I have come to realize, after yet another D&D session that ended with Kevin holding his head in his hands and moaning as the plot jumped the rails, went down an embankment, and burst into flames, what precisely the problem with our D&D group is.
We mean well.
This is what gets us into trouble.
When there are straightforward bad guys, we kill them. Occasionally we flirt with them and then kill them. We’re complicated people. But the situation is hardly ever straightforward, and if the NPCs say anything—or god forbid, Kevin attempts to provide a little local color—it’s all over. We begin to sympathize. Unless they’re mindless zombies or malicious demons (the paladin belongs to a demonslaying order) or abominations (the druid has issues) we have a bad habit of trying to work out the best possible solution, because damnit, we are all well-meaning, basically decent people. (The rogue has a heart of gold. Really.)
So we rescue the little caged monster because it Looked Sad, and we joined the local adventurer’s co-op and we bend over backwards to make sure that Lawrence, the artificer’s spirit-toad familiar, never finds out that he’s not a real toad, to the point where we started buying ghost-cicadas on a ghost-stick to feed him.
In this most recent extravaganza, we were fighting a wood-woad, and it occurred to me to ask it why it was so angry. Kevin, who had not actually expected us to talk to it—it’s been sending wasps to poison the water supply—summoned up his growly wood-woad voice and said “Uh…humans take water supply! Humans cut trees! Always cutting trees!”
Well. What can you do? Clearly the wood-woad had been wronged!
The paladin wanted to find it a nice new home, the druid thought it was an invasive species and wanted it killed. It came out that it had slain all the local beavers, which was enough to enrage the paladin. We beat on it for awhile. Finally:
PALADIN: Can we ask it to surrender now? Offer it terms?
DRUID: It’s a wood-woad! It…y’know, sure. Fine. See if it’ll accept terms.
PALADIN: (Rolls natural 20 on Diplomacy roll.) Excuse me, Mr. Wood-Woad, sir…if you stop now, no more of your little wasp friends will be hurt, and surely we can work something out where nobody will take your water supply again…?
DRUID: (sighs heavily)
GM: (weeps into hands)
So now we are traveling to an orchard owned by the paladin’s order, with a wood-woad stuffed in a half-barrel full of potting soil, which is tied to the back of an elephant, because the rogue happens to own a wondrous elephant. Y’know. Like you do.
Mind you, being well-meaning also means that we have put several towns to the torch, sowed the fields of one with salt, tied a priest to a bed on at least one occasion and spent much of last week trying to figure out how to burn down the sky. And don’t get us started on orphanages. There is always something evil going on at orphanages. It is better to simply burn them down preemptively before they get all Children of the Corn on you. No good ever comes of sparing the orphanage.
I have been in other campaigns where we did not Mean Well quite so aggressively, and they were not nearly so much fun. On the other hand, since apparently killing the wood-woad was kinda a plot point, Kevin is now scrambling to figure out what to do next, but hey, that’s the GM’s life…