How-To DM: Improvisation

Dear Readers, as you may have seen, my Tuesday group has begun a new campaign, calling themselves the Inglorious Ingrates.

You may have seen our Wednesday staff writer, Brandon, who does our “Player’s Perspective” post, writing about their new exploits. If you did not know, by the way, we are starting that group as a podcast to be released when we finally get Your Dork Materials launched in September/October of this year. If you become a premium subscriber here, however, you will get a preview of our episodes, upwards of 4-5 months in advance!! I promise that it will be worth the $5 per month premium subscription.

Okay, enough putting in a plug for our video channel and our premium subscriber content. Back on topic.

As I said, I mentioned my Tuesday campaign to say this: you cannot believe how much improvisation I have had to do in just the first two sessions. I’m not counting anything that happened before the party got to Borest (there will be a session Zero episode released that details part of what happened before the party was captured and taken to Borest; Brandon has written of these accounts), although there was some improvisation done then.

As he hasn’t written up his “Player’s Perspective” yet (he was absent the actual first session post the island adventure that happened before they became adventurers, but he’s going to write a mega-post for next week!), I will do my best not to spoil anything.

The long and the short of it is this: the party was captured by goblins and imprisoned within a town, along with other travelers and the townsfolk. They were left to decide how, when, and where to proceed.

In the adventure, which I wrote, there was outlined several options which the party would likely take to get out of the situation.

Option 1: Wait it out. This would only work for so long before the goblins would start killing townsfolk to force them to work harder (the town was being forced to continue their agricultural work, but for the benefit of the goblins for reasons unknown). This group would never take this option, really. Wait for a day and watch, sure. Not much more than that. And one character did just that.

Option 2: Finding Weapons. This is where things got interesting and comedic. The Goliath in the party, who happens to be a barbarian, decided to find the public latrine. While no one was looking, he pried off several of the boards behind one of the stalls. He waited patiently for a goblin to be using said stall. Hilarity ensued, and two goblins lay dead and buried in a manure pile while their weapons were hidden behind a wood pile. That was just the beginning. I honestly had to improvise the entire thing based on his wacky plan. Who would expect somebody to ambush a bunch of goblins while they are on the pot? This guy did.

Option 3: Begin a Rebellion. This one was really interesting. The mayor, who’s subplot had recently been resolved by the Goliath barbarian (totally by happenstance!), was approached by the bard who talked him into beginning a sort of rebellion. The party realized that there were more people in town then there were goblins. Math followed and it was determined that an acceptable number of townsfolk would perish in order that the town be free. Hey, I never said these guys were truly heroes. Neither are they truly murder hobos. How did he convince the mayor? A bit of role-playing mixed with a casting of the heroism spell. Very well played.

Option 4: Foment Distrust Among the Goblins. This one they did by pure accident while trying to cover their tracks for goblin deaths. For example, after killing two goblins within their makeshift barracks, the party realized a lot of noise was heard. The party began calling out “They’re killing each other!” after arranging the bodies to look like they had been fighting. It was an ingenious plan and their rolls were outstanding.

Option 5: Poison the Food. This one, while technically an option, was not really considered by the party.

Option 6 (and this is where I feel that I show I am an experienced DM): Something Else Crazy. This one is where I had to allow them the space to do what they wanted while I was forced to improvise. Let us consider: what do you do when a player wants to hide a body in a manure pile? What kind of checks do you have them roll? What do you do when a player wants to convince his captors to take him with them to unload the goods at their main hideout? Yeah, this is what I’m talking about.

As dungeon masters, we have to give our players the reins in how they go about completing the tasks and telling the story that we are trying to tell with them together. This means, that we have to be willing to let them take the adventure off the rails.

As I detailed before, a product that I have found useful in this endeavor is The Dungeon Master’s Book of Random Encounters.

Sure, there’s a bunch of random encounters and such inside, but there’s also a couple of tables in there that are much, much, much more useful to me. The tables I am referring to are the random first and last names, the tavern names, and other such things.

When the party asks what the names are of other travelers that have been captured that are in town, as well as what they were or did for a living, I had to have an answer. Guess what? I was easily able to come up with a few names as well as occupations.

Anything that helps us, as dungeon masters, do the improvisational job that we do and are forced to do because of the chaotic nature of players, is well worth the money.

So here are some tips that I have for you on how to improvise better:

  1. Be flexible – a plan is only good until the first encounter.
  2. Be prepared – have tables of random encounters, lists of names, and other such things for when you will undoubtably need them.
  3. Have a plan – at least have an idea as to where you are trying to get the story to go, and let the players figure out how to get there. Players will be players, and letting them try strange and out of the box stuff with a couple of randomly and vaguely tangential DC skill checks, while allowing only those with proficiency to roll, etc…
  4. Roll with it – as #3, but let them do what they do and let the dice fall where they may. Who knows, it might end up being a great story to tell later…

What do you think, Dear Readers? Does this help you prepare your improvisational skills? What did I miss? Let me know in the comment section below, and hit that like button! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to The Blog for future tips, painting updates and techniques, game session overviews, product unboxings, and more!

Until next time, Dear Readers…

P.S. – If you choose to buy something via one of our affiliate links, it goes to supporting our site and future content!

Published by The Daily DM

I'm just a DM telling the stories of my tables.

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