The Arias Chronicler – Letting Go
A behind-the-scenes, slice-of-life series based on the trials of a new Game Master.
As a first time DM there is a lot of learning on the job. No matter how prepared we are dice and players will push and pull the best laid plans into something entirely different. Letting the story go where my players take it is something I’m still learning to deal with.
After I had wrapped up my very first session my players were hungry for more and asked if we could play again the next day. Nervously, I agreed. I knew I didn’t have anything planned and to get it done in a day seemed like a task I wasn’t quite equipped to handle, but I was up for the challenge. I decided to let the second session be something totally different. I relaxed, tried not to over-prepare, and created something that was designed specifically for player creativity.
Below is a summarized version of my notes for that session, which even in their entirety were less than a page long.
As the party walks around town, they hear on more than one occasion the name of Valdar. The party learns of a half orc that has been challenging patrons at the local bar to a game he calls ‘Deception’. The reward for beating him being 500 gold, however if the challenger loses they must be willing to give up ‘something precious.’
Should the party go to the bar, they will see Valdar sitting at a table with three pints of a dark red bubbling liquid. If they chose to challenge him he will explain the rules. ‘Each challenger must think of three true or false statements about themselves. They will say these statements aloud to Valdar who will attempt to decipher if they are true or not. (Roll)
For everyone he guesses correctly, they must drink one pint of the Fire Ale. The alcohol has an immediate effect on the players. (Roll) At the end of the match, he takes something unseen and unfelt from the player should they lose. After the party finishes their challenge, Valdar thanks the group for a great night and heads back to the inn with his party.
This is where my notes ended for the session and yet even with so little preparation, our session went nearly four hours. I hadn’t expected my players to follow Valdar back to the inn, sneak into his room, find what he had stolen, steal some of it back from him, try and seduce the inn keeper, cause an earthquake, get very drunk, and leave the inn that night.
As a control freak it’s hard to put aside the extensive planning and just let the story unfold, but honestly I’m so thankful I did. My players’ choices opened up Valdar’s story to be much more complicated and something I now want to revisit in the future. As I’ve learned since Session 2, your players can and will surprise you time and time again. I realized that there isn’t always a benefit to having everything planned, that DnD is supposed to be a collaborative story. As the DM, it is your world, it’s your idea, but it’s the group’s adventure.