D&D General How to move a game forward?

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
At the end of the day it is too hard to actually make any universal statements about good or bad DMing, and to give advice to assure a DM of being good... because the range of players who sit at the table could make every single style possibly work. Heck, most posters here would say that "railroading" is a big no-no... but I guarantee you there are players out there who care so little about how the sausage is made and how the game has been designed that you could run a railroaded game where you lead the table by the nose from one encounter to the next and they would think it was the greatest game in the world. Granted... those players might be few and far between, and those players may evolve their gaming after a while where they might start to see those seams you are spackling over... but at least for a little while you could be the bee's knees of DMs.

Now obviously there are tendencies for large swathes of players, which is why a lot of DMing advice can actually be applicable in many situations (where something like "don't railroad" would obviously have its place)... but part of the job of being the DM is figuring out who their players are and adapting their own style to their tendencies-- or else cultivating a table of players that all go along with their own DMing style so that the DM can continue to play as they prefer and the players all love it. Both ways work... depending on your situation and player availability one way might be easier than the other... but regardless, each of us has to take all "advice" with a grain of salt and figure out what is and isn't truly applicable to our game.
 
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I also listen to what my players are saying and doing. If you can get into their heads, you can draw on ideas and activities that they'll enjoy. What's their power fantasy? What's their fear? What motivates them to action or reaction? Why should they care? If you can work backwards from that, a lot of times that can save you from a lot of extraneous overplanning. Get to the heart of what your players want to do, and they can move mountains.
100% this. Listen to your players. Ask questions. Ask follow-up questions. Use the answers.
 

So hanging out with some fellow DMs the other day. We cross a bunch of players in each others games. So, many players coming from may game rave about having a great adventure. The DMs hearing many such stories then asked me my "secret" to a good game: How do I do it?

My answer was that I, as the Overlord Tyrant Tycoon, make, control and force everything in the game to happen.

The other two DMs did not like that answer...of course. And asked if there was some other way. And I said....well, no, not really. As I can think of only two other ways:

*The non game acting way: The DM and players all sit down and write a script. What each character will do and when and how. Just like a movie/tv show/play. Then everyone just acts out the script. This is not really a "game" , as it is just following a script. "Ok, on round one your cleric will swing and miss, but both orcs will hit your cleric. When your cleric take the damage say "grrr...I hate orcs!" "

*The Improv Quantum World: This Player Lead game just has the players do things at random and the DM tags along and just makes the game reality right in front of where the players choose to step. So no matter what random mess the players do, it always is the game moving forward.

But is there another way?

So for example: the group asks for "we want a long term foe that comes back around to us every so often". So the DM sets out to do that. But how? How does the DM make a foe that the PCs will encounter often and not capture or just outright kill?

And to be clear I see three types of Forced Gameplay:

*The Classic Clumsy Railroad: used mostly by new, inexperienced, casual, clueless, jerk and bad DMs. This is the stuff of railroad nightmares. Here the DM just ignores the players and does whatever the DM wants. So in this game the foe always just "escapes" no matter what the PCs do as the DM chuckles.

*The Metagame: Slightly more sneaky. In this game the DM just has the foe know everything about the PCs and the game universe, so the foe can always "amazingly" escape. So they foe always has just the right counter or ability or whatever is needed to escape. And always does....no matter what the PCs do.

*Hard Fun: And here is finally my type of game. I ether make the foe smart enough to have set and pre planned escapes using whatever skills, abilities and such the foe has OR I make the foe and game reality something else. For example, the foe will be a mystery to the PCs. They encounter the evil plans often, but not the foe themselves...so he has no need to 'escape' as they can't catch him as they don't know who it is. Or the for might have some connection to the PCs. Or the foe might be politically or socially untouchable. Or the foe simply never fights the PCs in close melee.

So, then the question is.....is there another way?

I feel like there is a broad range of approaches, like a spectrum, not just a handful of choices. For me, I don't really worry about forward in a game. I worry more about engagement. And I tend to focus on PCs and NPCs as the fuel for that engagement. That doesn't mean nothing happens but I try to have things that arise from my end of the screen do so with a certain amount of logic (i.e. the NPC wants something the PCs have so he looks for them, and I make him jump through mechanical hoops to make it fair), and through something I call shake-up tables (which keep the environment active for the PCs). However I do lean on sandbox style so my approach might not be something everyone will enjoy

I terms of long term foes, you can have those without railroads or without fudging. The key is let villains rise and fall naturally. Recurring bad guys will emerge. But the moment you give them plot armor, the moment you start engineering their appearances, I do think you get into territory where questions around agency and fairness can arise (i.e. having the NPC show up at the right moment to stop them, despite the PCs taking reasonable precautions that would have prevented that). I am always willing to have any antagonist die and ignoble and anti-climactic death if that is what the dice say happens.
 

aco175

Legend
Run, the BBEG Vader is coming and is the most terrible force in the galaxy.
Wait, we somehow defeated him, then run the BBEG Emperor is more powerful than Vader and Vader was just working for him- Ha.
Oh, you somehow defeated him as well...
Well then, now we have a super-duper BBEG Kylo Ren who was trained by the others and takes over the mantle of the bestest- he even has a cooler magic item sword. His minions are not just crappy shooting stormtroopers, no you are all level11 now, so he has elite troopers of the First Order.
Oh, looks like you defeated all his minions and bad guy followers. Well then, I cast resurrection on the last BBEG and have him be a bigger threat to the world. No, make him an undead lich. Yeah that's the ticket.
Now the one BBEG is needed to be negotiated with to make a Wonder Twins tag team to defeat the campaign ending ultimate power in the universe, oh wait you already defeated three of those.

How about we just start a new campaign.
 

I usually read through the module, take notes, reorganize information that should be together, I take jot notes on where I think things could transition smoothly and where there could be a rocky transition. From here, I flesh out my jot notes and make a very loose path of how I want the module to go knowing full well that the players are going to go wherever they want. I fill out everything else such as random encounter tables, maps, treasure if I can put it in, flesh out towns and such. Then from there I usually get backstories for my players and take those and work them in in some way if I can without it seeming like it's show-horned in. During all this and even after that, I re-read the module in case I forgot anything, then we play.

After the first session I adjust my notes and keep track of what's happened, altering what I have and then plan the next session around that. With that I re-read the module, but only the section we ended on, and the next section that they are going into to see if there is anything I might have put aside as not being a good fit initially to see if it works for how the players left the game and incorporate it if it does. When I can I do work on it and then we play the next session. I don't get a lot of free time, so what little I do, I tend to pour everything I am into that small allotted amount of time I give myself lol. I let my players dictate how the game goes, and it's up to me as the DM to make sure their actions both have consequences if bad and rewarded if good; I mean, that's how I view it and move a game along, that might not be how everyone does it lol.
 


EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
The classic Railroad is clumsy, it's just the DM doing and saying whatever they want to happen. So no matter what the player do the DM just says "nope". The DM does not even bother with 'rules', things just happen.

The metagame one is where the DM uses their "inside knowledge" to stack the game against the players, all by using the rules. This can fool at least half of the players as they will say "wow, amazing the foe had a Potion of Escape".

The last one is Hard Fun. The DM uses their skills, intelligence, game mastery, rules mastery, life mastery and such to simply out do the players. So the DM makes tough powerful NPCs or sets up hard game realities for the players.

Of course most bad players ignore all the above and just say "If I don't like it it's a Railroad!"
I still don't understand what the difference is. You are still making whatever you want happen. You're just giving longer explanations for why the thing you want to happen was always going to happen.

So you described what I call the random mess.

To move a plot or story forward in a meaningful way, events have to happen or not happen. You can't just have a random mess on top of a random mess. My way, and I think the best way, is for the DM to use Force to make things happen or not happen. Then I know of the scripted and Improv Quantum way......but what else is there?

This is why I gave the easy example: How to do a reacquiring villain? So, once Force is off the table, what else can a DM do?
You frame a new situation that includes that villain again, assuming it makes sense that they can. (E.g., if the players personally decapitated a particular villain and then ritually burned their corpse so nothing short of true resurrection could bring them back, they're probably not coming back.)

Like, let me give you an example literally playing out currently. Right now, I only have two active players, and one of them needs to take time off for medical reasons on the regular. So I sometimes run solo sessions for the other player. TL;DR: The character was a purely non-magic Warlord-type (a Captain in the Royal Army of Al-Rakkah) for a long time, but due to a choice he made a while back, he's gained powers related to spirits and the remnants of dead souls. He's being guided in how to learn to use these powers by the leader of the "good" faction of an assassin cult (too complex to explain, just run with it), and his guide had seen signs of a spirit-presence he could gain further beneficial (rather than purely violent) powers from.

This gave me the opportunity to bring back in a villainous organization that had, previously, been pretty thoroughly slapped down not once but twice by the PCs: the Shadow Druids, a secretive organization of death-obsessed druids who want to turn the PCs' arid homeland into a death-filled swamp so they can be all-powerful within its bounds and "live" forever outside the cycle of life and death. The first time, the PCs destroyed the Shadow Druids' local cells, pretty thoroughly breaking their operation in the main city of the area. The second time, they stormed two different main base areas--one caught by surprise and levelled, the other swept clean after the baddies had managed to get away. But being down two bases and having all their local operations scoured clean? Yeah, that was a huge blow, and for most of the past 3-4 years of IRL play, the Shadow Druids have been a non-entity.

But the thing is? They learn. After the first run, they learned to start impersonating actual people with their shapeshifting magic, something regular druids can't normally do. (They can shapeshift into a generic creature's form, not a specific creature's form.) After the second run, they've learned they need to operate by the rules of the city if they want to conquer the city--hide in shadows, never be seen, leave no paper trail, hunt targets that can't fight back or that won't be missed, strike with overwhelming force against targets that might cry out, etc.

So I framed a new conflict (in Dungeon World terms, I put together a new "Front") that fits with this idea: the Shadow Druids have started recruiting outside of just druids, something they've never done before. The Captain has thus been investigating, using a mix of his intelligence, strategic thinking, and spirit-powers to track down this "Dark Hunter" the Shadow Druids have recruited to their cause. He's slowly piecing together the Dark Hunter's diabolical plan, and really doesn't like what he's seeing--at present, it looks like she is gearing up for eventual war, using unwitting Nomad Tribesmen as footsoldiers led by Shadow Druid commanders, and intending to soften up the city for possible invasion.

I didn't need to force anything. I provided scenes that the player could interact with, and he sought out knowledge in ways befitting the character's personality, skills, and powers. As he does, he uncovers the danger that lies in wait. If he achieves highest success, he may nip this problem in the bud. If he struggles, it could grow into a serious problem. If he stumbles badly....it could be war. Many possible outcomes, all of which depend on the specific path he and I chart out together. Certainly, if the Captain does nothing, Al-Rakkah will suffer a cruel fate. But it is both the trial and the triumph of the adventurer to see that a cruel fate befalls only those who deserve it.

Yea, I'd just tell such players to stay home and write their novel.
But that's exactly what is going on above. There is a bad situation. If nothing changes, it will get worse. Fortunately, the players are sources of change. Unfortunately, that change may not always be good--but fortunately, whatever change results, we'll have fun discovering what it will be.

We play to find out what happens. All of us. That doesn't mean I don't know what the world is, nor that I have no preparation done. Far from it. I have a timeline, and lore, and multiple factions all pursuing their devious ends, and plots the players don't know are playing out right under their noses. But it does mean that I, personally, do not know exactly what the conclusion will be until it happens. Because the players are the ones making that happen, not me.
 

bloodtide

Legend
I still don't understand what the difference is. You are still making whatever you want happen. You're just giving longer explanations for why the thing you want to happen was always going to happen.
Right, this is my way. I'm looking for some other way to tell them to do it.
You frame a new situation that includes that villain again, assuming it makes sense that they can. (E.g., if the players personally decapitated a particular villain and then ritually burned their corpse so nothing short of true resurrection could bring them back, they're probably not coming back.)
Now see when you say "frame" all I'm thinking is "force", and that is what I do in my game. I want X to happen, and it does. You "frame" something and it happens. The only difference is the mtea game where you overly tell the players good nice things constantly. And I don't do anything close to that.
This gave me the opportunity to bring back in a villainous organization that had, previously, been pretty thoroughly slapped down not once but twice by the PCs: the Shadow Druids, a secretive organization of death-obsessed druids who want to turn the PCs' arid homeland into a death-filled swamp so they can be all-powerful within its bounds and "live" forever outside the cycle of life and death.
Now the story part is just fine....I love such detailed stories. But I have a question: this is still based off the players choice. Because the player picked 'ghost power' only then did you feel ok with bringing druids back. So you can say "you did not do it, the player did" . So would you have a foe come back just because you wanted to, with no actions at all by the player?


I didn't need to force anything. I provided scenes that the player could interact with, and he sought out knowledge in ways befitting the character's personality, skills, and powers. As he does, he uncovers the danger that lies in wait. If he achieves highest success, he may nip this problem in the bud. If he struggles, it could grow into a serious problem. If he stumbles badly....it could be war. Many possible outcomes, all of which depend on the specific path he and I chart out together. Certainly, if the Captain does nothing, Al-Rakkah will suffer a cruel fate. But it is both the trial and the triumph of the adventurer to see that a cruel fate befalls only those who deserve it.
Ok, so what about the vague part? See that is where I could use some detail.

Ok, you set a scene and the player does some random stuff....and then you just skip to the game moves amazingly forward. Ok, but what about that skipped part?


We play to find out what happens. All of us. That doesn't mean I don't know what the world is, nor that I have no preparation done. Far from it. I have a timeline, and lore, and multiple factions all pursuing their devious ends, and plots the players don't know are playing out right under their noses. But it does mean that I, personally, do not know exactly what the conclusion will be until it happens. Because the players are the ones making that happen, not me.
So is the big difference, I know the timeline, and lore, and multiple factions all pursuing their devious ends, and plots the players don't know. But I have a set Future History in mind that will happen if the PCs do nothing. And more so, for me, the players would have to make huge intelligent targeted actions to change things.
 

S'mon

Legend
Now see when you say "frame" all I'm thinking is "force", and that is what I do in my game. I want X to happen, and it does. You "frame" something and it happens.

Framing determines the start conditions - you "frame a scene". Framing doesn't determine outcome of the scene. Force - Railroading - determines outcome. Framing a scene while leaving its resolution open is generally seen as better than forcing the outcome of the scene, eg "The Villain Will Get Away" is seen as worse than "Somehow, Palpatine Returned".
 


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