I think it’s been far proven that it’s easy to get bogged down with over detailing an adventure! Plenty of times have I opened a D&D adventure book or web freebie and thought; “Never will I remember all that!”. Often I would even find myself lost running the intro games found inside the wonderful Basic Sets that D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast have produced.
The thing is that it’s really not their fault, it’s just time, life, concentration levels etc. these things all get in the way. Perhaps it’s just me but I’m more comfortable running on-the-fly with a general plan of where things are heading. Still though I often find myself trying to conjure up something in the midst of battle or at the end of this new track the characters are now heading down.
Here I hope we can tidy things up a little and maybe find some middle ground for the less organised Dungeon Master! ..
Start- Begin with an idea!
Begin with a rough outline of how you wish your adventure to transpire. Who are the major characters? What are the major places? What treasures lie ahead? What mysteries are unfolding? With a general idea of these kinds of things you can easily build up from there. Veteran Dungeon Masters may recognise that inspiration was taken here from Sly Flourish who has produced some great material online but we are going to move away from those concepts from here on!
2. Create the inventory.
By now you will have come up with lists (day dreams) of people, places, monster encounters, traps etc. Here is where we create relevant notes and character sheets. If the adventure includes a major NPC then you could make a full character sheet or perhaps there is a cave or dungeon to be explored, so make a map! Build an inventory of ‘possibilities’ to be found, explored, and encountered. You can make charts, use index cards or fill out all manner of forms to track these things. I like visually “nice” things such as tables and record sheets personally, though anything you can quickly reference will be fine.
3. That was so quick and easy I got time for something awesome!!!
Depending on how carried away you got the likeliness is you’ll have time to make something awesome now. Maybe you can build a prop or print some handouts. Make sure you complete this step to maximum awesome capability, the more immersed your players can be the better! Even if all you can muster up are some candles, that will do. However the live ‘Acquisitions Incorporated’ games, run by Chris Perkins, feature some nice dioramas making for a nice stage for the action. I suppose it just depends on ‘how into it’ you get! Other places online offer up coins, maps and NPC face cards as a few examples of what’s on offer.
4. Set the scene…
Don’t go through all of that trouble only to ring up your friends and invite them to your game. Oh no, no… At least send a text like “Meet me at the Dragons Tail tavern on Thursday” but preferably send out a little intro email that illustrates the mood of the game and its events leading to the game. If you’re getting into it drop them a scroll made from tea stained paper, maybe it has a little map on it? Maybe only one character gets the map? Be creative, you’re not inviting them to a game of Monopoly, you are transporting them to another world!
5. Play God..
When your friends come to play think of this one golden rule; The characters are your children too! That’s right you have to nurture them challenge them… and finally destroy them if it comes to it! Your words are the unfolding lands before them, this will get easier as you don’t have to describe that same village twenty five times, they got it the first or second time! Armed with your inventory, let the world flow as the players choose their actions. If you want thunder let it drizzle then throw the bolts. What I mean is progress the game as it naturally unfolds, have fun with it. You can let it rain on them for as long or as little as you want before you throw your big bolts down.
I like to get things in the hands of the players; props, clues, maps. Then let them explore! They key to this method of gaming is not in the method itself nor the prep but the approach to what the game actually is- it’s a world inside all of the gamers!