I’m running a DnD campaign at work, and this is my first time ever DM’ing a game. There’s been a whole lot of learning on the fly, especially learning “how to improvise”, which is a creative muscle I haven’t had to flex much until now. Here’s a great example of that.

The adventuring party was exploring an abandoned set of rooms and tunnels underneath a city, looking for a passage that some thieving goblins may have used to rob an inn on the surface. Throughout the labyrinth, there were some strong metal doors that could not be opened by conventional means. There were no handles, but some of them had grates that could be seen through. Others could be unlocked by inputting codes on a keypad (it’s a Forgotten Realms setting, but with some “mysterious technology” sprinkled throughout).

There was one door in particular at the end of a hallway that the players could not budge. They tried, pushing it with Strength, blasting it with magic, and looking for levers, but to no avail - all relevant checks had bombed. I had described the door as solid metal with no grate, handle, lock, or visible hinges (it might as well have been a wall), so they appeared to be stuck. They started backtracking around other rooms to look for something they had missed.

At some point in this process, I realized… I had no idea how I intended for that door to be opened. Perhaps I had assumed a check of some sort would have caused it to budge, but I hadn’t planted a lever/button/switch in any of the rooms that might have opened it. They had explored the entire dungeon that they could see up to that point, and I could tell they felt stuck. But so was I - what was I supposed to have them do?

Thankfully, they went back to the hallway, and I said “You notice that the door is now ajar…”, and inside they find a friendly goblin who had gotten in… somehow. How convenient! Nobody really questioned it, they were just glad to get through, and proceeded to knock out the goblin for no particular reason. The improvisation went well, and the murder-hobo adventure train was able to continue down the tracks.

The lesson here? In my mind, that immovable door was some pretty lousy game design on my part. But since this is tabletop, and we’re all making it up as we go anyway, it went over fine and nobody seemed bothered by it. Maybe I can plan out future scenarios without specific locks and keys in mind, and just give the players more tools to solve the problems themselves.

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