You’ve no doubt heard — or uttered — the phrase that “no adventure survives contact with the players.” The argument being that even the best GM cannot possibly account for all the permutations that players come up with. Typically the bonzo, crazy ideas that come from out of nowhere (“I steal his pants”) are the ones that make us shake our head, pause for a moment, and then pick up the pieces. But this isn’t about handling those types of plans, it’s the opposite: the perfect plan. When is perfect perhaps too perfect?
It’s the situation that you’ll never see on a TV show — well, perhaps “Leverage” excepted — but is often a trope of movies where the audience has imperfect information (“Ocean’s Eleven”): the plan where everything goes right. The reason being that being perfect isn’t particularly interesting or engaging from a storytelling point-of-view. Without the element of failure or a complication, it feels like a hollow victory.
The obvious solution is to introduce a complication in an effort to “spice things up.” Now we’re venturing into dangerous territory, the same territory occupied by the “fudge or do not fudge die rolls”
argument conversation! Pick your side and fight!
Do No Harm
The players have spent the time and made the perfect plan. They’ve accounted for every conceivable problem, resolved them, made any necessary task rolls, and earned their victory. To introduce a complication sullies the work of the players and, in essence, makes them feel powerless by virtue of pre-destination: no plan will survive contact with the GM who will conspire to add artificial roadblocks, perhaps in an effort to strengthen their power base or, mistakenly, to add drama.
Instead the players should be rewarded and see their plans come to fruition. The dramatic tension exists, not in introducing a complication, but through the execution of the plan. Will it indeed succeed all the way through? Much like a no-hitter in baseball, as the endgame approaches the tension mounts: will he or won’t he?
Thus, there’s no need for the GM to introduce a complication, as the drama is self-sustaining. In fact, the players who tend to over think and analyze every detail may introduce their own complications inadvertently! The GM need only adjudicate the rules, provide the framework of the adventure, and then guide the player’s plan through resolution. Success is its own reward and the players are reaffirmed that the foundation of the game is based on story integrity.
Too Perfect To Be Believable
On the rare occasion where the player’s seem to have the GM’s notes beforehand and plot out the perfect plan, there are still elements that are unforeseen. In fact, no plan is perfect by virtue that no plan can possibly account for all eventualities. These “random elements” provide the perfect backdrop for the GM to insert an element of tension or drama into the equation. After all, without the possibility of failure — or even the perception of failure — there is inherently no conflict, an essential element of every good story.
This isn’t waging a war against the players, it’s dynamically altering the elements by introducing new, unforeseen complications to challenge them. Now these elements can be very minor, adding the illusion of capture and failure (“oh no!”) or more pronounced, in that things may not be what they seem. The players have been acting on imperfect information all along; the GM’s power of omniscience let’s him rewrite history without anyone directly knowing (but likely suspecting) that wasn’t the real case all along.
Ultimately the foundation of this position isn’t one of actively conspiring against the players, but one of manufacturing drama for the sake of fun. It’s working with the players to introduce elements for them to overcome so that the eventual outcome of success feels that much more rewarding. Success is drawn from overcoming the conflict, not circumventing it.
Taking A Stance
Where do you fall in the continuum of the perfect plan? As a datapoint, how does this position relate to your feelings on fudging die rolls? Those GMs that fudge die rolls, are they also fudging adventures, in a manner of speaking? The position of “let the dice fall where they may” and steadfast sticking to your adventure may give one the moral high ground, but does it necessarily equate to a better play experience?
Sound off below on how you would handle the Perfect Plan in your game!