It’s been said on better blogs than mine - unless there is a very good reason to say No, say Yes but ensure that players face the consequences of their own actions.
As we’ve seen in weeks gone by, something that the players do may take the scenario off in a totally unexpected direction and - as we have also seen - this is a good thing. It’s also nothing to be scared of, since, if you’ve been following my earlier guidelines, you’ll only be two steps ahead of the players and won’t have invested hours of your valuable time in devising something that the players just don’t seem to want to try. Will you?
If you have, by some oversight, detailed the next six months of the campaign and feel that this work should be appreciated by your players, then it’s always possible to have the new divergence feed back into the original plotline at a certain point. But for goodness sake, be subtle! In fact, subtlety is, I think, one of the key attributes of a Keeper – if the players don’t notice that something has happened plot-wise, you’ve done your job. Nobody likes being told what to do (if they do, they play Adventure Path D&D, not CoC Sandbox) and those who don’t like it and realise it’s going on are going to get a little bit upset about it. They may even start to deliberately choose against expectations, which can make the adventure a little…hectic.
In the end, it’s all about player choice. I am aware that you, the Keeper, know all things and realise that behind the doors of that abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn is a Shoggoth that is going to turn the party into something resembling a Jackson Pollock but going through those doors is the player’s choice and their right as well. Provided that you have given them clues as to what awaits them, their decision should have been an informed one and if they’ve decided to go ahead anyway, that’s their lookout.
That having been said, nobody likes a TPK but if this was D&D and the characters were nudging 6th with a good chance of levelling up and had been playing the same characters for nigh on a year, the degree of personal distress at their demise would be a good deal higher than it might be if their investigators came to a sticky end after the same length of time playing (and adventures in pbem CoC can run for months). Players of CoC know (or they should know) what the game is like, what is likely to happen and more or less how it is going to happen. If they don’t know, they should be advised pretty quickly, preferably at the recruitment stage to give them the chance of playing something a little bit less…dangerous.
It’s a common complaint about New School adventure paths and such like that in order to keep them on track, the GM has to overrule the results of player choice at certain times. The problem with overruling player choice is that it effectively invalidates any input that the player has and disenfranchises them. A choice of one option is no choice at all. And one of the most common phrases in RPGs is “What do you do next?”
After a while, even the most enthusiastic player is going to get a little hacked off with having their avenues of choice closed down. Soon, the light of fun will go out of their eyes and one of two things will happen – either they’ll become a sullen participant, going through the motions and looking for a way of sabotaging the Keeper’s plans or worse still, they’ll walk.
Yes, players do crazy things but that’s what makes memorable and realistic games. And memorable is what you want. In thirty years’ time, nobody’s going to be talking about the game where everything went to plan and nothing out of the ordinary happened, are they?
Next time – Do Split the Party!