Panicked Prep For Next Session

Writer’s block. Bleh. You can’t figure out what to craft for next session. No encounter ideas come to mind. Zilch. Panic sets in as you hear the clock tick.

Here’s how I talk myself off the ledge.

First, how many encounters do you actually need? Estimate your group’s average encounter playtime and divide by session length. Having a specific number of encounters in mind helps ease the panic.

For example, my group takes 30-60 mins per encounter. That doesn’t include quick merchant roleplays, gathering info, or ambushes with mooks. It’s just prime real estate game play encounters I need to design.

We start at 6:30 pm. We finish at 11 pm. Four and a half hours or 270 minutes. That’s five 60 minute encounters, or nine half-hour encounters. Let’s combo and say 3×60 + 3×30.

My goal is now creating just six encounters.

Next, I brainstorm encounter seeds. The key here is to start with one magical phrase:

What if?

Combo that with one source of inspiration.

What if? + one source of inspiration = one encounter seed.

Here’s what I use for sources of inspiration:

The Monster Manual

Read the fluff. Read the special abilities. And ask What if? What if the monster became a leader? What if the monster earned a weird new ability? What if the monster discovers something weird? What if the monster interacts with a special NPC? What if the monster is being hunted?

Save a list of these questions you collect over time. (If you have ideas for What if? monster questions, please send them to me and I’ll share them back out with everyone.)

The News

This one works great. What if the news item happens in the PCs’ world? That’s the first basic question you could try for ideas. Then dig deeper into the details if still stuck. Another great question that helps you dig into news seeds is Why? Why did this happen or why did the person do that? Ask Why? three times to unroot good encounter material.

Random Page

Grab a book, magazine, or web page. Then flip to a random page or section and use What if.

Create 10 Seeds

Use these and other sources of inspiration to create 10 encounter seeds. Write more if you can. Challenge yourself to do 20. But 10 for my six encounter budget is enough.

Pick your favourite six. Flesh them out. Set the scene. Add crunch. Done.

Next step if you have time: connect the dots.

Look for ways to relate and connect encounters to each other. Look for NPCs who know each other, locations you could reuse, items that become useful later on. Tighten things up a bit on the plot front. Swap things out to make connections happen. Reuse people, places and things from your existing campaign.

I believe that last step is where your best gaming lies.

With practice, you can create dozens of encounter seeds. Do five a day for a week. Flex those grey cells.

It’s connecting the dots that’ll make the session come together. That sweet feeling of weaving an amazing story together with your friends.

Try this all out and let me know how it goes.

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