Players derailing your D&D campaign is something that every DM will have to deal with at some point. There are a few things that you need to keep in mind to get back on track.
Players derailing your D&D campaign is natural, but it isn’t a bad thing. It shows players are creative and you just need to adapt the material. Don’t panic.
We will cover how to fix a derailed campaign and what to do when your campaign is being derailed. First, there is a reason why players derail campaigns. In order to deal with this issue and adapt you need to figure out why players derailed your D&D game in the first place.
Why are players derailing your D&D campaign?
We will take this in order. First, we will cover why your campaign is being derailed and how to notice it. Next, we will cover what to do, and finally, we will cover how to get your campaign back on track.
This is the first question that you should be asking. Why are players derailing your D&D campaign?
If you cannot answer why, then you cannot solve the problem.
Generally, there are a 3 reasons why players derail your game.
- They are not happy with where the game is going.
- The players want different things than the DM.
- The players came up with a creative solution.
These are broad categories that we will go over in a bit, but there are a few ways that you can figure out why the campaign was derailed in the first place. Also, if you watch for these signs you can prevent players from derailing your campaign in the first place!
The first way is to look at the groups’ body language when your present options come up. If people are bored, stiff, or not engaged then it could mean that they are not interested in the options that you think are best. This might just be because the players don’t really understand them, haven’t considered them, or are currently deeply considering them.
If your players are not engaged do not panic. Give it some time and see what they discuss amongst themselves.
This is the second way to figure out if your game is going to get derailed or if players are unhappy with your game. Listen to your players. This doesn’t even involve talking with them one on one. You can do that if you need to, but if you listen to your players you will hear about most of their concerns in their discussions with one another.
Here is an example.
- You give the players the idea that it is best to take out the goblin king in order to stop the attacks on the city.
- The players exhale and talk about solutions. Instead of killing the goblin king, they want to talk to him and make a deal.
- The party starts talking about spells and starts to get excited at this new prospect.
Just by looking at how they changed their body language tells you something is up. Listening to the players will tell you that they plan to completely derail everything you have done.
Most derailings happen this way and the Dungeon Master just doesn’t notice. Very rarely does a player by themselves come up with a plan to derail the game all by themselves.
That is an example of spotting players planning to derail your campaign, but what should you do?
The players are not happy
This is possibly the worst reason for players derailing your D&D campaign. If players are derailing your campaign because they are not happy, there is a much deeper problem.
You want something out of your group, and they have actively decided not to do so. Groups like this might intentionally try to fight the DM at every turn to make their life as difficult as possible. In these instances, you need to talk to your players and ask what they want out of the game. There are 2 major ways that players are unhappy and cause them to derail the campaign as a cry for help or a show of putting their foot down.
You might be an inexperienced DM who didn’t know that they were railroading. The players, on the other hand, noticed and didn’t like it. So instead of talking to you, they are just trying to rebel or derail the campaign to gain some semblance of agency.
This is a mistake that rookie DMs and sometimes experienced DMs can make, but in these situations, it is important to talk to your players and get it sorted out. You are always at fault if your players think they have lost control and you need to not be defensive. Try to do adjust and do better. It has happened to almost every DM out there.
Players can be unhappy due to problem players in the group.
If your game has problem players, it can affect every aspect of the game. These players will make it difficult for your group to do anything and might get players derailing your D&D campaign just to avoid doing what the problem players want.
Whatever the issue is, don’t assume. Ask the players for their input and preface it with the fact that you won’t get defensive. You just want to improve the game for everyone.
This lets everyone speak freely and you can get to the bottom of the issue. There are unfortunately a lot of things that can cause players to not be happy. Getting to the bottom of what is causing player discomfort is the most important thing that you can do if this is the case. It might not even be your fault and the players just don’t like their characters!
Hopefully, your players will not be unhappy with the campaign and just want different things.
Players want different things than the DM
It could be something as simple as you want to roleplay more while the other players want to play a hack and slash Diablo style game. These clashes are where you and the players need to come to a consensus. Either you all decide to make a compromise, change how the theme is going for one side, or disband.
Disbanding is the worst option, but it might be on the table if you want more roleplay and the players just want to hack and slash things for simple D&D.
Before you disband, I would highly suggest that you hold another session 0. Talk about where you are going, what you plan to focus on and change, and do what is alright with you to stop players derailing your D&D campaign.
These changes do not have to be drastic. If your players want to focus more on combat you can include a few more fights. If your players don’t want to engage in combat give them multiple options. Always consider what would happen if they don’t fight since it is very likely.
One annoying way that a campaign can be derailed is due to interest. Some players are just looking at their phones and not paying attention, or don’t seem to want to play the game. For these instances, check out our article on passive and uninterested players.
Other changes could be pacing, magic item frequency, and more.
Just talk to your players and try to figure out what to do next.
These are dismal reasons why your players derailing your D&D campaign, but it can be a very positive experience.
Creative players derailing your campaign
Creative players are the best players derailing your D&D campaign. If they do so it is not out of malice. Instead, it is because of their creative ideas and ability to point out flaws in your plans as a DM.
It always sucks to be outsmarted, but think of this scenario.
- The players see a horde of orcs blocking the only passage through the canyon.
- The players say that is a pain to fight, so they just fly over the horde of orcs.
You had a whole setup planned. The orcs had a chief, shaman, political struggle that the players could use to get past the orcs, and possibly gain new allies which could help them in the future.
That is all gone now!
Or is it?
We will talk about how to salvage this situation later, but your players outsmarted you! These times are where us DMs are very proud but also very frustrated at the outcome.
Players could use a clever item, spell, or just come up with something ridiculous like caving in the underground orc’s lair to kill him.
The best way to not be surprised by these actions is to theorize endlessly, or just know what your players have. If they ask about an item that you haven’t seen for a while, be very cautious and instantly think of all the possible scenarios they could use that item. Be very cautious moving onward.
This applies to spells as well. For arcane users, it is generally easier to keep tabs on what they have. Gain a general knowledge of the divine spells that they can cast so that you can anticipate whatever the players are going to do.
This all being said, derailing the campaign in this manner isn’t a bad thing. You shouldn’t deprive them of their agency and creativity in these instances, and there are a few things that you can do about it.
The best way to prevent derailment
This is the only preventive measure that you can do before talking to or observing the players. Plan the environment, not the plot.
We talk about this in how to prepare for a session, but if you plan the lazy way it is impossible to be derailed. Mainly because you didn’t plan much at all.
For the other options just make sure that you plan the environment and not the plot. This means that you can have an idea of what can possibly happen next and the motivations on NPCs, but you don’t plan to run your players through a book.
D&D is a living, breathing experience that is woven together through your and the players’ efforts. Do not expect anything to go one way. Do not plan too far ahead, or your entire plan is likely to fail.
The next best way to deal with players derailing your D&D campaign is to repurpose the content that they skipped over.
The players in an earlier example flew over the orcs instead of dealing with this lavash backstory of political intrigue. That is fine, it happens but it does not mean that all of that hard work should go into the trash!
Your orcs had names, motivations, and more. Why not put that into a later section of the game? It does not have to be perfect where the players enter a place that is crowded with orcs like before.
Instead, you can repurpose by taking key figures out and making a plotline. Your NPCs can have waring infighting, but instead of just orcs you can make them fight other races. The other races are led by characters that have the same motivations and personality as the political leaders from the orc canyon.
Conversely, you could just use 1 of the main political figures and not worry about the others. It is up to you to chose what to do with your work, but it doesn’t need to be scrapped and thrown into the garbage.
Every setback should be an opportunity for you to enhance the game.
If you have players derailing your D&D campaign through just not fighting the end boss or some other problems, you can always have them sit, fester, and become a huge problem for the party later on. Even if it is 10 levels later and everything the party loves is now threatened.
These are all great ideas, but there is a middle ground where you yourself are creative enough to prevent derailment.
Compromise and being creative yourself
If your players are not unhappy and want the same thing as you (combat, roleplay, etc) then the only real thing left is for players to be creative. When players are creative, you can be creative as well!
The most important thing is to never completely shoot down your player’s ideas. For example, the players when flying over the or canyon are shot at by arrows and ballista. This makes it obvious that they can’t just fly over the canyon and have to land.
This landing will lead to a manhunt that accomplishes the original goal you set forth and lets the players tell their own story on how to get through. They might try to find some orcs who are willing to work with them or be approached by an orc messenger that wants to work with the players.
This is a creative solution that allows both parties to enhance the game, and adding in a ballista makes it a mystery for the players.
Granted, your players are not necessarily going to be smart and land. They might do something else like trying to push forward. The manhunt is still in effect, and the players are hounded day and night.
Being creative and thinking on your feet is a skill that is learned over DMing for a while. I suggest not doing this is you are uncertain of yourself. If you do this poorly, it can lead to railroading at worst.
When you are creative, don’t force your players. If they fly over the orc horde and cast the appropriate spells they can safely fly over. The players can take a different path.
Do not take away player agency. This method is meant to enhance the game instead of making the players do what you want.
Players derailing your D&D campaign is a pain to deal with.
In order to fix this problem, you need to figure out why your players are derailing your game. Different reasons require different approaches. Almost all involve talking to your players, but you can do things about creative players.
First, be proud of them for outsmarting you. Next, if you can, be as creative as them to enhance the story. Never railroad, and always give options.
You can also repurpose material or prevent derailment by not planning a book. Just plan the environment and let the players make an amazing story along with you.
I hope that this helped you deal with players derailing your D&D campaign. It can be frustrating, but if you have a good group it can be an opportunity to make an even more memorable experience.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!