The Sticky GM – What If… (part 7)

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This is part 7 in a series:

There will always be a moment when the characters go in a completely unplanned for tangent. Most of the time the pinpoint process I have been describing will allow you to keep putting events and encounters in the characters path. They should never know that tonight’s adventures was not what you planned. But even the best laid plans rarely survive the first contact with player characters.

Remember you can download the Sticky GM as a series of simple cheat sheets when you subscribe by email.

This sticky note method has a secret weapon. Actually it has two secret weapons but they work really well together.

I want you to look at this really basic d6 table

1No, and…
2No
3no, because…
4Yes, but…
5Yes
6Yes, and…

As you create every single sticky note, be it encounters, plots, NPCs or whatever, you roll a d6 and jot down the result above.

When a player tells you their character is about to go and do that thing that will derail everything you had planned, the first question they ask you, like ‘Can I open the box?’, you use the answer on the current sticky note (the one that is guiding the current situation), as your answer.

Four of the six possible answers need a bit of explanation.

No, but…

This answer generally flips the question back at the character in a really bad way. It is the worst possible answer. I am going to use the ‘Can I open the box?’ question and suggest soemthing like ‘No, but… you hear something crack and a small tinkling sound inside.” oops! Or how about, ‘No, but… you think the box has started to tick.’

This answer throws the ball, figuratively, back into the characters court. It is not often GMs are encouraged to say No to a player. This is one of the exceptions. The answer is just an improvisation prompt and should provoke an additional action from the player character and that action in itself should give you more to work with and more opportunity to redirect the action to an area you are more comfortable with. It buys you time and lets you reorganise.

No

Simple and to the point. As noted above, it is not normally a good thing to say no to player questions but in this case, just think about the question, the situation and try and rationalise the No answer to help the characters or advance the story. No doesn’t have to be negative, if that makes sense.

No, because…

The difference with this one is that there is a reason why the answer is a no. Typically, one that the characters could do something about. ‘Can I open the box?’ No, because it is locked. Simple, but where is the key? Oh, it appears the Contessa as a small key on a chain around her neck. Good luck getting that key!

Yes, but…

The Yes but is not quite as good as a straight yes. There is there is another factor at work. Yes you can open the box but the hinges look really flimsy an corroded, they may break. This answer also puts things back on the player character, they have a choice to make.

Yes

Nice and simple, the answer is yes. Whatever the player asked, if you don’t have a good reason otherwise, the answer is a yes.

Yes, and…

This is the most positive response. The answer is a yes but not only that there is more. This will push you to answer the question and then provide something extra. Just because the answer is positive does not mean that the answer is good. If the character asked if they can hear guards, or sirens or ogres coming, Yes, and… could be really bad.

Time for Pictures!

Yes-no answers to questions you don’t know you are going to be asked are only so helpful. To help you out of this unplanned situation we are going to use Game Icons.

Game Icons are like Rory’s Story Cubes, but there are thousands of game icons. The website is Game-Icons.net and the last link in the footer is Random Icon. Use that link to get two icons and jot the name alongside your yes-no answer. Here is an example, from a note you have seen before.

So right now, you don’t have to know what that means. The more obscure the better in many ways. When the situation comes up that you have to improvise, that is when you use these prompts. A parachute could be a way out of a sticky situation, figuratively, it could be a real parachute, if that works in your situation. Double fish, that was actually a Pisces symbol and could mean someone who is likely to go in one of two directions, it could be to do with the zodiac. They exist only to give your imagination something to work with. You use some, none or all of it.

Imagine now that your player has picked up the box and they ask you what it looks like. You can tell them that it has a pair of fish as a design on the lid and the box has a very delicate engraving all over the represent scales. The player asks if they can open the box but it is locked, there is a tiny fish shaped key around the Contessa’s neck on a thin chain.

For me, in this example, the parachute didn’t work. That is not a problem. During a typical session, you may use a couple of plot notes, three or four encounter notes, five or more personality notes, and half a dozen location notes. That could be fifteen or more post-it notes, all with possible answers and imagination prompts.

These are techniques from the world of solo role-playing, but in this instance they provide genuine support in a regular game. You don’t need to use them. If you know what is in the box, or what you want to be in the box, then that is great. Chances are you have already made a sticky note to cover the box. If you come up short, that is when you can try and use the prompts. They can fill in the cracks in the pavement.

There is one other thing that these do by being on every sticky note. If you start rolling dice every time the characters ask you something it soon becomes obvious that they have gone off the page and you are making stuff up as they play. In contrast having pre-rolled the answers to any possible questions, it will appear that you are fully in control and still working off your campaign notes. It may seem a small thing, but the the players it makes a big difference. If they think they are still on plot, small details may be important. If they realise they are into freestyle improve and you are making it up as you go along, none of it is likely to have any importance. That may or may not be true but it can create that impression, and your players will pick up on it.

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