By Chad Lorenz
“Ok, so I want to sneak off into the forest.” - Player
“A giant hand picks you up and carries you back to town.” - Dungeon Master
Is one of your players asleep for a session? Well, ok, maybe they had a hard week. But if it’s the same player every week for three months…you could be railroading them!!
It has happened to the best of us, you’ve spent the night painstakingly drawing up the NPC’s stats and the loot. You’ve set the stage and laid out clues for the past few sessions to draw the PC’s to that dungeon. You drew out a map for over 3 hours on graph paper and are ready for them to go and rescue that princess or find that stone.
Suddenly, Eggbert the Paladin decides that stone might not be the most important thing ever. Wait...everyone is listening to him and now they are going north, heading further away from your dungeon…..
It’s okay! Don’t panic. Just take a deep breath, or in my case a deep drink of whiskey. That time you spent is not wasted, my friend. You are the dungeon master, after all! Creator of everything. Say they decided to go north this time, you can easily change where your dungeon was located. So what if they have the stats of lizardman warriors? Paint a different picture for them. If they head for the mountains, have them encounter the dungeon you intended in a different terrain.
The best part is if they decide to suddenly go back to that original location and get that stone or rescue the princess you now have 2 dungeon locations! Free will for players is what makes them want to play the game. The ability to be able to do whatever they want is the draw. So they decide to chop down a tree. Let’em down it. Strength checks all around!
You might discover something you like even more by allowing them to follow up on their choices. An NPC you never expected to be meaningful could become someone very important to the story. You can expand your world while they explore, giving you more tools to play with and create for later.
Don’t force them to follow a path, try not to lead them around by the nose. Players are smart and this isn’t a video game. This is imagination. Just be ready to improvise on the fly and know which direction they are heading. But this improvisation goes both ways, so make sure they are patient with you if they decide to tread off the beaten path.