Today’s musing is about gracefully recovering and moving on. We are all human, and we are not perfect. We invariably all at one time or another have moments where we screw things up. Sometimes more dramatic than others. Sometimes we hope that we can recover before anyone notices.
This weekend I had one of those moments. I have not regular weekly 4+ hour D&D game in over a year. Tack on this holiday sessions games that our group has missed and I can say I have not run a game back to back for months. Well, the rust showed this week and my initial recovery was less than spectacular. But with some determination, Good friends and a bit of patience, I was able to recover gracefully and move on.
As most of my readers know by now I run a homebrew game. Our recent campaign kicked off and I am running a homebrew of a published adventure. But not to make things easy on myself I decided that I wanted to mash up much of the first portion of Princes of the Apocalypse with Storm Kings Thunder. Somewhere between my notes and my homebrew plot timeline and a week before the game began I made a change. Instead of running the story out of Triboar. I decided to run the story out of Red Larch. I had also taken little to no notes on Red Larch. I had read over the town several times. Each time I read it for whatever ever reason I just could not seem to retain the information of what the heck was going on in Red Larch.
Maybe it was because there were two of several of the storefronts and such. Or I was overcramming that part of my game prep. I am still not exactly sure what it was. But a few days before the game I decided I was going to pull Red Larch and use another location in place of it. Yet when game day hit as my players arrived I pulled out my books and gave Red Larch a once over one more time.
The game went wonderfully in the early goings. Right up until we hit Red Larch.. and then everything went pear shaped. The next few moments were like an out of control dumpster fire. As soon as the players arrived in town one of the PC’s inquired about where he could find the mayor. Another stated they were going to the local tavern to inquire about a person they were searching for.
It was in this moment that my brain exploded. Where was the Mayor?
He hangs out in the tavern ..you can find him there around dinner time.
Thinking to myself that will buy me time to sort myself.
But no, no it won’t. Because half of my table had already played the first portion of Princes of the Apocalypse when my other player started to run it… half a year ago. I get a moment of pause and a questioning. Umm Red Larch doesn’t have a mayor it’s got a council of elders. From there, things spiraled out of control as every scrap of what I did recall from the Larch Fleed from my skull leaving me staring at the pages of the book like I had never read it before.
This is the moment of graceful recovery, It is in moments like this that you can recover or just stoke the flames and pass out the marshmallows. I had two options, I could wing it or ask for a moment to collect myself. This is when my table shined and showed me the class acts that they all are. After a moment of me flipping the pages and blankly staring at the mess, I had gotten myself into. One of my players took the initiative and stood up from the table. Called for a smoke break and a snack run.
It was in those moments that I was able to collect myself enough to sort some of the I had made out and pick up the pieces. I tried not to dwell on the error. I apologized to the table for the FUBAR and set to taking advantage of the snack run. It was just what I needed. I cobbled enough of the town together in my mind to get them on task and adventuring again.
The rest of the night ran without a hitch. All & all it was a good night. One of my players thanked me for a good game I chuckled apologized for my tragic flub. His reply is what inspired today’s blog.
Yeah, but you recovered and the game went well.
My moral today, if your game flys off the rails and you lose control of the moment there are a few things you can do as a GM.
- Improv way more of D&D is improved than most DMs will ever admit anyway.
- Take a moment, Call for a bathroom break or smoke/snack break.
- Ask for help, were playing a game and most of us have a rules lawyer in the group.
- Drop a Random encounter in hopes that you can sort out what went wrong while the players are dealing with your encounter. (buy yourself a few rounds)
If none of these thigs help or its just that damn bad. I hope you have some marshmallows on hand. After all, everyone loves SMORES.
I sympathise. Towns often have dozens of key figures from Mayors, councillors, inn keepers, kooks living on the outskirts to guards and livery stable owners and you are supposed to know who everyone is, where they are, their general attitude to just about everything and how they all feel about each other and that is before the characters have even crossed the threshold of the town gates. Players on the other hand cannot even tell you where exactly their characters are storing that 200lb sack of gold they are carrying.
It can help to number the NPCs while you are doing your prep before the game and keep the list to hand. Then when the players are planning and talking amongst themselves you can just jot down the number of the people they mention. In the next snack/smoke/comfort break you can give those NPCs a quick once over.
I would make a list of just Name, Profession, Race, Location and clip it to the front of your town notes. The same works for an orchold or a castle so if the players decide to torture an orc for the location of the shaman you know where to find the answer.
Your players probably have similar rituals they go through, one guy who always wants to go the tavern, another that always wants to find weird shops they can buy components and so on. You can make these little crib sheets fit your group.
Numbering the NPC’s location would have saved all of this from happening. Part of my problem was I use Microsoft one note extensively. Once my players arrived in town and I opened that section notes. I had a wall of names, each with their own page and descriptions of where they lived worked and plot points. But I had to hunt and peck for them. Just now while typing this I realized I could have word searched the document to find what I was looking for!! Hind sight being 20/20.