So, venerated old Dungeon Masters, how the fuck do you prepare an adventure–let alone an entire fucking campaign–without the players derailing it at every turn? Seriously, I wanna know! (So, leave a comment below.) Unfortunately, I have yet to be led to a blog that details in ten easy steps how to see the future and I’m sure as hell not gonna plan out every possible scenario the players could come up with. (My adventures are doomed to be derailed, then…)
How, then, can we keep the dice rolling seamlessly, making it appear to the players that we planned everything ahead of time?
Over-preparing for your game is okay if you prepare the right things. There are three things that need to be prepared in advance: the relevant location, NPCs, and relationships.
Flesh out the location where the adventure takes place. Who lives in the area? Is it a hostile location? What’s the climate like? Is there rulership over the land? Think of scenic locations from movies and tv shows that you wanna use. How would you describe it to bring it to life? What are the important elements that you’re trying to show to your players? Most importantly, what is the location’s history? The people who inhabit it don’t need to know the history but you still should.
2) Non-player Characters:
NPCs are one of the best ways to bring a location to life. Everyone knows people in real life (unless you’re a hermit living on the moon) therefore we can relate to characters in a game if they have realistic characteristics. Non-player characters need history, emotion, relationships, motivation, and maybe a unique personality trait or physical feature. Add several NPCs to the location you have fleshed out so that when the player characters come strolling in they have unique people to interact with. At least two or three of the NPCs need a strong motivation to help drive the PCs to action. Build the campaign around the NPCs that the players have the strongest reactions toward.
How are the NPCs connected to one another? How are the player characters connected to the local folk? Perhaps one of the PCs grew up here, or passed through a few years ago and remembers the name of a couple of locals? Establish connections–especially with the player characters–to give them a reason to engage themselves in the story. The players are already invested in your game, but their characters need to be invested as well so that their stories will make sense.
Improvise the rest
Now that we have a location, unique individuals inhabiting it, and character relationships, it’s time to let the creative improvisational juices flow. When you know your NPCs and what their goals are, it’s easy to improvise their actions during encounters. The great thing about having NPCs with different motivations is that they sometimes conflict with the PCs. Improvise the direction of the story based on how the PCs react to the non-player characters, as I previously mentioned. The train won’t derail if you keep building new rails under it.
Don’t hold back
If you have an interesting idea pop into your head, use it! Don’t save it for a future campaign, throw it into the stew now! Sort the mess out later. Make the game fun, interesting, and exciting whenever you can. Throw a dildo–er, twist–at your players every once in a while to catch them off guard. Be confident with your improvisational skills. Don’t second-guess yourself. Make mistakes; that’s how we learn and grow. Good players will respect you for putting yourself out there for them.
Go forth into the world and gather your players! Roll the dice, for life is full of opportunity, if we but take the chance!