12 RPGs for the 12th Month: Prepping to Run

FAE: at the game table

Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)

Question 8: 15th to 16th December

Talk about your typical approach to preparation for running an RPG. Is there a particular method you generally follow? What use do you make of published setting or adventure material, if any?

Now THIS is a question I can sink my teeth in.

When I prep for an adventure, I try to start from the player characters, their abilities, and their backstories—either reviewing the existing PCs in an ongoing campaign or creating pregenerated characters for a convention game. In the latter case, however, I usually leave space for some customization at the table, so I don’t know everything about the PCs yet. And for certain systems—such as Fate Accelerated, PbtA games, and most story games—I truly don’t know what characters will show up.

Then I create the cast of GM characters,  the main sets, and power factions, tying them to the PCs if I can. That should include at least one main antagonist and their minions, at least one GM character who needs the PCs’ help, and some bystanders to interact with. All characters and factions will have agendas even if they are very simple; main sets are selected for the potential for loots of interesting things to happen there, for the PCs to interact with the environment.

I build those up into action scenes (not necessarily combat) that will happen at the beginning of each act; I generally plan for two or three acts per adventure. The more we advance into the episode, the less I know about how things will unfold, so I rely on my NPCs’ and factions’ agendas when I react to the PCs’ actions.

With many of the systems I love (e.g., Fate Core/Accelerated, PDQ, HeroQuest, etc.) I can easily improvise stats for NPCs. If the system is on the crunchier side (e.g., Cortex Plus/Prime, Masterbook/Torg, Blue Rose/Fantasy AGE), I pillage from published characters as needed.

Because I start from the player characters and whatever campaign background we already established, I tend to make custom adventures. However, it’s nice to steal from a published adventure if it fits in your game. In that case, I review the adventure, identify the key NPCs, factions, and sets, and make changes as needed. I then examine the scene breakdown and the connections between scenes, think about different outcomes that could result from the players’ choices, and brainstorm for possible responses.

Because I’m deconstructing the published adventure into its building blocks and get ready to reassemble them however makes sense in response to the PCs, the adventure becomes open-ended, just like my home-made scenarios.

I have talked at length before on how I build adventures and use published ones; here are some of my past post that walk through examples step-by-step, including how they changed during play.

Credits: “At The Table,” art by Claudia Cangini for Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions 2013.)

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