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Dealing with Creative Block when writing D&D adventures

One of the hardest things about running Dungeons and Dragons campaigns is the constant need for inspiration and motivation. Sometimes though, it can be hard to get those creative juices flowing - particularly when you're months or years into a particular campaign, with no end in sight. What to do then when you're dealing with a creative block, then? Well, here's a few tips to help.

Start small

I can't stress this enough - but when things are overwhelming, just start really small. Don't think about your overarching story arcs for the whole campaign, don't even think about everything you want your party to get done in the next session. Just think about a single thing, and work outwards from there.

(This is real advice for life as well, by the way. Overwhelmed by trying to come up with a perfect exercise regime? Reframe it to something you can do right now - a single push up, or going out for a walk. Worried about all the work you have to do? Commit to just doing 10 minutes right now. Break things down into their smallest possible components, and things get a lot easier).

Character motivations

So, how does this work with D&D? Well, I often start by thinking about what does _insert character here_ want? If there's a bad guy stalking the party, or an NPC they are about to bump into, or an organisation looking for a group to perform a certain task just think - what does this person/ these people/ this organisation want? Often that's enough to give you the seed of an idea, from which you can grow outwards.

Has the shopkeeper NPC had their wares stolen? Then maybe they're looking for a group to get them back. Have the townspeople recent had their children spirited away by an angry pied piper? Then maybe they want a group to kill him and return their children. Have the jewellers guild recently been robbed? Then maybe they need information about who's behind it and what they plan to do with a particular mystical jewel. Whatever. Think about what these people want, and before you know it, you have something you can work from. Editing that is way easier than just staring at a blank page. Trust me.

Little by little

Once you've got the kernel of your idea, you can start to flesh it out, bit by bit. What information might they gain from an NPC they choose to talk to? What is going on in the background? Are there any other NPCs around taking an interest in what your party are up to? That sort of thing.

If you decide that your party are gonna bump into a barkeep who has a problem, for example, then maybe you can also think about a few other things going on in the tavern to add flavour to your scene and opportunities for your players.

Is there a drinking competition going on at the same time? Maybe one of the competitors will drunkenly divulge some information relating to a player's backstory. Or you overhear a group muttering about wanting to break someone out of the town jail, or you see a couple of bandits walking around shaking down the pundits for money. You don't have to have any of these things planned out in great detail - but it gives your players options to go in a direction that appeals to them.

Plan opportunities, not scenarios

What all of the above examples have in common is that they give options to your players. If your party want to pull on any of those particular story threads then they can do so - and you can see where the encounter develops from there. Sure, this can be a little nerve-wracking, as it involves more improv on your part - but I genuinely find that open-ended sessions like this are usually more fun than prescriptive ones where you've got everything planned out to a T.

The other good news about just planning opportunities rather than whole scenes? It's much less work - and therefore, should be a lot easier to get out of that creative block. You don't have to put in lots of work, don't need to think about every contingency. You just need a few ideas, and then let your players come up with the rest.

Your players are also responsible.

One way to minimise fear of creative blocks is to always remember that your players have creative responsibilities too. It isn't all on you. Sure, you have to create a space which encourages them to be creative (by saying yes a lot, for example, or by planning combat encounters with enough variables that your players can think outside the box a little).

Once you've created these conditions though, don't be afraid to hand over a little of that responsibility to your players, and let them decide the direction the adventure is going to take. You can always blur this line a little by keeping a few random encounter sheets with you, or keeping lists of random NPCs behind your DM screen, so you're not caught completely off guard when things inevitably go sideways.

But by handing a good chunk of creative control over to your players, you should ensure some fun, unpredictable sessions, while also reducing the amount of prep you need to put in. Hopefully this mindset shift should also help get you out of any creative blocks you're also suffering with. Good luck!


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