Sep 8, 2011

Off the Rails

"I'm going off the rails on a crazy train" - Ozzy Osbourne

As I get ready to prep for tonight's game session, I'm reminded of how much time I try to spend getting ready, and how much of that prep comes into play during an actual session.

More often than not, I read, re-read, and plan out the various encounters I expect the party to get through in a given session (I'm familiar with the whole module, but there's no point focusing on the dragon at the bottom level when they are still cutting teeth on the orcs at the top of the complex).

Needless to say, my party at least, rarely moves in a predictable path. If I expect them to go right, they go left. If I plan for them to go down a level, they decide to head back to town.

Some DMs might find this frustrating, but more often, I find it the most enjoyable part of a session. Now I'm not some kind of sadist who enjoys watching all his prep time washed down the proverbial drain, but there is a part of me that like flying by the seat of my pants, that enjoys making up things on the spot, and taking the game, and sometimes the campaign in a totally unplanned direction.

One thing is important to state. I don't use this as an excuse for not prepping for a session or game. I still think I need to prep work to make myself as familiar as possible about the module and encounters (especially if you run pre-made adventures and not your own hand crafted gems), and given the chance I will try to steer the party in the general direction, but as long as I know the expected flow of a module or encounter, then it's that much easier to improvise a new encounter when the players go in an unexpected direction.

For example, if I know that a series of rooms are the sleeping quarters for several groups of goblins, and they will sound alarms at the first sight of intruders, then when the party polymorphs into goblins in an attempt to sneak into the first location, I can guess there will be guards on post. If I know from the module details that each room only holds a dozen goblins, then I can assume the guards will recognize the party as goblins who aren't familiar. Unless they start making some serious Bluff checks, I'm pretty sure they aren't getting too far into the complex before fighting starts.

So hopefully, if you're like I used to be, the next time the players zag when you expect them to zig, just take a moment (I find it a great time for a soda refill), and start improvising, and hopefully you'll have just as much fun as the players!