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Raj Got Stuck in the Crystal

I’m a relatively new DM, and I ran into an issue with my group recently that I think I could have handled better. For our campaign, I designed a world where the continent the players live on was taken over by a massive jungle in an event called the overgrowth 20 years before the start of the campaign. The players after several sessions found that a sect of crazed followers of Melora were the apparent cause, with a running theme that crystals were somehow related to the massive vegetation growth. This all culminated with them storming a living temple, and defeating the high priestess there. As she died, she smashed the crystal in her staff, opening a portal sucking the players into the Feywild.

Since my players are generally newer to DnD, I used a vignette of the party’s mage in his teenage years being taken to the Feywild during a school trip, so I could have a teacher figure explain generally what they were getting into. I gave each player a student to play, and one jumped into the persona Raj as the teacher’s pet know-it-all. They had fun, and when they awoke in the Feywild they were very near where the trip took place. I made sure to describe the now cracked large crystal they were standing near.

My plan for the story arc was simple. The players would realize they were in the Feywild, and get clues the followers of Melora were using these crystals to steal magical energy, depleting the enchanted forests. They’d have to return to the mortal realm, and defeat more followers to smash the crystals and end the Fey catastrophe. I had a nearby portal they could use to return home, and planned NPCs that could point them towards it to continue the story.

However, my mage immediately upon seeing the crystal said, “Oh hey, this is the crystal Raj got stuck in!” My players then proceeded to spend 10 minutes laughing about how Raj messed up a spell on the field trip and got stuck in, or fell into a natural formation, or angered a local hag who cursed into giant gem. The cracks were attempts to free him of course! I completely lost control, and was now left with a choice. I could either continue with this idea that Raj fell into a crystal, throwing a complete wrench in my plans, or I could tell the players no and ruin a joke they all seemed enthusiastic to extend. I chose to continue with what the players enjoyed, and left poor Raj in the crystal.

I ended the session early, and had to take time to completely rethink not only my storyline, but what the players’ purpose would be in the Feywild. The next session felt very disjointed because of this, since it opened up a lot of questions I wasn’t ready to answer with plot holes that now opened up. I know players have a tendency to destroy your story points, but what can a DM do in a situation where a major plot device is hijacked? In the future, how do I get Raj out of the crystal?

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marked as duplicate by SevenSidedDie, MrJinPengyou, LitheOhm, Phil, mxyzplk Jun 6 '13 at 13:37

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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I'm inclined to say that this one differs slightly in that it deals with the players injecting story elements into the game where there were none before, but they do cover similar themes. –  Lunin Jun 5 '13 at 23:32
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@Lunin I read both the questions as "I wrote a plot and my players are wrecking it". The answers to the other question are the answers to this one. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 5 '13 at 23:53
    
Once made not "too specific," this is the same question as the linked one - do feel free to go add answers to that one too, if this one has reawakened interest/given you a new perspective on the subject. –  mxyzplk Jun 6 '13 at 13:38
    
Make it part of your story. Either they have to free Raj to understand what's going on, OR Raj is actually the mastermind behind the whole plan, driven crazy by its years spent in the crystal. –  Cristol.GdM Jun 6 '13 at 14:34
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2 Answers 2

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First things first, keep in mind that until it actually comes out in play, all plot elements are still in ether. Not only is this recoverable, but with a little flexibility and effort you can ensure that nobody is ever able to tell there was a lapse in the first place.

From your description, the issue seems to be at least partially that your players are placing things in your game world without your input. This can be a good sign of player engagement. Where the issue resides is in the social contract of how this is expected to play out. Keep in mind that the players should be able (and encouraged) to form theories on things that happened, but what actually happened must still be within your control. Also keep in mind that you are in no way obligated to say whether they are right or wrong at any point in time.

Take your Raj and the Crystal example. How would they be able to tell if Raj was in the crystal or not? Would it be his body, or something non-visible like his energy or soul? In this case using imperfect information is a great way to stall for time to figure out what you want to do with this. Perhaps someone in the group can tell there's something strange with this crystal, but they'll need to bring something they don't have with them now to be sure if it's Raj or not. Or maybe they can see a person in there and it looks like Raj... but they don't actually know how he got in there or if he's even still alive.

Notice in these examples that you don't have to confirm or deny that things went how the players expect. Perhaps it's someone else imprisoned in there, perhaps Raj was already set free as future visions of this group of students would show, it could be that something entirely different is going on that is misleading the party. Your gut instinct to not just shut them down on this whole thing is a good one. The key is to never show the seams between what you have planned and what you had to make up on the spot

Use this as a hook to get them to discover more about where they are and the followers of Melora. Use it as a sign of how the crystals are draining energy (what effect would that have on poor Raj?). Even if completely disjointed, there's nothing stopping the elements of your original plot from continuing unabated while the party is more focused on the crystal. It may be that things are worse off for the detour, or it may be that it gave them vital insights for dealing with the way things have escalated.

If all else fails, smile and be vague. Even if you have no idea what's going on or what you could do with a situation, this will make it appear everything is going according to plan. You can always figure out something new that fits after game.

On a side note, if they do try to insert something that isn't there that you don't want to indulge "We use that rope that's hanging from the ceiling over the pit to get across" simply ask for a check. On a failure, tell them they can't see it or that it used to be there but not anymore. On a success, tell them they can tell it's not there or that it was an optical illusion/trap that they can now avoid because they succeeded.

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I think I'm coming more around to your point of view here. Part of my issue was that I had a very specific idea in mind as to the effects/properties of this crystal they've found, but the insertion changed how it operates pretty severely, and I wasn't quick enough to come up with an explanation on the fly. What I ended up doing was changing the pull of their purpose in the Feywild. I came up with a new villain, and started dropping clues to a larger chain of events that I hope will end up drawing them in. And if anything this group is to engaged to the point of being overly energetic. –  CCrew Jun 5 '13 at 23:51
    
Plans seldom survive contact with the players, it sounds like you've figured out a good way to go with it though :). Don't forget that if there are any parts of your old plan you really liked, there's no reason you can't shelve them for now to pull out later as needed. –  Lunin Jun 6 '13 at 0:51
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I could either continue with this idea that Raj fell into a crystal, throwing a complete wrench in my plans, or I could tell the players no and ruin a joke they all seemed enthusiastic to extend. I chose to continue with what the players enjoyed, and left poor Raj in the crystal.

Why were you left with a choice at this point? The players explored something in game and made a theory about what it meant. You're not obliged to answer them. You can let them go on thinking whatever they want until they find evidence. I like this approach because it gives you more time to evaluate if you can run the new idea before you're committed to it. It also comes across as more realistic IMO. I don't like situations where the GM corrects misconceptions to keep things on track. They feel fake, like there's only one right path. Let your players investigate their own theories. By the time they find a clue, you'll know which way you want to go.

So, for the recovery I'm going to again go with the noncommittal answer and suggest doing both. Yes that is Raj in there. He was working to prevent the Fey from setting up the crystals in the first place, but he got caught. Tapping magical energy and sending it across planes is a nontrivial task of course, and requires the sacrifice, or at least imprisonment of a sentient being. Kill Raj if you're going for a dark game. Leave him in stasis, with the crystal feeding off his soul (maybe have the cracks repair over time to show this) if you're going less dark. If the players are able to save Raj, he can info dump about the Fey for them but he's probably out of date and doesn't know how far the Fey have gone since he's been imprisoned for so long.

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Yes, I'll definitely have to come back to Raj at some point. The poor guy can't enjoy it too much in there. The solution I eventually ended up with was to drop the crystal's importance and focus on other issues the characters run into. I think your idea could still go pretty interestingly though, thanks. –  CCrew Jun 6 '13 at 3:26
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