Behind the Screen: Drop-Ins – A Cautionary Tale…

2008 February 10
by Dante

In our campaign, our storylines tend to shape up by crafting a few major story elements and the rest gets filled in by our absurd crew of player characters. Occasionally, my co-DM and I will come up with some really great idea that we feel like dropping in at the last minute, just for fun.

Sometimes that goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The Situation Gone Wrong

In our campaign, the drop-in gone wrong was the mysterious appearance of a dead gold dragon, a portent of Bad Things Happening in our world. It was iconic, neat, and generally a fun idea that we had late in our planning session and we decided to go with it.

We didn’t factor in that at Epic Levels, our characters might have the paltry ability to restore life to the fallen creature, forcing us into interactions we weren’t planned for. When someone mentioned Resurrection, both my co-DM and I threw up the “oh no” signal and quickly went to work via chat to spackle up the holes we had left.

Let’s look at how we can prevent this from happening to you!

Best Practices for Drop-Ins

  1. Know Your Limits – If an idea is too complicated or too large, consider putting it off until you have the ability to flesh out the idea a bit further. If you practice writing episodic content, you can use the great idea that you had as an episode and drop it in later after you’ve thought it over. Discretion is a powerful ally!
  2. Know Your Players – If you can come up with more than a half-dozen ways that your campaign group can derail a given idea, consider plugging some of those holes before you use the idea.
  3. Keep Player Character Abilities in Mind – In my example above, if we would’ve kept the abilities of our party in mind we would’ve remembered that they had the ability to restore life. Important details like that can make or break your drop-in, so run a quick sanity check against major known abilities to prevent the “oh crap” moments.
  4. Let Your Players Succeed – If you do miss something and your players capitalize on something that you didn’t consider, make every effort to let them succeed. Nothing sucks worse than railroading, so learn to think on your feet and let them have their victories.

There’s my road map to a successful drop-in! Go forth and run with all those fun ideas that you’ve always dreamt about!*

* Caution – Actually running campaign ideas that spring forth from your dreams may result in physical, mental, or social damage. Please consult a psychiatrist if you experience blurry vision, loss of appetite, or night sweats. is not liable for any damage caused from using dreams in your game.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. ChattyDM permalink
    February 11, 2008

    You know that you can have fluff block rules in certain aspects.

    Gold Dragon might refuse to be raised even with true ressurect because:

    1) A divine power blocks it…

    2) Dragon has a good reason to refuse coming back

    3) Dragon mind has shattered and while it comes back, it’s a vegetable or worse a psychopathic rampaging monstruosity

    As long as you can weavge a plausible enough reason that doesn’t feel like a plot barrier, your players will be cool with it… and please let them keep the 25 000 gp gem they used… spell failed, moving on.

  2. Dave The Game permalink
    February 11, 2008

    Yep, in that specific situation I’d just say “For some reason, the dragon’s soul does not want to return” which is a perfectly valid in-rules solution, and could lead to even more dread to run with. “Why would a gold dragon not want to come back? Is there something even HE is afraid of?”

    But your tips are great anyway!

  3. clem permalink
    February 11, 2008

    As a matter of fact, my long running campaign originated in a series of vivid drug induced dreams when I was ill a few years ago. Almost any color, scene setting or attempts at foreshadowing can backfire even if you are prepared. Case in point: I allowed my characters, part of a ship’s crew, to see a flying ship in the distance. I just intended to establish that such people existed for a story line planned for much much later. My players set aside the mission they were on to track down and investigate the flying ships. Even though I had the needed material to handle that, I had to quietly monkeypatch the original story line quite a bit to allow for the delay when they finally got back to it.

  4. Bob permalink
    February 11, 2008

    I’m the type who likes to convince those drop-ins to betray the whole party. Of course, my players have figured this out, so it doesn’t work as well as it did, say, 10 years ago.

    That’s why it’s always nice to get fresh meat, um, I mean, new players.

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