What to do when your PC’s go somewhere you hadn’t planned

I’ve found that it’s really impossible to account for even half of exactly what your party will do.  Oftentimes they don’t mean to go off narrative they just didn’t realize which direction you had intended them to go.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but you do have to be prepared.  Just because the party has ventured into uncharted territory doesn’t mean you have to be entirely unprepared.

A lot of adapting to these situations can be handled by good preparation and a quick wit for improvisation.  It’s a lot of extra work as a GM but you can provide a much more flexible game if you do a good amount of preparation.  How much?  At least one sessions worth though usually more.  I generally come up with basic scenarios for a lot of different things.  The longer I run a campaign the more prepared I am.  Whenever I get what I think is a good idea I write it down or make a mental log.  Not everything can go into the campaign so a lot of that ends up in the preparation heap or in a future campaign.

A lot of what preparation needs to be done depends on the flavor of your campaign.  The first portion of my most recent campaign took place entirely within a large city so most of my preparation went into things like intrigue with local crime lords and nobles.  But since it’s moved out of the city I’ve been preparing small villages and the such.  Generally I come up with little plot ideas that interest me and then flesh them out a bit.  Maybe it’d be fun if there was a ghost ship that really wasn’t ghostly or goblins who instead of kidnapping kids were actually fostering them (which I’ve mentioned here before).  This may seem really obvious but I’ve known many GM’s who barely prepare for the session they’re about to run.  Some are able to improv the entire thing, but more often then not, in my experience, it ends up not being as good as it could have been.

The last bit is a bit harder to do.  You can’t come up with every NPC in the world and you need to make them more then just cookie cutter molds.  I do create some random NPC’s in advance but a lot of them end up being improvised (even some in the main campaign).  My general rules for this is to generally abstain from any overbearing stereotypes unless it’s really fitting the the mood of that session.  In general I try to stay away from making drunken dwarves or vegan elves.  Sometimes I just come up with the personality and other times I think of some character in a movie or tv show that could fit this position.  Sometimes it’s just general personality types that interest me at the time.  A few months ago a PC had a chance to woo a woman, they rolled a critical and tried the true love angle so I decided this person needed to be madly in love with them after that.  Thus Lisin the overly emotional dwarven noble was born.  All the classic love story babble (which sounds really weird in anything but a movie) with the confusion of having their partner not actually care about them and be gone most of the time.  In the end the character ended up being the bad guy in this little romance story and a lot of fun was had by all.

So oftentimes flipping a normal archetype on it’s head or subtly taking a unusual look at a common thread can add a lot to a random encounter.  I would strongly recommend you write down any names of NPC’s you make up mid-session.  It’s really embarrassing to forget something your players found memorable.

In all the random encounters can be some of the funnest in a campaign.  If you are on top of you game, which usually means being well rested, focused and prepared, it really isn’t difficult to end up with a memorable story.

[tags] Role Playing Games, Dungeons and Dragons, Game Mastering[/tags]

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