Weekly Tip/Trick for Friday, August 31, 2012:
- Have a Contingency Plan – The best advice anyone has ever given me, when it comes to running games, was to always have a contingency plan. This could be anything from a random NPC (non-playable character) you create, to a surprise encounter. I used to play with a DM who was the king at using this tool. One example of when to use one of your contingency plans would be to help set the group back on track. You can also use them as filler when the group is traveling long distances. Instead of going through the typical, “You travel blah distance, then you make camp, the next day you travel blah distance, you camp, etc.” You could employ one of your contingencies to take away from the boring and mundane. (A good way to bore the players in your game is to be repetitive) Now, most DM’s would have an encounter planned out. Either, while the group was camping one night, or when the group was traveling. That works great, but sometimes these events are avoided, or the group decides to go a different direction that you weren’t prepared for. This is where the contingency plan works great! Here are some contingency plans I have used in the past:
- Random NPC encounter – It’s always fun to throw the players off guard. One contingency plan I used was a rouge gnome who was following the group. The group had already been in a huge battle and just started the second watch (I rolled to see what watch this event would occur on). The fighter in the group was on second watch, so I asked him to roll a listen check. He succeeded and hears rustling in the tall grass. He goes to investigate, but it turns out to be nothing. When he comes back, he sees one of the wizard’s wands floating away. Long story short, fighter goes nuts, party wakes up, only to find it was a little gnome who immediately begs them to have mercy on him. The role-play was good and the gnome turned out to be a decent source of information to the group. Not to mention the wand was his to begin with (they found it a few sessions before, which gave me the idea).
- Random event(s) – Anything from heavy winds and rain to, say, a group of NPC’s fleeing in the opposite direction of the group (ie running away in a panic from a city they are close to). It’s not much, but it keeps players on their toes and alert. There’s nothing like a random event just to make the players say wtf? Don’t forget to utilize the characters background stories for things that may motivate characters and roleplay!
- Random findings – The group stumbles upon three pillars and each of them has something engraved on them. Time for those players with languages to be put to use! The pillars could be anything from grave stones, to warnings of dark times. It’s completely up to you. One time I made a riddle out of it and a random item was obtained for solving it. This brings me to my next point…
- Random items – One of the players had tripped, fell, and landed six inches from a wand that was mixed in with a bunch of twigs and such. Naturally, he picks it up, figures out what it can do, and presto, a great roleplaying device was created. This particular wand was a wand of randomness that I created. It had 5 charges and random things would happen when it was used. I will definitely be using this wand in other games, hehe.
- Rolling off of a chart – I love to make charts. They really seem to add a level of excitement to the game for both the players and the DM. For example, one of my charts I use sometimes is for rolling critical fails. There are also charts in the DMG and online you can find. If a person botches their roll (rolls a 1) you could have them roll another d20 and use the corresponding number on your chart to tell them what happens. That is just one example, you can also use charts for triggering traps in one of your dungeons, instead of having to flip to the DMG’s traps (which are still pretty good though) you could have the person (or you) roll a d20 or whatever dice your chart is based on. Maybe the trap is a dud, or maybe it does twice the normal damage? It’s up to you and your chart! Roll charts are good for situations, where the group do something unexpected and you want to add a little excitement to the mix.
The basic principle with contingency plans is to fill in a gap or to motivate players. As a DM, you want your players to experience adventure, mystery, or whatever your campaigns feel is all about. It’s important to keep the players focused on the roleplay in order for them to get more out of your campaign. For instance, let’s say you’re running a mystery type game, you don’t want a group that just runs around killing anything that moves (or maybe you do?). If players lose direction or focus, it’s mainly due to a lack of motivation or understanding of what your game is all about. Having a tool (or tools) to assist you in keeping that focus is paramount when running games. One last thing to keep in mind, cheating is not considered a contingency plan. Just as you expect players not to cheat in your games on rolls, they should be able to expect the same from you. The only difference is you always have a plan B.
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