked me what exactly I was saying. This was the first adventure for my LG Cleric, so he naively asked everyone on the street where he could find work as a pirate. He eventually met some shady characters who contracted him to kill some random NPCs we had met earlier (who I think the GM had invented from scratch anyway). Since none of my party members wanted to follow me into the bad guy's lair, I had to agree to carry out the hit, just to get out alive. Since I didn't go through with it, that character is now marked for death in Riddleport.


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Some of the most fun I've had GMing was when the players took things in unexpected directions. A memorable example of this was about a month ago during a session of The Cyphermage Dilemma. Seems like a trend!

The Cyphermage Dilemma:
For some reason, the players were not picking up on the hints I was dropping about where they should look for their next clue. One of the faction missions mentioned a crime lord, and they all fixated on that. We had some flexibility on time, so I let them run with their plan. Earlier in the scenario, they were talking to local townsfolk, one of which was a fishmonger, specializing in pickled fish. He had mentioned problems with protection rackets, but didn't want any help from the PCs. They decided the best way to get the attention of the crime boss was to buy up all the pickled fish in the city, undercutting the market until the gang sent enforcers to push a protection scheme on them.

An hour and a half later, they were no closer to the next part of the scenario, so I had to push them in the right direction - successfully this time. It was a very entertaining session for everyone.

Needless to say, the pickled fish was red herring.

I think part of what makes this kind of thing so much fun is that it pushes me to step up my GMing. Like trying to juggle on a tightrope - something could go terribly wrong at any time, but it's exciting to watch!

Unfortunately, events like this can't be planned. It takes a perfect storm of the right players, enough time, and the right scenario for it to happen at all.

Liberty's Edge *****

Jiggy wrote:

If I hadn't been (narrowly) voted down by the other players, I'd have made my GM essentially throw the scenario out the window when I played Cyphermage Dilemma.

** spoiler omitted **

Yeah, I consider myself pretty good at improv and extemporaneous GM’ing.

However, that would have taxed my skills I think, as coming up with an entire scenario from scratch, still make it make sense, and give you guys a chance to fulfill your faction missions (which strangely enough 90% of would not have been fulfilled if I didn’t get you guys on track somehow—even if after the fact).

I could have simply not let you find the ship and so you'd have no shot but to go back to shore, but I hate doing that deus ex machina too much.


Myron Pauls wrote:

I think part of what makes this kind of thing so much fun is that it pushes me to step up my GMing.

This ... anything that helps me become a better GM and stretch my expertise is invaluable .. so going off the rails is good for me lol

Shadow Lodge ***** Regional Venture-Coordinator, Northwest aka WalterGM

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Prefacing this by saying that there's a difference between good roleplaying and playing bypassing an encounter and a team of pathfinders with adamantine picks bypassing an encounter. That said...

As a GM and a player -- I love creative solutions and the memories that follow. That's the best part about this game: you can do anything you want with your character (some restrictions may apply, orphanage burners). When I play, I try to beat encounters by thinking outside the box, and my favorite players do the same.

And if it enhances the game, then why fight it?

Here's some highlighted stories that come to mind, creative, "scenario-breaking", or otherwise:

1) Rebel's Random:

My cleric started off by killing the camels at the start and raising a good number of them as zombie camels. As we headed into the crypt, the trapped bandits (bad guys pretending to be good guys) started pleading with us to be let free. They failed their bluff, so our wizard responded with a charm person. On both of them. Long story short, we finished the game without anyone taking a point of damage... except for the expendable zombie camels and bandits.

2) Sniper in the Deep:

3) Slave Pits of Absalom:

Chelaxian PCs have to acquire slaves and relocate them into Chelish slave pits. Myself and another player (Cheliax) convinced the Andoran paladin we were playing with to go halfsies on the cost of a dozen slaves. I then led them to the "safehouse," where they were promptly smuggled out of Absalom and sold to new owners. When the Andoran found out how we got our prestige after the game had ended, and he almost started crying. Priceless.

4) Dalsine Affair:

When the PCs were in the tunnels escoring the refugees, I had a player start roleplaying it up with one of the refugees, a young man I decided to call Timothy Windston. The player was a dwarf named Happy, who always tried to have a song in his heart, and would actually sing jigs during the game. He tells Timothy to have a song in his heart, and the two become fast friends.

When the spiders attack, the refugee is attacked by a spider and pulled into one of the narrow crevasses (something I was doing for the sheer flavor). But the player was having none of it. "I want to make a Ref check to grab him!" Sure, whatever. The guy rolls a natural 20. He's holding on to the lad, as the spider is ripping into him. Happy rages (he was a barbarian), pulls the kid out and cleaves the beast in twain. The rest of the party is still fighting, but he drops to his knees and cradles the broken body of Timothy (who is alive, but with 0 str).

After the fight, they make it to the rest of the refugees. He insists that the healer look after the boy. The healer is actually a faceless stalker (awkward!) who proceeds to con drain Tim while pretending to heal him. The PCs eventually notice, and kill the priest, but not after Tim is on deaths door (1 hp or so, with a con of 1). The player takes the time to drop off Tim at an actual healers before the party heads to Dalsine's manor. They fight Dalsine and almost TPK before fleeing -- the barbarian being one of the dead.

So rather than raise his character, the player makes a level 1 oracle with the wasting curse for next weeks game. He name's him Timothy Windston, and he sets off to become a pathfinder, remembering the sacrifice of that dwarf, and to always have a song in his heart.

5) Song of the Sea Witch:

It was a group of newish players, playing for basically the first time that weekend. So I decided to make things as awesome as possible for them. When the hell hounds and bearded devils attacked in the market, I added a bone devil to the mix and had Ollysta Zadrian start fighting it 1 on 1. What I didn't count on was a series of unnecissarily brutal rolls on the dwarven fighter, who was only out of position so that the rogue could get to safety. He didn't have the money to get revived, even with everyone else chipping in.

I felt bad :(

But we all know that the Silver Crusade rewards those pure at heart. After dropping the bone devil, Ollysta rushes over to the fallen dwarf, and speaks a quick prayer. Greater Mercy. The player was elated, he doesn't care about the lost prestige or failed faction mission for the game, so he changes his faction on the spot to the Silver Crusade.

Good player, good game.

6) Cyphermage Dilemma:

Rather than kill Mumbuckle, they had him pilot the ship out to intercept the other pirates that were returning from their recent plundering. After all was said and done, one of the PCs spend the prestige to purchase a ship, and hired on Mumbuckle as the captain. One of the goons on board, Lefty, also defected. He more than proved his worth in battle, scoring three critical hits in a row. Racked up more kills than most of the PCs. Now, months later, Admiral Mumbuckle leads a fleet of three ships, along with Captain Lefty, all under the employ of a certain halfling trader.

7) Echoes of the Everwar pt. 4:

At a home PFS game, with some good friends of mine, we found ourselves stumped by one of the Sphinx's riddles, and as time ran out, my barbarian roared at the creature: "Sphinx! I will answer your riddle, but only if you answer one of mine!" I then told the GM a very dirty joke that's in the form of a question, and while he was beside himself laughing, we managed to figure out the riddle. I figured it was an appropriate response for a character with a wisdom of 7.

I'd type more up, but I've gotta get off the computer.

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