…and how to prepare for it.
At the end of my last session I was kicking myself. I was on the bus home and thinking over how it went, and I realised that the one big set-piece that I had been planning had been unpredictably changed by a player casting a spell I didn’t even know existed. This isn’t the first time it’s happened – the kicking myself or the being caught off-guard by the same thing. So here’s 5 things that catch DMs out, and how you can be prepared and not be a big ol’ doofus like Muggins here.
“I want to go over there!”
If there was a Hall of Fame a la The Good Place for the most annoying things players can do, this one ranks highly. This is kryptonite to new DMs because it calls on them to throw out all their prep and start running the game completely on the fly, or combine their own stuff with something new. Even now it’s acutely annoying because you think they must be doing it just to be disruptive and push the boundaries on the game. If they have a specific thing they want to search for: fine. If they just want to avoid where you want them to go: douche-nozzles.
You can counter this by either directly lifting whatever it was that you were pushing them towards and dumping it ‘over there’ instead, or if you think the following would make an impact, let them know the consequences of their flight of fancy. You didn’t bother to enter the dungeon? Oh well enjoy the funeral of the children who were kidnapped and held there whilst you went shopping for a new axe (and then tried to pickpocket the shopkeeper).
“I cast [powerful mind spell]!”
This is what I mentioned catching me out, and this is more to do with the DM not having awareness of the higher level spells that players have. Magic is quite common and very diverse in Forgotten Realms, and even level 1-3 wizards can get up to some surprising stuff. The chances of that NPC being mind-controlled are quite high, and even though players should understand their own spells, most of the time you will have to work out the in-game effect yourselves. Meaning: you must come to an agreement with the players on what the spell should do, so you will find yourself trying to reduce the power of a spell whilst they will be trying to make it more powerful. Not that fun, you know.
A way to get around this is quite simply with more time and experience you will get to know all 2,542 spells in D&D. Maybe if you get to be a player, pick a wizard or bard or sorcerer so you can have a go and see how far the spells bend. When it comes to spells like Command, Friend, Suggestion, know the limits and don’t be afraid to look it up online or ask other DMs online too. I’m part of a couple of good Discords where other DMs can gather like the Stone Masons* and share knowledge on how to stop those bloody PC upstarts from getting any ideas.
*sorry to that Mason who I know.
“Give us all your guards!”
This is something that I’ve seen a lot. When players are being asked to do something and go risk their life for some goodwill and a quest-line, they often wonder ‘hey, you’ve got all these guards sitting around, why can’t they help us?‘ and to be honest it is a fair point. However, this is a game about adventurers going on adventures, not being that baddie from The Mummy 2 where he pushes his mooks into all the spooky traps. Plus you balanced the dungeon to be for 4 PCs, not 4 PCs and 5-10 guards of which you don’t have the stats for. And it’s more work. And you have to come up with personalities and names for them.
So getting around this is pretty important. Thankfully I’m now quite skilled at coming up with excuses – the best one being that, yes they are guards, but they’re more like the police force. They don’t fight goblins on a daily basis, they tell people off for being too rowdy, or play dice on top of the gate tower until it’s time to go to the pub. They probably don’t maintain their (poor) gear, they’re probably 2 weeks from retirement, and they’re also probably in the pocket of some other higher bidder anyway. Good luck getting them to risk their lives.
Saying that, you can also just say yes, and have all of them get cut down or fall into traps in the dungeon. Then the players have to explain why the town has no defenses now and 10 families are now father-less. If you were a real big meanie.
“I tickle the King.”
King-tickling is my new favourite way of representing the kind of player who makes characters that are Chaotic Stupid. Intelligence is their dump stat, meaning that it’ll be their lowest and most useless characteristic, and therefore think that the character must act like a complete moron. Not just someone who struggles a bit with the Sunday Times crossword, but take a character that is Drax the Destroyer mixed with Mr Bean mixed with a 2 year old. Such a player would, upon meeting the King of all the realms, shout the immortal words “I tickle the King”, and their character will then try to do that.
There’s two ways of getting around the chaotic stupidity, an in-game way and an out-of-character way. The latter is to pause the game and remind the players that, to get this far in life, these characters, even Intelligence 8 ones, would know not to do things that would lead to their arrest and executions. Furthermore you’re here to play a game where one of the main tenants is that you are all a party together and like each other and want to not get each other killed. Even quite dim people know not to tickle the King.
The in-game way is to roleplay the NPC as just slightly amused, and then titter out a “what an amusing jester.” This both shuts down the player’s attempt to be disruptive by showing them in-universe how much of an idiot they would look like, and also communicates that, such a character trait is just not very amusing, helpful, productive, conducive, or well-received by the rest of the party. If you’re determined to play a character that would be cast out of your group, then it’s time to roll up a new character.
“I need to spend all this gold…”
So in the Good Old Days, XP was tied to how much gold you could acquire, making D&D player’s blood pulse with looting desires from the beginning. Nowadays, you don’t get XP for gold or treasure, but it’s presence as a reward is still everywhere and in all adventures. So what are the players supposed to do with all this gold? Once they’ve bought the rather average stuff they need from normal shops that feature the Adventuring Gear and weapons from the Players Handbook, there’s not much they can do with it. Which means you’ll be getting all sorts of weird requests…
Now this has never happened in one of my games but I hear about it quite a lot. In fact it seems to be in the aforementioned Hall of Fame too. The ‘let’s buy a tavern/fortress/castle’ conversation. To be honest everything in the land could be for sale for the right price, and players will want to turn that hard-earned gold into something tangible.
What I would do in this situation is create a new quest for players to go on to spend their money…if you see what I mean. Let them hear of a master artisan who can make [thing player A wants to spend gold on], and get them to spend a fortune on an exotic bird feather, some person’s dear old deceased Granny’s ring that’s made of a rare material, all manner of resources. Then they can go get that thing they want, and you can tie it into the adventure they’re on too in all sorts of ways. Have fun with it, and don’t just plonk a shop with epic gear in the middle of Neverwinter. If you could buy the epic witcher gear from a shop in Novigrad, it wouldn’t be very epic.
That is it, that is 5 ways players will trip you up, have tripped me up, and will keep tripping DMs up until the end of time, or at least until these things are expanded upon in D&D’s official product line.