Tales From the Gazebo – Planning Toolbox

Planning Toolbox
By Cape Rust

We are so close to the type of planning you are accustomed to; here is the time when we pull out the old planning toolbox. Advances in technology have made planning much easier, but with the economy the way it is not everyone has access to some of the cutting edge technology out there. I am going to cover some high-tech planning tools as well as a few analog tools. Most importantly, I want to give you a few ideas on how to categorize and organize your planning within those high- and low-tech planning tools.

Planning tools are useless unless you know what you want them to do and how you want them to do it. When planning an adventure I like to avoid trying to eat the whole elephant in one sitting. I like to develop categories for my notes and I have developed a loose framework for how I plan. Some ideas or elements of an adventure should be dealt with before others. By using a framework you can avoid having to do huge amounts of back-tracking and you just might create some synergy that will help the ideas flow like foul language from an assistant crack whore.

Here is a listing of the categories I use for my notes

  1. Good Idea Fairy Idea: Your original, non-socialized idea still has merit and elements of it might be useful later in your planning process.
  2. Socialization Notes: All of the notes you took when talking to your players and their reactions to your ideas. This will prompt you as your planning might take place weeks after you spoke with them.
  3. Revised Good Idea: This is the revision of your good idea after socialization.
  4. End State: How is the entire adventure going to end? This is a great tool for backwards planning and it keeps the whole game on track. If you have no end in mind, the game could keep going and end up going on way too long.
  5. Major Plot Ideas: These are a few major milestones or “things” that you think should happen to get to the end state.
  6. Player Plot Hooks: Plot hooks that are based on the players’ wants and character quirks or past history.
  7. Locations: Major places the characters will need to go to get to the end state. I recommend including some major encounter locations so you can start to think those through.
  8. Equipment: Mundane and magical equipment the players will get or need and how that equipment will affect the game.
  9. Backup Material: This is stuff like NPCs that might need to be thrown in, locations in case the players go out in left field and a few side bar quests or contests to throw in as needed.
  10. Handouts and Maps: Notes about game maps and ideas for possible handouts to give the players thru the game.

I have stressed that the information that I’m including in these articles is just one way to do things. If something different works for you great, use it. This does not have to be the order you place your notes in to be ready to link some of the categories. Here how your Revised Good Idea will be influenced by your socialization notes and possibly by your desired end state. Now lets look at the physical tools.

Before I got a tablet I had to rely on the tried and true analog methods. When going analog I recommend a loose leaf binder, notebook or note cards. The binder and notebook have the advantage of making it easy to keep everything in one place. Of those two options the binder works best because it is modular, you can add and subtract as you need to. Note cards are great because they are portable and each card can cover a different subject. If you want to keep those cards in one place punch a hole on the corner and get a binder ring; too easy. Note cards are great for laying out on a table to get a good overall view of your ideas and it is easy to shuffle them around so like-subjects are close to one another.

On the electronic side I use Evernote to take game notes on my iPad. Your standard Office suite will have plenty of tools to help you in your planning process. There are a number of programs that are designed just to aid you in your adventure development. Some of these are free while the ones that you get charged for tend to have more features. When using technology consider how it will impact table dynamics. It is hard to run a game if you keep switching over to Facebook to harvest crops in any number of the time-sink games that are offered. If the GM brings a computer often the players will follow suit and if they start checking crops or farming then things tend to go downhill quickly. If that is a trend you start to see at the table, ban the tech or take a break from your tabletop game, invite your group over with their  laptops and play MMOs for a few weeks.

Once again, I have just scratched the surface when it comes to high- and low-tech solutions but the game is still most important. Don’t let the newest shiny get in the way of good games.

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