You had this adventure all figured out. Pacing was going to be important, you’ve got a cleverly crafted encounter area, and the players were even given a mission objective by their patron.
Then one of the players decides their player character is going shopping. Well, if one PC is going shopping, they are all going shopping. And before you know it, the GM’s pacing plan is tossed out the window and you’ve become an NPC merchant haggling with a PC over the cost of some mundane magic item.
And if one PC gets to haggle, well, soon all the players want to haggle. Human nature. Was there an adventure in here anywhere? What happened?
Roleplaying happened. And the key thing to do is go with it. A shopping trip wasn’t what you had in mind? Well, hey, if groups didn’t exist to make GMs twist, it wouldn’t be a roleplaying game.
That said, after this little shopping excursion, the GM can still influence play, tack against the wind and turn the boat so it gets back on course.
How to do that?
- Interrupt. Use an NPC or event to move things along. A messenger arrives. The building next door catches fire. A group of ruffians arrive, spoiling for a fight. A fierce storm blows in. A nearby wizard’s spell misfires. The point is, come up with something to jar the PCs into action.
- Stop and Reset. Once the shopping trip is over, declare the day as done. After the PCs get a good night’s sleep, the adventure starts anew. If the PCs get to employ the 5-minute adventuring day, there is no reason the GM can’t dip into that bag of tricks.
- The Item You Didn’t Buy. The One Ring “wants” to found. Tom Riddle’s diary ending up in Ginny Weasley’s pack. You get the idea. Maybe something ended up in the PCs’ possession they hadn’t intended. Drop that item in and run with it. Someone else, preferably someone bad, wants it. The PCs are under a geas to see that it is properly delivered. The PCs are unlikely to complain if an adventure takes such a turn, but if they do, just smile and say, “you wanted to go shopping.”
- The Adventure Comes Crashing In On Their Head. This last trick is a bit heavy handed, but sometimes it works. It often comes in the guise of a “bar fight gone wrong,” but there are other ways to drop the adventure the PCs’ heads. The thing is this, if the PCs won’t go to the adventure, it comes to them. Take an element of what you were going to do — maybe it is even the climactic encounter — and throw the key elements right at them. They may not even know what hit them, and they still might end up saving the day.
Keep these tips in mind the next time the PCs get a hankering to spend some of that loot they just got.