I'm a newish DM playing a fantasy RPG similar do D&D but a lot simpler, either way, it won't matter that much.

I'm not very good at improvising yet and if i do it too much it may become a mess thas is why i prepare a session usually thinking of every possibility of actions the players may do and i try to make a route out of it.

In the campaign there is a "imployer" NPC that tells them to find mystical artifacts for the greater good I already thought of what they should do in the next sessions, but its mostly "NPC says to do that, NPC says to go to a dungeon and lick something from there".

The thing is, i feel like the adventure is too linear and usually they just do whatever the NPC asks them to do, i may not have given enough space or opportunities of choices, but i want to encourage the players to play outside the box and influence the world with their own actions, what should i do?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I read a lot about your concerns above but I can't tell anything about your players. Have they expressed any concerns? Are you detecting any unhappiness from them about following NPCs' instructions on where to go and what to do? If so, you can edit the question to describe their concerns or signs of unhappiness (or the lack of such things), which will result in you getting better, more practically-useful answers. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 7 '17 at 5:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ In fairness, some players are perfectly happy with plotlines like that. I mean...that's how most video games work, after all. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 7 '17 at 16:59

One particularly powerful way of helping to avoid railroading is to prepare situations not plot lines.

There is a good article about this here Don't Prep Plots, but to summarise a plot line is an expected series of events and outcomes that the game will go through and a situation is a group of NPCs, encounter sites and events that have their reasons, timings, triggers, agendas, desires etc.

A plot line is vulnerable to the player's creativity and choices and can often be described as a railroad. If they leave the plot line then at a significant amount of the planning can go out the window and the DM is left with off-the-cuff decision making with all the potential problems that can cause.

However a situation is far less vulnerable to this, far more flexible. The DM will have notes or ideas about the motivations of the main NPCs, a list of potential events and encounters and with all sorts of things all at least sketched out, with greater detail for the key ones. The players can move through the situation as they will and the DM can much more easily adapt and change the environment to respond. It also lets you use the DM's best friends - the players - who will often come up with a really good idea you haven't and the DM can quietly steal it, adapt the situation to use it. The story is improved and the players can all congratulate themselves on how clever they were.

It seems like it would be more work, but after you get used to it it actually is less as you can rely on in-game inspiration and improvisation as you already have a framework in place.

Finally I have found it much more satisfying to work this way, less stressful and the emphasis of your creativity is on the story and fun rather than how do you keep the players on track. Again please read the article on this.

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In my mind i already started planning where they were headed and what they should do, but i feel that they wont have enough space to do what they want, during our sessions I imagined other routes that they could have followed but they do exactly what everyone tells them to do.

This is where you might be going wrong. It is utterly natural that you plan paths, anyone who has ever run a game has been down that road. It is not a good road. It will lead you no where good. In my not so humble opinion role playing is about making a shared story, not the GM's story.

MERP (ICE one) had adventure modules which would just describe places of interest, NPCs, and various factions. There would be a dozen or so paragraphs at the end each detailing a potential adventure hook. This is a very nice approach indeed. It provides the GM with lots of background and reasons for things being they way they are but does not force players to interact with those in any prescribed path. The players can chose what to do, how they do it, and in which order. Doing things this way also is a lot less work than planning every possible options -- the players will always pick the one that you never thought of in any case!

This approach allows the GM to have hundreds, if not thousands, of potential hooks they can weave within PC's backgrounds, as rumours or stories within the world, and as flavours. If anyone in the valley refers to those three snow covered peaks as the Guardians, what might be hidden there?

The GM's NPC is another easy mistake to make. We all love Gandalf and he is the best example of the GM's NPC: all powerful, full of good advise, and a shinning beacon in the deepest night! It works in a book. It does not work in a game. Let the players be the only ones making decisions as to how to do their quest.

Clearly, this is daunting for new players: the agony of choice! Here the GM can nudge things using the PCs' backgrounds as a starting point. They need to go to the tomb of Fred which happens to be close by the village of Ook where PC 1 has a brother who's married to a smith. Not only is there a main plot but a potentially nice side quest involving the in-laws.

Having a conversation as to what kind of game the players want is a good idea. What do they want out of the game? What sort of story do they want to be part of? The same page tool might help here to set expectations.

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Build a world not a campaign, this helps in a number of areas but the first thing it does is to get the story off rails. You don't need any great depth to the world but you do need a rough idea of what is going on throughout the land, parties are not then compelled to follow any particular line but can go and get into trouble anywhere they like.

Before you start any new game you may get some use out of considering whether you want to be running a type one or type two game. Type one games are run by the players and tend to be rambling affairs in which nothing much happens as far as a coherent storyline goes. Type two games are driven by the GM by one of three mechanisms A. making any deviation more expensive than it's worth (by killing characters with impossible challenges) B. the "right" path pays (literally the money is only there if you follow the GM's lead hooks) C. GMPC interference usually in the form of patronage.

Just a note towards Sardathrion's answer, GM's NPC can work, it just doesn't if you put them on an equal social footing with the party, if the GM's NPC is in fact the party's employer the dynamic is different and the relationship can work quite well. I've been on both ends of this and it worked okay four times out of five.

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There are different good ways to play, not only one.

You can run a linear campaign, or something else. There is no objectively better solution. As you described your game it seems you are going with a linear campaign and a DMPC guide, which has some advantages:

  • The players won't get lost: they always have something to do.

  • It is more reassuring for you: you have a path planned and it is unlikely that the PCs venture out of it.

It also has disadvantages:

  • You are more likely not to make choices count because you want to stick to your planned plot.

  • If the PCs see through the linearity they may stop taking initiatives and just listen to the story you imagined. It can still be a fun game, but for many people that's not what is expected from a RPG.

What you are describing seems to indicate your players may be of the "go with the flow" kind: they don't really need to have an influence on the story and just want to be part of it. That's cool!

Just to be sure you are satisfying everyone I would recommend you to take note of everything that looks like a choice a PC could have made.

Don't count things that you expected them to do: count those that are different from what you expected.

  1. Did they choose to spare the life of the orcs after vanquishing them?
  2. Did they break the door instead of lockpicking it?
  3. And so on ...

Then try to place consequences of these decisions in your future sessions. It doesn't have to be a big thing: maybe the orcs will help them in a future fight, giving them an opportunity to run away; maybe they will encounter in a tavern some guy saying he doesn't have time to speak with them because he has to repair his door that some vandal broke...

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