When to Expect The Unexpected: How to Be a Responsive Dungeon Master in 5 Steps

The Tale As Old As Time

If you’ve ever been a dungeon master (“DM” for short), then this tale will sound familiar.

Here you are planning out an epic odyssey for your group, filled with NPCs and side quests, quirky little towns, and of course the occasional monster or two. Yet unbeknownst to you, the group has different plans for this session. And by plans, I mean they have no intention or interest in your task or plot hook. Some people only want to watch the world burn, and sometimes we call those people our friends.

Well, while I can’t tell you exactly what to do or say (because that’s impossible and would require some pristinely celestial power), what I can do is give you the tips that I use here on Nat1 Presents to keep the good times rolling, even as your party Steamrolls over you.

1) Always Expect the Worst

Rule number one is to always have a mental plan on the worst possible outcome, in case you need to improv into a new direction.

Have a nice heist style encounter ready to go? Then just assume the bard is going to befriend a tiger, insult the richest guy he can find and kill a small child. You laugh, but I kid you not, that’s exactly what happened. By being mentally prepared in this scenario, I was able to roll with the punches and had encounters thought out enough to keep the fun and momentum of the game rolling. If it’s a building, what happens if the building burns down? If it’s an NPC, what happens if he or she dies? Expect. The. Worst.

2) Mutual Acts of Randomness

If the party wants to do something that was in no way foreseeable, then give them the same gift in return: something that you can control. The rogue trickster wants to cast Disguise Self to look like a small child? BAM! Have a mother come out of the damn shadows to console this poor kid that shouldn’t be here.

Sometimes giving players a taste of their own medicine can not only reduce some of their chaotic impulses, but it can also just be highly rewarding.

3) Don’t Be a Rules Lawyer

Just be consistent. Keeping the flow of the game is crucial for most parties to really immerse themselves and have fun, sometimes even more so then enforcing the rules.

At some point, a spell is going to be used incorrectly. If it’s fun and doesn’t mess you up too much, why not allow it? Describe it in a way that, say,  this one time for some reason the spell actually could do this unusual effect. It gives you the same ability later on if you need it to guide certain players back onto the rails of your narrative. Let your players make the first move that way it’s fair for everyone when you do it back to them.

4) Roleplay Your Way Out of Everything

Nothing is more of a mood killer than an NPC you’re running that has no life in them. They’re not robots, think of them more as an extension of your own personality. And if you have no personality… get one.

Seriously, though, if you only want an NPC to say one thing, and one thing only, that’s just not going to work and lends to your world and characters feeling flat. Even if what you say doesn’t make sense, you can chalk it up as ” yeah, old man McMurdelbee was just a crazy old cook, you shouldn’t have bothered him when Chet over here seems to have a lot more information.”

5) Please, Lord, Have Fun With It

This is a game we’re playing, after all. Experiment around with different things with your group. See what works and what doesn’t. Everyone responds to things differently; adapt and overcome. And then if that fails, make a few dirty jokes. It’ll be a blast!

Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope this helps a little for those curious and adventurous enough to play with a group of murder hobos, just like the ones you can watch here on Nat1 Presents.

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