Welcome to this week’s installment of “Only On Tuesdays”. This week we will be discussing the dramatic advice that is Chandler’s Law, and how it can apply in your game, in order to make them feel more fluid and dynamic, with minimal effort from you the DM.
Your game has slowed to a crawl. The party is sitting in the tavern, completely uninterested in the wanted posters you have hung up on the wall. The villain is off completing his villainous scheme, and the party either doesn’t know what to do about it, or they don’t care about it. Players begin to pull out their phones as they wait for someone to decide on what they are going to do. Interest begins to dwindle, and the energy for the session begins to die.
But then the door opens.
The party turns to see who just entered the lonely tavern, and what they see is a hooded figure standing in the doorway with his sword drawn. He snarls something incoherently at the party and charges at the wizard. The party leaps into action, throwing up tables to defend themselves, they attempt to tackle the intruder, and they do everything they can to defeat this unknown foe. After they take down this hidden enemy they investigate his body only to find the burning sigil of the king seared into his neck. His dying words reveal that he never meant to attack them, and was compelled by the king’s council of witches. The party upon hearing this immediately comes up with a plan and goes off to storm the castle.
This is an example of the storytelling rule Chandler’s Law, being put to practice in a typical Dnd game. Chandler’s Law states the following:
When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.
When Raymond Chandler first made this principle, it was primarily made for detective novels. The rule itself however has a wide variety of uses that a Dungeon Master of any skill level can find useful. It can do anything from pulling a DM and his group out of a lull in the session, to keeping things interesting while you prepare the next step of the adventure. This rule is a very effective part of any DM’s toolkit, and becomes all the more important if the DM is improving his/her game. It’s a great tool to have, because you can use it whenever you need to, and it will almost always bring interest back into your game.
However there is another key component to Chandler’s Law that should be noted. After the combat resolves, you need to justify the scene. If you are throwing in random combats all the time without justifying it, then you will just have an endless series of meaningless battles, and your players will likely lose interest. But explaining why the fight happened in the first place serves three purposes.
First: Your players learn that the fight was not just a meaningless battle, and instead actually matters.
Second: Your players will believe that you had the fight planned out all along, when really you had no idea this fight was going to happen.
Third: Your players will now have direction. Typically after a Chandler’s Conflict resolves, the players will now have a much clearer line of action then they did before, and are much more likely to do something.
Without the justification for the encounter, the battle simply becomes a waste of time because it will have no greater effect on the world and/or plot. Whenever you decide to throw a random encounter towards your party, you always need to ask yourself why it is happening, and then aptly explain it to your players. This not only builds cohesion for your world, but also helps for the encounter to not feel meaningless.
Chandler’s Law also ties very nicely into another principle, and that is the Rule of Drama. This rule states:
If the potential for conflict is visible, then it will never be passed over.
This rule is great because it covers more things then just combat. It talks about potential conflict in almost any scenario, including roleplay, exploration, magical, laws, technology, and more. If we take Chandler’s above law and reapply it with this breadth of options available to us, we get something that looks like:
When in doubt, introduce conflict.
While it’s not quite as punchy as Chandler’s Law, it is now much more versatile. Instead of always introducing a new bad guy to the fight, you could maybe say that the magic item that they spent the last 10 minutes investigating begins to malfunction. Perhaps the innkeeper they have tried to haggle with grows tired of the party, and invites them to leave, or else. Maybe an earthquake begins to happen, caused by who knows what. The important thing about this is that conflict, and therefore decisions, are being introduced to your players.
The time to use Chandler’s Law is often when your players are at a stalemate and don’t know what to do anymore. If your players are sitting there twiddling their thumbs while they wait for someone else to come up with an idea of what to do, then it is upon you to give them something to do. It doesn’t have to be some epic scale battle, with millions of decisions. It can be as simple as possible, but as long as it introduces new options to the party, then it will help you and your players come to a decision on what to do next.
Chandler’s Law is a very powerful tool that every DM should know how to use. It can save you from boring sessions, and help redirect energy back into a stalled game. It can be pulled out of nothing to create something truly remarkable. It gives your players whole new lines of options, and helps to create for a more dramatic and varied game. Next time one of your games begins to bog down, always remember that there is a man with a gun, ready to be used at anytime.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment of “Only On Tuesdays”. Next week I will be discussing on how to create recurring villains that are enjoyable for the party, and for you. So until then, have a great week, and an amazing Tuesday!