What to do when your players derail the campaign

Posted by Annabelle Collins on


If your players have completely de-railed your campaign then congratulations! This happens to pretty much every DM at some point and is a perfectly normal (if stressful) part of running a DnD game.

It may feel uncomfortable right now but you will be riding this wave to another really awesome story line in no time!


Recover from a de-rail and build a new direction for your game in three steps:

  1. Letting go

  2. Consequences → Plot Threads

  3. Plan, but not too much

watercolor blossom divider

Step 1: Letting go...


First things first, well done on letting your party go completely off plot.

I’m serious, it might feel disappointing now, but you’ve just shown your players that their choices have real consequences and that they are driving the story forwards as much as you.


Players going literally anywhere except where the DM has prepared a game

Your party might have killed that really critical NPC, or accidentally burned the town to the ground.


A wonderfully detailed and fleshed-out Dungeons and Dragons town which the party of murder-hobos have set fire to

You probably had a load of really cool things lined up, be it NPC’s you hoped they’d meet or plot threads you were excited for.


It’s a good idea to take a moment to let go of all these things you’d planned.

Some you can recycle in another game in the future (free session prep!), others will still play out in a different form with this new direction.


Even so, you have just lost a whole bunch of hard work - feeling a bit sad or disappointed is totally valid!

Allow yourself a moment to acknowledge that before you go onto the next bit.

snowdrops to commemorate all those wonderful plot threads that the party have just blown up



Step 2: Turning consequences into plot threads


My favourite part of when the campaign is derailed is thinking about the consequences of taking this new direction.

A phoenix rising from the ashes of the TTRPG campaign your players completely derailed

This is the point where you brainstorm ideas and get excited for new story lines.


It reminds me a bit of a phoenix rising from the ashes (a bit of a melodramatic metaphor, but there you go).

Because no matter how lost you are, brainstorming what consequences arise from this change in direction will always lead to new ideas.


As you are brainstorming, consider for yourself:

  • What NPC’s are involved and what will they be doing next?
  • How will the current plot threads evolve?
  • What new plot threads will arise?


Take a moment to remind yourself of the campaign themes while you do this, and let them influence the outcome.

A DM brainstorming what to do when their party derails their DnD game

Now you have an idea of what new NPC objectives and plot threads will come about it’s time to start weaving it together into a new story.



Step 3: Prep for the next bit, but not too much.


When you’re weaving your plot threads together, try to prepare for a bit, but not too much.

A DM weaving new plot threads together into a new D&D Campaign

My suggestion is to form an idea of the story you want to tell, but not to have anything too solid.

A “this is what will happen if the party don’t intervene” is perfect.


a helpful sorcerer accidentally casting a fireball on all the DM's session prep

The key here is not to get too attached to your awesome new ideas. As we’ve seen - no plan survives contact with the party!.

And remember, whilst “Yes, and…” is fantastic in improv roleplay, “no, but…” can be pretty awesome too.

You can creatively say no to your players by offering them an alternative course of action. You’re not removing a players agency, you’re refereeing the game.


If players derailing the story is happening a little too frequently in your games, check in with your player(s). Is someone being disruptive because they’re not enjoying the game any more? Are they getting confused?

It’s good to know these things and be able to address them out in the open.

open communication


Some final words..


Letting your players derail your game can be really fun for everyone.

For DM’s it helps us practice improv and adaptability. For players, it helps immersion. Being able to make real choices and face real consequences makes a game feel alive and personal.

When your players blow up your game, just remember to follow these three steps. Your game will be back on it’s feet (or head!) in no time!

Three ways to deal with when your players derail the campaign D&D 5e

My party make a lot of “interesting” decisions that take our game to all sorts of unexpected places. It can be difficult to manage at times but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

A beautifully built well fleshed-out fantasy town the DM has built being burnt down by the party

I will leave you with a parting word of advice another DM once gave me.

Never make a town you’re not prepared to burn to the ground.




I make magnetic modular dnd dungeon tiles to make epic snap-together battlemaps for all your TTRPG needs!

Annabelle Collins, Chief Artificer of Modular Realms and inventor of the auto-snapping magnetic system. She loves playing DnD games with her friends and crafting DnD Scenery


Hi! I'm Annabelle! I'm the author of this blog and a huge nerd!

I also make magnetic, double-sided, modular dungeon tiles!

My DnD terrain contains secret spinning magnets so that each piece snaps instantly to every other. They even come in a box disguised as a spellbook to store away on your bookshelf!

They're really cool, you should totally check them out here!

Modular Realms magnetic dnd terrain, basically a banner with a dungeon tileset I do laid out as different battlemaps and shown with the book box packaging

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