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I had a player that was very very angry and took stuff way too seriously. After the end of the last campaign, we (the party as a whole) were hesitant to re-invite him but decided to give him a chance to redeem his behavior after a long talk with him.

Well, 5 sessions into my historical campaign he completely flipped out and left the party entirely in a messy situation he started. He's definitely not allowed to play again, but now I don't really know what to do. Here's the gritty details below:

Banned player (let's call him Bob) insulted the royal slave driver's latest wife at a posh senator's dinner party, and challenged the slave driver to a battle to the death. Bob pulled the entire party into this by saying we told him to do it. We all got thrown in shackles and lost our citizenship. Then we were trying to escape having to clean poo at the public toilets, when Bob started picking fights with the other slaves. Now the whole group is going to be fed to lions at the Colosseum for attempting to escape. It didn't help that Bob kept on insulting people before I booted him out of the game by majority vote (the party in real life was very angry at him).

I have no idea how to save the other players who don't deserve to be eaten because of one angry man's actions. I would love to erase the last week of in-game time (when this whole fight started) but that would spit in the face of realism, and be really cheesy.

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Why not retcon the whole thing? –  wax eagle Feb 11 at 21:18
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I thought the players might feel more heroic if they could find a way out of this with a touch of luck from the gods/gm or something. I'm just dry on ideas for how that might happen. –  Julia Feb 11 at 21:27
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I don't post it as an answer because you are late for that, but my advice if you ever face the same problem (I hope you don't) is that prevention is better than the cure. Don't let one problematic player put all the players in trouble. If he accuse the rest of the party of his actions, he must not be automatically believed. Put him in jail before the entire group is messed. –  Flamma Feb 11 at 22:14
    
I don't understand. How does Bob doing bad things and saying others put him up to it make the others put in death row? Why did you have the officials believe him? –  Simanos Feb 19 at 9:25
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10 Answers 10

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Why not introduce some major incident that lets your PCs go unwatched, thus with the ability to free themselves and then help fight the incident? Considering the fact that this is an historical campaign, you could start something big that didn't make it to the history books, and it could be thanks to your PC. This way, your PC redeem themselves, AND write history! The incident can even be Bob's character's doing, this way your PC:

  • mess with history,
  • fix it,
  • stop Bob's character and may even kill him, to their great satisfaction,
  • don't have the feeling that you saved them, in fact if you play this well, your only part will be to give them a chance to escape.

If you are concerned about how Bob will react, consider that you had a long talk with him, and he had several chances to correct his behavior. Clearly he had no respect for others' fun, so why bother?

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Option 1: Retcon It

Given the situation of a player basically going off the rails and sabotaging the campaign, the simplest solution would be to use a retcon. Wipe out the events of the last session entirely. They didn't happen. Write out the now missing player, and life goes on.

Retcons are often lousy answers in themselves, but in a case like this you'd likely get support from the rest of the players.

Option 2: Roll With It

You don't want to wipe out the party for this, but if you also don't want to retcon it away, you can maybe turn it into something useful.

Based on what you described, Bob is guilty of most of the actual offenses (including the worst ones). You could have an advisor to the King look into it, interrogate the party, and come to the conclusion that they did not actually push Bob into anything. They also didn't pick fights with the slaves. They did try to escape, but that in itself doesn't have to be a capital offense.

Maybe someone in authority sees a use for these adventurers, and given the situation decides to offer a deal: "Do something for me, and I'll see to it that your case is re-examined."

That something could be anything. A side quest you want to run, a service to the kingdom against some marauding evil things, a quest to retrieve some item that the powerful figure needs to overthrow the King... whatever.

Adventurers are a resource, and those with power now have a bunch of adventurers in the PCs sitting in a cell awaiting execution that could be put to better use. If they accomplish the task, reduce the sentence to a public flogging given the mitigating situation and their "service to the crown" in whatever task they were given. They'd be very cheap and expendable labour, because it won't cost the authority figure anything to hire them, and if they die he's lost nothing. (Mercenaries are expensive, and replacing your own people if they die on a hazardous task is annoying.)

That lets you carry on the game while giving the other PCs a chance to work their way out of the situation. They could still be executed if they screw it up, but it's in their hands how they choose to act.

Option 3: Use Bob

As several commenters mentioned - Bob's player is gone. You can use Bob in any number of ways.

  • Maybe he makes a heroic sacrifice to let the party escape.
  • Maybe Bob was actually working for the authorities all along and his goal was to get the PCs in trouble so they could be attacked or used by the authorities, with a plausible cover story.
  • Maybe Bob was working for the evil guy in your campaign, and wanted to stop the PCs from being a potential issue by getting them in trouble with the authorities.

These all have the common theme of Bob not really being what he looked like initially. Now that you're in control of him, you can use him to fix the story plausibly.

Option 4: Heroic Luck/Deus Ex Machina

Also from the comments, you can have a lucky catastrophic event happen that creates enough chaos for the PCs to escape, or go save someone important and earn some redemption. This stretches plausibility more than some of the less obvious plot options presented above, but is still following the story and thus isn't as drastic as a retcon.

In my experience this type of thing can work in a campaign, once. If you rely on it too much the PCs start to see it as a trope that events will conspire to save them, and it loses its impact. So it's best to try and save it and use it at a properly dramatic time, or if you really have no better options.

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I take it this is an early A.D. Historical setting? It sounds like not only did Bob mess things up, you painted yourself into a corner in how you reacted to him. Here are some suggestions:

  • A Machiavellian official, perhaps a senator or quaestor, hijacks the PCs as pawns for his own plans. He substitutes vaguely look-alike slaves to be devoured in the PCs' place, with the understanding they will be killed for real if they don't obey him.

  • The group of slaves to be thrown to the lions includes several others along with the PCs. One claims to be some kind of preacher for an obscure cult from the eastern provinces of the empire. When the slaves are shoved out into the arena, the supposedly starving lions seem lethargic and uninterested in eating them. The preacher claims it is a miracle of his deity and the slaves, including the PCs, are freed to appease the impressed populace. The PCs are thereafter assumed to be favored by this new god by the converts, whether they believe or not. Were the lions really starving, and didn't they seem like they were drugged?

  • While waiting for their public execution, a fellow slave claiming to be a follower of an escaped slave rebel leader named Spartacus arranges a jailbreak. The PCs find themselves on the run and pressured to join Spartacus' revolt. Things do not go well with that rebellion...

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So far, all options deal with erasing what happened for good and starting anew or continuing from where the story ended last time.

We had a similar situation in a Call of Cthulhu campaign once and both options were unfeasable. Rewinding wouldn't have worked due to the players knowing sensible details. And we all felt that just continuing would mean, that all was lost and only the time until the TPK was what was left to determine.

Our GM's solution was a sort of “meta-session”. Thus we sat down and the players discussed the current game-situation, how the campain could be saved, how that players character could be realistically written out etc. The GM listened to all of that and when it became apparent that continuing was not an option, we tried to figure out from what point on things had gone astray.

Then we went on retelling the story step by step and when we arrived at a situation where that player "had made a mistake" we tried to determine the smallest change possible to his characters actions that would prevent an escalation at that point. Now we had to retell the story from that point on. We did not play this out however (apart from some critical new dialogue or dice rolls), only discussed how the actions of everyone else would change and also how that other character would have continued to act. The important point is to always try to change as few details as possible and try to meet all crucial events that happened before.

So for your example, this would clearly have resulted in the players being arrested but through subtle changes, there might now be enough evidence to free them from suspicion, plot twists that would otherwise have been deus-ex-machina are now established etc.

Also, the GM can get a good feeling on how frustrated the players are and can adjust the amount of change accordingly. Thus it might also be possible to have that character fail to convince the NPCs that the others were responsible for his behavior, retell until a point, where the stories diverge enough so that continuing to play normally does not feel awkward.

In our situation, this collective retelling was what saved the campain, relieved our frustration, brought the group closer at really playing together and for each other, got us to be more emerged into the campaign and resulted in new found motivation (after all, this was our story - even more than before).

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Okay, so what I'm seeing here are two interrelated issues:

  1. A player royally screwed the party over the course of a couple sessions, leaving them in a sticky predicament.
  2. That player is now no longer around due to the players voting him out.

It seems to me that issue 2 can resolve issue 1.

A couple of ways you can do this:

Fall On His Sword

Look, it's not as though this guy is going to be back. His character made this bed; make his character lie in it. In this case, perhaps the other slaves have cottoned to the fact that it was that character and not his buddies who were going insulting people. Maybe something happens to that character while he's asleep in his bunk (gladiatorial combat or no, nobody wants to hang out with a guy like that, and prisons have a way of meting their own judgment), and then maybe one of the leaders of the prisoners steps forward and offers to make everyone forget this other guy was ever a factor in exchange for a favor or something.

Or you can go the completely opposite direction. Maybe you want to emphasize the brutal nature of this side of this city's life. Perhaps you could have the guards catch wind of his, erm, nature and decide to make an example of him in front of the other prisoners. Publicly torturing the character to death may well be both cathartic for the rest of the party and highlight to them the particular elements that they either don't want to mess with or want to change as a part of their campaign.

The bottom line is, here, you have every freedom to make this guy's death as quiet as you want it or as ugly and public as you want it. You owe him no allegiance, particularly given what he did to your story.

Congratulations, New Adversary

You could also retcon the character's motivations if not precisely his actions. Okay, so in the game, the character went up and was mean to everyone because the player had a grudge and thought it would be funny. In-game, maybe this guy was a spy who was tasked with latching onto a promising group of adventurers and getting them killed before they could... do something (I'm wary of saying "fulfill a prophecy" because that's a little played out). If you can't figure out why he'd go after the entire group, perhaps figure out why he'd want to go after an individual character.

From there you could have the guy slip away in the night, or you could make him fall on his sword as in the earlier option. The bottom line is, you've used the character to introduce a shadowy secret organization that the characters can fight against.

So, what about your original story?

Both of these options, I realize, kind of require you to do a bit of rewriting if you had put together a long sequential campaign. Well, as the old military saying goes, no battle plan survives the enemy, and that applies to RPGing as well. Look at this as an opportunity, not a setback. It may seem like nothing but a negative now, but I think you'll find that your players will actually be more invested in a story that grew somewhat organically out of gameplay, even really crappy gameplay.

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I'm not going to touch on how to deal with your problem player, since that seems to have cleared itself up now he's left. However, to clean his mess in-game will require a little work. The first thing to do is look at the situation from the perspective of all the major NPCs you have, as well as maybe one or two new ones (if you pull an NPC out of nowhere who saves the party, it'll seem like a Deus ex Machina - mostly because it is).

Who can gain something by helping the PCs? The local ruler may suddenly have a problem come up he needs an expendable team to counter. One of the prison guards could be the long-lost brother of a PC (cliched, but better than a TPK in this situation) and help the party escape - for even greater tension, he only offers to help his brother escape and wants to leave the others, although this won't work in every group. Conversely, you can call back to a past NPC questgiver who's willing to bail the PCs out and smooth things over in exchange for a service. Turn the whole thing into a way to lead the PCs to a plot thread you want to include. This is one of the few times in a game where there's an in-game railroad, and you can force the players into a situation without breaking suspension of disbelief.

A further option is to metaphorically flip the board. The entire region could be plunged into civil war by a brutal rebellion, where the focus of power swings several times a day between various factions. For bonus points, make the PCs either the involuntary leaders of a faction, or have all factions try to hunt them down. The key thing is that it lets them escape the current situation, and the new tone of the campaign makes it less reminiscent of the old player.

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You could always combine a retcon with a plotline.

Have the players suddenly experience a "temporal shift". Resulting in them being exactly where they were prior to the insulting of the slave driver. They have full knowledge of everything that happened, but no-one else does. No-one else even remembers Bob ever existing.

Then the players can attempt to track down the source of the rewrite, and in the process discover a villain with an artefact that can rewrite history - he essentially wrote Bob out of existence (Perhaps as a first attempt on someone he only barely knew in some capacity, or perhaps as a grudge against Bob for a previous slight/betrayal).

Of course, this line would require the existence of magic in your campaign. Given it's historical, I don't know if that is the case for you. Ancient mythology is always full of legends of artefacts that can do wondorous things though.

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Some big disaster can hit the city where they are captured. Everyone is alive (except Bob). Guards are either in shock, wounded, or dead. You can even make quite good mini-campaign.

Maybe some major earthquake hits a city? Big tornado? Huge flood?

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Bob is now an NPC. Have him continue his disruptive ways but no longer associated with the party. The result is a fight that allows the PCs a chance to slip away.

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If you are a GM, could you just have a hearing with the senate pertaining to each individual standing. I do think you wont be thrown in to the lions if any of you guys have not committed any misconduct.

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