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View Full Version : DM Help GMs: Issues with Improvising During Sessions?



brized
2019-03-31, 05:38 PM
While running a game session, what are your most frustrating issues relating to improvising or otherwise responding to unexpected things at the table? The sorts of issues that cause things like:


The play session stalls out
You get worried about maintaining a good play session
People get bored
Negative after-game feedback
You wish the players would just stay on the rails


Some specific examples that might induce this may include:

Looking up rules
Generating quality minor NPCs quickly (players want to talk to an NPC you hadn't prepared)
Generating quality locations/maps quickly (players explore unprepared areas)
Dropping in an unexpected combat scene (players attack guards, crime syndicate, etc.)
Dropping in an unexpected roleplay scene (players want to interact with prepared NPCs beyond what you prepared for)
Generating handouts (players came upon a clue or quest hook you hadn't prepared for)
Reacting to fundamental changes in the adventure (players bypass one or more prepared encounters, kill a key NPC, blow up a key location, destroy/sell/throw away quest items, side with the bad guys, etc.)

This does not include responding to interpersonal conflicts at the table.

Feel free to comment with more info or standout stories, examples, etc.

Pippa the Pixie
2019-03-31, 07:49 PM
Issue One: Disruptive players. The player that is there to do nothing BUT disrupt the game and ruin it for everyone. That is their idea of fun.

Issue Two: Players that don't know the rules, and don't care to even try to know them. They ''sort of remember" something...maybe, but most of the time don't.

Issue Three: Players that want to be DMs and make home brewed rules in the middle of the game to favor their character...often using some wacky logic or what they think is a real world fact.


Most of the Issues you mention have a very easy fix: simply have content. NPCs, maps, encounters and such are easy. You can use stuff from ANY rpg for a lot of it, like maps or handouts. And even a single book for your game system will have lots of stuff in it you can use. Plus, you have the endless vault of online stuff.

For both 3.5E and 5E, there is a TON of stuff at the Wizards site(arcive for 3.5), plus you can find at least a dozen websites with lots of content And plenty of stuff is generic enough...a 3.5 map can be used in 5E, for example.

kinglinus1
2019-03-31, 08:00 PM
Players assuming something (Say that a spell is being cast when in actuality it is a different spell). Them making plans based on hat assumption, which you can't stop because you can't tell them whats actually going on, Then them failing to do what they where trying to do and then getting annoyed with you because it seems like you are breaking the rules.

Mike Miller
2019-03-31, 08:26 PM
This doesn't happen frequently, but having a rules dispute midsession is pretty aggravating. What makes it really upsetting, is when one or more players won't let it go even after I make a ruling.

I only remember it happening a couple times, but it definitely left a sour mood.

Quertus
2019-03-31, 08:45 PM
Well, I'm pretty sure I'm looking at this from a completely different perspective, but what have I got? Hmmm...

Probably my biggest frustration is that my improv content is not as "solid" as my prepared content - I may not remember it as long. So I ask the players what we're doing next session, and plan out the pertinent details of that. (The broad strokes already exist, but things that the players care about, like names, may not. Plus, I'll make a few extra NPCs that aren't related to the broad strokes, to give the players a feel for the culture, and NPCs to interact with)

I don't want players to "stay in the rails" - at least in my homebrew.

I like people looking up rules.

Any game descended from sharks should go extinct, IMO.

I don't "generate" quality NPCs quickly. I may *select* them quickly. But I'm just as likely to high-level a low-quality NPC quickly. "We talk to the guard." "He talks about his interest in horticulture."

Players attacking the guards breaks the 4th wall. I call my contractor to fix the wall. PCs attacking the guards/whatever unexpectedly when said guards don't have combat stats? ... Depends on the system & the thing being attacked, but either pull something from memory / the archives, or look something up.

If the PCs kill a "key" NPC, or side with the antagonist? Kudos! One of my campaigns, I wrote sometime with the expectation that they'd be the BBEG; instead, the party decided he was the Quest Giver, and I rolled with it. Because the NPCs were characters first, not prescripted rails.

geppetto
2019-03-31, 11:04 PM
1. players not being able to get on the same page with each other. I improv a lot. thats fine. But I dont want to herd 6 different cats all determined to go in different directions.

2. That one player obsessed with building stuff because they think they're a genius craftsmen IRL. Like I dont care if you the player could build a flamethrower with the contents of the local general store or a napalm bomb. Your Character does not know the chemistry involved for that. And likely neither does anyone else in the world yet. So just drop it. And no you cannot build a hummer in middle earth just because technically you could machine the parts and again you the player know how to build an internal combustion engine (damn you Google).

Cygnia
2019-04-01, 08:41 AM
Players who overpromise and excrementally underdeliver their abilities to RP certain character concepts.

Players who, when asked "What do you do?", do ABSOLUTELY MOTHER[MEEP]ING NOTHING.

Players, when politely asked afterwards "Is anything wrong? Are you having fun? Anything I should know or change?", chirp happily "I'm fine!".

And continue to do NOTHING.

King of Nowhere
2019-04-02, 07:26 AM
My problems with improvising are a bit different from most people's. I started by exploring a few concepts, and i eventually ended up in a world where there are more adventurers than threats.
So at low level my main issue was "how can i justify giving quest hooks to my players when i know there are people who are much stronger than them, are currently idle, and could solve the thing in ten minutes?"

Now that my lplayers are high level and severely buffed, i run the opposite problem: what meaningful encounters can i give them?
Anything from the monster manuals they curbstomp effortlessly (it should cost them resources, but i can't really justify them meeting 5 tarrasque in a day).
The plot is political and they routinely face high level npc, but those take time to prepare. Internet tables areno help, because my world is way above wbl. I had a table of level 11-13 foes, but even those are now cannon fodder. I have to prepare a large bunch of bosses.
And then i have to come up with reasons for engagement. How can they pinpoint an enemy party to attack, why can't the enemy send overwhelming reinforces (or what happens if they do), will the enemies engage or flee, are they prepared or surprises?

And if i'mnot prepared i'm likely to forget important stuff. I do it regardless.

Kaptin Keen
2019-04-02, 07:36 AM
I had a guy - long gone now - who would play angry birds on his ipad whenever blood wasn't actively flowing. He'd literally autopilot completely out of combat. That was frustrating.

More OT, when I improvise I often struggle to tie up all the loose ends, in terms of plot relevance. To clarify, the players act on impulse, doing something I hadn't expected, but I still want whatever happens to be tied into the plot arch. If I remember something wrong - because I'm improvising and can't just set aside 10 minutes to check up - I've sometimes found I've built plot inconsistencies ... or even killed off NPC's I forgot I needed for later.

Another very real issue is .. let's call it expansion. Say combat happens, and I improvise a map. I still want combat to be interesting, I want the battlefield to feel alive, and have actual terrain, and so on.

Ideally, a player will ask something - like, can my rogue sneak off across these roofs, or the like. That's fine, the map is evolving along with the combat, and that's perfect.

But if I, as GM, do exactly the same thing, that's less good. In the exact same situation - an NPC rogue sneaks off across the roof, ambushing the players - that's a detail that wasn't available when the combat started. Essentially, I 'cheated'.

Ken Murikumo
2019-04-02, 10:33 AM
Issue Two: Players that don't know the rules, and don't care to even try to know them. They ''sort of remember" something...maybe, but most of the time don't.

Im going to expand on this and say players who confidently THINK they know the rules (mostly for their class feature and feats) and my stupid self going, "ok, cool," only to find out it's limited times per day, has a damage cap, or something that makes it significantly weaker than they believe. I, however, have learned to never trust their word and to always look it up myself for future reference.



Players who, when asked "What do you do?", do ABSOLUTELY MOTHER[MEEP]ING NOTHING.

This happened to me once and drove me up a damned wall. The character sat in a tavern and just kept drinking. The party was looking for a way in to an underground area of the city (basically some government area). There are a number of gateways into this area, but are heavily guarded and double as guard-posts. The player in question decided to split off from the party and says, "i'll search posts 1 & 2 to see if i can find anyway in, you guys check posts 3, 4, & 5." A shoddy plan, but whatever. He misses 3 total opportunities to get in, while the party gets in with their skills. He figures they'll meet at the tavern and continue planning. Not at all what everyone else was thinking.

Mind you, this is at a table, where players are sitting next to eachother. I let him know that he's not going to meet them because everyone is already inside. "My character wouldn't know that, so he'll sit here and drink." Everyone collectively eyerolls.

I ended up introducing some DM-Ex-Machina NPC who gave him some info about how his friends are in danger. The NPC was obviously shoehorned into the setting, but i made up some reason on why she knew about him and how her "organization" was watching the party and would use them as an opportunity to infiltrate this government place. Silver lining: the players really liked the NPC and kept in touch with her. Also, all the improv. stuff about her organization helped to expand on new facets of the plot and overall made the game much better. All things considered this went very well for improvisation.



Wait, the title changed? Is this about GM issues or just improv.?

For improv. issues, my thing is i forget small details that could have been important or elaborated on. Like during a battle, "oh, crap, i forgot about IMprov-NPC-Joe, who could have been dealing small damage with a crossbow from the rooftops."

Although, i just roll with it and cant remember an instance of retconning because it was essential.

Cygnia
2019-04-02, 11:09 AM
I am an improv GM, but it helps that I'm actually studying improv (I work in dinner theatre). And I think there are certain techniques that can help in GMing scenes.

1. ESTABLISH THE PLATFORM: In your scenes, figure out the Who, the Where and the What of your side of the equation. Where is the scene taking place, who are your NPCs, what will they do if/when they interact with the PCs.

2. IF FEASIBLE, EMBRACE THE "YES, AND...": Try not to say "no" to a player if they want to do something. Let 'em deal with the consequences of their actions and inactions. Monkey's paw it. Likewise, it might take your plot into a different direction. You're expecting a bar fight -- what if the PCs instead want to hire the biggest brute there as a henchman instead?

(Of course, if your players are being absolute jerks, lay the hammer down)

3. DO NOT HAVE PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS AHEAD OF TIME: This can be difficult if you've thought only in rigid plotlines before. No plan ever survives first contact with the players. Learning to adapt and be flexible on the fly can save you headaches. Your MacGuffin doesn't need to be on one specific NPC or one set place.

Wuzza
2019-04-02, 11:39 AM
From a still fairly newb DM.


Looking up rules - get the players to confirm the rules while you come up with something on the fly

Generating quality minor NPCs quickly (players want to talk to an NPC you hadn't prepared) take a character from popular culture. Give it the opposing gender or alt. race. No-one will know.

Generating quality locations/maps quickly (players explore unprepared areas) Have a folder of random maps ready. Haven't got what you're looking for? Base the Inn on a local pub etc.

Dropping in an unexpected combat scene (players attack guards, crime syndicate, etc.) Use monster stats from the last fight. Attacking guards? Use the orc stats that you have to hand.

Dropping in an unexpected roleplay scene (players want to interact with prepared NPCs beyond what you prepared for) This one is a bit more difficult imo. I've started putting on random voices, and the nps expands from there.

Generating handouts (players came upon a clue or quest hook you hadn't prepared for) have a 3D printer behind the DM screen. :smallbiggrin:

Reacting to fundamental changes in the adventure (players bypass one or more prepared encounters, kill a key NPC, blow up a key location, destroy/sell/throw away quest items, side with the bad guys, etc.)
stall them with random encounters, combat or roleplay, until you can recover at the next session.

Also, I've found The Lazy Dungeon Master/Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, while I'd imagine most of the info can be found online, pretty helpful.

CombatBunny
2019-04-02, 01:05 PM
Players wanting to talk to every NPC they encounter and asking questions about their lives. Curious players wanting to know every shop and every inch of something you are just making on the fly.

That gets worse when you canít take note of every single thing the PCs are exploring (not to get the game stalled) and later the players trackback and remember details and things you said that begin to stack in a pile of massive inconsistency.

Jay R
2019-04-02, 02:30 PM
Players wanting to talk to every NPC they encounter and asking questions about their lives. Curious players wanting to know every shop and every inch of something you are just making on the fly.

That gets worse when you canít take note of every single thing the PCs are exploring (not to get the game stalled) and later the players trackback and remember details and things you said that begin to stack in a pile of massive inconsistency.

MY stock response is, "I don't know. Tell me what you're looking for, and I'll tell you whether you can get it."

One player kept pushing, and I said, "I'm not going to work out the entire inventory of this shop. That would take me three weeks, for essentially no value. Just tell me what you're looking for, and I'll tell you if they have it."


I've never actually done it, but if players ever keep making useless Knowledge checks, I will become tempted to come up with something like, "This area shows signs that it has semi-annual velociraptor migrations."

Knaight
2019-04-02, 02:46 PM
I'm very much an improv GM, it's the form I'm most comfortable with and so I can pretty much roll with anything. The group splits into more pieces than it has players? No problem, scene balancing across split groups is a very well practiced skill.

This has roughly two exceptions. The first and most minor is the player who just assumes that the GM has a story and they just need to find it, and will try to herd the entire group to it. There's no preplanned story there, and this tends to have a damping effect that gives me less player input to improv off of. Still, I'll take less input over no input - baby bird players without an ounce of proactivity are my bane, and while I can build rails in front of them while shoving their cart from behind I'd really rather not.

Quertus
2019-04-02, 02:53 PM
Also, I've found The Lazy Dungeon Master/Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, while I'd imagine most of the info can be found online, pretty helpful.

I'd never heard of it, so I Googled. I guess you're one of the 2,000 (2180) people who have actually watched the Youtube video? :smallamused:

... listening while I'm writing this. Sounds like he's doing a good job appealing to the whole linear/sandbox spectrum.


I've never actually done it, but if players ever keep making useless Knowledge checks, I will become tempted to come up with something like, "This area shows signs that it has semi-annual velociraptor migrations."

So, just to check: if the party Ranger asked, "Do I see any sign that 'nature' here has some unusual creatures?", would you be able to come up with a DC to notice if you had included semi-annual velociraptor migrations?

Gallowglass
2019-04-02, 03:06 PM
This happened to me once and drove me up a damned wall. The character sat in a tavern and just kept drinking. The party was looking for a way in to an underground area of the city (basically some government area). There are a number of gateways into this area, but are heavily guarded and double as guard-posts. The player in question decided to split off from the party and says, "i'll search posts 1 & 2 to see if i can find anyway in, you guys check posts 3, 4, & 5." A shoddy plan, but whatever. He misses 3 total opportunities to get in, while the party gets in with their skills. He figures they'll meet at the tavern and continue planning. Not at all what everyone else was thinking.

Mind you, this is at a table, where players are sitting next to eachother. I let him know that he's not going to meet them because everyone is already inside. "My character wouldn't know that, so he'll sit here and drink." Everyone collectively eyerolls.

I ended up introducing some DM-Ex-Machina NPC who gave him some info about how his friends are in danger. The NPC was obviously shoehorned into the setting, but i made up some reason on why she knew about him and how her "organization" was watching the party and would use them as an opportunity to infiltrate this government place. Silver lining: the players really liked the NPC and kept in touch with her. Also, all the improv. stuff about her organization helped to expand on new facets of the plot and overall made the game much better. All things considered this went very well for improvisation.



I don't know I think you handled this well. I probably would've just looked at him and said "Look, if you want to sit out the rest of the game that's fine, but I'd rather you catch up with the rest of the party. So it would reasonably occur to you upon returning to the Inn and finding no one there, that maybe they got IN at one of the other entrances and maybe you want to go check them out."

"Oh okay."

"Great, at the first one you find some disabled or dead guards and you see the tail end of the party disappearing through the gate." '

But I think introducing the NPC was as good an option or better because it gave the player what he wanted. A personal moment to shine.

You have a "wolverine" player there. One who wants to be wolverine. He wants to go off and have special solo adventures while everyone else is going the other way because he's a bad-ass solo man-child who doesn't need to play well with others.

So he ****ed up his checks to get in through his portal and the others didn't and so he was sulking by "drinking at the inn" knowing he was irritating you and slowing down the other's fun because he didn't get what he wanted. To be cooler than they were.

Bear in mind, when I was a teenager and into my early 20s I was a wolverine player. So I know what i'm talking about.

So giving him the NPC to interact with was a great way to give him his mini-adventure. "Only you can save your friends now! come I'll show you the way." and salvaged everyone's night.

Well done!

Wuzza
2019-04-02, 03:15 PM
I'd never heard of it, so I Googled. I guess you're one of the 2,000 (2180) people who have actually watched the Youtube video? :smallamused:

No, going by the reviews, I'm one of 6 people who have actually payed for the softback copies of the book. :P
(it's good toilet reading...Ö..)

Jay R
2019-04-02, 03:54 PM
So, just to check: if the party Ranger asked, "Do I see any sign that 'nature' here has some unusual creatures?", would you be able to come up with a DC to notice if you had included semi-annual velociraptor migrations?

I don't know the DC, but semi-annual velociraptor migrations come out when I fail my Patience check.

Ken Murikumo
2019-04-03, 11:31 AM
I don't know I think you handled this well.
&
Well done!

Yes... keep praising me... :smallbiggrin:

but seriously, though... do it



You have a "wolverine" player there.

Nah, if you knew him it's quite the opposite. He's the tag along who goes with the flow. The only reason he separated was he had a climb skill that allowed him to easily be on the rooftops to scout. That's pretty much what he does is scout and do ranged combat (non-magic) with every character he makes. He does have this annoying habit of playing his characters "too well" as noted above with the "my character would not have known" bit. It's like the opposite end of the spectrum with players who do the "but im just playing my character" thing with minimum-no metagaming.