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What's your disaster recovery plan?


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Usually all adventures play out exactly the way we GMs envisioned them, all characters behave exactly like they are supposed to and the dice do their job exactly as we expect them to, right?


For me, the beauty of role-playing is in the things that surprise me. Things that are funny, clever or even just extremely unusual. These are also usually the things that are most memorable. Slashing yourself through a dungeon of an almost infinite amount of foes is just boring and replaceable. However, you'll always remember that one time the group accidentally stumbled upon an disgruntled troll, because the rogue was "100% sure" he knew the way and rolled a 1, followed by the startled troll rolling a 20 and then proceeding to do his maximum damage that immediately "fubar"ed the elf who of course messed up his save throw. That will be remembered for ages.

Still, ever now and then it comes to pass that these kinda situations develop into something potentially game-breaking (very important npcs dying, the group finding plot holes etc...). By now my players support me if it comes to that and in a they sometimes refrain from doing something, as they recognized that it would mess up my plot too much. I appreciate that, but I often feel like I failed them on that part, because I usually come up with a "clean" solution to the problem at hand a little bit later and still want to give them a strong sandbox-feeling.

By now, my strategy is usually to stop the game, take a ten minute break and think about the possible "solutions" for these potentially critical game-breakers.

So, how do you deal with potentially game-breaking situations in the heat of the moment?
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CL Byte Sprite
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Wizard of Adventure
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Generally: I'll run with the change and improvise results. That is part of the fun of being the GM; the players can surprise you, too!

VINpcs killed: IMO, the only important characters are the PCs and those NPCs they deem important. If a PC is in danger, I usually let the player know, so they can decide (often both is implicit). If the danger is accepted and something bad happens, so be it! I am all willing to help undo the damage done and like to support ideas to find help or rescue a character. Concerning NPCs deemed important by the players: this is all about motivation and sure they get the same chances to rescue them. All other NPCs are free game. Of course, there may be consequences, and exploring those consequences is fun all by itself!

Plot holes: I don't prepare plots normally. Just characters and situations with an idea of what will happen if the PCs do nothing. If the PCs do something, I try to follow along. I also listen to them and grab cool ideas they provide and drop my original or spontaneous ideas in favor of theirs. That way they unconsciously co-define the upcoming "plot" and then flatten it again to an evolving story. In that way, preparing less is more, IMO. If you don't have a full plot prepared you cannot be tempted to inflict something constructed on the players and their characters.

EDIT: OK, the problem of all this is that you need players who participate and like to shape the world. Passive consumption of prepared encounters is contra-productive. Luckily, most players I played with like to take action as soon as they get the fact that they are allowed to do how they like.
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Yeah, I also learned that the more detailed I prepare the more stuff I'll have to drop eventually. This can be nice, because that means I have to prepare less and can let the players co-define the plot by their actions and ideas, once a certain seed has been planted. I already had it a couple of times, that one of the players goes like "holy...wait a minute ... I am pretty sure once we do this, that crazy clever event will happen, because our GM is a clever bastard himself!". I am definitely not, but I'll be damned if I am not stealing that idea on the spot, making everyone believe I am indeed quite clever and therefor coming up with even more clever ideas that I can then "steal" from them again :LOL:.


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What I normally use are the foundations of what I designed as a springboard for improvisation. I'm able to generate far more ideas while playing and hearing the characters than when designing. So I do a lot of adjustments on the fly, even asking sometimes for 5 minutes to sort things out, or using the time they start talking among themselves to think a little more. Bathroom breaks and food runs are also great ways to go through ideas. It wasn't always like this, but this is how run games nowdays.

Like I said, it's about the foundations, so what are the foundations? Everything that gets defined previously, as recurring characters, main story arcs, planned scenes and possible outcomes, player stories and posible future developments for them, or a blast from the past from those player stories.


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So many ways for things to go wrong! As you all mentioned above, there seem to be two major types: Plot Oops and Death Oops. The Plot Oops is largely what I'm here to get better at! I tend to have one or two overarching Major Plot Points (i.e. the narrative would not be the same if they don't come to pass) and Reveal Points (i.e. the moments I hope give a little narrative thrill to the players as they accomplish things and uncover them). I'm sure as I go through the workshop I will have a more developed philosophy and better names/categories for these, but this is where I am right now!

So far, I've had a few Plot Oopses related to Reveal Points... things like major clues going unnoticed, or me accidentally saying more than I intended to about an ongoing mystery, or simply not filling a minor plot hole (in all cases, drinks may have been had). As way of example, in one case it was:
PCs: "wait... why did you [NPC] believe what was written in this letter you speak of, when we know that forgeries have been a major problem here?"
NPC: "Well, okay... (me thinking for a second, disguised as character reluctance)... it was written in Celestial."
NPC: "...yep!"

So now my unlikely NPC speaks Celestial simply because it's the first thing that came to mind in a weird moment due to my poor plot smoothing. And instead of thinking it was a ridiculous improvisation, my players now think it's a shocking reveal of an interesting trait. After the session, I had enough thinking time to decide this NPC can now supplant a different NPC I had planned to introduce later for Religion related items/questions. So in short, I deal with Plot Oopses by trusting my gut in the moment and cleaning up the loose ends afterwards.. even if I'm feeling mildly panicked for the rest of the session, my players don't even notice--oddly enough these are the sessions they say they like the most!

When it comes to Death Oopses, these can be trickier. I've said goodbye to NPCs I've thought were Very Important simply because there would have been no way to rescue them without denying player agency. Whatever was Important about the NPC can usually be accomplished in some other way, and that's for me to think about post-session. I recently had a reverse-Death Oops: an NPC who was meant to die got saved. I simply had to reward a 27 Medicine check (in 5e, where a 27 skill check is nothing to sneeze at)! When a player chooses to use their action to tend to a disposable NPC with a skill they have maxed, I want them to have that moment, even if it means a quick rewrite! I knew I would have to rewrite some plot points that hinged on her dying, so I bought time by keeping her barely conscious but stable for the rest of the session. The party filled this time solving the mystery around her assailant and formulating a plan for how to proceed. Perfect. After the session I was able to scramble to change what needed to change, and I had the luxury of hearing what the party had theorized and what their next priorities were. So, killing time is another strategy!

Finally, the worst kind of Death Oops, the unwanted PC death. I'm pretty much never going to let a PC go without extremely fair warning. I attacked the party with a Chasme (4 lvl 5PCs against 1 CR6 monster, not too tough). And of course I PROMPTLY rolled a critical hit on the party tank/healer. I roll in the open, because I am a glutton for this kind of thing apparently (rolling in the open, a topic for another thread!), so there was no way to fudge the crit. The Chasme has a nasty ability to lower Max HP with necrotic damage. So--are you kidding me--of course it depleted all 68 HP in one hit, and not only was he at 0 HP, he was at 0 MAX HP. UnHEALable. Deleted. In a truly inspired moment, party Warlock drew on a complex and clever use case for a spell combined with a magic item to deal necrotic damage to the Chasme and siphon that damage into HP restored to the cleric. Now, rules as written, this wasn't strictly to work. It would have been fair for a DM to rule against this, with Max HP defined by the book. But it was so brilliant, and we were able to explain it rationally (the necrotic damage done to the Chasme essentially reversed the effect of the necrotic drain it did on the PC), AND the Warlock rolled incredibly well on the required check... It was one of those too-good-to-be-true scenes, I felt no angst over ruling it a success, despite the slightly iffy rules territory. Additionally, it really cemented party cohesion and also put the fear-of-DM in them! So, when it comes to PC Death Oopses, I intend to rule benevolently, but I am honestly just lucky to have great players (@JochenL is so right that they will surprise you)! Looking forward to seeing what others do in this case!