Friday, June 19, 2009

Never Have a Plan

So, after Friday's session, Artemis asked me if I'd expected them to fight the ice golem, or try to sneak around it/negotiate with it. She'd interpreted my placing an obviously overpowered monster in their way as evidence of some kind of plan.

Which I didn't have. Yeah, I set up the terrain, with the ledge and everything, in a way that gave them a chance at dealing with it without getting completely hosed, but (to be entirely honest) that wasn't what I was thinking when I set it up like that. I was thinking "hey, Ax has that neat gliding ability, and his player seems really into it, I should give him an opportunity to glide into combat." So I did. Only once the scene had gotten rolling did I realize how smart of me it was to do that.

I didn't have a plan. I never have a plan. I didn't know whether they'd sneak around it, or figure out a way to kill it, or just charge in and get themselves all killed. I hadn't even given much thought to how they'd deal with it. I knew it was possible for them to deal with it somehow, even if that might involve bringing in their parents and mentors, but I figured it was up to them to work out exactly how that was going to go down.

It's not just that I know the players will mess up any plan I come up with, though that is why I originally adopted the policy. More fundamentally, any plan I come up with can't possibly be as interesting as one designed by four or five people very motivated people. If I come up with a plan ahead of time, I'd be tempted to say that whatever crazy idea the players came up with was "wrong," and that would make the game less interesting. It requires a certain comfort with improvisation, but I developed that quite quickly when I realized it would get me out of doing work.

So I don't plan. I come up with ways to motivate my players, and then I get out of their way. Less work. More fun. Your mileage may vary, as always, but it works for me.


  1. You're just being lazy.... ~_^

  2. As a kid acting as the DM, I used to be immensely irritated when players thought of ways to overcome my obstacles. I now see this as a feature of Old School D&D play.

    The one time I can remember where I designed a specific encounter with a specific way to beat it, play ground to a halt for HOURS. Because, whadya' know, players can't read a DM's mind. Duh.

  3. Yep. The only way to prevent players from derailing your plan is to not have one.

  4. Dustin: Says the guy who's perfectly happy to let *me* run all the games. ;)

    Alex Shroeder: Cool! Sounds like a good time. Dragons are great for that kind of thing because everyone gets real careful when they show up.

    JB: Yup. Specific solutions to a puzzle are almost always a bad idea, unless you've been very careful about setting it up.

    Knightsky: It's like this Zen thing, isn't it?

  5. Players want to believe you have some kind of terrible and malicious plan to defeat them. Last night my party fought Salamanders on the banks of a lava river and they were convinced that I had set the salamanders up in some kind of ingenious formation that allowed them to pummel them as they approached.

    Truth is I'd drawn the room forgetting they'd need more room to maneuver and they were left stood on a thin platform as there was nowhere else to put them.

    Planning can be really useful, however I find it counter productive, if I have a plan in the heat of the moment I might stick to the plan rather than doing something cool or interesting.

  6. That is absolutely brilliant.

  7. JP Bradley: Definitely agree with you about players. Usually what I do is drop a bunch of hints about my "evil plots" and see which ones they bite. Generally they'll come up with something even more terrifying than my original plan. :D

    Golgotha Kinslayer: Glad you think so -- and I hope you get some use out of the idea.