New guest post by Brokk Martin. He has played D&D for over 30 years.
Every game master has had that moment where they look at the pages of prep for game night go out the window in the first five minutes of an adventure. Although it is recommended to prepare for the session, there are times when you have to go off the cuff. Sometimes, the party goes into the dungeon and instead of going left or right, they just turn around and go back to town leaving hours of dungeon left unexplored. On other nights, you and three to five of your close friends decide to pick up a game on a moment’s notice.
Whatever the reason, it is good to be able to work off the cuff. Some of the most fun sessions have come from impromptu sessions. Here are some strategies or tools to help manage those situations.
Story Dice. Story dice are good if your party forays off the beaten path. I keep a set in my trusty dice bag just in case. These dice are often a set of six sided dice that have pictures on them. Two or three rolls and you can have inspiration for a short session. If the party veers away from the storyline but stays in the general area, roll the dice and use the images to come up with a short story then include a hook back into the main adventure storyline at the end.
Popular Movies. One of my favorite sessions as a game master was when my friends asked me to run with no preparation. I am normally a bit over prepared. With fifteen minutes to jot down some notes, the party found themselves waking up in a strange hotel room with a tiger and a baby with no recollection of how they got there. It was fun to spoof this popular movie worked into Cormyr in the Forgotten Realms setting.
Player Fiat. This one is a bit out there and could have longer consequences. If you set the ground rules, you can let the players tell some of the story that the GM might have otherwise have to cover. If the player decides to go back to their homeland on a spur of the moment, let them describe it and whom the character wants to see and roll with it.
Prepared NPC. Preparing NPC and monsters are a good resource. The DM Guild holds a lot of content that you can use just in case. There are websites with random NPC generators. I normally find that adding a bit more flavor such as an accent, disposition and some quirk help make these out of the box encounters a bit more appealing.
Plan Ahead. There is a lot written on how much to prepare for each session. It is never good to plan to far ahead as you do not allow for enough player freedom to choose their own destiny. However, it is never bad to have a half session or maybe a whole session planned ahead of what you are running that night.
Players Pacing. Another good thing to consider is to let the players set the pace. A common mistake for GM is to try to rush players through content. If the players are spending more time on a certain area, let them. Remember that whatever they do not cover in that session can be used on the next gaming night.
There are many other ways to come up with impromptu content and have a good time. Remember to keep your cool and take notes so you can remember the off the cuff names and places that the party visits. Please comment below on any tips or tricks that you might have!