Easier Campaigns With A Storyline Mad Lib

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1092

I tweaked my approach to Loopy Planning.

I had three problems:

  • I’m GMing three campaigns. I need to keep each plot clear in my mind and not get things mixed up.
  • Because I like factions and side plots, even for dungeon crawls, I have about 12 plots running in each campaign. That’s 36 plots to track (no relation to Polti’s 36 Plots).
  • With a month between each session I was losing the plot (sorry for the pun). I wanted a fast and easy way to recall the gist of each plot thread before each session.

Here’s how I run my Loopy Plans in Campaign Logger. You can set something similar up in your app of choice:

Column one is the name of the plot. I run most plots based on a villain, other NPC, or faction. My screenshot shows several notable campaign NPCs who are active agents with stakes in the PCs’ activities.

Column two is the plot objective. NPC goals, faction objectives, plot directions.

Column three is Next Action ideas. What are 1-3 things active plot agents can do next to push their agenda forward? I use these for improv encounter inspiration.

Links in the notes take me to more details.

The Missing Storyline Ingredient

NPC + Goal + Next Actions gives me a good idea of what a plot thread is about.

But what’s missing is a simple overview or summary of each plot.

Taking a page from Hollywood, I now write a Storyline for each Loopy Plan.

A Storyline is 1-2 sentences that describe the meat of a plot.

With a Storyline written for each Loopy Plan, I now have a quick reference to refresh my memory. I scan each Storyline before a planning session and everything pours back into my mental RAM.

Storyline Ingredients

Here’s an example Storyline:

In the Badlands, Renwick Caradoon seeks to ascend as a Dusk Lord by finding lost lore and studying Dusk Lords, because he craves even more godlike power.

Breaking this down we get:

  • Who — Who is the central driver or chief agent of this plot?
  • Where — In what location is this plot happening?
  • What — What is the goal?
  • How — At a high level, what key actions or milestones form their plan?
  • Why — What is the motive behind the plot?

Here’s something we leave undefined on purpose: When.

Unless I’ve got a countdown or deadline type plot, I leave most details and the timeline up to gameplay. This prevents me from creating a brittle plot that breaks at first contact with the PCs.

Storyline Mad Lib

We can turn a Storyline into a short template:


Start with this and adjust it so the sentences make sense.

For example, in Renwick’s storyline above I switched the order of Action and Goal to make the sentence read better.

Create Quick Storylines For Easy Reference

With a short Storyline built for each plot, I now have a fast way to recollect what’s going on in my campaign, even months after the last session. Try writing Storylines for your plots and let me know if you find this a useful tool!