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The 3-Act Formula as a Mini RPG Campaign Template

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By UfofVincent (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By UfofVincent (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Type in “novel structure” to the nearest search engine and you’ll find a smorgasbord of templates and spreadsheets to help you plot your novel, and the three-act structure is one of the most popular there is. With a couple of tweaks (and borrowing slightly from the Universal Hero Cycle), you can adapt the three-act formula into a mini RPG campaign template. The end result is nine sessions with one for character creation and prep, two for the first act, four sessions for the middle/rising action, and two for the finale/climax.

This template works especially well for players (or Game Masters) new to roleplaying games because you can plot out the scenes/story beats in advance and let the the players advance through them in a linear fashion. The players have agency and choice in that they get to determine how they tackle each obstacle, and you as the GM are responsible for determining what complications might arise if they fail or succes. And because it’s not a one-shot, you’d still have the opportunity to revise later sessions to account for any major deviations from your plot or unexpected PC decisions.

As I test this out on my own players, I’ll update the template with links to posts discussing each session in greater detail, which will contain additional prompts for Game Masters and Dungeon Masters to consider when using the template to prep their own mini campaigns. In the meantime, please leave any suggestions to make the template more helpful in the comments below! Enjoy!

The Mini RPG Campaign Template

Act I: Introduction

Session 0: The Hook and Setup

Session 1: The Key Event/Call to Adventure

Session 2: The First Quest

Act II: Rising Action

Session 3: The Villain Retaliates

Session 4: The Midpoint/Second Quest

  • The PCs travel to the second new location
  • Subplot #2: The PCs take action to achieve the second part of their goals
  • The twist, or true nature of the dramatic question, is revealed
  • Character spotlight on one of the PCs’ strengths/motives or their side quest

Session 5: The Villain’s Revenge

  • One of the villain’s minions or plots triumphs over the PCs temporarily
  • The PCs question their abilities/motives
  • The PCs are forced to flee/abandon the location
  • Character spotlight on one of the PCs’ strengths/motives or their side quest

Session 6: The Third Quest

  • The PCs travel to the third new location
  • The PCs reconcile with an important figure from their or the villain’s past
  • Subplot #3: The PCs take action to achieve the third part of their goals
  • Character spotlight on one of the PCs’ strengths/motives or their side quest

Act III: Climax

Session 7: The Darkness Before the Dawn/Rebirth

  • The PCs suffer a major setback due to one of the villain’s minions or plot
  • Nearly all hope is lost
  • A new option for confronting the villain is revealed or realized

Session 8: The Final Battle

  • The PCs assemble the allies/strengths/items they earned from all three quests
  • The PCs travel quickly (or are chased) from the third location to their final destination
  • The PCs confront the villain

Save

2 Responses to “The 3-Act Formula as a Mini RPG Campaign Template”

  1. alx says:

    This is amazingly useful, as are all your posts on campaign design and social drama.
    Thanks.

  2. Slayyne says:

    Wonderfully done. Looking forward to the rest.

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