The adventuring party, a group of friends and allies that travel, fight, and live together. This cohesive unit only becomes stronger over time, becoming more of a family than anything else. This is almost universally true, and while sometimes they may bicker like siblings, sometimes feelings may be genuinely hurt, you always know who has your back.
And that makes sense, because a gaming group is much the same; a group of good friends sitting around a table and having a good time. You solve puzzles together, fight monsters together, suffer the same trials and hardships, and most importantly cooperate and watch each other’s backs.
But what happens when that party dynamic is shattered? What happens when the unthinkable occurs and one party member betrays the others?
In the last two years that I’ve been with my current gaming group, we have had three separate betrayals in three separate games. I ran two of these games, Shardfall and High Seas, and the third betrayal occurred in my friend Adam’s Drow game, The Spider Waits. While running a game with a traitor in it was a lot of fun as a DM, it wasn’t until the Drow game that I really got to experience it as a player, and let me tell you, it was rough.
What made this moment of betrayal so surreal for me was that we were playing as a group of Drow. We had literally been backstabbing and manipulating each other for five games straight, and I still managed to feel the harsh slap in the face when our team’s assassin turned out to have been working for The Elemental Eye the entire time.
Now this offer had been made to all of the male characters in the game. We had each in turn been visited by an envoy of Tharizdun in our dreams, offering us untold power and a chance to escape the reins of our matriarchal society. My character had turned down the offer, as I believed that the others had, but I was sadly mistaken. My roommate/gaming-buddy/best-friend had taken the Elemental Eye’s offer, and so while we sat in the living room scheming for weeks, he was secretly working for the enemy.
And this is what allows betrayal to be so damn effective, the real-world connections that we have to our other players. We are able to legitimately feel betrayed by a friend at the moment when it counts most, and that is absolutely incredible. At the end of the night, before we get back in our cars and go our separate ways, we all turn to each other and say “okay, now that was awesome, I can’t believe that we were all fooled for so long” and listen as the Dungeon Master pulls back the curtain and reveals the weeks of planning involved. It’s cool, it’s storytelling, we would have to be idiots to take it seriously.
But for that one stinging moment, it was real.