All Choices and No Decisions

Apologies for the decreasing post rate that this blog has been experiencing as of late. Posts usually emerge when I’ve had all my game planning done, but I’m now experiencing my very first DM’s block! Que horror! Que shock!

Of course, the dilemma of trying to lock down plans for a session is common to any DM. Many a message board or blog is devoted to outlining a campaign trajectory. Entire pages in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for 4th Ed are devoted to going beyond designing encounters and towards developing the campaign. Furthermore, between the Internet, movies and books, inspiration is not in short supply.

Perhaps the most daunting task of developing a campaign narrative is not necessarily finding inspiration, but looking at the options you want to present your players and sticking with just a few. Simply put, it’s not that I don’t have any idea what I can do this Saturday. It’s that there are too many things I can do. It’s possible this is because our campaign’s story is only getting started.

The party has defeated a cult devoted to Belashyrra and have journeyed to the eastern side of the Shadow Marches to go dragonshard hunting, where they’ve met another treasure hunter who has beaten them to good find. My intention over the next few weeks is to get them in a dungeon again soon, and at some point, make a pit stop at civilization.

Call it a newbie DM’s – not to be confused with THE NewbieDM – moment of paralytic indecision. Do I push the adventurers towards Droaam or Zarash’ak? What new adventures result from meeting a well-financed relic hunter? How do the aberrant creatures of Khyber and the Gatekeepers who battle them fit into all these other threads?

There are just so many ways to go. Heck, I came up with more than a dozen bad guys and thirty plot ideas from the Tome Show’s review of the Eberron books. The entire WotC archive of 3.5 era Eberron columns is enough to sustain hundreds of campaigns worth of plot. Granted, I could be overthinking this. Corinna, who plays Tyq, has a reputation for being the loot-taking butt-kicker, while Raymz is pretty much happy to be a player for once.

So, my question to you DMs out there is, how do you handle campaign indecision?

9 Responses to “All Choices and No Decisions”
  1. Easy: dangle all the adventure hooks you’re interested in, and see which one (if any) the players swallow. Once they do, you know what you need to prep for the next sessions until they finish achieving that goal.

    • All of them? All 16,384 of them?

      Kidding aside, they’re in the middle of a social encounter right now, so the strange part is trying to tie in odd ones like aberrant creatures with the fact that they currently have company in the form of a half-orc treasure hunter and a warforged scout who is supposed to help them gather a truck load of dragonshards. And they went through a lot of trouble to rescue the former and reassemble the latter.

      Part of the problem is that they’re kind of playing along, but I don’t want them to be indifferent for the sake of compliance, but rather get involved and interested and hooked in.

  2. geekbob says:

    Also, one possible method, if a dungeon crawl is in the future, is to prep the dungeon to be generic enough to be dropped anywhere. That way, if they zig instead of zag, you can still plop down the dungeon as if it was always suppose to be there.

    For my own campaigns, I tend to try and push for that decision point during a session if onoe is coming up. Or i’ll discuss future possible plans with the players and plan accordingly.

    • Yeah I’m working on “The DM’s Choice,” I’m just trying to develop the narrative trappings for it.

      As for discussing with players, they’re being almost too cooperative, declaring they’re game for anything. As such, its difficult to gauge what they really want from what they say.

  3. Of course, I’m an idiot and forgot that Wyatt Salazar posed a similar question recently. Heck he used a similar term, “idea paralysis.”

  4. Angry Johnny says:

    I like the term “tharn”, from Watership Down. I’ve been experiencing tharn a bit myself lately, as I prepare for my first-ever DM experience. I feel your pain, bro. I honestly don’t have any advice that those above haven’t already given. My plan is going to be sticking to published material until I feel comfortable running the mechanics and doing my best to be a “yes, and…” DM.

    • Actually, I stuck with published material myself for the first game. I tweaked it a bit since none of the hooks made sense for the characters, and I had to figure out what role the NPC would play beyond the confines of the adventure. It turned out swell.

  5. Rook says:

    With regards to your reply to geekbob, I think you may be asking the wrong question. If your players are ‘game for anything’ then perhaps you should ask “what does your character want to do? What are his/her immediate goals? What would your character like to acheive in the near future?” Questions like these may give you some insight (no roll needed) on where to steer the characters or what you should have perpared in advance.

  6. wickedmurph says:

    I have to admit that sometimes I prep an encounter, and if the characters go off and do something unexpected – I just reskin the whole thing and use it anyways. Sorta “These are the numbers that you will be fighting tonight”. Saves me, sometimes.

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