Five (Awesome) Ways to Totally Derail Your Tabletop Campaign

I have been DMing Pathfinder fairly consistently for just about a year now. There have been tons of good sessions, slow sessions, and some really unexpected twists along the way.

Some of these twists have totally derailed the narrative I had been constructing, and, at times, for DMs, it can be a little frustrating, knowing all your epic plots and future developments have to be tossed out to readjust to a new scenario.

And, sometimes, this new scenario is not very good.

Other times, it’s better than the stupid quest you had in mind.

The trick is, when you derail a campaign, you do it in a way that’ll make things interesting. Anyone can be confronted with a call to action and just say “nah.” Anyone can just wander off to the nearby tavern, and wait there for the whole quest to blow over. Still, here are five possible ways you can screw over your DM in a way that makes the whole campaign more awesome.

Drink with the Big Bad

As mentioned before, you don’t want to just kill your time at a tavern while the world goes to hell around you. Still, there is something to be said for socializing and getting friendly with the guy the DM clearly wants you to kill. If you see a sketchy character at a bar that the DM really wants you to be scared of…buy him a drink.

During my first day as a DM, I set up this big bad drow in a bar that the main characters all found themselves inside of. While he was drinking at the bar, two characters–a ranger drow and gunslinger half-elf–happen to both walk into the bar, and both drink with the big bad guy. This not only put off them having to confront the big bad evil guy for at least another five weeks, but also ended up with them temporarily working for the big bad evil guy.

Without this trip to the tavern, I have no idea if that campaign would’ve spiraled off the way it did.

Cause a Riot

Very often, the first session of a new campaign is spent setting the scene. The characters are dropped in a location, and just pushed into the world without any real direction. This is usually the slightly tedious part of the campaign, since no one really knows what they’re really doing, even the DM.

This is the perfect chance for you to start a conflict.

Most often, you’re dropped into a town. The classic tavern situation is always a favorite. Why don’t you start a bar fight? Maybe light one of the barrels of rum on fire? What if your character gets drunk and punches a particularly well armed orc in the back of the head with their goblet?

And, if not at a tavern, then the market! Steal something, and have to fight off the guards. Just offend the guards directly, even. If not in a town, then just find the nearest group of animals, and start a stampede. Do something that adds a little anarchy to the proceedings in the best possible way.

Kill Someone Important (Or Take Him Hostage)

DM has just presented you with a king or prince. Someone of royalty. What kind of rank? Doesn’t matter all too much. Just important guy. Walks into town. Clearly, the DM wants you to talk to this guy. Maybe he has a mission for you. Maybe he is offering a reward for capturing some fugitive.

Kill him.

Or, better yet, hold him hostage.

Now, your decision on which one to do depends primarily on how you want to derail the game. Killing him will make your group a band of fugitives, on the run from the government. You can hide, avoid guards and the military, join a band of criminals, a revolution, what have you, in your pursuit against the government.

If you kidnap him, however, you’re playing this for the long haul. You got to hole yourself away, keep the guy alive and in captivity, attack and kill those who try to retrieve him, set ransoms, all that. Then, it becomes a game of you against the DM. Your strategies against his. Depending on how you play your character, you could be exploiting every potential gameplay mechanic of your respective game.

Start a War

If you’re in a fantasy universe, there’s a good chance that there are two kingdoms who might not like each other very much. Those elves and dwarves have been at each others’ necks for some time. They’re itching for a fight. It’d be a shame if something were to happen.

Chances are, your DM might make some lore for your story that he doesn’t put much thought into. If your character digs a little deeper into why two races might not like each other, it might give you a chance to start a real bit of conflict between clashing cultures.

In one campaign I ran, my players had to start peace talks between the warring dwarf and orc kingdoms. Political negotiations actually went pretty well, until one of my characters decided to blow up the castle. And, from there, all out warfare. The orcs ended up actually taking over the dwarf kingdom, and turned the whole world against my heroes. The campaign got a lot more interesting from that point on.

Open Up a Bussiness

This might seem a little tame in comparison to everything else, but consider this: your DM wants you to go on an adventure, to go to strange new worlds, and experience the wilds of nature itself.

But screw that. You’re gonna chill while making tons of money.

Use your diplomacy and bluffing to make your industries expand. You can be as cutthroat or as fair as you decide. Maybe you could even be a drug dealer, dealing fantasy drugs to the peons in your city. Or you could just be a furniture dealer. An antique dealer, who goes out and finds rare artifacts to sell. Or you could be a cook who hunts monsters, and feeds them to customers.

Or you can just run a plumbing company, I dunno. Just something different that your DM won’t expect, but will alter the course of the game to make things a little interesting.

No matter what you end up doing, however, it is important that you try to disrupt the game in a positive way, rather than just pissing everyone off. If you choose to ignore the fight while the rest of your party is engaged, all you’re going to do is just slow down combat, and annoy everyone else. Consider what the rest of your party wants before just recklessly doing something crazy. And, remember: it’s all in good fun.

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