Using my Campaign World Tree method for planning a new campaign, session prep is the last stage of the process. Using the conflcit/s that I’ve decided to explore as a frame, I begin to plot out a few options as to how the PCs might interface with the NPCs through various scenes and encounters. I also begin to consider a new element at this stage: location.
When I was planning the first session of my Savage Elder Scrolls campaign, I had a sense of the classes and races my players had chosen, which is to say, they were wildly divergent. Taking a cue from the video games, I decided that the easiest way to unite these characters was to have them break out of prison together. From what I knew of their backgrounds, only one of them was particularly prone to crime, so I didn’t want the prison to be for one of the various holds.
Enter the Thalmor, who are known to attack at the slightest provocation (read: verbal disagreements) in Skyrim. So I knew I was going to have to come up with some adversary profiles for the highly likely chance that the PCs resort to violence in order to break out. Going back to my rule of three, I came up with three different adversary types: one easily-killable type, like simple guards; one toughter type, who were accomplished mages; and a named NPC, who I expected to survive and become a recurring nemesis for the party.
Next, I knew I would want to map out the fort in great detail. The beauty of setting the story in Skyrim was that I had the Primera guide that was chock full of maps, and I’ll admit that I saved myself time by hunting down a floorplan I could use. I also wanted to consider where on the world map the fort would be, so that the party could begin to explore outwards into an interesting part of Skyrim, but still have to survive a decent amount of wilderness and Dwemer ruins in order to finally return to civilization.I ended up deciding on Northwatch Keep, and dug up the floorplan to reference when I drew it up on the battlemap. By now I knew my party preferred conflict and exploration over social interaction, so that was the kind of campaign I was going to run for them.
After determining the adversaries and location, I wanted to come up with a few more challenges for flavor. To drive home the fact that they were playing in Skyrim as opposed to Cyrodil or Morrowind, I wanted to put them against the forces of nature and the rugged landscape. Trying to seek shelter in the mountains during a snowstorm would be a sufficiently difficult task, I decided, so I thought of how I was going run that encounter and what they would find inside the caves. Last I needed to worry about a few bits of loot and other rewards, since another feature of the Elder Scrolls universe is digging up lost treasure.
I was pretty confident that escaping their cells, battling their way out, and finding shelter in the mountains during a snowstorm would take up most of a session. I looked to the other nearby locations and started brainstorming potential encounters for each should the PCs decide to set off in that direction. Had this been a more intrigue-based session, I would have spent more time thinking about the NPC motivations and connections. And because I was using Savage Worlds as the base system, I didn’t need to worry about setting difficulties for any of the checks.
I guess you could say that on a basic level I consider the Who, What, Where, When and Why/How when coming up with the details of a session. I try to prep only enough so that I can mix the ingredients together as appropriate without having to slow down the session to look something up, but otherwise leave them uncombined until I see what the PCs are up to. Because experience has taught me that the more specifics you plan out, the less likely the PCs are to follow the path you put out for them.
How do you approach session planning? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on player “homework.” Thanks again for reading!