As I tread into new waters and start running two simultaneous Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, I find myself learning a lot about both improvising and worldbuilding. Both campaigns are biweekly, and they have entirely different groups of people in the party. It’s simply the same plot being told by the same narrator (so they aren’t canon to each other, though I do plan on there being player character overlap at some point).
One thing I’ve learned very quickly is that for D&D, it works really well if you don’t give your party a clear goal. In the beginning of the campaign, I provided them with only vague hints as to problems going on with where they were, and left them to find clues and ask around, piecing together the problem and, as they do, forming a plan to deal with it.
In this instance, I presented them with two options. They all have pros and cons, even if they don’t know what they are, and gaining knowledge as to what’s really going on here will help them understand the position they should take.
Another thing I set into this world (during the planning stage) is that everything will be operating in a moral gray area. As far as I can help it, there will be no “murderous dragon killed the king, avenge him!” and more “This person is doing immoral things to accomplish things for unknown or even good reasons, how do you deal with that?” I think, for the players, this provides a much more compelling story with obvious consequences to choices they will have to make.
Overall, I’d say it’s going pretty well. In my experience, players are extremely proficient in finding their own path, whether or not you laid one out for them. They’ll handle things the way they want to anyway, so I’ve found that it can work well if you don’t give them a path.
Being experienced in improv helps with this quite a bit. I know many dungeon masters lay out dungeons and write out character sheets only to have their players not go into that castle or never meet that person. I don’t have to worry about that because I can trust myself to be able to layout a dungeon on the fly and fill in the gaps later. That’s actually exactly how I made a layout of the castle-town they are currently investigating–detail the parts they ask about off-handedly, then after the session is over, fill in everything else with less important things that may or may not come up later.
I’m not sure how apparent it is, but I love this kind of thing. Worldbuilding is my passion. Many people (who know how stressed I’ve been lately) have advised me not to run D&D campaigns with how constricted my schedule currently is. They don’t understand how much I love making things like this. Creating a world and watching people explore it is the least constricting thing I can even imagine. It’s an escape on a level I can’t achieve with writing, because in a sense, it’s real. I can’t read a book I’ve written and watch somebodely else experience it. I can’t see their imagination flow like I can when people are playing D&D. That’s why whatever happens and regardless of how much work it is to prepare more plot or draw out maps, it’ll always be worth the adventure it brings.