When I was in late high school and into college, I worked hard to become a pretty dang good magician. I spent a lot of time practicing sleights and, at my best, could probably have gone professional with it.
Life happened and I didn’t have the courage to pursue it, but that’s a different story.
Anyway, there’s one particular technique that works wonderfully for us DMs.
Let’s say you want an audience member to “pick” a card: the seven of spades. You might use this “magician’s choice” technique to get them there:
“Okay, we’re going to use a process of elimination to pick a card. I want you to choose the first one that comes to your head: Red or black?” you say.
“Okay, we’ll eliminate red. Of the two black suits of cards, pick one.”
“Okay, spades. High or low?”
And so on until they “pick” the seven of spades. See how that works? You’re slowly eliminating choices, and no matter what that person says, they’re “choosing” what you want.
As a DM, you have the extraordinary ability to actually change things behind the scenes. It’s like playing that game where you guess where the pea is under the shell, except you can magically move the pea wherever you want it so that your player wins every time.
You can use this as I mentioned yesterday to help tread that line between railroading and trying to plan the Entire World on your end. If your players skip over an important encounter, just move it somewhere else. No need to plan another one; just shift it.
Your players didn’t go talk to Phenry Blackstone to find out where the MacGuffin was located? No worries. If you need to, you can just have that information be at … Phenry Whitestone’s house in the woods along the way.
Remember: You’re a real magician at the table. Your players’ choices matter, but it’s up to you to make them meaningful.
Goblins at Herlihy Farm (Dyson’s Dodecahedron)
Races of Ravnica (Wizards of the Coast)
Spell Spotlight: Cloudkill (DnDBeyond)
Survey: Races of Eberron (Wizards of the Coast)
Re-Re-Re-…-Re-Revisiting Star Wars – Observations of Player Logistics (Campaign Mastery)
Improvisation for New D&D Dungeon Masters (Sly Flourish)
Now get out there and tell a story!