View Full Version : how far do you plan?

2011-01-05, 02:31 AM
I'm a DM that has a lot of free time and not enough game time, so I plan. And I plan, and I plan.

But I was wondering how far in advance you like to plan, do you stop at one game or do you make 5? Do you write the entire story or just work with the basic idea and pull it out your @$$?

2011-01-05, 02:36 AM
I tend to think things out a teensy bit and then pull the rest out of my arse on the spot; in my limited experience, it doesn't seem to be the best way to go about it...

2011-01-05, 02:40 AM
I tend to plan in Arcs, little storylines with gaps for training and such at each ends. As I mostly ST Exalted, this works out well. I fully plan out the current Arc*, and sketch out a few possible ones that could happen once they've gotten to the end of the current one.

For example, my current Exalted PbP is in it's Great Forks Arc, about halfway betwixt start and middle, and half the PCs have run into vitriol-tainted Earth Elementals, while the other half is currently lolligagging their arses through the forest to find out about the rumours of Wood Elementals wrecking up the place and attacking without provocation.

I have in my head the possible outcomes of a few different actions the PCs could take at the moment, mostly in terms of how they interact with the world. One of the groups is combat-heavy, for example. Very little Social-Fu to be had. Or indeed much tact. Currently they've only had mortals to shout at, but once they get going up the power rungs looking for info, things should be getting harder.

*Within reason. This IS Exalted, after all.

2011-01-05, 02:42 AM
Thus far? I try to keep the future undecided and work on expanding the present to include more details. These facts are then adjusted as the PCs explode them.

It makes things less annoying when the PCs decide to turn a thief/bard LBEG into a party cohort.

2011-01-05, 02:43 AM
You could write up story ideas and potential plot hooks.
Conceptual stuff isn't set in stone, so you can always modify it
depending on how the PCs get involved. You might come up with
more overarching ideas for things that may happen that the PCs
might not have control over (ie. the first steps in a BBEG's plan,
different villains getting involved).

If your group is more sandbox oriented, or if it helps you to think
that way, you can try working out locations like cities and surrounding areas that have important people sitting around doing stuff already so that way when the PCs get there things are already happening for them to jump in on. Or draw up a list of NPCs that you can just throw in anywhere. Or just design an area like a forest they would have to go through(a skeleton model wouldn't take as much time as a fleshed out area, you can add stuff later to suit the PCs level).

2011-01-05, 02:45 AM
Both too far, and not far enough :sigh:

2011-01-05, 02:58 AM
Normally, I'm a "pull it out of your ass" guy, but for my latest story, things just came together so perfectly that I ended up planning out four levels worth of content before half of the characters were even made xD.

(Golden's Tip: You can skip this spoiler if you don't want to read about my campaign.)
Time for some background. I'm about to DM Pathfinder for my friends for the first time; I've played it before and they've played 3.5, but this is my first time DMing the Pathfinder system and their first time playing it, so I wanted to make a memorable adventure. I ended up coming up with this plot where a vengeful satyr wanted to destroy a town because its lumberjacks chopped down a tree that housed his lover, a dryad, killing her instantly.

I knew I wanted the party to start at 6th level because our previous DM had a tendency to stop and hit restart before we'd get to 6th level; it seemed like a good way to say "Okay, time for you all to experience something new." Before I actually started crafting my encounters, however, I asked myself some questions. Namely:

What is the satyr's name and emotional state?
What is his plan to destroy the town?
How is he getting the resources to do that?
Where is his lair?
Does he have any character flaws?

Taking those into account, I decided that Mr. Satyr was formerly a good Alchemist who aided travelers. He ended up seeking the aid of some witches, who gave him his plan; between his knowledge of chemicals and their knowledge of plagues, they figured out a way to harvest yellow musk creepers for their pollen, allowing them to turn the villagers into yellow musk zombies. Mr. Satyr, however, doesn't like hurting children, so he decided to ask the witches to help him get the children out of the town before they poison the residents; they agreed because a green hag sits at the heart of their coven, and Her Greenness (this is literally her name) enjoys devouring all that is good and innocent and pure in the world. So the satyr's own thirst for vengeance has left him blind to the very real danger he is going to put these children into.

Basically, I just read through the bestiary and found creatures I liked. Because of the green hag, I decided that the satyr's lair was in a swamp that was on the opposite side of the forest as the town. I've always liked dragons and the Order of the Stick, so I borrowed from Rich and had the lair be the home of a mature black dragon and her young adult son, who let the crazed alchemist and his witches crash in his crib while Mom was away in exchange for first picking of the town to add to his own growing hoard. From there, kobolds as yellow musk zombies only made sense!

Things really started getting crazy when I built Her Greenness, whom I decided should be the "final" boss of the dungeon, with the Young Adult black dragon as a possible Diplomacy encounter at the end (he really just wants the mortals out of his lair so he can clean up before Mom gets home). I decided that Her Greenness had Improved Familiar and gave her a Quasit, which then opened up the idea that the lair was also filled with demons as part of the unholy alliance. Then in order to capture the children, I decided that one of the witches assassinated and impersonated the local Boggart Chieftan, allowing me to add them to another part of the encounter. Now, I'm up to roughly 28 encounter spanning two levels (yeah ... I didn't give them a lot of below-or-equal-to-APL encounters xD) and if I play my cards right, I bet it's going to be one of the best games I've DMed.

Anyway, I think there are two ways to write an adventure. You can flail about, picking whatever monsters you think look cool and try to stitch them together or you can come up with a short adventure concept and slowly flesh it out from there. You'd be surprised what comes together.

2011-01-05, 03:00 AM
I make a point of doing a little of each, see. For the grand-scale stuff, I try and plan, but for every little thing under it, that's the stuff that gets pulled straight out of the ether. :smalltongue:

2011-01-05, 03:03 AM
Basically, I don't plot out anything, I just make a world and characters to live in it. The characters end up writing a plot. They know what they want, and how they can get it. Add PCs and prepare to think on the fly, because the PCs are the same way, except you don't know what they're going to do next.

The only downside is that this style is crappy for Schrodinger's Railroading. If the BBEG is going to kidnap and sacrifice the king's son two weeks from now and the PCs don't catch your plot hook, too bad. The king's son has been kidnapped and killed.

Ah well. New, obvious plot hook, as the BBEG is now much more powerful.

2011-01-05, 03:11 AM
I've tried DMing a couple of times (nothing ever really came of it) but i find that it's simpler to leave a bunch of different hooks for the players to choose from, go for whichever one they pick, and come up with something out of my ass.

If i do come up with a plot hook and it turns out to be ignored, i simply let it fade. If i happened to have thought something important about it out before hand, i'll simply let it play out and have it directly affect the PCs at some point down the road.

Rather i WOULD if we ever got that far down the road >.>

2011-01-05, 03:15 AM
I tend to plan out similarly to how I write.

I spend all my time at work thinking about it, and after everyone else goes home, I start practicing my voices. I guess that's the good part about closing every night.

I put pencil to paper for the next session, usually enough to fill two pages in my notebook, maybe enough for two sessions, but never more. I have no idea how "on track" my players will be, for all I know, everything I plan will be thrown out the window, and I'll have to bull**** an entire session shoehorning the stats I gave for the proposed villain into whoever the players decided to make the actual villain, or making up everything as I go along (I'm able to build an NPC in three minutes by now, so I'm not that bad at spontaneous GMing even for battles).

I had a game that I tried lead up to a boss fight that I had in the works for over a month, but never got to use it because the players decided they didn't need conflict with any of his associates... never again.

2011-01-05, 03:20 AM
Golden, that sounds like a phenomenal campaign, if i do say so myself!!

2011-01-05, 05:39 AM
I get wickedly crazy idea's and my imagination runs batS**t insane with vague premises and scattered encounters, spend the majority of my time coming up with the most in-depth overpowered NPC's, then realize I have to scale everything back a bit since my Level 5 campaign has several boss NPC's all with Player Classes and all around 18th level. Then I cool off and simplify everything, but then I'll think of something I deem really cool and my mind goes off again. When I finally get down to writting out all the encounters I procrastinate like no other until I realize we start playing the next day and pull everything out off my a$$.

Bottom line, I start with good intentions but always end up the same way all my high school papers did.

2011-01-05, 05:53 AM
I usually make "scenarios" that can be dropped down whenever the PCs run into an appropriate situation rather than actual plans. Because I've yet to make one of the latter that survives first contact with the PCs. :smallsigh:

In one game I'm DMing for, there's a social scenario I thought the PCs would run into around third level. Now they are level 15-16, and I still haven't found a time to drop it.
So in one way, I planned that one out years in advance. In another way, I will pull it out of my ass when the situation demands it. :smalltongue:

2011-01-05, 06:14 AM
I usually have a stock of areas that I can just drop down on the characters with a moment's notice, but I always plan a very vague outline for the campaign. Vague because the players are likely to derail any plot I throw out there. Occasionally, when they're out there saving the world, I'll throw 'em a time sensitive plot (since the world is not static, and waiting on their whims) and let them sweat it out for a few frantic sessions, before coming back down to a more normal pace.

2011-01-05, 06:39 AM
I know who my BBEG is, what his intentions are and where if all goes 'normal' they PCs will fight him.

I have a few idea's on how to get them from where they are now - to that point.
I have wrapped in their backstories a little to certain events.
I have most of the local world, clear in my mind - with it written out - and pre planned plot hooks awaiting should the PCs steer that way.
I keep a stock of Random encounters, guardsman etc incase the players go 'hog wild'.
The week before each adventure - I settle down to plan the next session, right out the more descriptive sides. Add in clues, little puzzles I've seen and stat up the 'monster of the week' encounter.

I can do the overreaching planning because I know my group doesn't really go 'off the rails' in a plot sense and our sessions as short enough that the player wont have got to far away I expect them to be.

It works for our 3 hour weekly group - not so much on groups that go for 12 hours at a time. There you need lots planned out, as you'll have less time to think about it during downtime.

In a more general sense - I plan using the rule of three, whatever I want the players to 'get' / 'notice' / 'investigate. Anything... I drop at least three clues, really helps to flesh out the world - also stops me being too obvious at the start, allowing the Players time to draw conclusions and act on them (normally completely the wrong conclusion but hey ho their PCs - and me tricking the Paladin into attacking the innocent is kinda my job!)

Happy Rollin'

2011-01-05, 07:13 AM
I plan a lot. I've been known to write up 100 pages of material for a 1-day (~12 hours) game. Having stuff you can just flip to and read from is the best option if your concentration is flagging near the end of a long game session. Even if your brain is tired, reading aloud from a passage that's crafted to be both clear and dramatic should help enliven your players.

2011-01-05, 07:37 AM
I used to try to plan everything. That does not work, because either a) players want to do something I haven't planned for, or b) I get some cooler idea later.

Now I create a rough and flexible outline for my campaign's plot and short to medium length adventures (I unfortunately don't have very much time to do preparations) that can be fitted in, according to the situation at hand. In fact, these short, technically stand-alone adventures are the backbone of my campaign.

2011-01-05, 08:34 AM
I come up with how my campaign starts, and how its going to end (not exactly what happens but more the long term goals of say the villain as an example). Working on what happens between then and there is mostly up to my players. I come up with a few ideas of scenarios based on what would perhaps be relevent and I can mostly apply them to a situation eventually but Im very much an on the fly, minimal paperwork kind of GM.

2011-01-05, 09:58 AM
I like a snowflake method; I get the major bones of the story down, and then fill in details as necessary (or not). So I have characters X, Y, and Z, with motivations A, B, and C, and maybe location Q, but what actually happens is based on what the characters do.

It saves a lot of work, and still lets me have enough material that I can use if I need. For example, I don't stat out character C until the players look like they might run into him, but I have a general idea of who he is and what he wants so I'll be able to tell if/when they will.

As for plot, um... I find it's usually not worth it beyond "this person wants to do this, which will result in this if it happens, or this other thing if it doesn't." All characters have stuff they do; whether the PCs' stuff interacts with the NPCs' stuff is going to change in ways you can't predict; the best you can do is have a general idea of what all the stuff is.

2011-01-05, 11:33 AM
I'll make some vague long-term plans to give things some general shape, subject to PCs changing what/how it will all happen. When it comes time to get down to individual adventures, I try to predict what my players will do and plan accordingly, including enough motive and intention for NPCs and mosters so that when the PCs do something I didn't plan for I'm able to roll with it and improvise on the fly.

2011-01-05, 11:36 AM
I plan pretty far ahead, however, I usually plan linearly so sometimes my campaigns may feel railroaded.

2011-01-05, 11:46 AM
I usually have a general idea of the campaign's end/the PCs' goal. Before each session(read: 1-2 hours before my players show up) I figure out approximately what they're going to do, plan encounters(choose monsters to fight), etc.

It usually works fairly well-I avoid a lack of preparation but am able to adjust things easily if something odd happens.

Kurald Galain
2011-01-05, 12:13 PM
I tend to think things out a teensy bit and then pull the rest out of my arse on the spot; in my limited experience, it doesn't seem to be the best way to go about it...

That's more-or-less what I do, except that in my experience it works great. DM'ing for over a decade has given me excellent improvisiational skills in this area.

2011-01-05, 12:57 PM
I front load my planning, with a focus on the things that are going tomake interesting conflicts for my PCs being a priority. I rough-sketch the world, leaving a lot of flex because I am sure to need it.

Once the game is off and running, I wing it a lot. If I get stuck, I ask for time mid-session (maybe 15 minutes or so) to adjust and adapt. I ask the players every session for some ideas of what they are going to do next session and prepare for some of that. I tend to stick to broad stroke stuff.

2011-01-05, 01:12 PM
I plan worlds, settings, NPCs, and overall plot a fair bit, and then figure out where I'll be going with the next session should the players not throw me a curve ball, and get stats written up for the things I'll very likely needfor that session. Otherwise, I just know the important NPCs' motivations and capabilities, and I let the world progress as would make sense plus whatever I come up with as we go, modified by what will make the best story/situation.

It's worked out very well for me, since I'm good at keeping track of a lot of story information in my head without slowing the game down. The players feel like the world is consistent and like I had everything planned just so, and I don't have to spend huge amounts of time planning every contingency.

2011-01-06, 12:31 AM
When I first started DMing, I used to plan EVERYTHING. I put a lot of work into an adventure, considered 6-10 different ways to resolve it to account for the PCs' cleverness, and even included side paths to an adventure (An NPC playing Devil's Advocate: "Your main task is to cure the disease, but who would argue if you said they were dead before you got there?").

I was always extremely proud of my work when I brought it into gaming day with my close friends... Who then ignored the majority of it in favor of the Kick in the Door approach. Took me a while to realize how much time I was wasting, but eventually, I just started thought up a hazy, vague idea of what I wanted to do for the session, maybe drew a battle grid or made some attempt at a map (that generally looked like a four year-old's artwork), and pulled the rest out of my arse. Last time we played, I gave improvised the exposition, and made up statistics for monsters in my head (Fable-style Hobbes) and had fun for the next four hours.

2011-01-06, 05:16 AM
When I first started DMing, I used to plan EVERYTHING. I put a lot of work into an adventure,....I was always extremely proud of my work when I brought it into gaming day with my close friends... Who then ignored the majority of it in favor of the Kick in the Door approach. Took me a while to realize how much time I was wasting, but eventually, I just started thought up a hazy, vague idea of what I wanted to do for the session, ..... and had fun for the next four hours.

isn't it great when you get to that stage - My players are like that - they don't care. They are there to meet friends, eat snacks and roll some dice and the monsters I try and make into a story.

I recommend reading DM of the Rings as a education into how much your players really don't care about your elaborate world you've been building for weeks/months.

2011-01-06, 05:47 AM
I very much dislike games that are too pc centric so I plan quite a good deal of things that are happening all over the continent but not too far into the future because one does never know where the players interfere ^^

The players can then chose what to do and influence what will happen if they chose to idle then events will pan out. I think this way it gives a more realistic none pc centric world in which not everything is on hold until the players decide to take action.

2011-01-06, 07:07 AM
But I was wondering how far in advance you like to plan, do you stop at one game or do you make 5? Do you write the entire story or just work with the basic idea and pull it out your @$$?

For my major campaigns, I've got enough over-all plot-arcs to last for a couple of years for play. I'll also have a whole slew of adventures ready-to-run and a bunch of NPCs. Plus vague outlines for a bunch of other stuff. Sometimes my session is perfectly prepared weeks in advanced, although at other times I might only have a loose outline of things.

2011-01-06, 08:29 AM
isn't it great when you get to that stage - My players are like that - they don't care. They are there to meet friends, eat snacks and roll some dice and the monsters I try and make into a story.Well, yes and no. No, because I wrote the stuff and I want to do something other than produce things to kill, heh. It's so bad that the one time I tried to add in an option for a morality test that didn't involve sharp objects and death, they all gave me the deer in the headlights look simultaneously and then stopped reacting :smallsigh:

But yes, because I used to suck hard at improv, and it did help, (I'm nowhere near being good at it yet though), and because it helps me focus wihout being so anal about contingency plans. Although I do wonder what would happen if they'd take advantage of some of my ridiculous over-preparedness sometimes.

I recommend reading DM of the Rings as a education into how much your players really don't care about your elaborate world you've been building for weeks/months.

Thanks for that :smallbiggrin:

2011-01-06, 01:20 PM
I plan exactly one adventure ahead and I plan it in at least five different directions so that wherever my PC's go I have a little something to keep them occupied.

That being said, I am continually updating the politics, events, and movements of the world around them. I have dozens of events planned out over the course of the next several in-game years, and they will happen unless the PC's interfere.

I find that by doing it this way I can continually develop for my world, but not overplan and find that the PC's have subverted weeks of my work with a bad die roll or a random decision that I didn't predict.

2011-01-06, 01:31 PM
I put my planning effort into building a stock of encounters that I can drop in flexibly, so that no matter where the party goes there's something that fits that I have prepped. Beyond that I plan one session ahead for encounters if the party does what I expect them to, but that's lightweight planning, mosting making sure I've statted up any non-stock NPCs or bosses the party might meet. Trying to predict the party's actions more than one session ahead should be useless in a fun game. :smallamused:

Strategically, I plan the ongoing history of the world as a whole - I have a script (at a very broad and shallow level) of what will happen to the world for the next few years unless the party reaches high level and changes things. I know who the powerful NPC/BBEGs are, and what motivates them, so I know how to react if the Party unexpectedly matters to them. All told that's just a few pages of planning for an entire campaign, but it helps a great deal when the party just decides that "here" is boring and teleports 1000 miles south to see what's going on "there".