First time DM, how much planning is too much?

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Greetings all...first time poster, and about to be a first time DM in a couple weeks.  I've been playing a few months with some friends, and we recently finished a campaign, and I decided to throw my hat into the ring to run the next one.  

I've been working the last week or so to try to put together a story that is intriguing, has twists, and isn't just about going into various rooms and killing monsters.  I feel like I've got an interesting story, but I'm worried that the group is gunna make decisions at the top that totally re-route the plot I've been working so hard to craft in an interesting way.  So my question(s) is/are this:  Is it worth it to plan out the story/encounters if the party is just gunna take it in some other direction anyway?  Is there a way to give them the illusion of freedom in certain situations will guiding them to various decision making points?  

I'd appreciate some insight on this...I'm worried I'm wasting time preparing too much.  

Thanks!
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Don't write a story, its a waste of time.  Instead draft a world and release the players into it.  Players are generally far more interested in forging their own path than whatever you've written.  What you should prepare is a general setting, well flavored with some interesting people and places.  Give them the feeling of being immersed in a world that they get to explore-and allow the story to be written by their actions.  Don't worry about getting to detailed or whats over the next hilll until you crest the top of it.  Take a lot of creative license and just make stuff up on the fly, it'll be more fun, and more interesting for everyone.  


Focus your prep time on adding interesting NPC's or locations to the world, not story arcs.  Getting that right the first time will save you tremendous amounts of frustration, to be frank, the players don't care about your story, they care only for their own individual stories.  

Instead of a large story, add story hooks and allow them to fleshed out only if the PC's bite.  For example, if the party heads into a local tavern they may hear a half dozen or so stories about what is going on in the town as of late, everything from the abandoned greatship that listed into port (which later turns out to be a mimic baiting its next crew), the murderer who was killed centuries ago but seems to have risen to kill again, to the wedding of the mayors daughter to a strange businessman under odd circumstances.  Allow the players to decide which hooks they bite on-if any, and for their actions to drive the story forward.  The story arc is their story.

Don't save material.  A lot of DM's prepare material in advance to attempt to build up to some epic climax, don't do that.  Just use your epic setpieces whenever you craft them, if your awesome battle is four games out, you are doing it wrong.  

On the topic of the illusion of choice, if you prepare an encounter which involves a merchant NPC stranded on the side of the road being assaulted by bandits when the PC's approach, who then rewards them with quests/items/etc for protecting him, have them run into the encounter no matter which road they take out of town.  Being able to drop your prepared encounters into almost any scenario will help immersion-so try to keep them general and flexible, and once you are practised enough you won't need to prep any encounters at all. 


Don't try to guide the players, unless they want to be guided.             
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
It's worth planning a story if you enjoy it for its own sake. If it can unfold whether or not the players notice it or do anything about it, and would be interesting even if the players did the exact opposite of what you'd expect them to do, then great. It's also worth planning if what you come up with for it has a lot of general usefulness. Writing and imagining anything is good practice for a DM.

So, as long as you don't lose your flexibility, and won't shut down your players to protect what you've created, you probably haven't planned too much.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Greetings all...first time poster, and about to be a first time DM in a couple weeks.  I've been playing a few months with some friends, and we recently finished a campaign, and I decided to throw my hat into the ring to run the next one.  

I've been working the last week or so to try to put together a story that is intriguing, has twists, and isn't just about going into various rooms and killing monsters.  I feel like I've got an interesting story, but I'm worried that the group is gunna make decisions at the top that totally re-route the plot I've been working so hard to craft in an interesting way.  So my question(s) is/are this:  Is it worth it to plan out the story/encounters if the party is just gunna take it in some other direction anyway?  Is there a way to give them the illusion of freedom in certain situations will guiding them to various decision making points?  

I'd appreciate some insight on this...I'm worried I'm wasting time preparing too much.  

Thanks!



Running your own plot driven adventure as a first time DM is tough, I don't recommend it. But if you feel you must and you have already done the work, this is what I'd suggest. Chop away as much of the contingent plot factors as you can and keep the adventure simple. Retain the encounters or scenes, but be prepared to drop them or adjust their timing. Write a single sentence that explains what you will do if a path is not taken, so you don't freak out during the session (brief and to the point). Good Luck.
It can be worthwhile to play a little "What if...?" with a loose story arc, giving each of those potential decision-chains a quick think-through. It isn't usually necessary to do this for more than a few potential encounters ahead of wherever the game currently is (unless you go for marathon play sessions), but it'll help you to spot potential problems (or opportunities) in the scenario and get into the right frame of mind for dealing with the "didn't see that coming" approaches that your players will inevitably deliver.

When focusing on the major NPCs, know what their interests and motives are because this will likewise make it easier to figure out how they react to unexpected developments. (It usually doesn't matter with minor NPCs or mooks.)

And yes, this does become easier with practice.
Rather than hiiting a full plot, I like to sketch out some of the major players in the world, and things they may be up to. If there's a level 10 warlock trying to summon a balor into the world, the player might run afoul of his minions long before they can take him oN. a few rival factions may be trying to start a full blown war, and a druid may be seeking the curse for some darkness invading the land.

fluff out the npcs, and youre ready to go! 
These are all great tips. As for writing a story ahead of time, this can be tricky, since this game is about collaborative storytelling and you are only person at the table. It's almost certain that your players will focus their interest on parts that you "know" are unimportant. My players are 4th level and still looking for that odd farmer they saw during the first half hour of our first session.

So I suggest not writing The Story, but write several Stories. Take a hint from episodic TV, in which several story arcs are ongoing, and the viewer dips into them. You can make your world seem alive by setting up the stories and having them continue on whether the players pursue them or not.

For example: The players meet up on the edge of a town that has just been overrun by giant rats, driven out of the marshes by an unknown force. Right there you have two stories--rescue the survivors and drive off the rats, or investigate the marsh. These are simply story hooks for the first adventure. The bigger stories might be--

1. The regent of this land is calling all champions to a great tournament. He has been plagued by secret dreams of a demon threat and intends to hire the winner to defend against this threat. If the players answer the call, they compete and eventually face the demon. If they don't, they may meet up with champions on the road, they may hear about demonic battles, and deal with the overrun of the castle.

2. An influential circle of priests in an adjoining kingdom is calling for elections to appoint a new head of their order after the untimely death of the old priest. The resulting upheaval is attracting brigands and goblins. If the party investigates, they will face the invaders, have an opportunity to pick sides in the coming election, and eventually discover who killed the old priest. If they don't, the goblin/brigand threat will grow, some towns may be completely taken over, and a bad guy may take over the priests, with all sorts of nasty implications.

3. Refugees from a northern village claim their land is being frozen out. If the players investigate, they will face unexpected tundra, commoners on the brink of starvation, and a glacial threat descending from the mountains. If they don't, the glacier draws nearer, towns become encased in ice, and frost giants will follow the glacier.

These are pretty simple examples, but the basic concept is that there are several stories proceeding regardless of player involvement. You decide what's going on in your world but the players choose what to deal with. The boon I've found in this approach is that it helps quite a bit with immersion and small flavor. When the players meet an NPC, you can quickly cast his or her role in the wider world and have a good reason for what they're up to. 
Greetings all...first time poster, and about to be a first time DM in a couple weeks.  I've been playing a few months with some friends, and we recently finished a campaign, and I decided to throw my hat into the ring to run the next one.  

I've been working the last week or so to try to put together a story that is intriguing, has twists, and isn't just about going into various rooms and killing monsters.  I feel like I've got an interesting story, but I'm worried that the group is gunna make decisions at the top that totally re-route the plot I've been working so hard to craft in an interesting way.  So my question(s) is/are this:  Is it worth it to plan out the story/encounters if the party is just gunna take it in some other direction anyway?  Is there a way to give them the illusion of freedom in certain situations will guiding them to various decision making points?  

I'd appreciate some insight on this...I'm worried I'm wasting time preparing too much.  

Thanks!



Build an adaptable story.

Instead of saying "The lich will summon Tiamat regardless of what the PCs do", instead, create the lich, give him a personality, a method of thinking, and goals. Then give him conditions that can have an effect on his actions.

Say, he needs the Orb of Hellfire to summon Tiamat. If he has it already, he probably has it hidden and guarded somewhere. Make it possible for the PCs to find the orb by planting hooks and hints into the game world. Then give them the ability to raid the hiding place if they locate it. If they manage to make it past the traps and guardians, they might destroy it, take it for themselves, or leave it alone if they don't fully understand what it is yet.

If the orb is destroyed, determine the possible reactions the lich might have to that and what repurcussions will come about from the act. If they take it, does the lich go after them? Or does he flee? Is there anyone else after the orb?

If he doesn't have the orb, he is likely looking for it, and using minions to retrieve it. The PCs are likely to encounter his minions searching for the orb, which might allow them to discover that there is a lich in the area up to something devious (which allows them to try and confront him directly before he can find it). Or not. If they don't, it can come back and bite them while the lich gains strength. Perhaps they race for the orb? Who gets there first and is it possible there's a big battle with the lich at the location of the orb? 

All the above is a number of different potential plot threads for your group to move through, while still retaining some original concepts of a story you want to tell involving a lich, an orb, and tiamat.

Think of the story and world as a bunch of moving parts that react in time and rhythm to the beat of the decisions made by the PCs. Not a static arc that must be played out regardless of what happens.

Also, the personal stories of the PCs is super important to sprinkle throughout the campaign.

In the rare ocassion that the PCs never catch on to the plot or seem uninterested, come up with something else and bring the story to them. The lich is still in your world after all. While they're pursuing more interesting goals to them, there may suddenly be a raging dragon deity who appears in town one day demanding sacrifices while razing the castle. That will bring up a lot of questions.

Edit: As long as you enjoy it, there's no such thing as too much prep time. (lol, well...unless your players are complaining that they haven't played in weeks) I think I once spent about two weeks working out the details for a single session. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
This is all great advice!  I'm gunna re-hash my story into broader, more flexible ideas rather than try to plot it all out.  this leads me to a follow-up:

One article I read mentioned giving depth and flexibility to the campagin by giving NPC's Ulterior Motives...so, for example, the shrewd business man isn't JUST a greedy bastard who doesn't like outsiders, he's being greedy because he owes a debt to a local crime lord who is holding his family for ransom and the PC's are mucking up his plans to get them back.  Also, several replies in this thread have mentioned developing interesting NPC's instead of detailed plots so that the PCs can figure it out. 

If anyone has any advice on how to manifest ulterior motives without simply having the NPC suddenly decide to reveal them...that would be awesome.  

but thanks for all the help.  This forum rules.   
If you need to convey info without every NPC making a speech, I have used two methods.

1. NPCs talk about one another. It may not feel natural for the businessman to tell every customer about the local crime lord, but maybe the city guard have seen him slip out of town in direction of the criminals base, or a sympathetic priest has made a donation to the ransom. Either might let hints slip during conversation. Or if the players don't want to spend an hour talking to NPCS...

2. Rumor mill. When my players reach a new town, or revisit a familiar town after a long absence, they can look for rumors. Each has to tell me where they're going and how they're checking. The fighter may hang around the dock where occasional brawls break out, the wizard may go chat with the apothecary. If they demonstrate the use of a specific attribute, I'll let them add that attribute's bonus to a d20. I have a stack of index cards with rumors on them, some false. How well the players do on their roll determines how many cards they can pick from my hand. A natural 20 means no false rumors.
This is all great advice!  I'm gunna re-hash my story into broader, more flexible ideas rather than try to plot it all out.  this leads me to a follow-up:

One article I read mentioned giving depth and flexibility to the campagin by giving NPC's Ulterior Motives...so, for example, the shrewd business man isn't JUST a greedy bastard who doesn't like outsiders, he's being greedy because he owes a debt to a local crime lord who is holding his family for ransom and the PC's are mucking up his plans to get them back.  Also, several replies in this thread have mentioned developing interesting NPC's instead of detailed plots so that the PCs can figure it out. 

If anyone has any advice on how to manifest ulterior motives without simply having the NPC suddenly decide to reveal them...that would be awesome.  

but thanks for all the help.  This forum rules.   



To make ulterior motives known to the PCs without the NPC just up and saying it aloud (unless the PCs pry it directly from him of course), you can do a variety of things. Leave physical evidence that might suggest what they're actually up to (diary, journal, letters, etc.), have them act funny (like looking around for witnesses or lock doors and windows at all times), or maybe even leave the motive out in the open and notice if the PCs can put two and two together on their own.

In the case of the shrewd business man who owes a debt to the crime lord. Maybe on the second or third trip to his place of business, the PCs see a suspicious looking man or multiple men leaving just as they arrive and the business man has a black eye. Or maybe one day, they notice him dropping a bag of money at a certain spot outside the shop and hiding it carefully before continuing about his business. It's also possible one of his family members escapes the crime lord's grasp and makes it back home while the PCs are in the shop. The family member could burst into the place with tears in their eyes and talking about how one of the other family members is still trapped and/or dead. With more repurcussions on the way.

Anyway, just some ideas to start out. I'm sure there will be a few more posted soon. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
JUST the kind of ideas I'm looking for.  Thanks!
 

If anyone has any advice on how to manifest ulterior motives without simply having the NPC suddenly decide to reveal them...that would be awesome.   



I would say this would depend greatly on the players. Most NPCs that are intelligent enough to have ulterior motives to begin with will also be intelligent enough to keep them hidden unless they see a reason to reveal them. Dropping a few subtle hints to the players should have them trying to puzzle it out without you just coming out and saying it, assuming they have any interest in the hook. The only thing I would add to the advice already given is that the players have skills specifically for ferreting out information, if they choose to employ those skills then they will find your more subtle plot points. If they are more of a sword the first person I see and ask the second for information type, well, that can work too. I'd just let them decide how they want to figure it out and be prepared to shrug and move on if they miss picking up on the clues. That or resort to a more direct approach similar to Lunar's example with an escaped relative bursting in.
right on, thanks.  

also, bonus points for the BEST username.  for real.   

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