Yesterday I DM'ed for the 3rd time (and the first without my family hah) And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I ended up making a lot of stuff up on the spot and from what I could tell my players enjoyed it a lot as well. However, I was wondering if there's any 'at the table' resources you'd recommend so there are less awkward 'what do we do?' type Moments. You seem very well versed in homebrewing and that's the direction I lean as well so I thought you may have something v useful to say. Ty!
So I reached out for a little more context with this, and this is the question:
“What do I do when my players deviate wildly from the adventure I have written?”
Example: The DM prepares a dungeon, fills it with all kinds of interesting stuff so that it should last the whole session, and the players get in and out in twenty minutes, or ignore the dungeon completely and wander off in another direction.
Example: The DM lays out a handful of adventure hooks (clear prompts for adventure), but the players say no to everything and flounder around the inn/town/city, unsure of what to do…or outright bored because nothing is getting their attention.
One of the most appealing things about fantasy roleplaying games is the range of freedom of expression and choice that they allow. Players can do almost anything they want, and are only restricted by the limited constraints of the rules, and the flexible constraints of the Dungeon Master’s plans and patience.
This level of player freedom of choice can be tough to accommodate for Dungeon Masters though. When players ignore or avoid the adventures or quests you’ve made, and instead pursue something you haven’t prepared or planned for, it can be hard to deal with.
Here’s my advice. It works for me, maybe it’ll work for you:
1) Be upfront with your players. People sometimes forget that as a Dungeon Master you can just straight up speak to your players as yourself, and tell them what’s up. If they’re avoiding all the things you prepared, or are ignoring the adventure you’ve written, you can (and sometimes should) straight up tell them “Hey, this is the adventure I prepared today…if you don’t play it, there’s not going to be much of a game this session”.
You’re not a dancing monkey there to cater to your players’ whims and fancies. You’re literally facilitating the game they’re playing. If they don’t want to play what you prepared…then they don’t play!
That might seem harsh, but you need to be clear with your players that session prep takes time and effort, and that you can’t be expected to have a world of infinite possibilities for them to dick around in all the time. Be polite but upfront with them about that. If they want to play D&D with you, they should be able to respect that.
That being said…
2) Invest in random tables and generators. It’s always good to have a back up plan…or better yet, the ability to randomly generate a bunch of back up plans. As a Dungeon Master it’s a good practice to have a collection of random tables for things like NPC names, motivations, adventure hooks, conflicts, villains, and events. If players ignore a bunch of your adventure, you can randomly generate some additional adventure content for them to engage with.
If you haven’t heard of it, I strongly recommend buying a copy of Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. You can read more about it HERE. This book is great for city and town play (which is often where waffling on adventure hooks takes place), but its tables and ideas are usable in a variety of places and situations.
It also has three easy to use adventures written in it that you can pull out and use with very little prep. It’s well worth the $20 or so for a physical copy.
3) Make sure there are consequences for both action and inaction. Players skip over important stuff all the time, and often screw up the DM’s carefully laid out plans without even meaning to.
REPEAT AFTER ME!
The universe provides. Screw ups like these can often be opportunities in disguise.
Whenever your players take a major plot action…or ignore a major plot action, there should be an appropriate reaction from the world:
- Players killed your main villain really easily, and they were important to the plot. Well, who did that villain answer to? Will their superiors or villainous friends want revenge? What will they do to get back at the player characters…or their loved ones?
- Players ignored the important macguffin item that a bunch of the campaign revolves around. Okay, who retrieves it instead? Rival adventurers? Evil mercenaries? Other villains? Now this item is in the hands of the enemy, and they’re using it to fuck up things the PC’s care about.
- Players won’t do the adventure I had planned. Well, then the bad guys win. Whatever bad things were going on there continue to happen and get worse…and now it’s the players problem. They didn’t act, so now the world is worse…and maybe the players need to fix it.
4) Use active, not passive, adventure hooks. This method of play needs to be handled carefully and used sparingly, but avoid adventure hooks that require players to react to other people’s problems. Instead, have things happen directly to the players’ characters.
Players are often more inclined to help themselves than they are NPC’s. For example:
Passive. An NPC tells the PC’s that people are going missing in town. Bandits are kidnapping random people. “Please, won’t you help us get our people back?”
Active. Bandits ambush the PC’s and try to kidnap one of them in particular! If any of the bandits are subdued and questioned, they explain who they’re working for, why they’re kidnapping people, and maybe where they’re keeping those kidnapped people.
The latter impacts the PC’s directly, and is more likely to garner their interest.
I hope that helps a bit. Thanks for the question!