Aka, Is the room actually empty though?
As a GM, you will find that no matter how much you tend to prepare and how well you manage to recollect every rehearsed dialogue and hints for your players to react to, there will be points in your game where you find yourself ill prepared for a situation. Why? Easy.
Because there are players involved in your perfectly crafted world.
(And honestly, over-prepping only leads to headaches and railroading, avoid it!)
Players tend to walk off the carefully placed path you’ve set out for them. They will miss hints and obvious (to yourself, perhaps) elements of your story in order to progress.
In which case, they will start to think outside the box and ‘mill around’, trying to find things to either progress the story, or line their own filthy, near bottomless pockets. (Bag of holding anyone?)
Hence, there will always be moments where you must improvise.
Now, suppose that, despite your best efforts, you’ve managed to run the story to a grinding halt, by the following question: “What do we see in this room?”
Suddenly, this non descriptive room you’ve used as a transition from point A to B (which you might even have said in the moment without paying too much attention to it) is now a red alert for your GM skills. The room has now suddenly been forced into more than just filler and your players have requested you to flesh it out. Since anything in a roleplaying game that requires a mention, deserves attention.
The problem is, you had nothing prepared. And since you can’t just say ‘you see nothing, move on!’ to your players, it’s best to come up with something.
Hell, the room could even be a ‘room-sized’ mimic.
(I’ve done that, its hilarious and it actually ties in with an empty room not truly being empty ;))
Instead of resorting to the old GM retcon, railroad, a blank stare or saying that there’s not really anything specific about this room (which is boring). You can involve the people at your table to build up the room together.
Don’t worry, this is a good thing.
Try to launch a few general ideas or about the room to your group to give them some dimensions and a feel for the room. For example:
- The room is quite small and apart from your entry, there is but one extra door.
At this point, you can expect (hopefully) a few follow up questions from your group. Even better if they are specific, such as:
- Wizard: Are there perhaps any shelves with books on them?
- Rogue: Is the room dark enough for me to hide in the shadows?
- X: Is there perhaps a chest that we can take a look in?
- Dwarf: Do i notice anything off about the stonework here? Is it all natural?
In which case you have just received suggestions from which you can flesh out this bad boy even more. Just roll with it 🙂
- Why yes actually, there is a shelf with some papers and what looks like a journal on the wall to your left. (they could find a scroll or clues in this one.)
- Well no, but there is a small table underneath the shelf and it has a small locked drawer under the desk. (The Rogue gets to pick a lock and may find a trinket, key or perhaps even a potion.)
- The room itself is dimmed and the candles have all but gone out. (this helps set the mood for the room.)
- The walls are in fact set in masonry, yet seem to be poorly kept. Your eyes fall to the stonework around the other door, which looks in much better condition. (This again sets the mood of the room and also implies that the door may be reinforced and not so easy to get past)
With more questions (or even better, suggestions) from your group, this empty room has now been given life. An obstacle for you has become a tool to ease your story along.
Always remember, while the GM is the master of the world and all its elements, it is up to your entire group to help further the story along and expand the world itself.
The PC’s actions have consequences both IC and OOC.
And should you have a group that is less inclined to ask questions, don’t be afraid to engage them regardless. Even going as far as to flat out ask them what they would want to see in this room.
For reasonable things, like a book shelf, just roll with it.
As for the more uncommon things, you can have them roll a ‘luck die’ (just a normal D20, make up the DC for yourself) and act on the result.
Mind you, if a player asks for a wishing lamp or an ‘omega tier sword of god breaking’, just do yourself a favor and say ‘no’.
Roll with your players interest but always be reasonable and expect them to be as well. You are all in this together!