Largest in game surprise you have experienced?
I don’t want to make a habit of using the same game event, but it has to be the Night Witches game I mentioned a couple of days ago. It is rare even in RPGs to see a paradigm shift in the midst of a campaign – usually tone is pretty well laid out at the beginning, or established by informal agreement and it doesn’t change much. It might expand a bit, or narrow a bit as players and GM refine things in later play, but almost never is there a hop to a completely different “feel” as a result of a single scene in the game.
In this case we had, up to that moment, been the intrepid Night Witches, sisters fighting against the oppression of the Hun in out brave little planes. The face of war had been more or less impersonal – we had suffered few losses among the PCs, and even when the war had gotten close it had been a bunch of impersonal Germans that we never learned the names of.
All that changed in that one moment. Everyone at the table was stunned. I remember hearing sharp intakes of breath, gasps, and cries of “No!” from around the table. I honestly think that some of us were in tears over it (well, I was. I think other people were too). All of a sudden we weren’t the intrepid Night Witches anymore. All of a sudden we were the hard-bitten, battered Night Witches ground down to stubble by years of war with a terrible, totalitarian regime for an equally terrible, totalitarian regime. We were also horribly, horribly young.
[NOTE – the photo above is Hans-Georg Henke. He’s 15. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1944 to support himself after his parents were killed. In 1945 his Luftwaffe anti-air unit was mixed in with an infantry unit. In late April, with Hitler already dead, his unit was overrun by American forces in heavy fighting. I first saw the picture in High School. His eyes have haunted me ever since.]