There comes a time in every game where the DM is no longer really in control. The fighter is drunk and bullying your favorite NPC at the bar, the wizard is using prestidigitation to clean filthy peasants for copper pieces, and the bard is trying to seduce… well, someone or something. It doesn’t matter.
Obviously, you didn’t plan for this. Don’t feel bad. Players are a terrible lot that are impossible to plan for. It’s what makes them fun. You do have to deal with the consequences of it, however. It’s important to figure out what is going to happen next because the players are going to expect something. What do you do?
I’ve noticed that dealing with this type of situation is one of the biggest anxieties for new GMs. I’ve seen some variation of the comment time and time again. What happens when the players do something weird? Will I be able to improv enough? Will the players still have a good time? Will they think I’m pretty? Why doesn’t anyone like me?
If you’d like to talk about my personal insecurities, feel free to use the contact form on the website.
Seriously, though, it’s a real worry. Never fear, though. You got this. If you’ve gotten as far as to get into that mess, you’re already halfway to getting out of it. Oddly, the solution is kinda the same as the problem. It’s a player driven game. They got themselves into the current situation. Leave it to them to get themselves out of it.
First, never let them see you panic. Don’t worry, the players don’t know whats supposed to happen either. When they do something that catches you totally unprepared, they don’t have to know that you didn’t plan for that. Just act like that was what was supposed to happen all along. The more you do it, the more the players won’t be able to tell what you had planned and what you haven’t.
Secondly, and most importantly, if you’re ever stuck on what to do, listen to your players. The fighter is bullying your favorite NPC? How would that NPC react to that? What would the consequences be? Whatever the players do, roll with it. That doesn’t mean it has to end in a favorable circumstance for them, however. Go ahead and let the bard attempt to seduce the sentient sword. Just fade to black and have them wake up later missing a few hit points.
All well and good, but what about the story you wrote? Following the characters every whim is great, but it can quickly grow tiring for everyone involved. Sure, the player thought cleaning up peasants with magic for money would be funny, but the joke will grow old quick. They’ll still expect something to be going on.
When I do game prep, I usually know events that are going to happen if the characters attend to them or not. Your favorite NPC from the bar was going to try and find the forgotten treasure in the dungeon. If the fighter is bullying them, they’ll probably go alone. Just assume whatever was going to happen still happens. Then, start thinking about what the repercussions are.
So that NPC never returns. The next day, their grief stricken husband hunts down the players and demands to know what happened. Maybe that will get them to go hunt the NPC down. The sentient sword was trying to find a new master to possess. Just because the bard tried to seduce it (for the love of Paladine, calm your shit, bards of the world) doesn’t mean it’s not still trying. Perhaps it found it self a new lover AND servant.
Having an idea of the happenings in the world and the motivations of NPCs will help you get through any mess. The more you know about them, the more the scenario will just write itself. Instead of thinking in terms of “First ‘A’ happens, then ‘B’ happens,” move more towards ” well, person ‘A’ wants this and location ‘B’ has this going on.” What the players do won’t change that.
So, quick recap:
Don’t let them see you panic and pretend that you had it planned all along.
Listen to your players, as they’ll often provide you with the solutions you need
The world moves on if you move with it or not.
And finally, if all else fails, throw an encounter at them. It’ll slow things down, sober them up, and give you time to think. The more you practice the better you’ll become, and you’re already probably better than you think.