Where Do You Want to Go, What Do You Want to Do? Dungeons and Dragons Campaign Advice Part 2

So, you’ve got your campaign started. Whether you’ve chosen to frontload the adventure conceit/goal in a session zero, or reveal it in media res to the party during the first session, the question now is how do we avoid the most common complaint I hear from players: railroading. People accept that video games have to contain limitations. Even in a game as “free” as Fallout, you never have more than half a dozen options in a situation or with an NPC: kill, ignore, threaten, commiserate, or convince.

People play TTRPGs to have more freedom and enjoy the creativity and true freedom afforded by a collaborative game. As I mentioned in my previous piece, having the endgame as well as the various ways it can be confronted is important but now we’re talking about getting from point A to point Z. This is where your creativity comes into play. Whether you’re creating an entire world of your own from scratch, or borrowing elements of or entire worlds from modules and existing lore the important thing to your players is a sense that while the world is yours, the adventure and story is theirs.

The first thing is, to borrow a cliche, follow the rule of “yes, and” as much as possible. If a party member suggests an idea, I do my best never to answer with an outright “no” no matter how outlandish the idea. My role as a DM isn’t to police, scold, or keep players on a leash. It’s the adjudicate the world and its responses to their decisions. “If I cover myself in jelly can I scare them into thinking I’m a swamp monster?” Why not? Just clarify the dice roll you’ll be looking for, or relevant knowledge the character might have about the world that might clarify this idea. “Yes, however those creatures are uncommon in this region so they might be skeptical one would just appear out of nowhere, I’ll need a high Performance roll.”

A lot of ink is on pages already about all the ways and tricks DMs can use to plan out their world. How do design quests. How to design NPCs, towns, magic items, potions, etc. I think one technique not given enough space is how to give your players space. So here goes:

Next time you’re running a game, take a minute to describe the setting- where your party is, what they can see, what they hear. When you’ve described everything in the area cap it off by asking: “Where do you want to go, what do you want to do?” Then go quiet. It might be a stretch of silence but revel in it. This is what players want. The opportunity and space to think about this world you’ve created, animate it in their minds and think: what does my character want to do here?

Seek out that silence. It’s where the adventure is being written in the minds and hearts of your players.

Author: Y. Balloo

Amateur novelist / Work in progress.

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