Thursday, October 8, 2015

Quick Fix: The Inn's On Fire Problem

Hello, and welcome to Pact of the Tome! The Quick Fix series of posts covers common Dungeon Master problems along with my solutions to them. The goal is to keep each piece to 500 words or fewer in order to improve readability and hone my writing and editing skills.

The Inn's On Fire Problem
The party has gathered in a tavern, looking for adventure. "Would you like to talk to the hooded man in the corner?" asks the Dungeon Master. Within minutes, the quest-giver's been stabbed, all the money's been stolen from the till, and someone's set fire to the inn.

The Core Issue
It's a problem that's plagued Dungeon Masters for decades: the players just aren't interested in following your adventure plans. Instead, they decide they'd rather assume the role of "murder hobos," running around the world and causing chaos. D&D is a game about doing whatever you want, right?

A common reaction to this problem is to try and stop the players within the game. This could involve sending town guards and bounty hunters after them, telling your players they can't take certain actions (perhaps referencing their character's alignment), or punishing them with arbitrary penalties and bolts of blue lightning from the sky.

These approaches can occasionally be effective. Sometimes players just need a gentle nudge in the right direction. However, they're very risky: once the players and DM start fighting for control of the game, everything falls apart.

Here's the real problem: the players above haven't agreed to the "social contract" of the game. As the Dungeon Master, you've presented them with an opportunity to go along with your plans and they've ignored it.

Solving the Problem
Communication can make the difference between
an awesome game and one that never gets off the
ground. Start the conversation with your players
as soon as possible!
Artist: Unknown
Here are a few different ways to get you and your players moving in the same direction:
  • Make expectations clear before the game. Obtaining player "buy-in" is important for a successful campaign. Discuss the game's assumptions beforehand with your players. What kind of adventure will you be running, and how will their characters fit into it? If everyone agrees that your game is about dungeon exploration and political intrigue, they'll be more likely to follow hooks relating to dungeon exploration and less likely to stab the duchess when they first meet her. 
  • Show your players that they'll have a good time if they go with the adventure. Sometimes players feel that going along with the DM's plans won't be interesting. Prove them wrong by making your adventures exciting and compelling, tailoring them to what your players want from the game.
  • Accommodate your players' ideas when you can. If your group feels like you're blocking their actions, they'll become frustrated and might try to "fight back." Find ways to work your players' ideas into the game, even if that means tweaking them.
  • If things go sideways, pause the game and discuss what's happening with your players. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle reminder to get everyone back on track. Other times, you'll discover that there's been a fundamental misunderstanding in someone's assumptions. Either way, you'll be glad you had the conversation.
I hope this article helped you understand the ingredients that go into a game of D&D where everyone is on the same page. Until next time - I'll see you on Pact of the Tome!

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