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Game Planning.

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Levi Kornelsen:
So let's talk about planning out a good game. Here's my theory-inspired method; tell me about yours.

First, you need ideas. They don't need to be fleshed out. Just "I want to run a game with A, B, and C in it, in a world like X" is plenty. They do need to be things that you like and are enthusiastic about.

Second, you need players that you can enjoy playing with, and who can enjoy playing with each other. This is all about the personal-getting-along; I've got a list of a dozen or so things somewhere about stuff they can do to get along better at the table, but at base, you need a group that's ready to have a good time.

Third, you need to find out the different stuff that these players like in a game. This doesn't need to be in any special format; it can be as simple as anecdotes of which games were great for them in the past. Your game planning will be tricky sometimes if the players all like very different things, but so it goes, sometimes. If you can figure out stuff that all of them enjoy - common fun - then your job gets a lot easier. If something that they all like can actually drive the whole game - central fun - then it gets easier still. But don't kill their potential enthusiasm picking at this stuff; their enthusiasm is actually more important than many picky details of preference.

Fourth, take your ideas to your players and pitch them. That is, try to get the players to look at them and start thinking about what they want to do with the ideas. The moment a player wants to play and starts to riff off the ideas, coming up with their own stuff, shut the hell up and listen really carefully. They are telling you stuff that they want in your game, stuff that you can give them. Bring a pencil and scrap paper if you must, but remember this stuff.

Fifth, take those ideas and that stuff, and put it together so that you can reference it as the game goes on, and flesh it out with all the other stuff you need to make the game roll. Check your original idea for what game system to use. If needed, make adjustments so that all this stuff you have can come out in play. Or swap systems if that's needed and appropriate. If you're really crazy, homebrew a new system. If you're completely off your nut, write a whole new game just to fit this stuff.

Sixth, get those players together with each other and with the material. Pitch, again, the new stuff and the big combination, just to make sure they like the sum total. Make notes and, if needed, adjustments.

Seventh, it's time to get down into the dirty work of making characters. Keep the players together and toss stuff around. As you're building characters, look back over that stuff that people like to do, and encourage the hell out of your players to absolutely load up their character chock-full whatever stuff the characters should have for a game with that kind of stuff in it - skills, personal conflicts, thematic material, whatever it is, this is where you try to front-load the hell out of the characters with stuff to do. If you have common or central fun available, try to get everyone to load up for those especially hard.

Eighth, look at those characters and their stuff, and build up the starting situation of those characters, and all the setting material related to it, so that big heaping piles of that same stuff is going to start coming out right after gameplay begins, and will keep being hit as the game goes on.

And Ninth, run that game. Keep hitting on the stuff the characters have; any time the players move into a new situation, throw in more ways for them to keep hitting that good stuff. Use slack time to "reload" characters with more good stuff. Use crunch time to bring it out.

Don't forget the snacks, and remember that a good story starts with an explosion, and builds from there.

So.  How do you do it?

Planning a new game for me starts with ideas on what the system and gameworld has to offer, the best and the worst, and then try and combine as many of those elements together, and ensure they come up at least once per session.
Normally I prepared 3 game proposals and see which one generates the most interest or offers them the most potential. In a group where there is a little apathy, gamers who are happy playing anything, this can be a little hard to fathom. If need be a few sessions of each might cajole them in one direction or another.
Another important consideration is the powerlevel. How much of the world are the characters allowed the change? The answer should always be anything they can realistically manage. But as a GM do you really want to have to deal with that every session?
But all that gets knocked into touch when the players arrive and start pitching their ideas for characters and concepts. Unless the game demands it, or the players are idiots or spoiling for trouble, they tend to create characters that compliment each other and cover any bases they miss. As a GM its interesting to watch the player dynamics and even overlook basic needs (e.g. a healer/cleric or a pilot for the ship they want to own).
Background to the player's characters gives me clues and leads to go on, but its all about what the players want to get up to or accomplish. Knowing in advance helps me plan for the long term and get a handle on what will motivate their character. If its a new game let the players learn, and change their minds on their characters if need to several sessions in. If its a point-based game then allow them to spend the points elsewhere, if its a random roll of the dice generation, then allow them to re-roll.
My style of planning and running to make copious notes, prepare encounters, and situations in advance. No GM can run something straight out of a book or a module so even the worst GM is going to have to ad-lib at some point, so you might as well be prepared. The only problem with ad-libbing is making stuff up you forget the following week or contradicts something that you had written previously. My answer to that is once the game is over, not to pack away and go home/sleep, but to think over the adventure and make notes before retiring, or at the very least do it the next day/morning.
You can spend weeks planning, writing, emailing the players and everything goes like clockwork. Next time you can spend the same amount of time and you have to bin your notes the moment they step in the door. But knowing your NPCs and the "lay of the land", gives you a chance to at least ab-lib with confidence.
But what do you plan? When I ran Star Wars, I composed a list of things that should occur in a session, a lightsabre duel, a blast fight with stormtroopers, a speedbike chase, a little espionage, etc... and tried to balance what I liked running against what the players liked. Its a bad GM that doesnt listen to their players/character's wishes.
Well they are my thoughts...

Levi Kornelsen:

--- Quote from: Lawbag ---Another important consideration is the powerlevel. How much of the world are the characters allowed the change? The answer should always be anything they can realistically manage. But as a GM do you really want to have to deal with that every session?
--- End quote ---

Personally, I try to have a sketch of "events larger than the characters" - and make it just a sketch.  That's backdrop.

I detail, and work to make conflicts out of, the stuff at their level - which makes it more interesting to them, meaning they rarely depart from their own level, so to speak.

The characters aren't the most important people in the setting.

But they are the most important ones to the game.

I have to agree with Levi, in that setting up a sketch of background events in the gameworld can be extremely useful in shaping a campaign.

IF you keep in mind that, at least at the table, the Player Characters are the most important people in the world.

I was using a similar approach for my Iron Kingdom's game that disintigrated under inter-party conflicts at the table.  I was planning to build up to a massive 'world invasion' and see what the players did to stop it/avoid it.   To pull it off I needed a clear grasp of what the 'enemy' was doing and what the nations of the worlds were going to do to stop them.

Watch this place.


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