Dungeons and Dragons and Improvisation

So, I run a D&D game for a couple of friends of mine about once a week (well, a bit less frequently than that, but does that really matter?). 3.5e, because I have neither the money nor the inclination to shell out for a set of 4e books right now. And, well, it’s interesting, to say the least. Both friends are pretty new to the game, so I find myself going into teaching mode an awful lot, which I actually don’t mind in the slightest. ๐Ÿ™‚ So if either of you are reading this post, don’t worry, I have nothing bad to say about you.

The fun thing about having new players is that they quite often do things that I really don’t expect. Nothing that I would call particularly bad decisions, just things that my previous group, who had been playing for a few years, would have thought to do because they had the idea that that wasn’t how you were “supposed” to play.

The thing is, there’s no “supposed” at all. But occasionally I forget that, and I start assuming everyone’s going to play the way they’re “supposed” to play – by which I mean the way I’m used to playing – and it takes new players, with no preconceptions, to shake me out of that. (So thanks massively, guys, I love you lots.) And sometimes they’ll come up with something that really stretches my abilities, as a dungeon master, to improvise.

Like last week. I want to set the scene for you. We’re sitting down, we’re a little way into what ended up being a several hours long session, and the characters (one human paladin and one half-orc druid) have just reached a network of caves infested with goblins. The half-orc sneaks ahead and finds three goblins getting drunk, as goblins do. They’re not really paying attention so she tries to sneak past them, and fails.

So she starts talking to them.

I’d kind of hoped for this, since it meant I got to play the part of a drunk goblin. I didn’t expect the conversation to go the way it did, though.

See, these goblins were allied with a tribe of orcs that had been terrorising the countryside thereabouts. The players had gone to the goblins’ caves in the hopes of finding out where the orcs might be hiding. What I had expected them to do was to fight (or sneak, or trick) their way through the goblins until they can kill the goblin chief and steal his map. What the player did was to claim to have been sent by the orcs as a messenger (remember, this player is playing a half-orc) and would the goblins please come to the orc camp right now, please, the chief wants to speak to your chief.

So, I ask the player to roll a bluff check.

Player rolls. Player succeeds.

The conversation went on, several more bluff checks were called for, and miraculously, the half-orc with no skill in Bluff and a Charisma penalty (translation for non-gamers: really really bad at this sort of thing) keeps succeeding, and the goblins believe every word.

So off they all go to the half-orc camp, having skipped the entire dungeon full of goblins I had planned on them fighting through, with the paladin sneaking along behind and her player panicking because she’s convinced that at any moment they’re going to get found out and all die.

(Actually, they both got a bit panicky as they reached the half-orc camp and realised how big it was. That was another thing I hadn’t expected: how attatched these two would be to their characters after three sessions. Especially as the half-orc’s player used to play Call of Cthulhu, a game in which I am given to understand your character dies all the time.)

It all turned out fine in the end, and it was actually the most fun I’ve had DMing in a long time – possibly because it stretched my improv skills so much. I had to think very quickly – how will the goblins react, what happens now that the players have done this, how long can I keep doing this terrible Michael Caine impression for. (I swear I did not intend to have the goblins sound that way, but it happened.) I should probably have expected something like this, as the half-orc’s player had already seemed quite keen on the roleplay aspect, and had, in fact, worked out his character’s backstory with me beforehand. (And that came into play later in the session, oh yes it did.) But I didn’t, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Both players seem to be really settling into the game now, panic about possible character deaths not-withstanding. And they’re planning on going back to the caves to clear out any remaining goblins. ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Great post!

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