Monday, April 9, 2012

DM Preparation PART THREE: Example?!?

In an effort to to demonstrate how I personally organize my campaign prep, I'm offering this "sketch" of a campaign idea. Please note that it is an intentionally absurd idea, partly for the fun of it and partly to avoid wasting a good idea for a real campaign... the point here is simply to demonstrate how I personally tend to structure an idea, not necessary to come up with anything that is itself brilliant.

So, just for kicks, let’s say you want your next campaign to center around Justin Timberlake’s deranged plot to take over the world via Mass-Produced Christmas Sweaters of Devious Mind Control!

You could sketch it out like this:

  1. Big Bad = Justin Timberlake.
    Secretly never having gotten over his ex (Britney), Justin has fallen into a dark world of crime and global domination! He has hired top scientists to work in his secret lab (built under his Hollywood mansion) where they develop mind-controlling “super-sweater” getting this nefarious device ready for mass production just in time for the Christmas shopping season.

    Why? Because even after becoming a star on the charts as a solo artist, a beloved host on SNL, and a star at the box office, he still has not been able to win Britney back. So now he concentrates on taking over the world, misguidedly thinking that global domination is the only path he has left to impressing his beloved Britney

  2. The Seed: You know who the big bad is (Justin), what he wants (global domination), and why he wants it (to win Britney back), you know where he operates out of (Hollywood mansion).. you might develop some idea as to who Justin’s underlings are (maybe the other members of N’Sync?), what stage his development of the technology is at (Mind Control via hypnotic dance grooves?), etc, etc. Don't forget to figure out a couple key facts about Britney's current situation and... Viola! You’re set!
  3.  Hooks and Pins: 
    Many potential things you could play here - some, obviously, you might not have a full sense of until you know who the characters in your particular group are going to be (it's a different story if your group is full of characters who are in college and desperately want to be on American Idol than if your characters are police officers and psychology professors).

    Are the heroes Christmas shopping only to discover several zombie-like shoppers creating disturbances in various stores (perhaps attacking young and trashy blond girls) while humming “Cry Me A River”? Are they working in retail?
    Does one of their friends receive (or give) one of these mind-controlling sweaters as a gift? Also think about what might happen if they do not immediately get hooked:  how bad does the crime spree get if left unchecked? Again, the particulars of your characters will help provide some openings for hooks and pins, but, at least in a broad sense, you still have some things to work with.
How will the players deal with the mind controlled customers? What do the players make of the strange sweater? Where do they head next? How do they approach Justin once they figure out that he is involved? What happens if Britney gets involved?

Again, this example was intentionally ridiculous (and betrays my dated sense of pop culture) - but it demonstrates how you can organize your core information while never having to dictate the players’ actions – only presenting them with threads to start pulling - threads that get their attention and will ultimately drive toward some some sort of confrontation with the Big Bad (aka Mr. Timberlake).

You have complete flexibility in terms of how the players arrive at their confrontation with Mr. Timberlake, and the vast number of routes for the players to take toward the finale. And, remember players will generate their own avenues of interest for you to use. If momentum lags, you can use more hooks to keep them going. Or even let the Big Bad catch wind of their actions! One way or the other***, you can keep the story going forward without prescribing paths.
Your job is to get the ball rolling and then ride it out until you get to a satisfying ending - whatever that might prove to be.

***((In fact, even if the players decide to do something really crazy, like sell their services to Justin, you still can ride out the story. In that rather extreme case, you simple adjust your equation: Britney becomes the endgame and the players might fight their way through whoever might be protecting Britney (sword-wielding Kevin Federline?) Or even the ghost of Michael Jackson?!? (after all, he was the King of Pop…). And, really, even if they get Britney for Justin, is he going to want to leave any witnesses? ))