Monday, January 14, 2008

Refusal of the Call

"Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative."
-The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell

So you've plotted out the adventure, statted out the dungeon, and dropped the hook right in front of the PC's...and then they don't take it. In fact, they decide to go the opposite way entirely. Is it time to toss your campaign notes, throw a fit, or try to railroad them back onto track via kidnapping/impending doom/geas? No, of course not, but it doesn't mean that nothing happens either.

This time we'll look at three strategies to use when this happens, in the interest in not only making an enjoyable adventure now that you have to think from scratch, but also in helping with the worldbuilding, a dynamic world is something that is vastly more rewarding in my opinion than one that remains static aside from the PC's actions.
1. The world of adventure
2. You are not alone
3. Things happen without the PC's, or NPC's have lives too!

The World Of Adventure
One thing that I like to do is to map out the area. No need to be drawing whole continents and landscapes just yet, though I know the temptation is there. Look for geological features, they* say that geography is destiny, and they aren't far wrong. Because let's face it, fantasy worlds are more often than not just a bunch of stereotypes bunched together in a formulaic manner. Mountain? Dwarves. Forest? Elves. Hills? Giants. etc. etc.

What I personally like to do is, if they've abandoned the big huge evil rising in the east, then offer options. Just sketch out enough of a scenario in each direction that they can be heroic, even if it is for lesser stakes. Having a few premade scenarios lifted from the net can be a lifesaver in these times, it doesn't take much to have people start complaining about monsters, villains, and the like. Drop those scenarios into locations and have the rumors start flying. No need to fully flesh out any one scenario unless they take the bait, and then a random encounter on the way often will give you enough breathing room to start building.

And just because you planned out that dungeon for one area doesn't mean that it won't serve perfectly well now. Change out a few of the non generic monsters and tweak the treasure and boss battle a bit, and if they want a dungeon crawl(despite crawling away from the one with the plot macguffin in it), there you have it.

You Are Not Alone
All those stores stocking adventuring gear aren't there just for the PC's. Well, they are, but they don't have to be. Unless they're specifically the chosen ones, it's not too far fetched to have other adventuring groups step up to the plate. One example that I would like to give is an aborted adventure turned ghastly. The PC's had recently decided about halfway through a mission to destroy some ghouls that it was time to move on(a theme you'll hear often), headed off to the large city to find, well booze, women and something to spend their ill gotten gains on. When they return a few weeks later, the town is a very different place, their favorite pub is now a ghoul holding area, and the town itself is under new management. One NPC that had been an aid to the players earlier, a sorcerer, and the half orc bartender with a heart of gold had teamed up to keep the town from being overrun by ghouls, unfortunately the sorcerer's solution was one that ended with him as the new mayor, and dissenters thrown to the ghouls.

This is something that I might touch upon later, amicable evil, moralities become quite interesting when it turns out that the PC's are the ones that caused the chain of events that have blackened the countryside. By their inaction, not to mention earlier saving the sorcerer and rekindling the orc's joy in battle, the town has now transformed from Basic Adventurer Podunk, into Ghoul Infested Wasteland. Another technique to spice up an otherwise routine mission that you had to create on the fly is to throw in the doppelganger adventure group, perhaps they came earlier than the PC's and all that are left are dead monsters and heroes basking in the glow of the treasure room. Or they come later than the PC's and demand the macguffin for their own quest.

Things Happen Without the PC's or NPC's have lives too!
As illustrated above, things happen without the players characters. The war that the players decided not to stop suddenly starts drying up the goods to the city. And then you have a whole new adventure of riots in the streets and a scramble to buy goods, churches are mobbed as those that can create food suddenly become in demand, and booze, the bread and butter of adventurer life becomes worth its weight in gold. Or else they might wake up to find their favorite watering hole under new management.

The other side to the coin is that NPC's can be a wonderful way to pump life into an otherwise boring section of play. In another post I'll do a more detailed look at the lives of NPC's, although for right now I'll keep it short. Even if the players don't really want to leave the tavern there are plenty to keep them occupied, or at least to enjoy. Because let's not kid ourselves, a massive and epic plot with cinematic scenes may be what you had in mind, but really, as long as the players are enjoying the game, that's what matters. Here are a few ideas for the tavern; late night fight club, the champion being a werebear. Is that the missing noble woman up there doing the dance of nine veils? If so, then why, if not, then who is it? Excuse me waiter, there's a kobold in my beer! And the ever popular "unnamed gate guard who pesters us for papers when we come into town" on his off day.

There you have it, three quick ways to make sure that your Players enjoy, despite having to go off the planned route. Really, that's the main thing about playing, people should enjoy it, and they should have actual choice in what their characters do. As a GM or DM or Storyteller, you shouldn't be afraid to improvise a little bit, even if it means putting that villain on the backburner for a few weeks(though just because they're on the backburner doesn't mean that they aren't keeping busy as well)

*They being the international Conspiracy of Cartographers in league with the Bavarian Illuminati to create a mass illusion known as England

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