In this series on low-prep, reusable scenarios, I have described five fun types of low-stress campaign. However, so far I’ve tackled each of them one at a time, without looking at how they might be combined. Let’s remedy that: All of these approaches can be blended. You can also lead a party from one scenario to the other.
Along the way, perhaps through evidence collected during a Nostalgia Crawl, they find evidence that their former captors plan a war on their homeland.
Once the PCs arrive at home, they join the effort to defend their world by engaging in a Goblin Recon-style game.
If they find the enemy is too powerful, they may need to recruit a powerful ally, and that might require an oceanic voyage down a cosmetically different Tarterian Highway to a Sandbox Setting where a potential ally lives. Once there, they can try to recruit help while dodging the agents and assassins of the enemy.
Because it’s a Sandbox Setting, if they learn where the villainous agents are headquartered, they might go into an urban Goblin Recon mode to wipe them out.
And suddenly, by combining the five scenarios, you have a saga — without the workload of a saga. Like I said earlier, if you handle this deftly enough, your players may not notice the difference between this approach and the usual prepared epic.
Additional Help for the Harried Game-Master
I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tip you toward some other great resources–the kind that new DMs are thrilled to discover because they help you realize, Oh, hey — I can do this, too!
- Chris Perkins’ “Dungeon Master Experience” column. Perkins, the former editor of Dungeon, was the editor who published my only adventure there in 2001. More recently, he was co-lead-designer of the 5th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Back in 2012 and 2013, he wrote a regular column for DMs on the Wizards.com site. An archive of those articles is located here. I hope they keep it up for a long time. One Perkins article relevant to DM anxiety is aptly titled “A Lesson in Mediocrity.” In it, Perkins points out that players can enjoy a game just fine even if the DM hasn’t prepared much. They’ll enjoy themselves if they “have choices to make, engaging problems to solve, and moments where they feel like things are finally going their way,” he writes.
To Perkins’ point, I would add that players will enjoy any game in which they experience agency and efficacy–two academic terms that basically mean the players feel like they have some control over their own fate, like they aren’t just there to walk through the DM’s novel. If the players feel like they have some control over their own decisions, they’ll even handle character death pretty well.
- Sly Flourish’s The Lazy Dungeon Master. This is a gem of a book at a copper of a price. Even the free preview sample is incredibly useful. Its core principle is right there in the title: Over-preparation can kill a game, but accepting the right kinds of shortcuts can make it better and save you time. Michael E. Shea, its author, warns that “The more time you spend preparing for your game, the more you want your players to experience what you prepared.” And that can lead to your forcing them to endure what you prepped along with a loss of the very agency I was talking about above.
- James Floyd Kelly’s articles describing how he rolled up an adventure using the random tables in the DMG. It’s pretty impressive what he comes up with, and it shows just how friendly those random tables can be to your workload as the group’s referee.
- Angry DM. Yes, I know it says right there in the title that he’s angry. But he’s also a skilled writer with helpful stuff to say. For a “gateway drug” into his stacks of advice, check out this article on designing encounters and this one on eight principles of fun. A quotation from his site won’t do it justice — all it can do is whet your appetite. But here is one anyway:
An encounter is a sequence of actions that answer a dramatic question by resolving one or more conflicts. I know that sounds like a bunch of liberal arts, literary bull#&$ that should be discussed by people who are serving you a latte, but don’t worry. I’m not going soft. That is a useful, powerful definition that will help you run better games.
Please trust me when I say that the definition I just quoted is far more useful than you might guess from that quotation.†
Quick Links to Other Parts of this Series
♦ Graham Robert Scott writes regularly for Ludus Ludorum when not teaching or writing scholarly stuff. Graham has also written a Dungeon Magazine city adventure titled “Thirds of Purloined Vellum” and a fantasy novella titled Godfathom. Like the Ludus on Facebook to get a heads-up when we publish new content.