Every GM has a different way of composing the different parts of a campaign. Typically I start with world design and cut the PCs loose to see where they end up. My process involves a lot of improvisation, which was fun and kept both me and my players on our toes.
Though I don’t do much GMing any more, I do occasionally run one-shots for my girls and it’s shown me that those improv skills I used to rely on are a wee bit rusty. So I’ve been looking for other techniques to use so that I might be able to generate a stable of encounters to be wired up in different ways.
This past week, I found an article called “How to Build New Habits with Mind Maps” by Thanh Pham @ Asian Efficiency and it somehow kicked off an interesting idea. I already use mind maps for quite a bit of brainstorming activity. Why not come up with a template I could use for a more directed brainstorm for encounters? So using FreeMind (an open source mind-mapping tool), I came up with this:
It’s almost a Madlib… “HOOK the players, complete the CHALLENGE, get the REWARD.” Just fill in the hook, the challenge, and the reward and you’ve got the rough structure for the encounter you can detail further.
- For the hook, it’s how you get your PCs involved in the encounter. How do you get them involved? Happenstance? Earlier connections? Cry for help? And then, once you have them involved, why should they stay to complete the task? Who are they doing it for and what do they get in return? If it’s a risk/reward thing, I’d want to know that there was at least a chance of some reward before I contemplate the risk.
- For the challenge, I like how many modules are doing more than just a ton of combat. It’s not all dungeon crawls any more. So what kind of challenge is it? Role-playing? Skill? Or combat? How tough will it be? And what are the variations?
- And then for the reward, what do they get when it’s all said and done? Information? Gold? Items? And do you as GM already have that reward earmarked for another task?
So using this approach, I started pondering the local wildfire situation in Colorado. We have a lot of fires burning, displacing people, and potentially destroying property. How can I work that into a few encounters?
In the end, I came up with three variations on the “firebug” theme – a fantasy version, a modern version, and a science fiction version – each with some variations to ponder.
Though like all brainstorming activities there is more work to be done to flesh these out, I think there’s potential for all of these to show up in various campaigns.
What techniques do YOU use when planning encounters? Do you have a collection of standard encounter types you use? How do you define them?
Here are the different mind maps I came up with: