Winging It – Preparing for unexpected player actons

On a Facebook group I follow, there was a post about a GM who was very methodically planning out the adventures for his players, trying to predict what different things the players would do and prepare things for each of them.   Recently his players informed him they want to essentially ‘Take the map of Faerun (of the Forgotten Realms) and do and explore what they will.   This GM was asking for advice on how to handle it.  A very helpful discussion ensued and hopefully he’ll have a good basis to move forward.

Since this is a subject I know quite a bit about, I decided to write about it.   The original poster was could be describing a Sandbox Game, which is when the whole world is open and the players can do whatever they wish within the rules.   This post will cover just the concept of how to ‘Wing it’ which can be used in any situation when the game goes into an area or situation you’re not prepared for.

Prepare In Advance

I can almost hear you say “Wait, the discussion is about ‘Winging It’ and you’re starting with ‘Prepare in Advance’?”   Yes.  If you’d like to have your players twiddle their thumbs while you create everything they run into, however, you can skip this step, though.

The first step is to evaluate the types of things you’ll want to have available.   Not a list of each thing, but just the types.   Things like different types of names, inns/taverns, adventure hooks/ideas, etc.   You’ll almost always want small to medium-sized population centers of all types.   Larger ones like cities and metropolis’ are likely already placed, if not at least sketched out.

The next step is to work out your methodology of storing all your information.   This can be as simple as binders or a computer program like Realm Works by Lone Wolf Development or MyInfo, both of which I use.   You will also want to take into consideration how you run your game.  You don’t want to cover the gaming table with binders or constantly be digging up reference documents.  Whatever you use will need to be organized to allow quick retrieval of information and not eat up all the real estate at the table.   Don’t stress this too much, however.   If you’re totally new to this, it’ll be a work in progress anyhow, and if you’re only picking up a couple tips and tricks from this article, you’ll likely have most of your system worked out.

So now you have your list of things to create and a way to store them, so now you want to establish how you want to create them.  This is something I’m just now starting to implement myself, actually documenting how I create each thing in my world to improve consistency.  It sounds like a lot of extra work, but like all of this, it’s an investment for a better game.

Where do you find these things?  Many game books have the means to create and flesh out various things and magazine articles have provided random generation tables for you to use at the table and with technology exploding, there are many, many resources online.   There are too many to list, but three sites I use are, Donjon and the Seventh Sanctum.  Also, a very detailed city generator can be found at .

Be Flexible and Place Very Little

Now that you have everything sorted and ready to go, it’s time to actually create.  As you do so, one thing to keep firmly in mind is to lock very few things into a specific location or situation.

Names?   You’ll need lots and lots of names.   I keep spreadsheets full of names; I find that they are easier to manage when they are in grids with each tab a different type of name.   Elves (male and female), dwarves, places and taverns are all examples of types of names you’ll need.   Inns and taverns?  Donjon has a great generator for them which include menus, patrons and rumors.

The key is that “The Sage’s Meadhall” can be anywhere the players are going to travel to next, it doesn’t have to be along the Belic River just outside the small town of Urden.  Just keep it floating nebulously in your knowledge store until it’s ready to be placed. Those rumors?  Whether they’re from that Donjon generator or somewhere else, they’ll likely have names and places in them.   When you go insert them, if you’ve already created relevant places, simply substitute what you want to use in their place.  The names you take out?  Save them for later use.

There’s a lot more that could be added to this but the concepts are all the same.

  • Identify your needs
  • Create a system to store what you create
  • Document how you’re going to create what you need.
  • Create your content in a flexible way
  • Have a great session playing, even when the players toss a curveball at your head.

Happy Gaming All!