TCC D&D: Planning and Improv

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Welcome to the third entry in “Playing the Dungeon Master.” The Crusaders have only just begun to explore Chult; however, we will get into that later. Today, I am going to talk about planning and improv.

Planning the Paths!

As a Dungeon Master (DM), you control the pace of the game; you have to create the setting, while also laying the path before the adventurers. However, you do not want to shove them onto one path, but provide multiple options. Giving one path, even if that is not what the players feel, is often referred to as railroading. There are times when this is necessary, but Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a game that should invite exploration and options. Reflecting on this past week, the setting created was vibrant, full of life and provided multiple storylines to explore.

Like any story there is an end. How the players get to that end does not have to be the same for each group that plays a specific story. If you watched or listened to our adventure from this past week you may have picked up that I laid two paths in front of them. Both would ultimately lead to the Jungle. However, I had planned for them to follow Talia to O’chaka’s; which I had character interactions, settings and events planned for or the Cru would find their own lodging, and encounter Undril —which they did do!

Why plan for something that may not be done, you ask? For one, it provides options; it creates a larger world. The characters and events I had planned may never be encountered based on the players’ choices. I could also decide that something I had planned was so great that it could be encountered later in a different, potentially more exciting, way. On my DM outlines I still have two potential paths for them to follow, my initial outline guides them down one path or the other depending on who they encounter. However, if I decide I would rather they enter a certain set of ruins, or discover a certain culture, I can still work that in, or even present the options as part of the story for them to choose. 

Despite all the planning that I do, these players still throw me for a loop. I was pleased when I listened back that my improv felt more planned than not. For instance, Billy Shortcakes did not exist until Alex (Dr. Barrie) asked to talk to him. This character would not have been encountered if they went to O’Chaka’s home. Now, there is a halfling tavern owner with a Boston accent that we call “Shorty.” As the DM, I enjoyed creating and playing this character so much I have crafted plans for him. 

Remember; the DM must roll with the punches, plan for the unexpected, throw out the plan and guide the group back to the path of adventure that leads to heroism!

Summary of our adventure so far:

The Crusaders have made their home in Leilon helping it to prosper in the harsh environment that it is located. One cold night, they are summoned to Baldur’s Gate by someone from Bryce’s past. When they arrive at Talia’s, they find that she is slowly decaying into death and that she needs the Crusaders help in destroying something called the “Soul Monger.” The apparent years of head injury that Bryce has taken caused him to be confused as to who Talia is.

Accepting the mission, Talia transports the group, and herself, to Port Nyanzaru in Chult. The port is hot and humid, alive with life and the business of a port city. Dinosaurs are common here and chance encounter with an Ankylosaraus introduces the Cru to Undril — a half orc officer in the “Order of the S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Undril guides the Cru to the Thundering Lizard, a loud and boisterous Tavern that has rooms to spare, but not a seat to be had in the main tavern area. Billy “Shorty” Shortcakes provides drink food and rooms to the Cru so that they may rest prior to leaving on their adventure. Alex valiantly attempts to gather intel on the “Soul Monger” while Bryce and Diane have one too many drinks and oversleep the next day. Undril asks for their help getting to Camp Vengeance where hopefully the group will get more intel on the “Soul Monger” and where it might be!

After a nights rest, the Cru gather supplies and jump into Undril’s boat to start their journey to Camp Vengeance … or was it Camp Righteous? Undril may not be entirely sure! The Cru make camp on the east side of the river, mainly because Alex (or more correctly Dr. Barrie) hopes to encounter undead. His hopes are not realized when instead the camp is almost trampled by Girillon, an ape-like beast with four arms and tusks. The group kill all the beasts, while almost losing Bryce in the process. 

What dangers await them in the Jungle? Will Alex get to fight any undead? Will Bryce remember how to fight? Will Diane ever truly be sober? And what happened to that cute little puppy they looted at the end of the second part of our adventure? For answers to these questions tune in next time to Crusaders and Dragons!

-Manderson, the Son of Mander

Curious about our adventures? Check out the replay of the episode below!