305 Why Do Player Characters Wander Off?

Hey! Where are you going? Why do you want to go that way? The clues don’t even take you that way!

Being recorded Monday, August 10th at 8pm cdt.


Because there’s something neat over there that I want to see! Call it a hunch… :wink:


I feel the big disconnect here tends to be when a GM has an endpoint, and lays out the clues from there, in a way they think will lead to that end. When viewed by the players, beginning to end, that conclusion tends to be less forgone, and more “one of many options to explore”.


I’ve “wandered off” when the party is stuck in a rut where that one player wants to insist we go left when the entire party wants to go right.
I’ll just go right & see what’s down that tunnel, usually sparking the next encounter.
I’ve seen the same thing in other players.
Sooner or later we have a “leeeroooy JENKINS!” into the goblin camp as it has become clear the “discussion” is never ending unless we all do what Bill wants to do, AGAIN.


I was thinking about Sean’s comment, how if you give the players less options, they’re less likely to go in unexpected directions. Definitely. As the GM, if you hold out the shiny lure the players may bite on it, even if it’s earlier than you wanted or expected them to.

I think you, Brett, talked about how providing fewer options to explore, to keep the game on track, isn’t railroading. Again, definitely. You hope the players trust you, as the GM, to have something cool planned. You don’t present multiple options cause the thing before them makes sense within the context of the campaign and playing it is gonna be killer.

I’m running two separate Punk Apocalyptic games. Rob Schwalb wrote it. It uses Shadow of the Demon Lord mechanics. It’s visceral. The game moves at a good pace. I’m ripping off lots of Mad Max and Escape from New York references. The players love it.

So far, for both campaigns I haven’t had to produce separate missions. The hooks are sometimes presented differently, due to how previous mission have been played out, but the mission objectives are the same.

What’s important is the players have the agency to accomplish those missions however they please. And they have been drastically different! One group uses trickery, deceit and more targeted hits against the enemy while the other tends to go off flame throwers blazing. One group identifies dangerous areas and avoids it. The other explores it. One group falls for the bait and gets ambushed, the other doesn’t and through investigation locates the enemy base and ambushes them. It’s brilliant.

For me, that’s been one of the great surprises of the campaign. Three missions in and each has played out so differently.

This may eventually lead to the campaigns splitting off. A secondary threat is starting to be established in one game due to player activity while in another it hasn’t come up. That might grow in importance. It depends on what the players continue to do. We’ll see.

In the meantime, as a GM who has never done this before, playing two very different games with the same outcomes has been pretty awesome.


One thing I have found very useful in times the Players go a direction I’m not totally prepared for is a few level appropriate non-plot affecting encounters. A micro dungeon, or a small investigation side track for a village they pass on the way to the unexpected journey.
This can often get the group to the end of a session instead of having to stop early because of an unplanned turn.
Some simple little encounter say like a little girl wants the PCs to get her kitten out of the tree. Once the tree is located the kitten is a manticore, that is now aggressive towards the party believing the group has kidnapped the child. “You can’t hurt Fluffy!” Extra credit/treasure for creative roleplay!
Could be a good place to drop a plot clue out of the blue.
Yeap it rhymed. Lol


Spice it up. Have a portal from another game open into a mothership planet. or the tarasque gets turned into an elf. Reel them back in.


I’m a fan of what I call “back pocket material.”
Basically what Beholdershorde is talking about. A side quest, a mini-dungeon. Etc. And the supplies are easy, because they tend to all be encounters/ dungeons/ quests I had prepared earlier and the party didn’t bite, be it that campaign or another.