GM Tips #22: Do the Unexpected

Copyright Lucas Graciano

13 Nov GM Tips #22: Do the Unexpected

I’ve been running an epic fantasy campaign with one of my mates via Virtual Tabletop for about a year now, and it has reached truly crazy-epic proportions. The game has become insanely fun. And one of the most fun things about it is that I have no idea what each session is going to bring.

It sounds weird, I know, but I do absolutely no prepwork before starting each game.

Well that’s not totally true… I have done a lot of prepwork on the world, its history, the character’s background, and the countless plots that are circling around the character. But I make absolutely no assumptions about what he’s going to do each session, or where it’s going to take us.

It helps that I can think fast on the fly.

Ordinarily I would say that doing no prepwork is a terrible idea. It leaves you flummoxed, unsure of what’s happening where, how the plots coalesce, and so on. And I would be right.

However, in this case, it’s the ultimate sandbox. I know precisely what is happening around the character. But I make no attempts to bring a plotline to him. I have no need, he literally jumps on a dragon and flies off to do whatever crazy idea has come into his mind. And yes… it is a dragon… and no, I don’t normally run games that have people riding dragons… but hey, sometimes boundaries are pushed!

This is not something I would recommend for first-time gamers, at all. The only reason I can pull it off is because both of us are very experienced at making cool stories, and because the character has gotten to a point where there are just so many plotlines around him, he can just go in whatever direction he wants to find trouble… there are just endless plots around every corner!

There is one thing I’ve been doing which has been very successful.

It’s simply thinking this: What thing could happen that would be totally unexpected? 

I aim to have something unexpected happen pretty much every game.

Related:  GM Lessons #3: The Importance of Free Will

It could simply be that the enemy is cleverer than they appear. It could be that a bad guy is really a good guy. It could be that someone the PC wants to kill actually holds a powerful secret that will prevent the PC from killing him. It could be that someone disappears, or that a war starts, or that a powerful enemy comes to him for aid… literally, it could be anything.

It’s a pretty useful tool.

It can be overdone.

But if done just right, it continues to add layers and layers of surprise, suspense and interest. Because literally anything could happen.

Oh… one other thing is to just ask What would happen? or What would be cool to happen? 

But I also roll for it. I like to throw some chance in there. Just roll a die – high is good, low is bad. Rolling a couple of Natural 10s in a row can make something unlikely suddenly seem feasible… after all, you did just roll two 10s!

Food for thought!


Infected is now being delivered to the UK and US backers!

If you missed out, don’t worry, there’ll be a chance soon to get your own copies.

Also check out this interview I did at Aethercon V. Awesome fun!

By the way this beautiful art is Copyright of Lucas Graciano, and is not owned by us. Check out his incredible website here.

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