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As a beginning DM, I still have to find my way in telling parts of the plot.

Twice, I've said things about the plot that I later regretted - once because it wouldn't make sense for the PCs to know this (information about the world), once because I realized the NPC that gave them that information would not have never said this in the encounter. The first time, it wasn't a big deal - the PCs now know that there are strange tunnels under a castle, even though nobody else in the world is supposed to know it. The second time though, it was quite valuable plot information.

Do you have any tips for preventing this happening on the one hand, and any tips for "fixing" this after the fact? Do I just tell them to forget that? Do I tell them that the NPC was lying potentially causing them to doubt every NPC?

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There is one piece of information that may help, but be careful never to tell your players: the world is flexible.

Just because you've got something written in your notes does not mean it is true. You thought that this NPC was not the sort of person to give out this information, but it seems you were mistaken. Is he perhaps a drunk or a fantasist (so the information is unreliable, and you may have to rewrite the castle plans)? Is he naturally garrulous, so his bosses have had to spread the belief that he is a drunk or a fantasist (the plans remain as they were, but NPC behaviour changes)? The fact that the characters now have information you did not intend them to have will alter the adventure (less time discovering clues, perhaps more time sorting the true from the untrue). It will not, as you seem to suppose, spoil it.

The purpose of an adventure is not "the characters start here, move through this and that, and win the final confrontation"; it is for you and the players to have fun. If you can spin a new and enjoyable adventure from the present situation, you don't need all the notes you prepared. If you can re-align the adventure so that it stays on course despite this change, that's equally good; just be prepared to re-realign it when the players come up with something you hadn't thought of.

But don't let the players know you are making it up as you go along.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "There are no mistakes, only happy little accidents." People lie, make mistakes, etc. So there are countless reasons why they might give out wrong information. Perhaps there really are tunnels under the castle, but the entrance they heard about has collapsed long ago. If you do it well, there's absolutely no difference between a "fix" and a "red herring"! \$\endgroup\$ – Dungarth Apr 16 '17 at 18:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your response. I've come back now because I wanted to tell you that you changed the way I look at the NPCs - they are now less predefined and I really feel it aids in how my games flow. \$\endgroup\$ – Joren Vaes May 12 '17 at 11:23
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Fixes are already plentiful answered. So I'm focusing on preventing.

To prevent errors like that you shouldn't write out plot stuff. Have only small terms/sentences to guide you and your players through your story. Everything else just improvise.

If you improvise you will start being an npc instead of telling your story through that npc. This way you will learn how different npcs live in your world. It will be hard at the start, but the more you do it the more natural it becomes.

While improvising you also can determine the pace of the story. See your story as different pieces that can be assembled together in anyway you want. You don't even have to piece them together your players can do that also if you give them the pieces.

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I used to do this all the time, and still struggle occasionally. One of the biggest mistakes I made was having an NPC sheet with the fact they were a double-agent written on it. Of course, when I described the NPC to the players I called them a double-agent and gave the game away....doh!

The main thing I've found that helps to prevent this from happening is to pause and think. It's very easy as a GM to get caught up in the game and forget that thinking time is OK. Before your NPC speaks, stop and consider what they will say. Double check that it makes sense, and that that particular NPC would say those things in that particular situation. This has helped me immeasurably. I used to really worry about player down-time, but have found that taking a breath or three occasionally really helps to give me time to get things straight in my head before I speak.

Regarding fixing the situation you currently have, I've found over and over again that being honest with the players is the quickest, easiest and most effective approach. Tell them you made a mistake, and if possible ask them to separate out character and player knowledge so they don't meta-game. In the case of the tunnels, the players know this but the characters don't, that kind of thing. How effective this is may vary, as I know some players find it very difficult not to metagame in this way.

Another thing you can do is change the world to invalidate the things you accidentally revealed. Nothing is written in stone with your story and the world so change it. If you do this though, it's only fair to warn the players that the information they have is no longer valid. You don't have to say why, or what has changed, but letting them know will prevent them from acting on information they believe is accurate and useful when it no longer is.

If you want something in-game, then the NPC might believe what they said was true and accurate, but there's no guarantee it actually is. Maybe they're wrong, maybe they're lying, maybe they've been lied to......the permutations are endless.

Above all, don't worry. This happens to us all, and will continue to crop up occasionally.

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The fact that the PCs know things does not in any way shape or form directly effect their ability to act upon their knowledge. My answer to this question explains this in more detail, but basically, just because the PCs know that there are hidden caves under the castle does not mean that they know where they are specifically under the castle, nor what's in the caves, nor anything else about the caves. Just continue with the adventure as planned, adjusting for decisions that the PCs make (as per usual).

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When I start to play as DM I usually one set of notes with information player information (descriptions, NPCs, etc) and another set of notes with secret information. This keeps me from telling my players what happened behind the curtains by physically separating the information. I keep the secret notes in another folder and only reference it when I need to know something in the history.

If you do reveal secret information by accident it is easy to fix. The NPC could be guessing, or only partially right, or inexact (the entrance is in other place, that entrance is collapsed long time ago, or its guarded by high level opponent), could not have known about a trap, etc.

Alternatively you can work it in to the plot by asking yourself, why did this NPC knows something that nobody could know? Are they a secret agent? Maybe a cultist? Probably the PCs are going nuts wondering why this npc knew. This is more work for you and you have to improvise, but these twists are the ones that makes the best stories.

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The first and most simple solution would be to talk to your players and tell them that you messed up and they weren't supposed to have that kind of information. Tell them what the NPC should have said instead and make sure they don't metagame that info.

Second, the npc would be lying. If you don't want your players to doubt your npcs from now on, put another npc in the path of the players that drops a hint that what they were told might not be truth because the other npc is under the influence of some spell that controls him, alters his memory or he just believed that what he was saying was truth when he is in fact wrong because there is a scroll somewhere that proves so. You said that you don't want them to have this information yet so the scroll should only tell the bare minimum to fix the info you gave them, the scroll might be too old/torned/etc so they can't know the full story.

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One good rule of thumb is this: As in real life, all of your NPCs should be unreliable and provide details as far as they believe them to be real (or intentionally lie/stretch the truth/gossip/rumormonger/etc), not necessarily as they actually are.

Another good rule of thumb is this: Anything the characters haven't experienced firsthand can be changed at any time. Almost anything the characters have experienced firsthand can also change.

That castle the NPC blabbed about might not be the right castle (make up another castle that has the "interesting" detail). That goofy town where everyone is overly and unrealistically helpful could be raided (with most of the inhabitants killed or enslaved) or burned down or flooded or.... etc. Or all of those helpful people could accidentally give wrong information or give away items that appear miraculous but are actually worthless/terrible/cursed/broken/etc.

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