I run a lot of published adventures. I’ve run most of the official D&D adventures, most of the D&D Adventurers League adventures, and a few adventures I’ve acquired from other publishers. And one thing happens to me again and again: A player asks a question, and although I know it’s somewhere in the adventure, I don’t know the answer.
This is incredibly common. D&D adventures have a lot of information in them, and when you get down to it, quite a bit of this information won’t apply to your table. There may have been a time when I’d memorise every word of an adventure, but these days I get familiar with the basic themes, get an understanding of its structure and encounters and wing it from there. If a question comes up about a point of lore (when did the Redbrands move into town?), if I can’t find the answer immediately, I’ll make something up.
And then I’ll deal with the consequences later.
One of the challenges with Dungeon Mastering is keeping the game moving. There are lots of things that can slow or stop a game. Pausing to look up rules and adventure notes happens to all of us. There are times when it’s unavoidable or when the delay is worth it. There have been times when everyone at my table has dived into their rule books to discover how something works because it’s an important situation and the answer is interesting. We’ve discovered lots of fascinating interactions that way. Doing this once every few sessions is fine. Doing it every ten minutes? Not so much.
So, when a player asks me a reasonable question about the adventure, and I can’t give them an answer quickly, I use my judgement to give them an answer. Is it going to be the correct answer? Well, if I say it is, it is!
When I get home afterwards, I will then look up what the answer should have been. Sometimes, I luck out. My answer was the correct one! Then there are the times when I’m wrong.
If my incorrect answer causes problems with the adventure going forward, I’ll let the players know at the beginning of the next session that I made a mistake, and we can proceed from there. “You know how I said the castle was hundreds of years old? Well, it actually appeared overnight a week ago…” I hope not to make too many of those errors, but they happen. Events that occurred as a result of the wrong answer still occurred (unless something really bad happened, when we’ll likely roll back the action to that point and assumed the really bad thing didn’t happen).
Those times when the answer changes the adventure but doesn’t mean it can’t proceed, then we live with the new information. I’ll adapt the adventure to fit. I’m adapting adventures all the time based on what the players do in any case, so adapting them based on mistakes I’ve made isn’t much of a stretch.
The trick is to remember what I did wrong so that I don’t suddenly contradict myself later. Making notes and reading those notes? Fantastic!
You want to keep the players engaged and making decisions. I take advantage of those times they’re discussing something amongst themselves to review the adventure or the rules. However, when they’re waiting for me to say something, I want to give them information quickly and succinctly and get back to the game.
You’re doing it right when everyone’s enjoying themselves, even if you’ve described something at odds at what the adventure says!