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by Mike on 25 April 2022
Whenever your adventure or campaign reaches a moment of decision, offer three good choices to the players. Whenever the characters complete a quest or story arc, give them enough new quests to get back to three choices. Let old choices fall off the list when they become irrelevant and let the players add their own choices if they have some.
Three choices offer enough variance to let players make meaningful decisions without so many options that the players become paralyzed with indecision.
These choices should all be reasonable and you, as the DM, should be ready to roll with each of them. There shouldn't be a "bad" choice or one that's too obvious. Each of these choices should hold some potential interest to the players and none should lead to pure disaster.
If you're coming to the end of a quest, give yourself extra time at the end of the session to offer three choices and let the players make their decision before the session ends. This way you know where the game is headed next and don't have to prepare three different paths for your next session depending on what they would choose at the beginning of the session. This goes hand-in-hand with thinking two horizons out. You want enough information to see past the next horizon so you know what to prep for the next session.
Let the players discuss where they want to go next. Often they come to an agreement on their own. Sometimes, however, you'll need to help facilitate the conversation — clarifying the details and trying to bring them to a consensus. In the end, you're seeking a unanimous decision or at least one where everyone is ok with the choice. If someone clearly does not want to follow one of the choices for a particular reason, re-open the conversation and see if the group can come to a consensus on a different path. Ideally the group can all agree where to go even if some of them aren't 100% happy with it.
Use choices to identify particular paths of gameplay. The characters may have the choice to either meet with the emperor and her advisors to help build a strategy to deal with the Red Spear hobgoblin siege, explore the old sewers beneath the city to see if they can find a way past the Red Spear lines, or travel over the wall and attempt to slay the Red Spear wizard Kallax Graytongue in the ruined watchtower south of the city. Each of these options offers very different gameplay from the others and gives the players a chance to guide what sort of game they'll enjoy.
Three choices gives just enough options to the players to truly steer the direction of the game in new and interesting ways without getting bogged down in continual debate and in-decisions. Offer three choices and enjoy the new story that unfolds.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
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