Thursday, June 28, 2012


 Captain Tarkin: It's when things do not go as planned that concerns me. What then?
Anakin Skywalker: It's when things don't go as planned that we Jedi are at our best. Trust me. 
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Citadel 3.18

One of the traits that most Dungeon Masters (and everyday people in general) have trouble with is spontaneity.  People freeze with the thought of going into a situation unprepared, whether in real life or in gaming.

Today, I had a "real life" situation where I had to be spontaneous.  I had to go to a meeting to present to a director of a program.  The meeting was supposed to be cancelled, but the e-mail service got jacked up and didn't process until halfway through the meeting.  It didn't matter.  We continued anyway.

Afterwards, I realized how calm and comfortable I felt during the entire thing.  Why was this?  What made being spontaneous work?  The only time I had to gather my thoughts was during the walk down to the office.

I've done some thinking, and this is the ideas that I have:

1. Use what you have.

This is easier said than done; however, when applied correctly, one realizes that there are more strengths than initially thought.  Look at your options.  What do you know?  What don't you know?  Quickly divide those things up in your mind and focus on what you know.  In my real life example, I had some files and charts that I had been working on in the last day.  I figured I could start by explaining those, even though my data processing wasn't complete.  It didn't matter, it was a starting point to lead into a deeper discussion.  Use the same kind of thing with your games.  Say the players start to venture to an area you haven't completely fleshed out yet, but you know it's overrun with orcs.  Start by showing signs that orcs dwell in that area.  Perhaps they meet an escaped NPC prisoner.  Such things start getting the juices flowing in your mind, so that as time goes on, you're able to be more and more imaginative.

2. Don't Be Afraid of Not Having Everything

Some DM's (myself included) tend to over prepare.  I love drawing all sorts of maps and coming up with monster encounter groups, and just having a general idea for being prepared for anything to come my way.  In reality, that rarely happens.  Players (and people) will always catch you by surprise, and you just have to roll with it.  Once again, focus on what you have, and use that to the best of your ability.  You don't need all the answers.  Maybe you don't have all those orc warbands statted out yet, but the players surprise you by trying to interact with the NPC prisoner and escorting him/her back into civilization.  Perhaps they decide they want to explore someplace else.  Or, perhaps they decide to sneak into the orc territory.  This is a perfect place to describe what they're up against.  Maybe you throw only a few orcs at them.  Regardless, use your strengths and don't be afraid when you don't have the answer.  Just because you don't possess THE answer doesn't mean you don't have any others.

3. Be Confident

Just because you weren't ready to be in this situation doesn't mean that you can't handle it.  In real life, you obviously know something, as a DM, the players chose you for a reason (in some groups, you simply chose to be the DM.  That already shows a level of greatness).  Roll with it.  You can handle it.  Promise.

As always, be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf, and be sure to let me know what you think in the comments!

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