Your party is in the middle of a cave, where the Amulet of ABSOLUTE POWER lies. You have everything planned out. You know that they’re probably going to fight some goblins and meet up with a tricky princess on the other side. Everything seems to be going according to plan, until the dice have a story to tell, and now you suddenly have to explain how the Bard is now somehow the Supreme Warlord of all goblinkind after they insulted the princess. This was not the plan at all! And that’s totally okay! Stories in D&D very rarely end up the way the DM planned it. If everything did go according to your Master Plan, you probably are writing a book or are really lucky.
So, what do you do now? You haven’t planned anything about this, and you still have half a dungeon to go! Well, my friend, it is time to improvise!
In Improv theater, You have to make stuff on the fly, with no prep work whatsoever. The saying “Fake it until you make it” is especially relevant here. Don’t let your players know that they’ve completely derailed your plans. If they don’t know this, then as far as it matters for you, you’re good. That’s the hardest part about Improv in general. This website HERE has some good lessons learned from Improv theater that can help you in your Dungeon mastering.
If you have a plot point or dungeon room you really wanted to incorporate, but your players missed that one trap door, then take a modular approach to your story, and move the respective story elements to the next area. It’s an illusion of choice, but doing so will help you still be able to use some of the things you had planned . In my experience, this way has been helpful for when I want to share some lore for my players that may be missed otherwise.
Another thing that can be very helpful is to have stock NPCs ready to go, just in case your players get too attached to a side quest. We all know those stories about how the players suddenly adopt Boblin the Goblin and now he’s a part of your campaign. Use those side quests to further develop your story world. Perhaps this Boblin has some resources that suddenly can help your party , or perhaps his involvement is the beginning of a new peace treaty between goblins! The possibilities are endless!
Some Dungeon Masters use online resources, such as random generators, or dice roll charts in order to add an extra level of random chance into the game to get ideas. There are many resources out there to come up with ideas on the fly and to spark inspiration!
In summary, Improvisation is hard. The dice have a story to tell, you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and to be honest, that’s scary. But as long as you are flexible and are willing to take a step into the unknown, you can handle any twists that come your way!
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