Tips For When Players Sidestep The Plot

Any storyteller will tell you that no matter how hard you try and prepare. Once the game starts everything is out of your hands and the direction the game will take is largely up to your players. Often most games go the way you expect. Resulting in no need to make tweaks to your story as events unfold.

Other times, the players will for whatever reasons of their own, approach the story from a direction that you had never seen coming. It is this moment that your game has gone off the rails. Leaving you to have to make a few quick-thinking decisions to keep the story moving.

The end goal is to guide the players back in the direction of the plot. But how do you go about doing this? Well, there are several ways it can be done.  In this blog, we will discuss a few things that you can do to help you get your game back on track.  I will also outline a few things that you should avoid doing at all costs when this happens at your table.

Things You Can DO


Improvisation is a wonderful skill and like any skill it requires practice. The good news is the more that you put this skill to use, the stronger your improv game will get. Inevitably the more you run games the more you will find yourself improvising because the two simply go hand in hand.

Many Game Masters are very intimidated by the mere thought of improvising. Yet, when you sit down and think about it you do it all the time.  Any time a player talks with an NPC in your world it is likely that on some level you are improvising. The same is true when your players inquire what the Blacksmith has for sale or what the Innkeeper is serving that passes for drinks in the local Pub. Likely none of this ever crosses your mind as improv but it is.  You don’t think about it because you have done it so often it has become second nature to you.

Trust in your abilities as a storyteller, your player’s faith in you as a GM, and your knowledge that you know where the stories plot is heading. If you have prepared a strong cast of NPC’s to help move your players in that direction of the story as well as a few side plots planed that can help steer them back to the plot when they wander off script. You will be fine

Run a Prepared Side Plots 

I often have one or two side stories going on in the background of my games for situations where the players go off the rails on me. If you have the luxury of being able to introduce one of this side plots instead of a random encounter this may even buy you an entire game session. Giving you ample time to figure out what you are going to do to steer your players back to your main story.

Ideally, you have prepared some of these in advance they should already be in a position to lead the players back to the main story as these side plots wrap up.

NOTE: Do not run a side quest if it does not fit into the moment, It will feel forced and your players will feel like they are being railroaded. Railroading=BAD. Only do this if you can make the transition feel organic. 

Run a Random Encounter

If you have the opportunity and are in a situation where a random encounter will not feel forced, this is one of the best things you can do as a GM. The use of a random encounter serves you well on many levels.

  1. You are providing your player’s with some in-game action.
  2. You are buying yourself some time to do a little multi-tasking so you can decide how you will address the unexpected direction that the players have taken the story in.

In games like D&D and Pathfinder this option not only will serve to keep the play at the table moving but depending on the level of play and how many players are at your table. This might buy you a considerable amount of time to regroup.

Take a Bathroom/Snack Break

lml3c9z_4880If you find yourself in a place in your story where a Random Encounter would not make much sense and you feel like you only will need a moment or two to collect your thoughts. Call for a bathroom break or hop up and get a drink and a snack. The few moments that it will take for you to step away from the table and get a breath or two of fresh air might be all that you will need to get your creative thoughts going again.

If you find yourself still stumped on the way back to the table, consider a side Plot or a random encounter to give you more time at the table to come up with a plan of action.

Ask your Players For Their Input

There is nothing wrong with asking for the input of your players. They are helping to shape the story with you. This may seem awkward for some old school Game Masters. But many new systems encourage such player input and a few are even build around group storytelling. So if you find yourself stuck ask for some suggestions or party input. You might be surprised at some of the creative ideas your players have floating around on their side of the table.

Politely ask for a few min

Be upfront and honest and tell your players they have thrown you a curve ball. Let them know that you need a moment to look over your notes and figure out just how to proceed from this point. Suggest they take a few min to stretch their legs or grab some snacks while you gather your bearings.


Things Not To DO!!

The following are some things that you should absolutely never do. In my years of gaming, I have seen all of these things take place and they destroy player agency and can be utter fun killers.

sbjggcmvr5sxDo Not Put Up Invisible Walls
We all know how frustrating they are in video games, but when a game master puts up invisible walls and tells his players that they simply can’t go that way. It is utterly infuriating.

This is one of the quickest ways to see your entire table collectively sigh and lose complete interest in your game. This solution might work once or twice at your table but it will leave your players feeling like they are stuck in a giant hamster cage.


Never Railroad The Story
It might seem like the easiest way to get your story back out of the weeds. But your players will resent it. Do it enough and your players will not only resent it but they will grow unmotivated to find their own creative answers to problems in the game. Instead, they will begin to rely on you to spoon feed them the information you want them to follow from plot point to plot point.

Do Not Call The Game
It may seem like a good option to tell your players that they have taken the story in an unexpected direction and you need to time to plan your next move. But before you pull the kill switch on a session of gaming think about this.

Your players have set aside time to be at your game and calling the game will likely leave some players with sour feelings. Also, you have to admit that whatever changes you make to your story to adjust for WHATEVER the players may have thrown at you. It is highly unlikely that you will need several days to make adjustments to account for what has happened.

I can not urge you enough that if you feel like you need to call the game session to sort out what has happened at the table. PLEASE consider instead taking an extended snack break or order a Pizza go out to lunch and have some food for thought. Then regroup in 30 min to an hour. Calling the game, in my opinion, should never be done if at all avoidable.

Note: There are exceptions to every rule. In the past I have called games when things have gone off the rails. For example due to an unexpected combat about to occur at the end of the night due to players choices. In this example, I can only recommend calling the game and ending it as a cliffhanger, due to the fact that your players may not be able to stay late past your normal game time to deal with an extended combat.


Please feel free to comment and add your own suggestions to both lists here!

Kickstarter Spotlight: The Mimic Chest From Polymorph Crafts

Today Polymorph Crafts is launching a Kickstarter for The mimic Chest. Now unless you follow Polymorph Crafts social feeds or you follow me on Twitter you probably haven’t heard anything about The Mimic Chest.

So for those of you who do not know what the mimic is, it’s the culmination of a very ambitious a dream of the Polymorph Crafts to bring the combination of Wood & Magnets together to craft something unique. The Mimic Chest is a gaming accessories chest held together by 200! magnets, that breaks down almost completely. When broken down you get 5 wooden Vaults, 3 Dice Vaults, and 2 Pencils Vaults. 5 Card trays, a coaster, a Dice Tower and a Dice Tray. Held together by magnets and a leather carrying strap.



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Runkle Plays Games was one of a select few people that were given the privilege of getting an advanced look at The Mimic Chest, there were twelve sent out and I have one. Normally this would be the part of the blog where I would burst into a full-fledged review of the product.

But there was a slight hiccup as the strap on my case had an issue and needed for the team to send me a replacement strap. Also while this Kickstarter is still alive I will be attending MACE.con and my little Mimic will be coming with me.

So instead of a one-man and maybe is gamers hands-on opinion of The Mimic Chest, we’re going to go ahead and take this to an RPG & Board Game Convention and let people play with it get their impressions of the chest. I may even do a few videos! That’s something this Blog has never seen! When I return I will have an in-depth review, as well as my thoughts and other people’s opinions on The Mimic Chest.

For now, I will leave you with two small yet cool clips of the Dice Tray and tower. Believe it or not… That Nat 20 was one take and the first dice ever down the tower… I had a pretty damn big grin. after.





Till I return, Here is a link to their KS project.

The Mimic Chest

Hands on look at the D&D 5E GM Screen Reincarnated


I know I’m a little late to the party in my review of the 5e reincarnated DM screen. So let’s get right into it and take a look at what we got. Personally Even with much of the cover art is pretty blank the picture is beautiful. I much prefer the Dungeons and Dragons logo as well as ampersand compared to that of the old 5e symbol on the original GM screen.

So for this review, I’ll be looking at the panels from left to right for my review. The left panel has the most changes overall this product. The tables for NPC characteristics, NPC ideas, NPC flaws and bonds and the Name Generator all have been removed.

In their place, we have a Actions in Combat table that describes in detail everything that a player can do in a combat round. This table covers Attack, Cast Spells, Dash, Dodge, Help, Hide and Ready Actions as well as Search, Use A Magic Item, Use an Object and Use a Special Ability actions.


We are also given a table with some rules that are not always easy to remember and will save you time looking things up like Long and High Jump, Suffocation and the easiest of all to remember Concentration. As easy as the concentration check is to remember it’s still good to have it here. Additionally, they managed to squeeze in one more little section on this panel for things that you can do in a turn listing everything that a player can do as a little quick reminder.

This panel does have one piece of art and I like it! The art is straight out of the player’s handbook and it is the of “Points of Origin” of Area Spell Effects. I really like this because one of my biggest criticisms of the old GM screen was the art wasn’t helpful and it took up to much real estate on the screen. By comparison, this art doesn’t take up a lot of space and it’s very helpful for a GM.

Myself I actually used these tables fairly often and will be sad to see them go. That said overall the replacement tables that they have put in this panel are a far better choice and if I myself had to make the choice to decide which of these panels to keep I would have gone with the new panels in the reincarnated GM screen as well.

The 2nd panel covers Conditions and is exactly the same as the old GM screen right down to the artwork. Again my complaint on the conditions panel is much the same as it was before. Granted conditions are likely the main thing we will be looking up as a GM’s during a game. I just feel that a panel and a half of the GM screen is just too much real estate for this information. Simply by sacrificing the artwork for the conditions table, they could have condensed a panel a half worth of information into one panel. This would have remained just as effective and we would have gotten more space for use out of this GM screen.


The new and old GM screen third panels are very similar. The last half of the Conditions Table and the Exhaustion Chart are exactly the same on both of these panels. The only tables remaining the same are the Skills And Ability Table and the Setting A DC table. The tables of Light Obscured Areas and Cover we’re moved to the fourth panel on the new GM screen. In their place, the tables of Damage By Level of Severity, Object Hit Points, Object Armor Class, Setting A DC and Tracking DC’s tables have now taken their place.

Lastly, the fourth panel has changed quite a bit. Gone is my much-disliked artwork of the Tarrasque. This has been replaced by another piece of art comparing the sizes of creatures from tiny, small, medium, large, huge and gargantuan creatures.

The Something Happens table that I really wasn’t a fan of his now gone as well as the Quick Finds table. In my opinion, it is an improvement that they have been removed. The Travel Pace table and Encounter Distance tables have remained. Lastly, we’ve been given two new tables that I think are an excellent addition to the D5e DM Reincarnated screen. These tables are Food Drink and Lodging And Services both of these tables I think will see a lot of use in most players games.


Runkle’s Ranking

The last GM screen I gave it abysmal 6 to even though I came back earlier and had given an almost to 7, All Things Considered, there’s not a whole lot been changed in this GM screen but it is far more useful I will give this screen a rating of a 13. It’s landscape, it’s useful, it has many tables now that it didn’t have before that will be helpful for a GM. The artwork has been reduced and its overall an improvement over its predecessor. D20 #11-14

So what keeps up with such a low ranking for me? The simple fact that it doesn’t have inserts. it’s only useful for one thing and that is base generic 5e. With Gale Force 9 producing a GM screen for every new campaign setting that comes out. A much-improved GM screen reincarnated would have been a landscape GM screen with insertable sheets. Then we could customize each screen, and every time we ran a particular campaign we could pick and choose the tables and maps that we would wish to add to your particular screen.

Final thoughts

If you already own a GM screen you will be able to make do without this product. If you do not have one this is a better choice over the old one. If you are willing to make your own screen then I would suggest a GM screen with inserts that you can customise.

If you want to pick up one of these hit up your FLGS and grab one or head on over to Amazon to get yours.


Or if you prefer to pick up a customisable screen you can get one at your FLGS as well or grab one off Amazon as well. I recommend the landscape screen by Hammerdog, You can also pick up a non-landscape version if you prefer or the screen that I use. The Hammerdog Mini.


#RPGaDay2017 25th Day. What is the Best way to Thank Your GM? SAY IT!!

Thanking your Game master is not hard. Look when it comes to saying thank you to your Game Master. There is just no other better way than to just saying it. Don’t just say it once said repeatedly after good games and bad. Let them know that you appreciate the work that they do for your group. Being a GM can be a thankless job and often the smallest of encouragement can keep us going.

Beyond that here are a number of other things that a group can do to say thanks. Over the years I have hand players purchase adventures that the group would like me to run. As well a helping out in other ways such as purchasing paper, minis or ink cartridges for the ever hungry printer. All of these things are both helpful and appreciated by your game master.

Beyond all of these things, by far the best way you can thank your game master is to enjoy the game. When a Game Master can sit back and watch his players as they have forgotten him for the moment as they are playing in character with one and other. That is a huge moment as a GM because you know you have them then, that they re fully committed to the story and are wrapped up in being a part of it. When all eyes are at the table and no one is paying attention to their phones, tablets or flipping through a book. These are the times in game that you know it was all worth it.

#RPGaDay2017 23rd Day Which RPG has the most Jaw-Dropping Layout? #DresdenFiles #EvilHat


dresdenfilesThe only thing that could make the Dresden files RPG look any better would have been to use real post-it notes and have sold a ring binder version of the book and that would be INSANE!

But the layout of the book from the moment you open it gives you the EXACT sensation that they want to bring out in you. When you open the book you feel as if you have been handed something that is dear to someone yet a work in progress. With Post-its and Highlights, everything about the layout of this book just pulls you in!

I love the conversations that take place in the side bar that inform you of the world yet remain in character, everything about the way this product was designed was a home run.

The only other RPG product that has ever done this style so well that I can recall is a VERY old Product calle HOL. (Human, Occupied, Landfill). That said where HOL was funny. Dresden is far more effective and still is funny!


#RPGaDay2017 21st Day: Which RPG Does the Most with the Least Words? #CypherSystem


I think on this one many people are going to pick games like Lazers with Feelings or Fate Accelerated because they are going to reply in the most literal sense. While both Lazers and Fate are both indeed some of the shortest worded RPG games you will ever have the pleasure to come across. I do not think that we are talking about what they do in their word count here.

Monte Cook Games Cypher System with its.

I am (adjective)Descriptor  (noun)Type  who (Verbs)Focus’s 

The power of this single sentence might do the most with the least amount of words in the history of any RPG. With developing everything they way they did around Type Descriptor and Focus you not only have a natural way to convey to everyone at the table who you are and what you are known for. But you also in a just once sentence have simultaneously given the players a Roleplaying description of your character as well as told them what your character is capable of stat and power wise.

Now to be fair and in the interest of wanting a slightly longer blog post, I also mentioned Lazers and Feelings as it literally created the genre of single page RPGs.


#RPGaDay2017 Day 12: Which RPG has the Most Inspiring Art?


So here we are on Monday the 14th and we are playing a little bit of catch up today. After a good weekend and I realized that I had slipped up and forgot to keep up with my days. So let us get to today’s, wait three days ago’s question.

I am going to go with three systems. Two have set the bar so high recently that I think they should be considered the standard in what other game companies should try to reach. The artwork of Fragged Empire & FAITH. These two games breathtaking art just brings their worlds to life in a vivid fashion. I am a huge fan of the art in both of these products.

Fragged Empire

Fragged Empire has wonderful artwork that makes keeps you wanting more and makes the whole book a pleasure to read.


Faith takes it one step further and the cards and sheets you use are all crafted with the intent to draw you further into the game.



Recently I have had another game pull me in close with its artwork and I wanted to know everything I could about it. I look forward to finding the chance to get this game on the table soon.