By Jason Campbell

Recently I ran a group of players through a one-shot Cypher System adventure I call Three Hour Tour. The PCs play castaways inspired by the classic TV sit-com Gilligan’s Island, but their boat crashed on an island inspired by the Saturday Morning kids show Land of the Lost, so they have to deal with dinosaurs, lizard-like people and cave people. The adventure is a point crawl style where the PCs move from event to event until they find another boat that they can use to escape from the island. It was a fun session but it did require some improvisation on my part. 

The castaways crash on a beach on a tropical island where there are two paths from the beach into the jungle. The adventure assumes that the PCs will choose one of these ways and then there are several encounters before the final encounter where they try to escape on a boat. 

The players in this session decided to not take either path into the jungle, but to instead try to walk along the shore to explore the shore of the island. The adventure isn’t written to deal with this expectations so I had to improvise.The easiest way would have been for me to say that the jungle extended all the way to the ocean so it was not possible to walk along the shore. At that point they could have decided to wade in the shallow water, or something similar. I didn’t want to take this approach since it’s very “railroad-ey”, and although this isn’t always a bad idea, in this case at the beginning of a session with new players I don’t want to immediately become adversarial. It’s just not a great tone to set at the beginning of an adventure. So I let them trek along the shore. I then moved an encounter where lizard people attack which is planned for the jungle to the shore, so the lizard people attacked the PCs. They ended up defeating them with one lizard person escaping into the jungle. After trekking further along the shore they decided that it was safe enough to make camp and rest for the night. 

At this point I decided that I should inject some action into the adventure. We were about half way through our allotted time and I knew we wouldn’t have time to explore all of the jungle encounters. There was a possible encounter that was supposed to happen in the jungle where a tyrannosaurus rex attacks. This is a core encounter such that if it doesn’t happen in the jungle it will happen on the beach as the PCs find another boat and try to escape. I decided to use this encounter while they slept to elevate the action. The PCs found a way to hide and escape the tyrannosaurus rex and continued along the shore until they found the boat that could serve as an escape vehicle. I decided to have the lizard people return with reinforcements and attack while the PCs try to escape. 

The game was a lot of fun but it did require improvisation on my part. Here are a few takeaways:

  1. I knew the adventure well enough to know which encounters were essential to the story and which could be set aside. In this way I knew that I should inject the tyrannosaurus rex encounter but that it would be ok to bypass the cave people encounter. 
  2. Keep an eye on the clock if your session is limited to a certain time.I knew that with half of the time expired if I didn’t insert the tyrannosaurus rex encounter we couldn’t have time for it. 
  3. Allow the players to follow their own ideas whenever possible and especially at the beginning of a session with new players. This helps set a positive tone.

What do you think? Post any improvisation tips you have in the comments below!

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