Time for Reconciliation

Welcome back to the second installment of adventure organization basics. In this article, we’ll talk about reconciliation, the second step in adventure organization. After you have generated a bunch of ideas and given yourself some time away from them, you need to put on your critical thinking mindset. You’ll reconcile which ideas have merit for your game, and which should be set aside. To do that, I prefer to use two screening processes to filter ideas. First, I assess the general viability of each idea. If it seems like it still has merit, then I put it through a more rigorous evaluation process. Lets dig deeper into each topic.

Let Your Ideas Rest

You’ll notice that the ideation phase and reconciliation phase are two distinct phases. That means it is best to do them at different times. The ideation phase will send a bunch of ideas flowing through your head all at once. Your mind will attach to some more than others, but at this point they are rough ideas. You need to apply objective analysis to each idea. The analysis helps you understand the full potential of each different idea.

To do that, its best to give yourself some space between the ideation phase and the reconciliation phase. During the ideation phase, it will be hard to judge each idea fairly. It takes a different mindset to generate ideas than a mindset to evaluate if they are good or not. Think about a time you had to draft a paper or presentation. You probably wanted to edit your work before finalizing your product. Any grammar teacher or editor will tell you that its best to do that review after letting your work rest for a bit. The same thing applies here. Give your ideas some time to rest, and then come back to them with fresh eyes. This will let you have a different mindset and check if they are going to be hits or a misses for your campaign.

Assessing Viable Ideas

When you are ready to sit down and reconcile the ideas you came up with, you’ll want to make sure the ideas make sense. There are a few high level topics to keep in mind when assessing the ideas.

  1. Does the idea stick to your campaign’s themes?
  2. Will the idea fit with the PCs and NPCs?
  3. Does the idea match or stretch your current DM skill set?
  4. How does the idea match or stretch your game’s rule set?

First, you want to see if the idea fits with the type of game you are running. Hopefully, you laid out your central themes in your campaign handout, or during session zero. Understanding these will help you evaluate the potential of each idea. For example, if you are running a hex crawl game, then a session of diplomatic peace negotiations might be out of place in your campaign. Sticking to your themes will keep your campaign on track. It also reinforces the expectations your players had for the game. Second, check if the ideas fit with your PCs and NPCs. If your PCs are a band of monster hunters, then sending them after a group of bandits might not line up. For follow-up adventures, evaluate what types of ideas will work with the involved NPCs. Again, different NPCs will match different adventures better.

Next you’ll assess your DM skill set. If you are a DM that struggles with complex combats, an adventure with tactical combat could be difficult to pull off. I’m not saying, don’t ever try things you are bad at. Quite the opposite, I think its good to stretch your skill set from time to time. It will make you grow as a DM and become more proficient and confident in your ability to run those types of games.

Budget more preparation time when running something outside of your comfort zone. You’ll want to make notes or reminders around anything you are weaker at, to give you a better handle at the table. But, there is a time and place to stretch your skill set and times you’ll want to stick to what you can do well. For example, say you are running a follow up adventure that will bring the defeat of the villain the PCs fought for the last 3 adventures. Then, run something you are comfortable with. That way you can present a strong scenario and be comfortable in your execution at the table.

Finally, you’ll assess the strengths and weaknesses of the game you are playing. You can try and run a massive combat idea in dungeons and dragons 5th edition. But there are few official rules to support that type of play. If the game is deficient in rules to support your idea, that means you will have to do more to make it work. It is up to you to assess if that extra time is worth it (or you have the spare time to try at all). Sticking to ideas that work well within the game system will make your preparation easier. You will be less likely to hit obstacles that slow the pacing or flow of your game session.

Selecting and Filtering Ideas

  • Use your criteria to filter out bad ideas
  • Some ideas won’t work now, you can set them aside
  • Narrow your list of ideas down to 1-3 ideas (for this adventure)
  • What makes the most sense, given your current campaign situation?
  • What do you think the players would enjoy the most?

Once you’ve developed your criteria based on the topics above, you are ready to reconcile the ideas. Examine each idea to determine how much work it will take. What will be fun for your players, and what will you enjoy as well? Also keep in mind which ideas will make the most sense given your current campaign situation. If the session is an adventure continuation, keep in mind those story limitations as you reconcile the ideas on your list.

In Never Unprepared, Phil Vecchione recommends prioritizing your criteria as well. If your top priority is running stories that your gaming group will enjoy, then focus on those ideas. If your priority is to make sure it fits with the theme of the campaign, then filter out ideas that do not. Only you can determine your priorities. Of course, you can shift your priorities for different game sessions. It might help you figure out which priorities produce great games at the table and which are more of a dud.

Final Reconciliation

The goal is to narrow your ideas list down to one to three ideas, selecting one for your next session. The ideas that don’t work right now, are worth holding onto. They reduce some of the brainstorming work at a later date assuming they are at all workable for your game. Some ideas you come up with during your brainstorming might not make sense currently in your game. But they might connect after additional story events happen. The players’ choices can change a lot within the campaign. Once you have reconciled the ideas, it is time to start building out the idea to make it a full fledged adventure. I call this idea synthesis, and we’ll discuss it in our next article.

Feature Art Credit: Ede László