I encountered this issue when prepping for a big arc in my campaign, let me explain:

The players are entering a place where there are three main factions (A B C) and possibly minor ones (D E). The factions have interconnections with each others: (X1: if the dragon appears A does attacks B; X2 C tries to do steal from A's vault) etc, etc. On top of this, the actions of the characters influence what each faction does with the characters and with other factions (X3: if the characters contact B first, A knows and resents them etc, etc).

Now, I wrote this down in prose, with a bit of structure but there's a good chance to miss things when the list of X1, X2, and so on, grows too large. For example, something in X1 may be influenced by something in X10 that is way down the prep page.


What are better practices to deal with this kind of mind maps? (I'm not really asking for what has worked for people but rather if there are resources that explain how to do these mind maps and why doing them in certain ways)

I can envision having arrows between Xi and Xj when Xj refers to Xi, but there may be also different kinds of relationships between different Xi and Xj (will differently-coloured arrows suffice?).
So, I don't know if the text + arrows is the best approach, the clearest or whatever.

Perhaps this is a known concern when writing story/prep and there are some guidelines ?


6 Answers 6


There aren't best practices for DMs. Here are some established practices for PMs.

Project management (PM) shares a great deal of planning and effort estimation with campaign planning. Swapping out real cost and time estimates for in-game time and resources is a simple enough alteration that permits the use of PM tools as campaign tools.

Top Level Broad Strokes

The architects and successful managers often have a high level view of how the parts of a system fit together. Both Lucidcharts and Draw.io have been used successfully for diagramming small projects.

Story Dependency Management

Dependency relationships between elements in a project story that lead to an objective can be modeled by critical path mapping[1,2]. That allows you to produced bounded estimates on both time (in-game and out) and in-game resources to fit your story budget and player's schedules.

A sufficiently well laid graph can also be informative for what story steps need to be planned or content written in the immediate future based on where you are in the story arc. It also has a built in reminder for what the estimated resource constraints of those chapters were when you originally laid it out. This can help avoid writing content that is never explored.

Narrative Use

It is useful if the the critical path of elements that need to be completed are described to the players early on. Having the players understand the bottlenecks to the story can clue them into the arc without having to share the entire graph with them.

Details of chapters, scenes, quests, situations, etc

At lower level of granularity from the story arc, keeping track of a morass of relationships in a location can be problematic. A social network diagram or relationship map will trace the relations or interactions between different actors and events. Color of, annotation on, or pattern of the connecting lines can represent the type of relation between the nodes.

Complexity is a trap

If your network diagram for a particular location or scene ends up looking like a spider web, it's going to be difficult for the other players to keep track of that. Keep it stupidly simple in that there are a few actors on the stage/scene/chapter and their relationship are straight forward enough they can be summed up in a single line or annotation. This means the players can do the same.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that complexity should be managed, but I do know of at least a couple players in my circle that revel in complex stories with intrigue and repercussions beyond what the PC's immediately experience. Depending on the game system, it may even be expected. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 19:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso I find that despite planning to keep it simple, things organically get really complex and sometimes deep. The best I can ever hope for is just keeping stuff near a path. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 20:06

No plan survives contact with the enemy. Plan accordingly.

That's the principle behind an idea called "fronts" formalized in the first edition of Apocalypse World, which you can download free here, and extended into a fantasy milieu in Dungeon World, which you can see on Github here.

The core of the idea is that, instead of prepping the ways you'll act and scripting explicit reactions, you prep things to inform the way you'll react, and rely on your judgement in the moment. This has three benefits:

  1. If the PCs do things that fall outside your plans, like suborning the dragon and setting the entire city on acid, you're not staring down a bunch of wasted time because none of your plans will come to pass.
  2. If the PCs fail things that were inside your plans, like confronting the dragon but getting completely wrecked and giving up the location and defenses of the city to save their own hides, you're not staring down a bunch of wasted time because none of your further plans can come to pass.
  3. Since you're only making a judgement call in the moment, you can't overlook your own plans and make a call that winds up ruining them.

You do still prepare a plan as part of a front, but it's an extremely optimistic plan - each threat in a front has a way they could change the world forever, and some consequences as they progress toward that end point that will be visible to the players. The knights want to drive threats to their power out of the city and rule by force, the temple wants to convert everyone to their faith and rule by accord, the thieves want to steal treasures, ransom them back, set up a protection racket and rule by subtlety. (The dragon wants to set everything on acid, pluck the shiny bits from the sludge, and sleep the sleep of the just got richer.)

Aside from that, every threat has its own assortment of assets - the important people, places, and things involved in it - and a list of reactions. What you'll find in the linked rules are broad reactions fitting broad types of threats, that a specific situation might inspire you to fill in the specifics of. The knights want to discredit the others so they'll demand you deal with them first. The temple wants to rack up favors for later so they don't care about primacy but offer to divine your future in exchange for information. The thieves aren't about direct confrontations so they already have someone on the inside as long as you bring a bribe. The dragon needs toadies; anybody who's been out that way might be a traitor.

Threats can also be nested in scope. It's not likely you'll come into conflict with, say, all the knights at once trying to rule the entire city at once - one notable knight and their retinue trying to force out a few independent merchants can have its own steps to completion that the PCs can become aware of and stop. You can even revise the big plan or leave it mostly unplanned until you see how the smaller plans pan out.


I would use a state diagram for this. A state diagram contains nodes (often blocks or circles) with different states (eg A resents the party) and arrows representing transitions between states (eg party contacts B). An arrow could also lead to a decision node, which could lead you down different arrows depending on the situation. When playing you can place tokens on your diagram to track the current state of each diagram, then move them when needed.

I would highly recommend separating out multiple diagrams as much as possible, then using decision nodes to choose what path to take.

Here is an example diagram I made where a troll is harassing an elf farming community and a dwarf mine. I made it using https://www.diagrams.net/ but there are tons of other tools you can do this with, including ms paint.

enter image description here

You can create multiple diagrams at different levels of detail if that helps too.

A word of advice

Simplify your game. Out of all the planning you are doing, your players will only experience 1. Make sure you aren't wasting effort on things they will never see.


Try a Conspyramid

I suggest that you take a look at Night's Black Agents "Conspyramid" approach. They suggest a pyramid of power relationships, with many street level actors feeding up into the middle management and up the chain. This then determines the nature of reprisals, and information flow. There is a discussion of this on a review site.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounds useful for planning out an organization or one nation, but it sounds like OP is more interested in international affairs and remember which events have happened \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 awesome technique. This is present in *Neverwhere" by N.Gaiman in that you find out the protagonist and friend are being betrayed - but by who? The suspicion keeps changing. Very fun if you can pull a similar thing off in a RGP campaign. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 10:40

Okay so I can't tell you what to do but this is how I plan. It.

My personal preference is MS Visio but lots of other programs would work the same.

The basis is that I create visual maps, something like a DnD character sheet, and then draw the lines to link the elements. Along those links I would have triggers for actions, events, or new actors. On top of the links I often end up adding a Venn diagram of sorts to help keep elements, like motivations, very clear.

I find it's also really useful to keep a work in progress timeline at the bottom. It's then it's easy to draw linking lines down to it.

I find my story maps look really muddled during the rough phase but cleaning them up is where most of the story details come out.


Disclaimer: I don't like mind-maps, they don't work for me. If you want a strictly visual answer this won't be for you.

Linked Pages

I run my games entirely from OneNote but this approach should work for most notetaking apps, campaign management tools or wikis. My notes consist of sections for lore, PCs, NPCs, locations, rules (and house-rules), items, and session running notes.

Anything in my game that is important enough to get a name is important enough to get a page or paragraph somewhere in my notebook. Having a page or paragaph means they can be linked to from other pages. Use of links between related entities is at the core of how I handle factions and the like in my games. Each faction also has notes of their motivations and goals to help me decide when interactions would impact them.

Depending on what the factions are they will have an entry in NPCs (possibly multiple), lore and a link from the locations where they exist. On the main faction page I have a list of relations to other factions they interact with. Here is an example of what a faction looks like in my notes:

The Rusted Chain

The Rusted Chain are a heretical off-shoot of the religion known as The Chain. They survive as a group of mercenaries and assassins for hire, only their most devout followers observe the religious beliefs of their origins.


The Rusted Chain is mostly motivated by greed, both for money and power. But their leader is fanatical and believes in stamping out other religions.


  • The Chain: Members of the chain despise The Rusted Chain and decry them and anyone associated with them as heritics.
  • The Watch: The watch see the rusted chain as troublemakers and won't tolerate them in town. Anyone that is know to associate with them will be poorly regraded by the watch.
  • The Merchant Guild: Members of the merchant guild see the Rusted Chain as a useful resource and dangerous ally though are wary of showing it opening lest they bring the wrath of the watch.

In the example above any text that is in italics is a link to the faction page for that faction. By using free text fields I can be as detailed or as sparse as I need to in explaining the relationships.

Anytime my players interact with a faction I quickly check that factions relationship list and make a note on the related faction if it would impact on their behaviour. By not bothering to explicitly write what their corresponding action is I can respond more naturally by reviewing how the information interacts with that factions motivations. In some cases it will simply impact the conversation between the players and the faction, in others they will actually see activity as the result of it.

This system works for items where I have a list of factions/NPCs interested in the item that might come after the party or offer to buy it. It works for individually, factions and entire diplomatic regions. It's simple and quick and doesn't require me to follow any diagrams just click a link in my notes.


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