Jan 10

On Starting Right


This is a Guest Post on Tales of a GM, written by Winston of the blog Winston Roberts net.  See the introductory post here.


Guest Post

I am a writer and a waiter by trade and in both of those it is important to start right.



I cannot say how many novels I have failed at because I did not start right. Nor how many times service has gone wrong because we did not plan. As you can tell, Phil is in the process of starting a new campaign. And I am, well, in the process of starting a new novel.


Most of us have heard the saying: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. But most of us do not know how to plan. There are many different models of planning, all slightly different from each other, so I have set up this 7-step method:


  1. Explaining
  2. Excavating
  3. Examine
  4. Exploration
  5. Expanding
  6. Expound
  7. Execution


This is when you ask the Why of the project, set the limits, and clarify all the solids and definitives that exist. You should keep coming back to this, to keep you focused upon what you want, and need, from the project.



This is when you get ideas down on paper. The point of this step is to get all of the ideas down that you can. Push as hard as you can and do not settle for the first answers (no matter how good). Dig as deep as you can. What you are aiming for is the Third Third (where most of the brilliant ideas appear).


Now you process the ideas into: good, really good, must use, pass, not sure, no way.


This is where you sort the ideas into different categories. For GMing maybe you could use game plots, character story arcs, NPCs, locations, and events. You could draw maps to link topics, characters, locations, events together. Simple visual displays, such as Mind Maps or Spider Maps, can aid in speeding up game prep and seeing links or potential links.


Now we add flesh onto the skeleton of ideas we have so far built up. You take your most important ideas and build them up. Use the links from the Exploration phase or ask questions. You can even go back to Explaining and start again but focus upon the idea.


This is where we write down the details into your GM Log. Make sure you put enough detail in that you know where you are coming from but not too much that you cannot quickly see the details needed. If you add lots of detail, then a summary is important. Maybe use a word map to quickly show important details about the topic.


Here is when we make a start. This is why we are doing all this planning: so that we can get going. If you are struggling, then break down what you want to do into smaller steps. Then do the little steps.


An Example

So let us see the model in action. There is a PDF to illustrate some of the stages and it can be found on the Downloads page.


I want to play a game in which everyone plays a dwarf. I do not want a game which is too deep, but a fun game. I love Savage Worlds and want to use that as a game system. Do not forget your players or group in this step. I cannot remember the amount of times I wanted to run a game but was always put back, or games folded, because GURPS was suggested/used as a game system and the group did not like GURPS. (I love the system by the way.)


In this step I will try and get at least 50 ideas written down for the campaign. As I noted above I want to ignore all the simple basic ideas and get to the really deep ideas. In the end I managed 64 ideas for the campaign though I am sure I could have gone deeper.


To make it easier rather than examine all the ideas I will just remove the first 40 answers and keep the last 24. In the process of rewriting the ideas down into Scrapple I came up with another idea.


To start off I clustered the ideas together and removed an idea that seemed not to fit too well. After this I drew links between the ideas and added a couple more ideas.


While linking the ideas and creating more words I have started to come up with a mental image for my dwarves. They are a young race and are trapped in slavery. They are semi-outcast and are placed on the borders of a kingdom or empire. Their homeland is a desolate place on the surface but is rich in minerals and other fruits-of-the-earth. (Something to do with magic?) They are not very magical and have overcome this by technology and maybe magical technology (I am thinking runes here).


I have even got the image of dwarves being sent away as soldiers or craftsmen. Also of dwarves in slavery in other parts of the world. In general dwarves are squat, tough, and solid. In the kingdom they have a code of honour which teaches them to be loyal to family and clan. As a partly militaristic race they have duels.


Also they have to defend their homes, and hence the kingdom, from the neighbours and monsters of the land (magical?). Bunches of families join together to form clans and settlements for protection. They are private and are wary of outsiders but provide a welcome for those who are lost or injured. Guests are honour-bound to defend the hearth they are in.


Using the above as a basis I would start digging into the important details and start exploring them using the 7-steps.


Here that I would start writing the above in my GMs log. Making notes of any ideas, locations, plot ideas that seem to be important and come to me while creating the world.


Finally, here I would start running the game.


So here we have a dwarf world which features dwarves not as we know them, but also as we know them. Perhaps the dwarves are really an old race? Maybe they do have ruins under the surface? Maybe they are fallen? Maybe there are a group of dwarves who are free and hiding?


Please leave comments telling me what you think of Winston’s Method of Planning?



Something for the Weekend next week; A GM on Pinterest


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