Improv, The Unexpected, and Technical Difficulties

Often times you will find yourself caught off guard as the Dungeon Master by your players choices and outcomes.

Inevitably, you will come to a situation you did not plan for. The players may have killed an NPC that was important to the plot line. Or there could be an argument between two players on how a game mechanic works and you must make a final decision. What’s important is that you try to stay calm. At first it will seem like your plans are falling apart, and you may not get back to the main story that you’ve spent hours planning. However, with this chaos comes the opportunity for improv. But how do we harness it, and keep the plot moving forward? Here’s some steps and techniques I use under these circumstances.

  • Step 1: Analyze the Situation
  • Step 2: Enter the Tank for a Solution.
    • Employ a Prepared Plot Hook
    • Insert a Random NPC and Improvise
    • Make a roll chart, if you haven’t already, and roll a die to determine a seemingly random occurrence. Then develop the plot hook as you go, or in between your next sessions.
  • Step Three: Execute
    • Keep collected, keep calm, and do your best
    • Remember the Power of Improv

Step 1

When analyzing the current state of things, it’s imperative that you’ve paid attention to what’s happened and that you have taken notes. Where do the Player’s Character’s stand at this point in the campaign? What have they done? Are there any quests you’ve prepared for them? Any potential side plots and plot hooks? Do the Player’s Characters have any special or cursed items? Any promises they made to an NPC that they have yet to fulfill? It helps to bear these questions in mind when considering your options.

Step 2

When I say, “go in the tank”, I mean you’ll have to come up with a game plan. Try to keep your time in the tank brief as to avoid dis-interesting your players and from eating up game time. Perhaps there was a plot hook that you have been saving for later that might be better used now. Or you can come up with a random NPC like an antagonist to distract or lead them away from their current goal. Or maybe this NPC is a good guy that has come to warn the player’s characters of an evil that is coming for them.

Another option is to come up with a roll chart, or pull out one you prepared earlier and roll the corresponding die for a random event to occur. For example, let’s say you’re rolling a d8. Thus, your roll chart would be numbered 1-8 and you would assign a specific event to that number. Then, whatever you roll happens and you can continue from there. This could be a deity appearing out of the blue, or a meteor heading straight for the player’s character location. This helps you deal with an unexpected situation by throwing in a little randomness of your own and forcing the players to react. You can create the plot hook as you go along in this session, or even work on it in more detail between your next sessions.

Step 3

Now you’re going to want to put your game plan into action. When you’re executing this plan it’s important to stay calm, and keep the narrative flowing. Do your best, and remember to forgive yourself if you make a mistake. As a new Dungeon Master, you’re bound to make a couple. Also, remember the power of improvisation. Being able to come up with things on the spot will be one of the most useful skills you will acquire as a Dungeon Master. If you continue to have problems with this, I suggest perhaps signing up for some Improv classes. It’s very handy both in game and in real life, so I highly recommend it either way.

Thanks so much for reading! I tried to keep this one short and simple for all of you because I know this can be a tricky subject. If you have any questions feel free to comment below! And experienced Dungeon Masters please help me and share your knowledge down below as well. Happy Questing!

Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)

I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!