I like to think of plots as a mix of two completely different ingredients. The first is a really simple structure making them easy to manage, even after the first contact with the player characters.
The second is just enough chaos, mayhem and evil doings to make the plot worthwhile in completing. Assuming most players characters and party’s are good, of course.
I have always been a fan of post-it notes. I have started to write my plot structures using five post-its.
- Plot Hook and initial barrier
- A non-combat challenge
- Obstacles to overcome
- A major final encounter
- An unexpected twist or gateway to further adventure
The point of the post-it note is that I can stick to the page of my GM notes at the place where there could be an interesting side plot.
If the characters stroll right on past the plot hook, it goes back in my folder for another day.
There are two big gains in this, from a campaign point of view.
- I can create adventures separate from the actual campaign’s overarching plot. Salt them into the game sessions and let the players do what seems natural.
- Tweaking a plot hook to make it seem new is minor, so unused plots can be reintroduced at a different point, at which time the characters may want to bite on the hook.
This is not railroading. I am not saying “I have written this and you will play it, like or not!” It is more a case of keeping fresh options open to the characters. Every session can easily offer up three or more side quests which may make perfect sense to the characters.
The actual structure is designed to behave more like a cake than like a recipe. It is not a step by step order of events. It is more like ingredients. Just as you cannot get the egg our of a cake once you have made it. So obstacles are an intrinsic part of a great adventure.
The structure means that most character professions, if you use them, can play a role. Only one element of the structure implies a fight or battle. It could be that your barbarian struggles with all the other elements except the fight, whereas you healer may revel in everything bar the battle.
Adventures should give every character a chance to shine. Using the structure as a remember to build more than just a list of combat encounters is a useful reminder.
I like to think of it as five opportunities to be horrible to the characters, just as they are likely to be horrible to your villain. Remember it takes a lot longer to create an evil necromancer than it does for the party to kill them!