Tales from the Gazebo – Eyestalk of the Beholder

Eyestalk of the Beholder
By Cape Rust

This is the step in the planning process when we actually put together this Frankenstein-esque monster of a plan into a creature that can be used. We’ve collected all of the ideas and scribbles we have developed over the past few weeks into one place and, depending on how your mind works, you might have even developed a rudimentary file type system so you know where stuff is. If you have been keeping all of your thoughts and notes in a digital format, the file system may have already been built for you in the background of whatever app or program you are using. I am going to try to cover a few methods I have used or have seen people use to develop a timeline or outline for your game. Please note that this isn’t actually a schedule, but a way to guide the adventure you are running so that it makes sense.

We will start with the Flow chart method. We have all seen flow charts. Some of them are complex and some, like the ones I make, are jip-joint at best. If you deal with flow charts on a daily basis then you know all of the proper symbols to use and what they mean. I tend to stick with mostly squares, circles, triangles, and arrows. To keep things simple, I have three designated major factions that the players will be facing during their adventure and I give each faction a shape. That shape represents that faction’s action on the flow chart.

For example, if I give the circle to the Brown coats, their actions and the players’ interactions with them will be represented by circles. This makes it easy to track in the heat of the moment. The same can be achieved with colors, or you can save those to represent something else. The biggest problem with using too many colors is that they won’t show up if you are printing in black and white. If you don’t want to use expensive color ink, you can always pick a few highlighters to show color differences. Multi-packs of highlighters are cheap and last a long time as long as you replace the caps.

The flow chart approach allows you to get an idea of how things should go. Players, being players, will normally mess up the flow, but if you backwards plan the adventure based on each faction’s actions and goals, you can easily anticipate what the players might do and have some sort of plan for it. If the players jump a few steps in the flow chart, you can simply draw new lines in a different color so that you know they jumped from point A to point D. If there was important information in points B and C, you can try to figure out where else that information could be found, or you can figure out a way to get the players to go to those missed points. The goal is not to railroad them, just to make sure they have everything they need to succeed.

Next up is the Outline method. This method is set up in a way similar to setting up an outline for a story or paper in school. You have the major points, then sub-points and if need be, sub-sub-points. I like pretty pictures and shapes, but by using a well-executed outline format, you should be able to get a good grip on the end-state of the adventure. By thinking the process through, you should be able to identify places where the players might deviate from the storyline. Remember that this deviation isn’t a bad thing. It is a natural occurrence when players are involved. I like to use a different font, or bold/italic letters to denote what I will call crossroads in an outline. The highlighters work well for this as well. If I use an outline with highlighters, I always use red, green and orange colors. Yes, just like a traffic light. The red is used for those points where deviation will cause me, as a Game Master, many problems and retooling, the orange denotes minor deviations, and the green denotes deviations that make the story better or that are just really cool. I like this system because I can quickly skim it after a game to figure out what I need to change for the next session.

I will finish this week with what I call the network diagram. It differs from the flow chart because it doesn’t flow like the other chart. This method tends to involve larger sheets of paper and a bit more work. For the Firefly game, it would require 4 charts. The first three would be for each faction and the last one is for the overall plot. This method requires you to have a defined end-state and to have some knowledge of backwards planning. For those of you who have never heard of backwards planning, it is just as the name implies: A process in which you start at the finish and finish at the start. This allows you to figure out just what needs to be done to accomplish that well-defined end-state. Backwards planning is a great tool for anticipating the actions of your players as well, but more on backwards planning another time.

With the network method you start with a shape (your choice) that has the start point and another shape (your choice, can even be the same as the start point) with a description of the start point and end-state inside the shape. Now that you have those written out, switch to your faction charts. Start these charts with two shapes: one with that faction’s goals and the second with the adventure’s end-state. Now with each faction, (keeping their goals in mind) start thinking of the steps they will have to achieve to reach the end state, draw a line from the end-state towards the goal, insert another shape, and write out the step or action. The beauty of this process is that as the adventure progresses, you can track what each faction is doing while the players are doing something else. You can actually have multiple lines emanating from each step to cover multiple decisions the players or the faction might make. This will result in a sort of if-then situation. An example would be if the players attack the pirates, then the Brown Coats might aid the players. If the brown coats aid the players, the players might owe the pirates a favor… you get the idea. The main thing to remember is that you can’t anticipate everything, but if you think it through, you should be ready for most major situations.

I’ve given you three ways to actually organize events in an adventure or game. Some GMs don’t need this much information. I advocate these tools because for most GMs, the X factor that players represent is daunting! I think newer GMs should try to use each of these methods for the first few games they run to have a fighting chance against those veteran players who are doing their best to get everything they want. Please don’t become dependent upon these tools to the point that they become the tracks you railroad your players with. They are suggestions and guidelines, not laws. I would advise GMs to be flexible, but instead I will say be fluid. Flexible bends and can break, but fluid conforms to whatever situation it finds itself in. The golden rule is still fun and if you are not having fun, your players won’t and everyone will lose. The best method for you and your game is definitely in the eyestalk of the beholder.

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment