[RPG] What to do when players bypass plot hooks


I am going to just start out by acknowledging that this is the best possible 'problem' a GM can ever have. My players are awesome, I just didn't know how awesome. They solved months of combat, before any indication that there would be combat, with role-play.

The 'Problem'

I am running a high-role-play game where the characters are teens, and they are solving mysteries. Think Scooby-Doo, but with murder, drugs, et cetera. We are currently between major story arcs.

I introduced an NPC to the group, for the purpose of getting the party at least interested in the character. The plan was to kill the NPC off to start the plot, however, my awesome players have pretty much improved this NPC's life to the point where I cannot use them in the plot.


Originally, I was going to have the NPC die of what is essentially a drug overdose, and appear in an afterlife (that had not previously existed in this game, a ghost). The plot would have involved both investigating this afterlife, and the drugs that killed the NPC to send them there.

The characters have essentially started to rehab the NPC before I could even get to that point.

My Options

I can force the issue, and kill off the NPC as planned, but this has the penalty of being obvious, out of character, and immersion breaking.

I can add another character, which would be a near clone of the first NPC, and kill them off. This too would be rather obvious, and a lot of work on my part.

I can abandon the entire plot and do something else entirely. This is my least favorite option, but probably the least intrusive.

What I would really like to know, though, is when things like this happen, what are effective tools for furthering the game without having to rewrite the universe when plot makes contact with players?

Best Answer

You've run into one of the dangers of pre-planning a plot. I'll give some ideas at the end about how to plan campaigns so this doesn't happen as much in the future, but first we have to deal with the current situation. Other answers have dealt nicely with the "stay on the rails" and "take a short detour" options, so I'd like to talk about a third choice:

Take a new path through the bush. Forget the plot you had lined up. You've got interesting people and conflicts already present in the world and waiting in the wings, but you can let go of exactly how you expect it to play out. Go along with the PCs' choices and look for opportunities to introduce the interesting people and ideas you have prepared. Instead of killing off this NPC and negating the PCs' hard work, use the NPC as a gateway to new adventures which will incorporate your ideas in new, interesting ways.

It shouldn't be too hard for, e.g., someone connected with the NPC to kick the bucket in a ghost-inducing way, so the NPC drags the party in for the ride and you get a ghost investigation on the party's terms rather than on your own. Players tend to be more engaged with plots that arise from PC agency than plots which are thrust upon them.

Now lets talk briefly about avoiding this kind of situation in the future. For me, the key lies not in how I plan, but in what I plan. Instead of creating interesting stories to walk my players through, I need to create interesting people, situations, and conflicts which are happening when the game starts.

My favourite kind of game prep is to set up a complex set of NPC/faction/world interactions and then watch my players roll through them like a lopsided bowling ball. This way, my players can engage with a world and have their choices matter because they're interacting with dynamic processes. As the party acts and makes choices, I'm free to have the world react: NPCs change their plans based on PC action, natural events occur when it's most dramatic, and so forth.

An RPG story is about the PCs, so I like to give them a chance to really make the world sit up and notice their choices. The best way I've found to do this is to avoid planning stories that hinge on the players making certain choices.