My last session was a perfect storm of “meh.” I decided to go with a last-minute adventure idea that wasn’t quite ready for prime time and I started the session with a splitting headache that had plagued me all day. On top of that, one of my regular players couldn’t make it and I introduced a guest player for the session. All of these factors ended up fostering a session that, while not terrible, really lacked the punch of my earlier adventures in this campaign.
Of the two plot threads that were supposed to dovetail together, one never really got off the ground. I was stymied at every opportunity and I couldn’t think fast enough to compensate (see throbbing headache). I was really disappointed with the flow of the adventure and, as my last player (besides my wife) left, I had the sinking feeling that I’d wasted a good plot idea with poor execution.
Fast forward a day later. Pondering how to finish up next session I realized that I had one tool left in my arsenal. There were two key scenes that, had I run them slightly differently, would have fixed my issues. All I needed to do was to get buy-in from my players to re-do the scenes. It’s a technique that I rarely use, but often pays dividends with my group when I do.
Using this technique requires my players to suspend their knowledge of the future, much like a jury when told to disregard something presented at trial. As with a jury, the players find it difficult to really disregard this information; it can’t help but color the do-over scenes. In this case, I’d ended the session on a cliffhanger, the murder of an NPC, that could possibly be avoided now that the players have foreknowledge.
Usually when I use this technique I allow as much previously-played material to stand as I can; players don’t need to do-over successful skill rolls or rehash the same conversations. Unfortunately I also run the risk of these do-over scenes being flat, as players aren’t going to be surprised the second time around.
This technique does fly in the face of the “if it was played at the table it stands!” school of thought (I’m looking at you, Kurt!). I’ve also played with groups that would go back and fix mechanical errors if they negatively impacted the PCs, as well as groups that would massage the past if it would fix a derailed adventure. On the extreme end, I know of one group that retconned so much that it was hard to remember what had actually occurred versus what was rewritten.
So fair or foul? Do you think doing over scenes that you flubbed as a GM is fine, or should the scenes stand? If you are amenable to do-overs, do you have any boundaries that you wouldn’t cross?