Players love surprising DMs. You may have planned for them to try and bribe the guards or sneak through the sewers to get into the city, but NOOOOOO they decide to start a riot outside the city to draw the guards away from their post. This nonsense happens all the time, and I have found that it leads to the most memorable moments.
In my last campaign, a weird mix of Out of the Abyss and Rise of Tiamat, my players were attempting to escape menzoberranzan. I had a few avenues of escape planned, but do they try any of the obvious methods, *sigh* of course not. They jump down a well, and attempt to follow the water out of the city. So I had to create an interesting encounter on the fly, and my brilliant idea was ‘wish gremlins’. These creatures live in wells and collect the coins of the dumb humanoids who toss money down to them.
After realizing that these gremlins were sentient, my players asked them if they would guide them outside of the city. The gremlins, then handed out their hand and said ‘if you wish it’. After the players attempted to pay them with gems the gremlins threw the rocks back at the player’s heads and yelled ‘make a wish!’ The players then understood, said ‘I wish you would lead us out’, and handed the gremlin a silver coin. The gremlin then bit the coin, nodded his approval at the quality of the wish and led them out of the city to the wishing well.
Again, this entire encounter is pulled out of my butt as I was trying to make sense of a ‘Well-themed Adventure’. The wishing well is a bizarre place where hundreds of wish gremlins bring the wish infused coins to give to Ol’ Martha who has a way of withdrawing the wishes placed on the coins and turn it into magical power.
I’ve been wanting to use a hag for a while so I figure then was as good of a time as any. I described Ol’ Martha as this shriveled crone standing 4′ tall, adorned in jewelry and rags. She has a minimum of 6 arms which extend well past 8 feet in length that seem to have too many joints in them that come in and out of her robes as she needs them. She turns to you and smiles, revealing hundreds of syringe like teeth.
I had planned on Ol’ Martha being a simple hag with some weird magical abilities that the player’s would yet again murder hobo through, steal her coins, and flee. However, I had her start of as unaggressive and willing to talk, and she spooked the players. My players attempted to attack Zuggtmoy, demon queen of fungus, at level 4, and now at level 14 they thought this 4′ tall lady was too creepy to attack.
Because my players didn’t kill her, and instead did something I didn’t they had the capability of doing and TALKED to her. I gripped onto this weird anomaly with a vice like grip and later properly developed a mythos around these fey creatures who harness mortal wishes for their own ends.
This odd coven has several hags working together to make sure that mortals are constantly wishing and capitalizing on them. The leader of this order goes by many names but her true name is Polaris the North Star (people have been wishing on stars since the dawn of time). My players have grown a weird love-hate relationship with this magical group and they have been an active faction in my game for years now. All because my players decided to jump down a well!
When your players go off the rails and force you to make decisions don’t try to have them retcon their decision to get them back on the path. Follow them down the rabbit hole, because who knows, maybe just maybe they’ll find a new adventure within.