I’m not sure why, but sometimes I’ve had players who downright just play like wimps. It is a stereotype (or perhaps assumption) that spans far and wide regarding player characters in RPG’s that label them as heroes or extraordinary in some way. You would think these people who weave elemental and divine powers from their fingertips, transform into beasts, leap chasms and wear plate armor brimming with weapons would charge headfirst into danger.
Apparently not always, as my most recent homebrew campaign first started I’d never seen so many players take the “safe route” so often. By safe route I don’t mean “Let’s see if we can convince the baron of X before we try Y” I mean when encountered with a graveyard that may have a few zombies lurking around they opted to sleep until daylight before investigating, even though an urgent matter was at hand. Unfortunately I didn’t punish properly for taking a casual approach to dispatching evil.
I had a cinematic encounter laid out before them, the moon was full and the graveyard thick with mist where an ominous winged silhouette appeared each night perched atop an abandoned tower. A barmaid offers them a key left by a stranger who said it would unlock the towers mysteries also offering gold to vanquish whatever sinister thing that resides in the tower. “You say the shadow appears there every night, and it’s yet to attack?” “Well then it’s probably not going to do anything tonight either, let’s get some rest and investigate when the sun rises, it will be safer this way.”
Honestly, in hindsight and after becoming a much more experienced and well-educated DM (thanks to the great D&D blogging community) I realize I could have handled this situation in several ways – have the zombies attack and infest the inn they were sleeping in that night, simply have it become a missed opportunity, etc. However this was back in my “all aboard the story railroad” period of my DM’ing career before I truly realized how to harness the power of improvisation and proper planning.
Still though, is D&D not a game where we get to live vicariously through an alter ego? RPG’s are without boundaries like most other gaming formats, and with complete knowledge that it is in fact a game, why wouldn’t someone press boldly into danger? Perhaps I didn’t relay the situation properly that night, or I just suck at creating encounters but had I been in the players position that session I would have been screaming “Let’s go kill us some zombies”.
DM’s have you had players do things like this in your games? Players, is there any particular reason for being overly cautious (other than sinister DM’s)? And am I in the wrong for wishing sometimes players would just “show some backbone” in a situation such as this? I’ll be waiting to hear from you in the comments!