Page 5–“Why You Need to Plan Ahead, But Not Prepare Heavily”

I will not be posting daily as I focus on my current project. I will be designing my project in the open though (it will eventually be released under a Creative Commons license, but for now it is my copyrighted material).

So here is Page 5 of the outline, that explains the approach that I am taking with the project. It is a rough draft, so feel free to criticize it.

     Many a Game Master (hereby referred to as GM) has made the mistake of preparing great amounts of detailed content only to discover on game night that the players were interested in pursuing another aspect of the adventure. Sometimes this happens because the players are not interested in the plot being presented to them, but the author suspects that the most frequent cause for this problem is that the players are interested in the current plot and have been thinking heavily on the matter between sessions while away from the game table. When the group reunites to pick up the game where it left off the players already have a collection of strategies and tactics that they will be employing and for which the GM could not have prepared for.

This may result in the GM negating all options for the players except for those which the GM’s prepared materials are applicable. “No, you may not see the king.” “No, you cannot leave the city.” “Yes, you can enter the dungeon.” This is the pattern of negation that has earned the title railroading, for just like a railroad the players may only go to the destinations to which tracks have already been laid.

Another potential outcome of being heavily prepared with material that the players do not pursue is to try and re-purpose the prepared material so that it is applicable to that which the players want to pursue. This may result in problems with the flow of the plot, or with the verisimilitude of the game. Relying on your prepared trap for what was supposed to be a dungeon crawl to be a convincing “security measure” when the players decide to pursue a chat with the king instead will take some highly creative story telling skills.

One solution to this problem is the sandbox game. The concept is that players may pursue any aspect of the game within the confines of the sandbox, which is often the game world established by the GM. The sandbox is dynamic, and often highly detailed, but it is not without its own unique problems (as any solution will have). The sandbox game is highly dependent upon prepared material that may never be used. A GM might spend a great deal of time on a section of the game world that the players never take an interest in. It is also possible that a sandbox game feels as if it has no plot or direction. While sandbox games most definitely can have a plot and a general direction in the form of scheduled events that will take place unless the players decide to prevent those events through interactions with the game world, creating that sense of direction and plot is a burden placed squarely upon the GM’s shoulders which results in even more time and resources being needed for preparation of materials that may or may not be used. This is not to say that the sandbox game does not have many unique and wonderful benefits, but that to fully realize its potential a GM must risk effort never recognized for the reward of a game world full of ready to use material.

There is an alternative for GMs who wish to use all of the material which they prepare, prefer to keep preparations to a bare minimum, and wish to focus more on the development of a plot or storyline. This method recognizes the difference between planning a game and preparing for a game, and those differences are:

  • Planning for a game is focused on evoking a certain feeling from your players. You plan for a game by determining what type of mood you wish for the game to have, and what kind of emotional response you wish to trigger within your players.
  • Preparing for a game is focused on creating material that the player characters may interact with. You prepare for a game by imagining various challenges for the characters, and you then translate those challenges into the mechanics used by the game system which you are running.

In order to run games that are emotionally satisfying we need to have plans for creating the type of experience which we wish for the players to have. This is difficult to achieve by preparing material according to the rules of the game, for the rules of the game rarely are designed to trigger emotional responses. Even those games that do trigger an emotional response are usually hyper-focused to trigger only one such emotional response.

This workbook is designed to help you develop a plan for creating the type of mood so that your game’s plot will trigger the emotional response that you seek to trigger within your players. Once you have that plan it will aid you in preparing the minimal amount of material needed that supports your plan, and it provides tips for keeping that material as flexible as possible so that you can fit it into any situation that your players create within your game.

The author understands that this is a different approach for designing games with, and that it is not the only approach available to you. Yet the author also has an intense passion for this approach, and believes that your games will be more fun, that you will enjoy being a GM more, and that your players will want to take part in this approach (yes, player feedback is crucial to its success). The goal of this approach is for you to have a great game that is fun and that you cannot wait to start work on the next session’s plans and prep work.

So give this approach a chance. The author is confident that if you do you will want to keep using it, and that you will tell your friends about it. All the author wants is to create a product that is so good that you are eager to use it. If he succeeded then the rest will take care of itself.

Like it? Hate it? Confused by it? Let me know by leaving a comment below.