This is part 3 of Pedro Galicia's 4-blog series about how to handle it when the party takes your D&D campaign off the rails. Part 1 was about planning on your players getting lost. Part 2 covered shuffling scenes around depending on where players go.
Welcome to part 3: Bill and Ted's Excellent D&D Advice!
(Image from MGM.)
In Bill and Ted’s Excellent adventure, George Carlin’s character Rufus gives us one of the most interesting and potent rules when it comes to time travel. You see, according to the rules of Bill and Ted, "The clock in San Dimas is always running." This means that whatever else is happening, time is always moving forward. In other words, whatever else you think is going on, the world moves on with or without you. Even if you have a time-traveling phone booth.
I use this idea in my games extensively when it comes to keeping players focused on the story. How? By figuring out where the story goes with or without the players.
Look, your villains have plans right? Raising dead royalty to unseat the king, hunting down and executing retired adventurers before making their final play, or even just burning lost libraries so the spells that can trap them once again can never be found. They’ve got an agenda, and they’re not going to wait because your group is shipping the local watchmaker and the widow with the broken timepiece.
What I do is keep a bulleted list of where the plot goes, with or without the group’s plans. Then, I go back and update it as the group travels through the story. But how does this keep the players on the right adventuring path? Simple. Make sure the group can see the ramifications of not handling their business.
Let’s take the “Executing Retired Adventurers” idea, because holy crap I suddenly want to run that game. I’ll pick five retired adventurers, make sure the group hears about who they are in the beginning of the game, and then start executing them at different times in the game. If the group gets to them in time, that’s great! If they don’t… well…
- Sebastian Currell, legendary thief and protector of the Valis, the City of Prosperity. If he dies, the villain will corrupt and dismantle the economic government of Valis. The group will travel there and find the banks are corrupted and the people live in fear.
- Kaladar, The Desert King of Bastok. If he’s executed, the desert kingdoms will fall into disarray. The group will find thief and bounty hunting guilds growing more and more bold. In addition, the dwarven merchants will begin moving towards the western kingdoms towards more stable governments.
- Leviathan, Headmaster of the School of Magical Arts. If Leviathan is assassinated, powerful artifacts will be unaccounted for. In addition, the Emperor of the neighboring kingdom will finally be rid of the last check against his power. If the group enters his kingdom, they’ll find themselves confronted relentlessly with arbitrary regulation and eventual sequestering.
When the plot moves with or without the group, you’ll be shocked how fast the group becomes motivated to maaaaaybe check back in with the story once and awhile.
That wraps up part 3, but come back next week for the final part of this blog series: Embrace the Chaos.
Until then, if your players throw a monkey wrench in your plans, consider downloading the free demo of The Story Engine Deck to come up with new NPCs, encounters, settings, and magic items on the fly. Start with a +1 monkey wrench.
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.