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Author Topic: Game Planning.  (Read 1199 times)

Levi Kornelsen

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Game Planning.
« on: August 26, 2006, 04:47:17 pm »
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?

Lawbag

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Game Planning.
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2006, 06:53:04 pm »
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...
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Levi Kornelsen

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Game Planning.
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2006, 09:23:56 pm »
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?


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.

Spike

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background of worlds
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2006, 11:20:42 pm »
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.
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Settembrini

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Game Planning.
« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2006, 03:12:46 am »
Watch this place.
If there can't be a TPK against the will of the players it's not an RPG.- Pierce Inverarity

Lawbag

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« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2006, 04:07:19 am »
I like players knowing that they aren't the only ones living in my world. NPCs dont wait for the players to turn up. If they are meant to be at a certain location at a certain time, and they decide to be late then they will miss the boat. So yes point taken...
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Keran

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Game Planning.
« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2006, 07:16:01 pm »
The general course of events is that I get interested in a character who has some built-in conflicts.

A setting starts to form around the character.  Usually, the character's nature implies some conflict built into the setting: I have a large tendency to get interested in misfits, pariahs, and the enemy.

At some point, I know enough of the basics about the setting to start consciously fleshing it out, preparing for a campaign.  Fleshing it out involves:
  • a lot of research into any important aspects of the setting that I don't know anything about;
  • a lot of mapmaking, because the maps give me physical continuity, a lot of economic information, and political geography;
  • I've recently added developing large numbers of NPCs and their relationships in advance, so I have more detail to hand and can spend more of my brainpower during sessions improvising the stuff I can't do in advance.


Setting up for play involves telling the player(s) about the basics of the setting, finding out what direction they're interested in going in -- who do they want for characters?  If I have more than one player, we'll do group character creation (usually through email, with me forwarding the messages), so that we end up with characters who have some connection to each other and are likely to be able to work together.

Then I further developing the relevant parts of the setting so there are at least three or four open-ended conflicts brewing (a couple of which I probably had some idea of already as a result of the nature of the world-forming character), and a couple of which are built more directly around the PCs.  The PCs should have some way to address these conflicts, and there shouldn't be an obvious outcome built-in: it shouldn't be overwhelmingly likely that one side will win.  It's OK if some of the conflicts have an obvious right answer, but there should be at least one important one that doesn't -- there should be at least one where it's debatable which outcome is most desirable.  This development phase also usually involves a lot of chatter with the players.  

Then we decide on an opening scenario -- a way of introducing the characters, introducing the setting, and introducing the conflicts.  After that, what happens is largely determined by what the characters decide to do.  Seeing what they decide to do, and figuring out what happens as a result, is the point of the game: I don't have a specific plot, or even any general idea of making one take shape.

At some point, it will be apparent that the PCs have resolved one of the conflicts, or significantly altered it, so that we've reached the end of a story.  At that point the campaign will end, and I'll take a break.  We may go back to play more in the same setting, after turning it over for a while and thinking about what the next set of conflicts would be; or I may want a change of pace, and I may start setting up in a different world instead.

Spike

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two keys
« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2006, 11:00:26 pm »
I think that there are two key issues at play here.  

The first of which is that a dynamic setting is more interesting than a static backdrop. Thus having an idea of what sorts of things are going on around the players can make for a much more interesting, even memorable game.  

The second of which, however, is that the dynamic setting should not trump the players, should not overshadow their characters. Obviously they must be able to influence those events that they wish to get involved with, yes. While many GM's seem to miss that part it should be self evident. Slightly less obvious is this: If the characters ride into town after an epic battle with the Orc Warlord, having waged weeks of brutal war against the maurading horde, they should come back to some accolades from the locals, not to the news that Prince so-and-so just killed a dragon.
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GRIM

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Game Planning.
« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2006, 02:56:19 pm »
I gather elements together, ideas, a vague idea of what's going on and so forth.
If its a complex game I'll pregen stuff, otherwise I don't feel I need to.

I prefer to do things on the fly which turns me off games like D&D etc that require a lot of prep.
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Rubio

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Game Planning.
« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2006, 09:15:56 am »
I agree with Grim, and think that's an area that template-based games score over most d20 products, but that's a discussion for another thread.

I've always found that having no plot whatsoever soon results in people looking at each other over the table going "so...". I generally start with NPCs with very distinct motivations and a good idea of what will happen without PC intervention, typically with a fairly apparent Bad Thing (tm) for them if they do nothing, and let things proceed from there. Having in mind what the NPCs want allows me to figure out what their reactions to the PCs' actions will be.
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Wandering Monster

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Game Planning.
« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2006, 05:13:42 pm »
I'm one of those pesky "world-building junkies" who is deathly allergic to all published settings.  I aim (and, according to my players, often succeed) to create dynamic worlds that feel that they exist outside of what the players see.  Where I often fail is in actually having anything interesting for the PCs to do when the campaign starts.  I'll have vast plots, plenty of interesting conflicts, and a good enough handle on the game world that I can convincingly improvise any details.  However, I only have a vague idea of where the campaign will go after the introductory adventure, which has led to many a pissed off player when I suddenly realize I have this fancy playground with no structured activities.

Only recently have I realized how big of a problem this is in my games.  Once the campaign has hit the fifth or sixth session, I can GM by the seat of my pants for a year of game sessions, riffing off of PC backgrounds, happenings in those first few sessions, or anything else that may strike my fancy.  My new tactic, in addition to Levi's grand list, is to come up with enough adventures to occupy five sessions.  If the campaign never reaches all of them, I'll save them for later, but this gives me enough to run at least five sessions if the players aren't being proactive enough for me to wing it (and helps assuage the gaming ADD... oooh, look... shiny)
 

Lawbag

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Game Planning.
« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2006, 04:23:34 am »
Quote from: Spike
SNIP

The first of which is that a dynamic setting is more interesting than a static backdrop. Thus having an idea of what sorts of things are going on around the players can make for a much more interesting, even memorable game.  

The second of which, however, is that the dynamic setting should not trump the players, should not overshadow their characters. SNIP.

I think you have touched exactly on how a campaign should be run, and a style which I subscribe to. My NPCs dont hang around for the PCs to meet them. They can miss the boat by messing around on the docks or overstaying their welcome in a city.

While the focus should always be on the players, maintaining the illusion that the world is real, and they can see the direct effect of their actions, I believe makes for a more satisfying game for both the GM and Players.
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Volkazz

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Game Planning.
« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2006, 08:03:19 am »
A slight revision:

The dynamic setting should not trump the characters *in their own story*

eg Ars Magica - it is likely (but by no means certain) that the Crusades are more likely to be rememebred (by the world) than the PCs actions.  This does not mean that the Crusade's can't happen, just that there is no reason for them to receive screen time in England.

OTOH, my players did get involved in stopping the Mongols.  No NPCs were able to work out what was happening (at least who cared to share)

V.