Episodic DMing with Masterplan
After first downloading Masterplan and realizing how integral it started becoming to my gaming experience, I started finding new ways to use it and improve game fluidity. Managing combat, lore and story in one place became easy. Seamlessly adapting gameplay and storyline in response to player actions became my new, though now much easier task. Being a DM became less of a chore and more of a chance to stretch my imagination once again.
However, with the dwindling amount of free time I’ve had available, it has become more and more difficult to actually concoct compelling adventures in a short period of time. After two sessions that felt more like stumbles rather than steps towards, I discovered that the best option is basically setting up each session like an episode of an overarching plot that is mostly developed by the players. Sure, this is hardly the first time that an episodical format that has been used in D&D (I recall an issue of Dragon magazine mocking this with Lidda the Vampire Slayer and Krusk’s Creek), but it gives each session a very specific feel that players will remember, without hours of work. The best part of all? It works perfectly within Masterplan.
Just looking at the plot workspace you can imagine how simple it is to create a story arc spanning several “episodes.” For me, I create a skeleton with several plot points with nothing more than a name and maybe a brief description of what I want to occur during the episodes that take place within those points. I then go down a level within each point and create the individual episodes that should each span a single session. From there I may just give a description of the episode and include a combat encounter as the game element, or I might even go down another level if I have time and write out each interaction I imagine the party having that night. Throw together an NPC or two with encyclopedia entries, and you have a fleshed out episode.
Depending on how long each game session lasts for your group, you might want to create one to three combat encounters for an episode, though I limit myself to two, and rarely go beyond one. My biggest problem with combat in D&D is how much is slows down the pace, even when using a complete DMing suite like Masterplan. Since my sessions rarely last more than 3 hours, putting a whole bunch of combat in tends to just make the night slow to a crawl. We need to avoid that with an episodical format, and make each night feel like a self-contained adventure that stands on its own. Therefore, less combat, more compelling story.
In my game, the players have recently returned to the mainland after exploring the island of Morinui and repelling the orcs from the mainland that wished to develop a new military base on the island. They sought to make peace among the groups of that island, but now to seek to conquer the Underdark, as one of the dwarves in the group has a deep hatred of drow, and the other dwarf wishes to spread the teachings of Moradin amongst the heretics below.
This developed into a Underdark story arc that begins with them trying to actually find an entrance, with the top-most level in the plot workspace named “Entering the Underdark.” Below that, we have “Finding the Entrance,” “Saving the Escaped Drow Priestess,” and “Fungal Forest.” Yeah the names need work, but they work for my purposes. Each of those three are individual episodes that have a simple theme: finding an entrance to the Underdark by exploring an abandoned dwarven guard post; figuring out what to do with a drow priestess that escaped bondage by her own rebelling people; and meeting the guardian of a mushroom forests that seeks to protect her land from the new drow priests of Torog.
The next episode (which we haven’t played yet) will start a new plot point titled “Political Meanderings,” starting with “The Lost Priestesses,” followed by “Lesser of Two Evils.” In working out the next few episodes, I plan on spending about an hour on each, fleshing out a few encyclopedia entries and creating a combat encounter that is short and sweet, but very fun. And in the event that the party will derail this plan, I can switch out one episode for another, so long as I plan ahead.
I might be missing some key usage of Masterplan here, as I haven’t had a great deal of time to look it over with work constantly getting in the way of fun. But I feel like that this formula works particularly well with the suite, and deserves a try. And if you have any comments or recommendations on developing episodical gameplay, or anything else discussed in this post, please leave a reply below!
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