Why You Might Want a Trainwreck

If there’s one piece of wisdom universal to roleplayers, it’s that as players are added to a situation, the probability of it taking a direction, usually calamitous, for which you have not planned approaches 1. Players and utter trainwrecks go hand in hand, after all—and usually, we plan carefully and add a few extra contingencies so as to avoid them or keep them from derailing our plans too much.

And that’s true: the odds of the plot not surviving its first encounter with the players increase exponentially as the importance of the encounter going smoothly increases.

Most of the time, these trainwrecks are more trouble than they’re worth. At best, they derail or delay the plot a little, requiring detours or extra improvisation to fix the minor plotholes they create. At worst, not only do they render what was supposed to happen impossible, they also take a good chunk of the surrounding plot with it. Either way, if you’ve got perfectly good plans, they’re mostly a nuisance.

That doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of them, though. Consider the following scenario. You’ve got a decent idea of plot in the far future, but immediate plans? Not so much. The players are being more reactive than usual, or at least not quite proactive enough to give you something to hook off of. All you’ve got is one possible situation, one you’d been rather dreading because of the potential for player redirection and pure, unadulterated chaos. This one practically begs for the players to make a hash of it; it’s a trainwreck waiting to happen.

At this point, the best thing you can do may very well be to run it.

Why? Part of it is the fact that the trainwreck will be interesting, player-driven, and thus a good stall. The more time you can buy to recover the scattered shards of your inspiration, the better, and who knows? It’ll probably be fun to watch in its own right.

More importantly, the near-inevitable trainwreck might give you Ideas. After all, one of the biggest blocks to inspiration I’ve found is having too many options, and thus not enough to springboard off of. But if the trainwreck occurs, you’re going to need to figure out how to take it and lead on to the next part. That gives you a specific problem to solve, which in turn should focus your mental processes towards, well, solving the problem. It’s also likely to close off a number of options, meaning less you need to decide between and thus a reduced risk of indecision-based paralysis.

A trainwreck is practically an inevitability with most player groups anyway. Why not let it work in your favor?

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