In Part 1 of “Blogger’s Guide to Being an Awesome GM” I talked about how the occasional plot twist can spice up a game session, and I couldn’t resist telling the tale of my proudest moment as a GM. Sure enough, here it is! I hope it’s inspirational to any budding GMs out there…

This happened a few years ago, but I still remember it fondly as one of the most successful plot twists I’ve sprung on my players. The group (a heroic band of fantasy adventurers, hooray!) were responding to a cry for help from a secluded town that was being attacked by swarms of zombies every night. The town guard were dwindling, and all hope seemed to have been lost. Enter the heroic protagonists, doing what heroes do best – turning up to save the day! A feast was thrown for them, and afterwards they met with the town elders, who explained the situation. A group of evil sorcerors were hiding out in the nearby forest in a crumbling shrine, worshipping an artefact that gave them the power to raise undead hordes to do their bidding, and had vowed to slaughter the inhabitants of the village. If the artefact could be recovered, the elders had worked out a way to turn its power against the sorcerors and end their reign of terror. The group agreed to make for the shrine immediately – there were a couple of hours left before dusk, and the town’s defences might not hold out for another night. That’s when things started getting dramatic. I informed several players that they weren’t feeling so great. Their characters doubled over in agony, violently throwing up and generally getting disorientated. I didn’t need to tell the group what had happened; they immediately worked out that the feast had been poisoned, no doubt by agents of the evil sorcerors! Thankfully not all of them had succumbed to the effects. Those that had, however, began having strange visions – they saw monsters wherever they turned, and began attacking the town guards! There was no time to dawdle, with the sun already hanging low in the sky, so the other half of the group used all the powers at their disposal to restrain their fellows. The maddened characters were locked up in the central manor’s dungeon, to be watched over by the guards while the rest of the group made for the forest.

From that point, I split the group into two halves, and sent half the players out of the room while I was dealing with the other. The imprisoned characters (who, as a clue that no one seemed to notice, were all the characters who had resistance to poisons and illusions) woke up in a cell, with a monster in guard’s clothing watching over them. Being awesome, heroic and resourceful, they managed to break their way out and a daring escape began. But that wasn’t the fun part. The other group made their way to the woods, where they found the shrine guarded by grey-robed acolytes. They killed them from afar, only realising something was amiss when they inspected the bodies and saw that they were wearing sigils that marked them out as followers of one of the various “good guy” gods of the world. On that revelation, I sent the group out of the room, confusion and worry on their faces, and went back to the escape attempt.

Of course, they worked it out when they were out of the room. They were the ones under the influence of mind-altering drugs, no doubt slipped to them during the feast. The zombie horde story was just a ploy to get them to go and snatch a powerful artefact from its holy guardians. They’d been tricked! They’d put their fellows in danger! They’d murdered people who were on their side!
They re-entered the room with the words “You bastard. You utter, utter bastard!” directed at me. As they’d worked it out, I got everyone back in the same room, and the resulting action scene – with the duped characters dashing back to the village while their horribly outnumbered allies fought their way out of a nest of vampires – was talked about for ages afterwards. It was awesome, and I can’t believe it worked as well as it did. It took a lot of planning (and an awful lot of keeping a straight face) but it worked! I think the main reason it worked was because I played on the players’ expectations; for all intents and purposes, it felt just like a real quest, the sort of thing any group would expect. How many plots are a variation on “save the townsfolk by recovering a guarded artefact before it’s too late”? Sticking to my own rules, I made sure that I didn’t use any more big plot twists for a while, mainly because everyone expected them, all of a sudden! Either way, that session stands out as one of the reasons why I love GMing.