GM Advice: How To Make Your Session Plans Suck Less
By Guest Writer Jack the Rogue
Nothing kills the flow of a game as surely as an ill-prepared DM. As the DM, you have to juggle rules and mechanics, storyline, and creative elements without missing a beat. If the DM hesitates, they risk breaking the players’ immersion - the magic sensation that the game is more than just a game.
I want immersed players. That’s why I’m a big fan of anything that cuts down on the number of on-the-fly decisions I have to make in-game. Clear and careful planning frees up mental capacity to spend on roleplaying convincing NPCs, giving vivid descriptions, and engaging player interests on an individualized level.
With that groundwork laid, let me tell you about the biggest adventure-planning advancement I’ve made in recent history.
The Old Planning Method: Vomit all my thoughts and possible outcomes into a Google doc wall of text.
This was clunky and hard to read in the heat of the moment.
The Future: Sexy, clean flowcharts.
This is sleek, readable, and creates an easy-to-understand document that I can share with my fellow DMs (because content sharing makes us ALL better storytellers).
This general outline of a random encounter I built with Lucidchart gives me a map of some of my party’s likely actions, and how I should respond to them.
“But Jack!” I hear you protest, “What about improvisation?”
To you, dear reader, I repeat the words of the great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, “Only he who is well prepared has any opportunity to improvise.”
Keep in mind, this flowchart is not a railroad map. My party will likely “break” the flowchart at some point along the way. That is okay. Since I’ve taken the time to clearly plot out the encounter, I can easily improvise an extra point or two as needed.
For example, let’s say that my party rolls an insight check of 20 or higher on the old woman, but fails the investigate check. They don’t know that the old woman is a sea hag, but they don’t trust her. Rather than assuming that she’s just a “poor old woman,” they may choose to lock her up until they figure out what’s up with her. I may decide that she plays innocent, and tries to convince an NPC crew member to set her free in the night. I may decide to jump straight to the fight by having her reveal her true form.
While the chart doesn’t cover every situation, it covers the generalities and gives me a structure in which to be more creative. By mapping the most likely outcomes through to logical conclusions, I have freed myself to focus on maintaining a good story flow and fostering immersion.
I’ll rest my case, but now I want to know what you think. Are you going to give flowcharts a try? Have you been using them for years? Are you an improv puritan who thinks that less is more when it comes to prepping? Let me know in the comments!
Jack The Rogue
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