Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Campaign Planning, Reusability, and Separation of Concern

Some important concepts from my work in computer software can definitely be applied to campaign planning. Let's talk about two of them.
Image (cc) Tim Probert

Separation of Concern

Think of any dungeon* you've seen - or have written - with a map of the layout, lists of encounters for each room, key items and notes on where they are hidden.  How many times have you, as GM, had to skip, rearrange, shuffle or rebuild parts in response to the party's actions? Exactly.

Separating the elements means more flexibility.  Generally, the dungeon map doesn't care what monsters lie within and the monsters don't care what important treasures they guard. So if we plan loosely we can make it easier to change or add things on the fly.

Let's say instead we have:
Now it doesn't matter if it's goblins infesting Castle Blackkeep, or giants, or whatever.  If the PCs find a treasure you can give them anything you know (because you're prepared) they might need to further the plot or defeat the Big Bad.

Similarly, if you know it's important that the party finds certain clues, does it matter where or how they come across them? Plan to play dynamically because you invariably end up doing so anyway. By separating out all the important components you can combine them however works best.

Reusability

This follows naturally from the above, and experienced GMs do this anyway, but planning to reuse things keeps prep times down.

Having a list of enemies and sample encounters for each group of antagonists means time saved because you only have to write the list once and you can use it over and over. If the players never encountered your gnolls, how hard is it to reskin their list as cultists or bandits or whatever you may find you need?

Having dungeons or areas that we can revisit - slightly changed - reduces prep and reinforces that the world is not on rails.  If you have a castle map and the players never go to Castle Blackkeep then you can just use it for another castle...

Returning to the goals of this project, keeping prep low and being able to build a story dynamically without railroading or meandering, these concepts are key. I need to plan and prepare elements that can be reused, mixed and matched, discarded or modified as the unfolding story demands. As always, comments are welcome!

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* "Dungeon" meaning any location with threats and rewards spread across multiple areas; it could be a wilderness or a town just as easily as a literal dungeon.

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