Players are a bullheaded and troublesome lot that will gleefully set fire to your weeks worth of prep and ruin your engaging storyline with their unpredictable antics. They think that they're having "fun" by doing this, but DM's know that they are really depriving themselves of an epic, awe-inspiring, emotional story with rich worldbuilding and characters. So how do we stop this self-destructive impulse the players have and make them play correctly? Here are some tips compiled from years of DM'ing experience.
1. The 'Minefield' Approach
We have to find some way of making it seem like the players have a whole world to explore while surreptitiously ensuring that any misstep will result in certain death. This is the minefield approach. Surround the players with instantly deadly traps and leave a single path clear. This way, if the players want to be able to leave your house safely, they'll have to play along in character otherwise you won't let them know where the pressure-activated explosives that you've hidden around the gaming table are.
For maximum effect, prime the mines after everyone has been seated so that they won't be able to just retrace their steps.
If you're wondering where to get some mines, what I did was volunteer to be a minesweeper and pocket some of the mines that I found. Eventually I built up a significant enough collection that I was able to make an extensive minefield in my gaming den. After I told my players, there was a bit of resistance and disbelief, but in the end we had a very satisfying 14 hour session where everything went exactly to plan!
2. The 'Suicide Squad' Approach
It's been pointed out before that Suicide Squad is not only an excellent film but an excellent example of a classic RPG adventuring party. Full of unthematic characters with murderous impulses and no respect for plot. The genius writing device of strapping an explosive around the characters necks in order to get them to follow the story properly is perfect for applying to your home game. Simply strap an explosive device onto each of them and if they ever stray from the plot: KABOOM.
It can be bit of a struggle getting the explosives around the players necks in the first place, so make sure to have a session zero where you get everyone on board with the premise of the campaign. Setting expectations (of having explosives strapped around their necks) is important!
3. The 'Quantum Ogre' Approach
This is a bit of a more traditional method that has been talked about in many blog posts over the years. Basically you present the players with as many options as you desire, but whichever they choose they always encounter the same 'ogre'.
In our case whenever someone doesn't follow the plot properly you present them with a choice between taking back their action or activating the explosives you've built into their chair. The trick is that whichever they choose you activate the explosives that you've built into their chair. Let that be a lesson to the rest of the players.
4. The 'Script' Approach
You already spend upwards of three years prepping for a single campaign, so why not ensure that your vision comes to life exactly how you imagined it by writing up a script for the players to follow. Get in a full film crew, best boy, grip, cinematographer, make-up artist, the works. Don't get a director, obviously that will be your role, and don't get stunt doubles. The players will do all their own stunts.
If the players start to back out of the campaign because they didn't realise it was actually a film production, just plead with them to film one scene to see how they like it. This scene has been expertly rigged with explosives by your pyrotechnics expert that you hired. Set the explosives off before the troublesome player is fully clear and say something menacing to your other players like 'I hope your acting careers don't "bomb" like theirs did'.
Works every time!
5. The 'Railroad' Approach
Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery. Try playing on a literal train. The thematic atmosphere of being stuck on a preset path will encourage your players to follow suit.
If this doesn't work, remind them that the train is rigged with explosives and one wrong move will send you all sky-high.
Let us know if any of these techniques has worked for you! For extra effectiveness, try mixing and matching approaches to get the right fit for your group.
Photo by Sean Lamb (Slambo)