On the Fly: Reaction

“Remember, the underlying motive of every gamer is just to roll the dice and look cool.

On the Fly gaming is something every Dungeon Master needs to eventually, actually Master. The problem is, to master this style of gaming, you just need to do it, so not many teach it.  I’d like to try.


Today; Reaction

From Wikipedia:

In colloquial use, on the fly means something created when needed. The phrase is used to mean:

  1. something that was not planned ahead
  2. changes that are made during the execution of some activity.

It’s fun to look at some of the other uses too.

In reference to four-wheel drive vehicles, this term refers to the ability to change from two to four-wheel drive while the car is in gear and moving

In ice hockey, the majority of line changes occur “on the fly”, that is, while play is still ongoing.

On the fly programming is the technique of modifying a program without stopping it.


So, what does On the Fly mean at your gaming table?  Well, if you take pieces from all of the above, it means:

To modify your game to something unplanned, while play is still ongoing and without stopping.  In short, Reaction.


Reaction has 10 definitions at Dictionary.com.  A couple…

1. a reverse movement or tendency; an action in a reverse direction or manner.

3. action in response to some influence.

A few more definitions hit the mark, but you get the idea, pretty similar, no?


Now, the trick comes in learning to merge this with the “Just Say Yes” mentality.  Maybe I take it for granted that “Just Say Yes” is now a core rule in every DM’s repertoire.  Its on pages 28 and 29 of the DMG if you need a refresher.

Chris Perkins wrote an article back in June of 2009, one of many where he mentions Just Say Yes.  A great grab from there is “Over the years, I’ve learned exactly one thing about building campaigns: Don’t do all the work yourself. Give your players space to enhance what you create, and when they try to add to your campaign, embrace their ideas as if they were your own. Just say yes.”


What are some ways you can implement this idea into your adventures?

Group Storytelling

I don’t remember which book covered this, but its a lot of fun and if you haven’t tried it, you really should.  The idea is that you let your players, from time to time, describe what they see in the world around them.  For instance, as they’re traveling through a forest, you might describe it a little.

The air around you is pungent, thick with the rotting decay of the forest in late autumn.  The foliage has turned brown on the trees, when it still clings to the trees at all, most of it is thick around your feet.  As you walk, few things of interest stand out.

Now, pick a few of your players to tell those things of interest.  Run with their ideas, use them immediately by expanding on them, or by incorporating them into their next encounter.  Use them later by expanding on them and maybe building an adventure out of the seeds they plant.  Never, ever, laugh at their ideas or dismiss them.  Group storytelling is a trust based system.


Many talk about this as a method of campaigning, but it is maybe the best practice for on the fly gaming as well.  Given a scenario, like entering into a new town for instance, you can “prepare” an on the fly session for your players.  Brainstorm as many ideas as you can about what could be happening in the town.  These can be anything from the classic job board quests, to elections, crime syndicates, brothels, thieves, murders… whatever a town has to offer, jot it down.  Some of these ideas will start to fly on their own, with more ideas, circle these.

You should end up with more circled ideas than you care to expand on, but enough to sprinkle around your town and let the players choose.  Whatever they decide to nibble on, however they decide to bite, run with it.  Just say yes.  Keep the instigating character in mind and envision what would create for them the most fun.  Remember, the underlying motive of every gamer is just to roll the dice and look cool.

Red Herring

The classic tactic of misdirection is easy on the fly material.  Most often in mysteries, the red herring is used to divert the subjects attention onto an innocent party.  Possible red herrings could be; lying culprits who plant a false trail, clues (like maybe a group of  thieves use the same drugs, but their dealers know nothing), false emphasis…

In the aftermath of an encounter, a shady onlooker is spotted in an alleyway, then quickly darts off into the night holding something tight to his chest. The onlooker might be a curious sewer rat who knows the alleyways like the back of his hand, hoping to snag some free loot from the corpses (how many adventurers leave behind mundane items), but cast in the right light he can lead the players anywhere.  Cue random chase scene.  Cue random sewer battle.  Cue random intimidation/social scene.  Whatever it is your group needs right now, cue it.


The key here is reaction.  Each of these three scenarios set up both you and your players, to react.  As you poll the players, you can generally see what needs to happen, and react.  If your assumptions are correct, they’ll usually take the bait, and react.

Until next time, keep reacting.


About j0nny_5

Mid-thirties and work a full-time job in beautiful northern Colorado. In my free time I play D&D, video games, and walk my two beautiful Bouvier des Flandres.
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