I'm making a campaign, and it's going fairly nicely. However, I found out that my group is able to meet this week, which I didn't expect. So instead of having 9 days to find time to prepare, I have 2 (we play on Fridays.)

Are there any techniques I can use to speed up campaign development? I've reduced the story arcs/side quests available from 5 down to 3, but I still want to give them a little option in their game play.


  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that this answer will apply here, too. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 16 '11 at 18:17

This is a great question. I've had many great modules with only 2 days notice, and here's a few ways that I deal with tight deadlines for modules...

Make a Triage

Choose a Primary, Secondary and Tertiary idea that you would like to have in your module. These can be anything you would like, such as monsters you think are cool, genres you like or a particular game mechanic you'd like to focus on. An example would be an espionage story with a Human Assassin who tries to run from the players through a crowded city square (skill challenge). Take your primary idea and make a hook that will goad the players towards this event/mechanic/goal/doom!

Pick some Padding Elements

I hate to compare this to how you would write a college term paper, but... well... you know :) Players can spend a lot of time in a city asking questions if they have something interesting to investigate. If they have a far destination, nervous nights guarding the camp fire with a few light encounters can add some engrossing realism. Always have a few generic monsters written down for random encounters. When in doubt, throw a few of these guys at the party. Be ready with a few NPCs for the party to interact with. The key here is to add fluff with something rewarding. EXP, gold, treasures or details to help the mission.

Get Good at Improv

"Laying track while the train is rolling" is the best way to describe this. This is a skill learned with time, but if you can focus on a few details that are important, and the tools you have available, you can make a module out of a few bullet points easily. It will help to focus on your Triage and just make a snap decision that makes sense in the moment. There are lots of great sources for Improv, but one of my favorites is the "yes, and" exercise. If a player wants to do something, say yes! This has lead to long sequences that required no preparation on my part that the players loved. Just play within the rules, and revel in the surprise with them. This is pretty much free gameplay since you are letting them dictate the direction. Just remember your three ideas, and poke the game in that direction slightly every now and then.

In closing, this is an opportunity to let a game grow from very little and could reveal some fantastic spontaneous gameplay. The best part of this is you will likely get more honest ideas of your players personalities and how they think, which feeds you new content for later modules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I anticipate unicorns, and monkeys dancing on the bar, and, I'm not kidding, a poop monster in the city sewer. My wife has explicitly mentioned each of these as potential elements she would put in if she were running it. Maybe I can compromise by allowing the unicorns, and a handle animal spell? :-) I see what you're saying though - have a beginning, an end, and let them fill in the middle. \$\endgroup\$ – corsiKa Jun 16 '11 at 7:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds very creative and awesome :D you want to get used to finding analogies to made up monsters to the monsters in the actual rules. A horse makes a fine unicorn and... well...we have fought a poop monster before sigh I just used a stock green jelly \$\endgroup\$ – WayneDenier Jun 16 '11 at 20:38

Let the "campaign development" happen in play

Improvisation makes play better. When you improvise, you're free to focus on what's going on right now, in play. That's much more natural and responsive than what happens when you try to forcefully steer events towards your prewritten content. Almost all RPG designers, across a broad range of game styles, will tell you that preplanned storylines — whether linear or branching — absolutely pale in comparison to "playing to find out what happens."

Improvisation makes prep better, too. When you know how to improvise, you can get the most out of your prep time by just focusing on the key bits you're likely to need most. Spend 5 minutes sketching out a rough map of the city. Spend 10 minutes coming up with a list of cool names you can use whenever you need to name a new NPC. Spend 20 minutes on a relationship map that could potentially drive the next six sessions of play. Spend an hour reading a cool book you find inspiring. This is way faster and way more fun than trying to write a lot of details ahead of time. Moreover, when you don't even have time to do any prep, you can still use your improvisational skills and natural instincts to create great stuff.

Improvisational GMing is actually much easier than it sounds — in fact, it's the core of "lazy" GMing. Here's a good guide to get you started.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was about to write an answer suggesting the front framework from dungeon world but your answer cover the essence of my suggestion. I also think that "ask questions and build on the answers" goes hand in hand with play to find out what happens. You can ask the players what their character's have heard about the sewers and build on it. \$\endgroup\$ – user4000 Feb 28 '14 at 16:15

Out of my personal experience as a GM I can say that improvising is a really grand skill to have. It is a skill which comes with practice. Reading a lot of books is also helpful. Ideally, you should be able to start a campaign if your friends crash onto your house with ready characters going on about an rpg-rush. 75% of the sessions I game master is a complete improvisation, apart from one or two main plots running in the background. And I was several times praised by my players who say, that when I improvise the game is better.

This is actually a very valid argument if you look at it closely. When you have nothing prepared you just let your players run wild, agreeing to almost anything they want, they can find their own plots, their own quests, their own ideals, their own grand enemies. If you prepare heavily for a game, you will most likely try to, even subconsciously, to force your players to follow your plot. You will put at them what you think is funny, what you would like to do, what you would like to encounter.

You can also take the improvisation much further than just plot developement. Why not make monsters on the spot? Items on the spot? Forget about rolling the dice and consulting the Dungeon Master's Guide, just think up the stats of your monsters/items/NPCs/encounters/traps/elements!

  • \$\begingroup\$ So it might be a good thing that I don't have much time to prepare? I mean, what I'm doing right now is just presenting a problem, and then thinking of a couple ways --I-- might solve it, and preparing for those. Maybe by just introducing the problem, I can come up with a couple generic challenges, maybe some puzzles (funny, they ALWAYS end up on the wrong side of a magic door, how unfortunate...) and letting them determine how they get there... I like it! \$\endgroup\$ – corsiKa Jun 16 '11 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ While i tend to wing it in some ways i generally at least loosely organize my adventures. Taking time to think about and come up with good encounters will add to the enjoyability over all. I give my players some freedom but if you let them choose everything they do I tend to find they want to go to the inn and start a fight or pick up some comely wench and generally spread out and do their own things creating havok and not a fun session. Having a direction to point them in at least helps. Sure be ready to make up an encounter if the party goes off track but a little prep goes a long way. \$\endgroup\$ – user2015 Jun 16 '11 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chad luckily my players are far too witty for my own good to do things like starting a fight in an in (though that is also an interesting thing to do at times). I tend to keep the main plot in my head, and small plot hooks are noted when introduced (usually they are a spur of a moment thing). \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy Jun 22 '11 at 12:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ yeah that seems to be the common go to for players that have nothing better to do is start a bar fight with the locals.Which is why my innkeepers are retired level 5000 adventurers that prefer runing an inn to beign a god :P \$\endgroup\$ – user2015 Jun 22 '11 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chad Haha, I try not to introduce too powerful NPCs, rather, if have to, I scare my players with sheer number of guards (you can only take out SO many before they grapple you to death). \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy Jun 22 '11 at 18:12

"Improvise, Adapt, Overcome" -- extra points if you work out where the quote comes from.

Run with what your players do. Allow them to change the encounters, lead the story, move it in new and interesting ways. This is why GM need in game notes, so they can retrofit events to fit a better story.

For example: You have a unicorn. You expect the PC to attack it, kill it, skin it, and eat it with shallots, wild mushrooms and cream. Fine.

Now, your PCs decide to capture it, tame it, and use it as a mount for the Paladin -- the only one who can get close 'cause you know, chastity and all that. Suddenly, from a random monster encounter, you have a really nice side story. How smart are unicorns? Maybe they are carnivores -- thus the horn. Who else will want a piece -- maybe a crazed wizard chef who wants to cook it with shallots, wild mushrooms and cream. What happens when a random combat kill the unicorn? How are the PCs now coping with their loved pet's death? ...

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are always faithful to this advice, your game will be a success. :) \$\endgroup\$ – cr0m Jun 22 '11 at 17:12

My stock answer for a session like this--particularly a first one are:

1) RP: Get a couple of well defined NPCs for the PCs to bounce off of. Give the NPCs some goals and let the RP commence.

2) Combat: In the completely opposite direction, bad guys spring from the floor, or come out of the walls or drop out of sky and the PCs have their first combat.

3) Improvisation, of course. Its 4+ brains versus the 1 wee feeble brain of the GM. Count on being out thought.


I've reduced the story arcs/side quests available from 5 down to 3

Why? Are you giving them several choices in completely independent, mutually exclusive adventures, all of which must be planned out in advance? Would you consider running those adventures in parallel instead?

I find that when I run several plots at once, each plot progresses very little during each game session. This means that instead of prepping 6 hours worth of branches, I can plan 1 hours worth in each plot. I no longer need to prep 5 choices and 3 hours ahead. I just plan up until the next crossroads in each plot, let the players make that choice, then move them to another plot.

This saves so much time in terms of prepping. If I'm never looking past a plot choice, I'm never writing material that gets wasted. It also makes your plots look much more complex because the players will assume the plots interact. Drop a clue and they won't know which plot it applies to. I've confounded my players for the last 18 months by twisting two simple plots into one.

This style doesn't work for stereotypical dungeon hackfest style games though. When you're in a hole digging up a MacGuffin, there isn't room for a ton of plots. It works best in an intrigue game, where the players stay in the same city as the people behind the plots.


When I DM, I typically have the main plot in my head, and all relevant stats/stat blocks for the main plot folks. I'll typically make up a few NPCs the players are likely to interact with: "Shopkeeper without right arm. Cranky, and mistrusts anyone who looks like they can handle themselves in a fight since he doesn't have his sword arm anymore". I'll re-use a single stat block with differing descriptions for trivial NPCs. In a pinch/rush like you appear to be in, I'll just either pull up a few old (and hopefully forgotten) descriptions, or just find some random personality quirk table in the book/web to go from.

Encounters are a little tricky. You should know what needs to happen next on the main plot arc, but if the players decide they want to ride East instead of West (as happened to me), do they get the same value from the conflict in a town to the East as the planned Western location?

Side Quest?: Is there some minor trifle that the villagers can't handle, but is below the PC's level/ability to handle? Maybe something from a few levels ago (for added development speed, reuse a dungeon that was a challenge a few levels ago, and present it all as a dream sequence).

Downtime: I once played in a Shadowrun game where every month or two, was a "night off". We still played, were in character all night, but did not have a Job from the Johnson. It was "downtime night". It gave us a chance to really put personality in the characters, and it worked well.


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