Summer is upon us and that usually means that our bi-monthly D&D become less formal. Attendance tends to fluctuate wildly and our play sessions are usually shorter. In past years, we’ve used the summer period to test out new games or new PCs.
This year, most of my players have manifested an interest to keep playing so. In my mind the ‘season’ and the first Primal/Within mini-campaign ended with the last session, setting the table for the next season in August with Paragon level PCs.
So while thinking about this weeks’ game, I asked myself how I could experiment with a DMing style that wasn’t my own. While I excel at scripted adventures and well-thought out set pieces, I still have trouble dealing with improvisation. So I started toying with doing an adventure without my usual prep (I can easily write a 8 page manuscript for a 5 scenes adventure).
When I Twittered about it, some old schoolers, one in particular, started jesting that I was going to the dark side and jumping on the Sandbox bandwagon. The thing is, I’m not interested in doing a classic exploration-based Sandbox game. This actually requires a lot of preparation as you must detail large areas of your setting in order to give your players something to do wherever they go.
Then I remembered an episode in the second season of Avatar called ‘Tales of Ba Sing Se’ where the 30 minute show featured about 5 different stories not directly related with the serie’s main plot arc. I had also recently seen ‘He’s just not that into you’ with my wife and all these criss-crossed stories gave me an idea.
What if I made the next adventure into “Tales of the City Within” and I only wrote the outline of 5 plot lines that would be interwoven, ripe for players to get tangled into?
Then it dawned on me that someone had already written about that very method to create a campaign.
The gist of the method is:
Take 5 major, distinct quests. Give them an appropriate title. Then, for each of those 5 quests, give 5 steps needed to complete that quest. Each one should provide enough to provide an entire adventure. Give each step a location, preferably spread out all over your map. When possible, make these locations near each other at different points on the other quests. That way, PC’s may decide to work on a different quest after finishing up one part simply because they’re geographically nearby.
As Dave presented it, this gives you about 25 adventures, some of them sharing the same locations. That’s enough for a whole tier in D&D 4e parlance.
Now that’s way too much for my needs. My summer campaign will likely last 4, maybe 5 sessions tops.
But since we usually play 5 scenes per session (2 of which can be combat), I thought that maybe I could use the 5X5 method but with 5 quests made up of 5 scenes each. Instead of just choosing common locations for some of the scenes, I could enlarge the definition to include NPCs or events shared by some scenes.
Thus I could have a 25 elements Sandbox where players could pick up to 5 quests (or get caught in more than one event) and play them through.
So last night I sat down and I brainstormed for 5 quests, I asked for help on Twitter and got served!
Here’s what I got, both from Twitter (user named in parenthesis) and my own stuff:
- A Plague spreads like wildfire through the city, turning people into Zombies
- Some strange people are looking for love in the worst possible places
- An ancestral inheritance threatens to very balance of the City
- Corrupt city board members conspire to control a civilian uprising by poisoning the sewer/water system. Dungeon/City all in one (Josh Dalsher)
- Secret Agent from the Surface tries to steal City’s greatest secret
- A rampaging Dragon bursts from underneath the City’s looking for his Blanky
- The Devil rises at Dawn! Asmodeus makes his move on the City.
- Mutated creatures from the undercity rise up to destroy the Surface Dwellers (Josh Dalcher)
- A slighted council member booby traps the infrastructure of the city, group must find and disarm a series of traps..
- City-wide hazing, a Trollish Rite of Passage
- The All-Spark is in the City! Objects rise up and rebel!
- King of the city swats and kills a subject during a holy day. Everyone can’t stop talking about it (Rpgaming)
- A noble is murdered in the city, he was rumored to have acquired the Helm of Archon days before hand (Kal Agrim)
- Volcano Season is here, the city must prepare its sacrifice for the Volcano lord or the city will be covered in lava (Kal Agrim)
- A Pacifist cheerful Mindflayer prophet shows up and announces the dawn of a new era of Peace and Harmony
- The Prison of Soul’s seal breaks and the undying Archons escape, the 5 parts of the Rod of Divine Sealing must be found and fused together by Magic Fire.
- The PCs must recover a magical artifact from a museum where it has unwittingly been put on display
- Organized Grime: an intelligent ooze masterminds the cities criminal underworld. (cpbye)
- Someone’s planning on tearing down some old buildings and putting up new ones. Too bad the dungeon doesn’t like that idea. (allgeekout)
- 5 Bullywugs named Steve escape into the city. City officials panic about “confirmed reports” of monsters in the sewers (Vulcan Stev)
- vehicles have all been replaced with other-worldly beings intent on our destruction. No one realizes until too late (Vulcan Stev)
- A group of changelings set up in town as the new management, killing off and replacing any who disagree with them (Kal Agrim)
- The local wizard’s girlfriend runs for mayor after winning, she begins collecting souls without his knowledge (Vulcan Stev).
So what I have to do tonight is choose 5 of those and break them down in 5 scenes. Each scene would be one paragraph long and should provide me with enough to let me improvise it (NPCs, goals, complications, PC choices, etc).
That’s quite the challenge but I’m willing to take up the challenge. I’ll have all my battle maps with me, along with a bunch of minis and I’ll have my laptop open to the online D&D Compendium.
If you have more plot ideas or tools that would help me make it to Friday with a game, please feel free to share.
I’m curious to see how it will turn out.