Oft times it’s hard to find inspiration or a tether to pull a series of ideas together, or at least it was for me when I first started playing tabletop roleplaying games as a Dungeon Master. I would have a good starting point and I would know where to go but have no idea how to get there much less how to get the players to want to go there without hitting them over the head with obvious clues or loot. Through DMing for over a hundred different players, way too many prematurely ended campaigns, and more one-shots than I’d like to admit; I finally stumbled into an approach that minimized the time I had to spend prepping and increased the time I could spend playing.
The simple solution was letting the characters and setting tell me. No, I don’t mean I have delusions of my characters talking to me while I brush my teeth in the morning; I mean I take a serious look at the motivations and as many interpretations of their actions as possible. For those who do any math or coding, it is a simple if x is true, solve for y or to be more concise ‘if true’. Let’s walk through an example so you can see what I mean.
We have NPC1, let’s name her Sarah, she’s a baker and the first character we plant to have the players meet. Naturally, we don’t really have a lot of energy and made her the ‘quest giver’ she will be our hook. So we plan for Sarah to tell the players about her concerns about bodies going missing in the graveyard and how she wants the players to investigate. Simple right? Nothing out of the ordinary. Now we have established a Point of Truth. It is an undeniable fact to the players that Sarah has given them a quest to solve a mystery of sorts.
Consequently, an easy way to build up a ton around this quest is to figure out what has to be true because of this point. For Sarah to tell the players at their first meeting her concerns and that she has a quest for them that means that either the town/city doesn’t have a City, it is inept, there aren’t any bodies missing or they aren’t taking the missing bodies seriously. So now you as the DM can pick which of these is true. Next, why isn’t the city or town leadership dealing with the issue? They either don’t believe Sarah, they don’t know about the issue; they care and have sent for help from a bigger city, or they’re covering things up. But either way, regardless of what conclusion you come to for either of those two questions a Secondary Point of Truth was actually there the whole time. Sarah, the Baker has no trust or faith in the leadership of the town/city and that could also mean a lot of things.
So in a few short moments, we’ve already come up with a lot of potential ideas of what kinds of NPCs we need to fill those roles and our brains are making connections and plots as they follow the natural lines created by looking for internal consistency and logic that naturally sprouts from the simple starting point.
Now let’s finish the plot by noting the First and Secondary Points of Truth and letting the logic progress realistically based on what I feel would be fun to DM. I’ll make it so that the city leaders do in fact know about the bodies, the town does not have enough guards to protect the town from goblin raiders during this season and figure out what is happening to the bodies. So they naturally sent out a request for adventurers from a larger city a few days up the river, oddly enough no adventurers have come to see them. Surprise, surprise that’s because Sarah’s bakery is right at the entrance of the town so since she is up before the crack of dawn she carefully greets everyone she doesn’t know to tell them of the quest and get them to investigate because she’s actually a Necromancer. She’s been intercepting all of these adventurers and using them to fill in the ranks of her undead army right under the noses of both the town and the Baron in the next city! And she plans to trap and trick our unknowing party.
Suddenly we have so many interesting directions things can go, a bunch of mobs and potential encounters, and we know the general attitudes that these NPCs should have based on the situation. Not too hard, right? It may take a bit of practice to get more comfortable with this style of plotting, but the power in it is that you can also do it whilst in the middle of play if you need to come up with interesting side plots or your players avoided your plot hook for the tenth time that session. Try it and see how it works out for you!
Practice Scenario: Your party is trying to leave the latest city they visited after catching up on sorely missed rest and they notice that the guards are searching everyone on their way out of the city gates.
What is the A to B Series
The quote, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” by honestly no one really knows, encompasses the point of this series of articles perfectly. It will focus on connecting and expanding your creations in a logical manner that help you foster an immersive universe for your next game. And more importantly help newer GMs navigate some potential pitfalls and perhaps offer alternative approaches for session preparation. Most of them will also include impromptu mid-session uses as well.
Logical Game and Player Selection [Available Tuesday]