Plot Factories Part II – Spinning Up The Idea Machine

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0768

Last Musing on Plot Factories generated quite the buzz in my inbox! It was almost all positive feedback about the notion of interrogating your ideas.

To recap, take any idea you have and brainstorm 10 ways you can make an encounter or situation out of it. Think of it as an Idea Machine.

Do this to test whether your idea has legs.

Also, do it to get better at brainstorming.

However, there’s a third awesome benefit. Take this Agile GM approach so you stay focused on gameplay.

I remember years ago working on my 7 Cities campaign. I spent hours drawing paper maps. I even created an ink version of just coastlines so I could photocopy it and create more maps.

Then it was game day. I had 20 maps. But no game. Crap.

I spent all my time on world development. I knew gods and coins, but not plots or PCs.

So testing your ideas to see what gameplay might arise is a great way to stay focused on what’s most important — the precious few hours you have with friends playing your RPG.

Here’s another example of the Idea Machine in action.

We talked before about finishing every game session with a decision about what the PCs are doing at the start of the next. This gives you certainty for planning next session’s first encounter.

If you know the starting point, it gives you a lot of confidence about what might happen next. And a confident GM is a happy GM.

Let’s say the Hobos of the Apocalypse are licking their wounds in the dungeon. With Leomund’s Tiny Hut, they can recuperate in peace. Then they plan to hit the Air Node dungeon.

Spinning up the Idea Machine, I try to brainstorm 10 possible encounters or situations that could kick-off next session:

  1. Enemies follow the PCs’ tracks and spot the impenetrable dome of the hut. So they camp out, guard, and wait for the PCs to emerge.
  2. The hut taps into another dimension, out of which plot-related NPCs appear. (My awesome players allow me to take license with this stuff.) Friends or foes?
  3. The ground underneath the hut changes for some reason. It collapses or shifts. The PCs emerge in a different part of the dungeon.
  4. Foes bivouac next door, not realising the PCs are near.
  5. Foes leave traps. And restock a few cleared areas.
  6. An NPC rushes into the area and collapses. They have a note. And they’re booby trapped.
  7. An ally rushes into the area, chased by foes. Do the PCs intervene?
  8. Foes collapse the ceiling over the hut, burying it.
  9. Foes write threats on the side of the hut in blood.
  10. Foes rest themselves, regroup, and plan an ambush. A new prisoner is acquired and held hostage.

Most of these ideas focus on first encounter gameplay. They need refinement, but they do dig into actually playing the game and offering players choices or situations to react to.

No time-wasting theoretical stuff.

In addition, I’ve now got a few ideas about the PCs’ hut. They’ll be using that spell often in the future. And you can see now how I’ve started developing ideas around it for my campaign. I’m noodling on its physical presence in hostile territory and consequences of that. There’s even a metaphysical idea I plan on exploring further.

A few more of these Idea Machine exercises and I’ll have a nice menu of ideas for Leomund’s Tiny Hut for future gameplay. Cool beans.

Here’s A GM Challenge For You

Step 1: Get certainty about how next session will start. Ask your players what their first action will be next session.

Step 2: Crank up your Idea Machine and ask, “What could happen?”

Step 3: Brainstorm 10 ideas.

Step 4: Pick your favourite idea and flesh that out as Encounter #1.

Step 5: File unused good ideas for later inspiration.

Step 6: Go ye forth and GM confident and happy!

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