The Menagerie invites a new member to the join the band, who manages to derail the entire group within 10 minutes.
When last we left our Menagerie, a new band of heroes has come to the quaint village of Phandalin in search of adventure. Upon entering town, they distinguished themselves by saving the stable master’s son following a dragon attack. Exhausted from the road, and from nearly being eaten by a nasty Frost Dragon, they head to the only Inn in town, The Stonehill Inn. (Previously, the other inn in town burned to the ground during the course of The Lost Mine of Phandelver.)
In the Inn, they have a perfectly perfunctory and boring conversation with the innkeeper who gives them a rumor for possible future adventure that they immediately forget about. The innkeeper also mentions that there is another traveller seeking a group to join and journey with. And he is sitting right over there.
I let them roleplay this introduction scene themselves, and as you would expect from a bunch of kids, it played out like a badly scripted Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. “Um, Hi. My name is Andrew and I’m an adventurer.” “Hi. Andrew.”
So now we have four members in the Menagerie: James playing a Bullywug Druid, his friend, Logan, is a Dragonborn Paladin, Older brother Andrew is a Kenku Thief, and his friend, Astrid, is playing an Elven Warlock. I guess we won’t need my Tortle Monk after all.
So, just a few quick notes about our newest player and character. Astrid is a 14-year-old girl who also runs her own D&D campaign wildly divergent from mine. Oh, no. Her character has a great detail in her backstory that would have fit perfectly within the group having escaped from the circus, but she insists on keeping it a secret from the party. Oh, no! In all of her goals and flaws, she describes that she will do whatever she wants and nobody will ever tell her what to do. Oh, NO! And, of course, her alignment is Chaotic Neutral. Of course, it is!
Now, I don’t mind secrets within the group, or brash, impulsive characters, or Chaotic Neutral or even evil characters… So long as they don’t disrupt the group dynamic or inhibit the enjoyment of the other players. I want all my players to have fun and being evil is sometimes fun, so I’ll let the evil player run amuck sometimes, and usually apart from the group, but if the player still insists on being disruptive to the group because “that’s what my character would do” then they have to expect adverse reactions from the fellow players and most NPCs. But don’t worry; I’m sure there won’t be any conflict this time around.
The next morning, the group chooses a mission from the message board in front of town hall. I just have to say that this method of delivering adventure hooks is the worst. It is such lazy writing with no character motivation and zero roleplay. But I’m trying to play the module as written, so whatever.
They choose to travel to the dwarven archeology dig and warn them about the dragon in the area. Sure, it seems like the easiest mission, because they are naïve players not yet savvy to the deliberately contrary nature of adventure design.
After an uneventful trip to the dig site, they meet the two dwarves running the place and immediately everything falls apart. All they need to do is mention the dragon and then the dwarves will thank them and offer them further adventure. Instead, this is how the event played out.
Me, the DM, playing an unsuspecting dwarf, “Ho, there travellers. What brings you to this remote spot?”
Astrid, the Chaotic Neutral, “Oh, nothing. We just came by to tell you everything is fine.”
DM dwarf, “What do you mean?”
Astrid, “We just came by to tell you that there is nothing to worry about.”
One confused dwarf, “Why would you come all this way to tell us that? What’s going on here?”
Astrid, “Nothing, nothing’s going on. Everything is fine.”
James, the Chaotic Good, jumps in, “No, it’s not. It’s not fine.”
Logan, the Lawful Good, adds, “There’s a dragon in the area. We came to warn you.”
Astrid, “Don’t listen to them. Everything is fine.”
James & Logan, “No, it’s not,”
Astrid, “Yes, it is.”
This pointless bickering went on for a few minutes. Occasionally, a frustrated dwarf (me) would demand an explanation for this nonsense. To which I and the hapless dwarf would get no good reply. I even gave Astrid a Deception check to see if her poorly conceived lie would work. One dwarf believed her; the other knew she was lying. More player arguments ensued.
Finally, an exasperated dwarf cried out, “I want you all to leave.” The players, including my sons, thought that I, the real person, wanted them to physically leave my house, IRL. I had to explain to them that I am fine with this ridiculous roleplay exchange, but the dwarves are tired of your nonsense and they are asking the characters to leave the area.
Astrid’s response is to draw her staff and threaten the dwarf. At this point, Andrew, who had not done much so far, drew his sword as well; here we go.
Of course, the up-to-this-point calm dwarves draw their swords as well. I guess we’re going all the way down this rabbit hole.
The dwarves are about to die. I’m about to kill a player. James and Logan are upset that the game is being held hostage and they don’t know what to do. Andrew is not happy either but doesn’t want to go against his friend. Astrid isn’t even aware how disruptive her actions are; she just wants to be silly and maybe act like a tough-guy, and be unpredictable. All the things you can’t be in real life. I get it.
Poor Logan, the first-time player was at a loss. He had no idea what he could do and I could tell he was frustrated. So I gave him back his agency and power.
“Logan, another person has threatened two people that you are trying to help. Would your character allow that to occur?”
“Then what would he do?”
“He pulls his sword and points it at the elf (Astrid).”
James adds, “I prepare to cast sleep on the kenku (Andrew).”
Perhaps realizing that she had gone too far, Astrid backed down. She put away her staff and said, “I was only joking. There is a dragon.”
The dwarves replied, “That’s great. Thank you. Now please leave.”
I suppose this was the best possible ending here, and I honestly don’t know how I would have handled it had it come to blows. Most likely, I would have let them fight and eventually knock out Astrid’s character (both dwarves would have attacked her exclusively).
I was upset with the entire encounter. I knew that Astrid was playing a Non-“Good” character, and she is only trying to have fun, but I was surprised at how disruptive she would be. This is not her fault. Unfortunately, Astrid is too young to realize that if you want to play the “Bad” character in a group of Good Guys, you have to be subtle about your evil actions. Otherwise the group will either abandon, or worse, murder the non-conformist.
As the DM it is imperative that you quickly contain this; especially when a more experienced player is playing the jerk to inexperienced players. Left unchecked, this will turn the party toxic.
The easiest thing to do is to talk to the player. Find out what the player wants out of the character. And allow her to have a few, subtle “evil” moments. But not anything that breaks the party dynamic. But, moving on to the session at hand; fortunately, the module might just save this debacle.
Dejected, although they technically “passed” the mission, the group begins to leave. They get about 200 yards down the canyon when a band of Orcs attack. The party is trapped in a canyon and the Orcs are blocking their only escape. If they can save the dwarves from this menace, our “heroes” just might get back into their good graces. Finally, “Roll for Initiative.”
First up is Logan who attacks one of the Orcs for a little damage. Second is James who uses his frog tongue to disarm another one. This is followed by Andrew who attempts to hide in the shadows. And then finally, Astrid… runs away, abandoning her group because “That’s who I am. Look, it’s in my backstory.” Aw, c’mon!
Andrew follows suit, leaving the two youngest players to fend for themselves. I refuse to let them off easy and have two Orcs chase them. The remaining Orcs attack Logan and James leaving them with just one or two hit points. And there is no way to disengage without triggering an opportunity attack.
Meanwhile, the two cowards run back to the Dwarven camp. The two dwarves immediately draw their weapons and demand that the players leave. Andrew cries out, “Orcs!” This is technically impossible for a Kenku, but I let it slide.
Back at the real fight, James, who always comes up with creative solutions, casts Entangle on the Orcs, immobilizing them, and then tells the Dragonborn to “Fry ‘em.” Logan obliges, killing all three with his fire breath, amidst much screaming and the stench of burnt garbage. Then they run back to help their undeserving comrades.
Together, they make short work of the remaining Orcs, and Andrew discovers what he wants to do to make his character unique. He has his thief perform a backflip over an Orc stabbing him in the head as he does so. I give him an Acrobatic skill check, and if he succeeds, he gets an extra point or two in damage. Hopefully, these combat gymnastics will dissuade him from following Astrid’s anti-social tendencies.
Begrudgingly, the dwarves thank them for saving their lives, (although they still won’t trust Astrid), and we end here. After two unproductive hours, we barely managed to salvage the session. And who knows, maybe next week they might get to explore the rest of the ruins. But first, I need to have a group chat about party dynamics and group enjoyment. Fun stuff. Or maybe we’ll just tie up Astrid’s character and drag her around on a leash.
As always, to be a good evil character you must first be a wicked good player, and Game On!
DM’s note: This was the last in-person session we had with this group before the pandemic lock-down. It has taken us a while to figure out the direction of the campaign, but fear not, The Menagerie shall return!
Update: The Menagerie is back! Next week, a few new creatures join the party and they try to save a gnome settlement from something called “The Shifter”!