This page probably doesn’t make a lot of sense by itself, read this story from the beginning. I’ll wait.

Dungeon Masters, Game Masters, Labyrinth Lords, we’ve all been there. The party looks like they’re veering off track so you desperately try to steer them back with an obvious sock-puppet NPC. And what do they do? Do they give you a break and take the hint? Or do they completely ignore you?

I once had a party spend an entire session (in which they were supposed to be clearing out a labyrinthine megadungeon) faffing about outside the dungeon instead. Now, being a clever Labyrinth Lord, I created a ticking clock: with every hour they delayed a magical threat to the world was getting worse. Being a young and inexperienced Labyrinth Lord, I didn’t show or tell them about it. So things were getting worse behind the scenes and the players had absolutely no idea, they though they had all the time in the world to go window shopping, buy some food, research some new spells. All the while a thaumaturgical nuclear bomb is ticking away beneath their feet. My solution? Their NPC companion in the dungeon, their loyal henchwoman, played by me, wakes up bright and early the next morning and wakes them up — “Quick, let’s go down to the dungeon! No time like the present! Isn’t it a beautiful day? I feel like exploring the dungeon…” And so on. Chivvying them along.

The players became instantly suspicious. What was wrong with the NPC? Why is she trying to lure us back into the dungeon? They were full of questions. Had she been possessed? Charmed? Replaced by a doppelgänger? They wasted another session trying to solve the mystery of why the character was behaving so oddly. I realised they were right, in my haste to get them out the door I had overdone it a little and her attitude did seem oddly out of character in retrospect, but I really was just trying to pull a lever or two to get them to pick up the pace. Instead, I accidentally misdirected them down another insane tangent. Sometimes the harder you pull, the harder they resist. They ended up kidnapping my NPC, tying her to a chair and interrogating her. At that point you have a choice: either invent a conspiracy on the fly or admit to your players you’re a terrible dungeon master. Neither is without drawbacks.

These days I do things a little differently. In the last session I ran, the party was fighting beneath a collapsing flying city, whole towers crashing to the ground around them, chunks of stone raining from the sky. Try grocery shopping in that, why don’t you?

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