When Your D&D Campaign Goes Off the Rails, Pt 2: Shuffling the Deck

Last week, guest blogger and professional DM Pedro Galicia kicked off a four-blog series about how to handle it when the party takes your D&D campaign off the rails.

Part 1 was about planning for your players to get lost. Welcome to Part 2: Shuffle the Deck!

Part 2: Shuffle the Deck

(Artwork from the Nomnivore Games team behind the EMBERWIND TTRPG, who provided the art for The Story Engine Deck fantasy expansion and more!)

This is a method that I personally don’t use too often, but it’s viable and extremely useful. Instead of sealing your plot points in stone and placing them, immovable, throughout specific points of your story, consider shuffling them around as needed.

Let's recap the scenario from last week's blog:

For example, let’s say your group has wandered into a nearby village in order to investigate the rumors of a bounty hunter sought out by the Duke of Ellington. You’ve decided the bounty hunter has taken the local florist hostage and is hiding out in her shop, Somewhere That’s Green.

You’ve got different characters in specific places, waiting to be found. But there’s nothing that says you can’t just have the father and son show up wherever the group needs to find them. For that matter, the bounty hunter can be placed wherever the group thinks he’s at. 

You can do this for important NPCs, clues, and even entire locations. If you wanted the group to head towards the Temple of Khat’Man’Doo, which was north, but they’re chasing a lead on a lost goat or something in the south… just move the temple. Now, you’ve got a goat in a temple and, I mean, I don’t want to throw any spoilers at you but goats in temples just… it’s never ended well in my experience!

Some GMs really enjoy this style of preparation, because instead of writing up tons of scenarios and notes to ensure the group has a chance of finding their way to the plot, they can ensure that the story happens where it needs to. Why flesh out multiple scenes that may never get used when you can just… have the bounty hunter be where he needs to be?

Matt Mercer-based D&D meme about railroading your players

(Image from /r/dndmemes.)

There’s a lot of fun that can be had with this improv-based style of play. Just be sure not to abuse it. If you overuse this method and the players realize it, they may just decide that they can go and do whatever they want, because you’ll give them everything they need when the time is right. 

That wraps up part 2 of this blog series. Next week we'll talk about Bill & Ted's Excellent D&D Advice and how the concept of "the San Dimas clock" can keep your players on track.

Until then, if your players are leaving the beaten path and forcing you to improvise, consider downloading the free demo of The Story Engine Deck to come up with new NPCs, encounters, settings, and magic items on the fly.

Get a free demo of The Story Engine Deck of writing prompts and D&D campaign ideas

This was guest blog was written by Pedro Galicia!

Pedro Galicia is a GM with over 20+ years of experience building worlds and running games. He is the creator and GM of the World Walkers D&D podcast. He is also an Emmy Award winning father and husband, which can be confirmed by referencing his bio.

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