Not a Player’s Perspective – How-To DM: When Things Go Awry

Our normal contributor for today is bogged down with work and exams from his master’s degree. Which is fine and totally understandable.

This leaves me the ability to do another article today on something been thinking about.

What do you do when your campaign gets derailed?

We’ve all been there. You know what I’m talking about here: you expected the players to go left and they went right. The players found a clever way to kill the big bad evil guy, or BBEG, and that showdown wasn’t supposed to happen for 5 plus sessions. Or worse yet, the party was expected to rest and recuperate before they headed to the next room, but they forge on ahead only to find the boss fight!

This leaves dungeon masters with only one question: what do I do now?

The good news is that there is a solution to this problem. And I suggest that there are three easy steps that any dungeon master can take to resolve things when they go crazy sideways.

1) Take a break

Step one is always to call for a break. Take a bathroom break, go outside to your car. Do something where you can get a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Some DMS can function well under pressure and can skip this step, but most of us need a few minutes to figure out how to assess the situation and how to get things back on track. Don’t hesitate to call for a break when you need to do this.

2) Assess the situation.

This is where you take stock of what’s going on and look at your options. The town they were supposed to go is east, but they decided to go west. Could you just move the encounters to the town to the west? If the BBEG was killed too early, does he have minions who would bring him back from the dead? Would a worse enemy, maybe a minion or maybe arrival, take up the mantle and enact an even more terrible plot? If they walked into a boss fight too early, could the boss decide that they are not worth his time and that it is not a worthy encounter and simply teleport away or walk away all together?

3) When all else fails, improvise!

The ability of a dungeon master to improvise is an essential skill. Several things you can do when things like this happen. Have another enemy give a short evil villain monologue and run off. Have a stack of encounters ready just in case something unexpected happens while you can get things sorted out. Of course that’s less improvisation and more preparation, but you get what I’m talking about here. The only real advice I would say, especially if you’re deciding to make stuff up on the spot, it’s take copious amounts of notes. There was a resource that I had highlighted previously, the Dungeon Master’s book of random encounters. It has a table filled with first and Last names, tavern names, and of course a number of random encounters to have thrown in when needed. For me, this is been an invaluable tool.

Conclusion

Things don’t have to be so dire when the party decides to do something wild and unexpected or go in a different direction than you had planned. Follow these three easy steps and you should be okay. Just remember that step number one is probably the most important in getting yourself sorted when things go awry.

What do you think, Dear Readers? What do you do when things go awry and the party decides to go in strange directions? Let me know in the comment section below.

Until next time, Dear Readers…

Published by The Daily DM

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

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