At the Table: What’s in the box?

Originally Published at on 2010-08-23.

New Feature: A spot to record thoughts that have occurred because of personal events that have unfolded at the gaming table. Since we don’t tell gaming anecdotes on Bear Swarm! having a place to jot ideas could be useful. No promise on this being a reoccurring feature. There are three parts to this feature, what you need to be brought up to speed, the specific event in question, and my thoughts on it. Enjoy!

Episode Five: What’s in the box?

In which Rob discusses his new game, struggles with creative freedoms, and gives a GM Technique.

Part One: The Backstory

I’ve recently started up a new campaign. I’m calling it a Post-Post-Apocalyptic setting, one where the apocalypse happened and now humanity has recovered. I’m using the Reign system, which I’m quite happy with what I’ve read thus far, but I wanted to do some collaborative story building with my players before launching into a full game. Instead of just sitting down at the table and talking I wanted something a little more structured. Since I wanted to do a biker game I figured a great starting point would be after the events of a Revenge Story, told with a Hell 4 Leather game. Armed with the $5 rules sheet and a deck of tarot cards we gathered at the table to tell the story of the fall of the Edge Runners.

Part Two: Roll for Initiative

This part could be easy for me but a little more dedicated for you. We recorded the entire session and I’ve posted it here. There are two files, the first is the edited story only version and the second is everything including table talk. Still, all that is fairly unimportant and I shouldn’t force you to listen to an AP to understand the article. The whole point of this article is to discuss one (well, two really) points that came up.

During the game the players created a box and something inside the box. Only one character knew what it was and though the course of the story he died. The box was found later, empty. Another character feared what was in the box but no one knew what it was. The box was fairly important for some reason but no one knows why. Now the question remains, what was in the box?

There was also a book that three characters, both dead by the end, had at one point. The book seemed important as well but, like the box, no one ever bothered to mention what the book was or why it was important.

Part Three: Does a 26 hit you?

Seriously, what’s in that damned box? I have my ideas (although I’m curious to hear what yours are as well) but there is a more important question at play here.

When your players throw you something like this how do you handle it? I hope my group isn’t the only one that says, on occasion, “I don’t know what’s going on with this, I figured I’d just let you sort it out.” to their GM. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. When I know what my players are looking for I can play to their ideas, tweaking them and creating something interesting. It’s like having a box of legos. If you have the instructions you can build something but if you’re creative you can modify it into something really cool. Without instructions I just have a bunch of bricks. I can make something but it’s unlikely to be truly impressive. I don’t know what these bricks are intended for. Their just… a bunch of bricks.

While I’m curious to hear how other people handle this I feel this article would be pretty terrible if I didn’t tell you how I handle it. Ready for my big secret? My players may want to look away now… Here it is: I do nothing.

That is what I’m going to do with this box and book. I’m going to do fucking nothing with it. I’m going to sit on it. I have a few ideas but I don’t know how well they would play out. So I’m going to just sit on everything and wait. Eventually something will happen and I’ll see where the book and box fit into the game and that’s where I’ll use them. If it never comes up, it never comes up. The box and the book mystery isn’t solved and that is all there is to it. If I can’t find a nice organic meaningful way to work something into my games, I’m not going to force it.

Once again, here is my special technique for hitting home runs from curve balls:

What do you do when the players give you something unexpected?
Just wait…

One Comment

  1. I like that strategy and often employ it in my games. In general, games like HotB have taught me not to paint myself into a corner when writing plot. Have an idea where you want to take it, but be flexible to all the variables that you cannot control, that way when unexpected things come your way, you can continue to express your poker face and continue on with your magic show as if nothing unexpected has happened at all. This can be easier said than done, and takes a bit of practice, but it leaves me seldom stressed for continuing a story with my players.

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