DM with trouble with balancing player freedom and the written plot

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I've been DMing encounters and have a problem trying to improvise with player actions while staying within the confines of what the future plot will entail. For example:

- A player makes a great Arcana hack in attempting to determine whether the Tower is hollow, what its nature is, etc. But, I don't know for sure.

- A player asks Vladistone to cease his attack, and says that the party will try to reunite him with his wife. But, I don't know why exactly he's unable to do this, and whether him relenting (and working with the party) will nullify later encounters.

One piece of the problem is that I'm planning trying to play (rather than run), and thus try to read only the chapter for the section I'm GMing. Perhaps the solution is to just commit and read the whole adventure.

Reading the whole adventure would definately help you out. Just skim through the block text of background and cover up the Encounter info.

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

I've been DMing encounters and have a problem trying to improvise with player actions while staying within the confines of what the future plot will entail. For example:

- A player makes a great Arcana hack in attempting to determine whether the Tower is hollow, what its nature is, etc. But, I don't know for sure.

- A player asks Vladistone to cease his attack, and says that the party will try to reunite him with his wife. But, I don't know why exactly he's unable to do this, and whether him relenting (and working with the party) will nullify later encounters.

One piece of the problem is that I'm planning trying to play (rather than run), and thus try to read only the chapter for the section I'm GMing. Perhaps the solution is to just commit and read the whole adventure.



Great question DevP!  One thing to remember as a DM is that a good roll of the dice doesn't alway yield the answere the players want.

For the Arcane check, if you don't know and the adventure doesn't say (that you have read so far), you can try something like:  "You attempt to scry the magics of the Ghost Tower, however some force shields even your best attempts to discern what might lie inside, or even what magics brought it here!  They must be powerful indeed..."

[Sblock=For Vladistone:]  Vladistone is the main combatant for the encounter.  Its nearly a necessity to have this fight, and unless you have a great plan for a challanging encounter that plays well with the flavor of desperation and revenge, do what you can to keep the players on track.
The group I ran did something similar.  The Druid was insistant they would do something to reunite him with his wife.  Salazar demanded instant action.  When the player realized it would take more time, and perhaps be beyond their power, Salazar calls them on their ineptitude:
"So you seek to betray me?  To play me as a fool?  If this is not the priest of Moradin's doing then it is yours!  So be it!  Ending the priests life broke the barrier, ending yours will free my dear Oldivia!"

Basically if an encounter calls for certain thing to happen, make them happen, but in a way that doesn't feel forced and as a result of the characters choices.  Of course if you can read ahead a bit you can plan for a couple of options, but D&D Encounters isn't supposed to be a free form D&D session.  Players should expect a bit of a script!  Work with it!

And please, tell us how you work things out in comming sessions!
I have similar problems. Players ask for details that I simply don't have. I'm honest. I tell them, "the adventure doesn't make it clear." Sometimes I might try to work with them to determine why it is they might not know something, so it makes sense to us.

Some things are pretty glaring, though. The PCs are trying to find the source of the plague and it's the middle of winter so they decide to follow tracks. Not knowing much about tracking myself I can't think of why this wouldn't work, but I find myself determined not to make it that easy, so I handwave some reason why it's tricky.

I ran into similar problems with the Vladistone encounter and I had to have Splintershield tell the party that the ritual doesn't function in the way they needed it to. I don't like the way many of these encounters have only one real outcome. I wish I had more time to come up with other options.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I've been a DM for decades. The one thing I learned is to improvise. A pre-bought module is an outline of the story. It has details and a basic plan. The thing to keep in perspective is that life doesn't always follow a set plan. The same is true for the game. I haven't tried the adventure you guys are referring to but that doesn't matter.

As a DM I run the module per the story line as much as possible. I make it a point to read the adventure through. If I don't and the party does something I'm not prepared for I'll improvise. In most cases when the players try something unique or unexpected I glance at my DM screen check for a stat that would come close to what they are trying to do for a diffaculty roll. Sometimes there's nothing exactly what I'm looking for. Where it goes from there can be interesting. Sometimes you just have to make it up as you go. I purposely don't tell the players that they fail to detect a trap. I ask them to roll and what's their modifier. This adds a level of tension to the game. "Hmmm, I didn't find anything. Is that door still gonna blow my hand off if I touch it?" My players breath a sigh of relief when they find a trap. Honesty is a good policy. Too much honesty removes the mystery of the game. They don't need to know how or why in all cases. I find that this method of play negates any rules lawyers that may be playing.

A player makes a great Arcana hack in attempting to determine whether the Tower is hollow, what its nature is, etc. But, I don't know for sure.

Even with a great roll you don't have to tell them an answer. html_removed  Don't tell them what they need to roll. Have them roll, add their modifier and tell you the result. There could be an enchantment on the tower that prevents any success. You could have a NPC caster say they detect strong magic but can't determine its nature. In this case making it up adds uncertainty and keeps the mystery going.

A player asks Vladistone to cease his attack, and says that the party will try to reunite him with his wife. But, I don't know why exactly he's unable to do this, and whether him relenting (and working with the party) will nullify later encounters.

This is what I call a wild card. If you are not sure then don't allow Vladistone to quit. Maybe he's just too angry to stop. When Vladistone answers the request with a sword stroke I'm sure the player shall know he's not interested. If it were me I'd improvise a story as to why he can't find his wife. "They'll kill her if I don't play along. There is something about you guys that makes me believe you can help me free her if we move quickly enough." How he interacts with later encounters can be interesting. "The guys in the next room are always busy playing cards. They know me. Let me walk in and distract them and you can get the drop on them." Vladistone distracts the card players so the players get combat advantage and surprise them. When they are fighting the players Vladistone comes up behind and attacks. This adds flavor and ambiance to the adventure. Months from now the players may say, "Hey, remember Vlad?"

Being a new DM can be tough. As you stick with it it does get easier. Also it never hurts to ask the other players what they think. Player feedback is always welcome.
Out of the four seasons I have DMed, I have had only two main issues with the RPing.  Last season, with some successful insite checks, the group as a whole completely distrusted Benwick from a rather early point in the plot, this made getting them to go along with his suggestions, especially seeking the treaure underneath the castle (can't remember the name off hand) almost forced railroad.  I wish I had more time to come up with a great side story to get them to the same place while allowing the players to distrust Benwick, but I simply did not have the time to work around such a big plot divice.

This season, since the moment Vladistone appeared, the group has been willing to work with the guy, especially to help reunite him.  Vlaidstone is supposed to be played as honorable, but I had to ditch that quickly since every time the players wanted to help, he would still attack, at the front gate, killing Splintershield and attacking Faldyra.  He claimed he only wants his wife, but the players are unable to do anything about it.  It is tough sometimes.  If it were a homebrew, I would allow them to help, gaining favor with Vladistone and the Phantom Brigade to help in another fight.  Again, if I had the time to do this and adapt the module, I would have let it happen.  Fortuately, as the DM, I get to keep the module and I do have plans to adapt it for a home campaign.  Though I am sure just to spite everything the group will genuinely not want to help Vladistone, such is the dealings of a DM.

If you DM, you must read the whole adventure.  It is only fair to your group, even if it means ruining playing later on.  Being the DM in this case means taking one for the team.