Picture by Carsten Tolkmit
The Problem: “My players keep derailing my plots.”
Your most carefully laid plans are often for naught. You draw the maps, flesh out the NPCs, weave together intricate plot threads, and come up with twists that would have made the old, good M. Night Shyamalan gasp in surprise. And, frequently, you cry softly to yourself as the PCs ignore all your hard work and take the adventure in unforeseen directions. What can you do?
A Bad Solution: Try to plan for every contingency.
Don’t even try it. For every well-crafted plot, there are a hundred ways to walk all over it in three seconds flat. No two people think exactly alike, so unless you have precognitive psychic abilities (in which case you should be ruling an evil empire from your volcanic lair rather than wasting your time on games!!), you cannot plan for every whacky idea your players could possibly come up with.
A Better Solution: Reward player ingenuity and think on the fly.
In times like these, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a competition between you and your players. It’s a group effort that involves you and the players, intended for everyone’s enjoyment. If the players come up with creative, plausible solutions, reward them with praise, treasure, XP, or whatever seems appropriate.
It’s also a good time to work on your improvisational skills. A quick-thinking DM can come up with obstacles that steer the PCs back on course, but don’t discourage them from thinking outside the box. If plot-derailing has become the norm, you might want to make sure the game you’re running is the style of game the players really want.
The Problem: “But, my PC wouldn’t do that.”
Ever notice how some people come up with a good character trait, but take it too far? Think of the rebellious rogue who never bends a knee to authority (which is kind of tough when you’re level 1 and highly killable). Or the drow who refuses to make apologies for her race, and gets in the face of everyone who glances sideways at her (which is kind of tough when the party crosses paths with powerful eladrins). Or the righteous paladin who champions the cause of freedom, provoking slave revolts wherever he goes. You can see how too much of a good thing can become disruptive.
A Bad Solution: Force the player to stop playing their character.
I know it’s tempting, but take a deep breath and count to ten before you scream at the problem player to go away and never return. Gamers game for different reasons. Maybe the player feels repressed in their day-to-day life, so they think of D&D as an opportunity to act brazenly. Really, there are much worse ways to act out one’s impulses.
A Better Solution: Compromise.
The player probably isn’t trying to be a jerk. (It’s a good policy to give folks the benefit of the doubt before you banish them from your table.) A good dose of player-driven humor or unpredictability can be great for a game. Still, if the PC’s behavior is constantly putting the party in unnecessary danger, or if other players have secretly complained to you, it’s time to have a talk with the player.
Be nice, and assume that they will be, too. If you enter into this talk expecting a confrontation, you just might get one. Instead, start off with some heartfelt compliments. “Your PC has really added excitement to the game. We all admire how you’ve explored the concept of the rebel. Here’s my concern…” Briefly acknowledge your concern that the PC is getting too disruptive, or that the player isn’t sticking with their original concept. Explain that you’re trying to make the game more fun for everyone. Then ask the player to share their thoughts. Their perspective might surprise you.
Do you have a player problem that you’d like to see addressed here? Share it in the comments section!