Weaving Stories Together and Planning for Future Sessions
Anthony Zeppetella

Anthony Zeppetella

Sep 06, 2023

Weaving Stories Together and Planning for Future Sessions

There are typically a few schools of thought a prospective GM has when they are blessed (or cursed?) with the opportunity (or tragedy?) to run a game for a group of friends or strangers.

One, we want our players to be engaged in our story and feel like our story, and by extension their story, twists, and turns within the greater arc of the campaign culminating in a “perceived” well-thought-out story. Two, we want to, ideally, stand amongst the greats, i.e. the “Mercers”,

“Mulligans”, Murphys”, “Iyengars”, etc. This second part is achievable but this is a common pitfall of GMs – comparison. It’s human nature to want to be good at what we derive joy from, but it is better to know that your best is what your players perceive as fun and engaging, not if you think you are living up to your expectations. Lastly, how do I create a campaign's setting, story, and characters for a group that expands over months at a time- sometimes years- and not get caught in the proverbial weeds? Well, newsflash, reader, being a GM is like being in a

constant state of metaxy; floating between being ahead and behind, playing catch-up, and being one step ahead. However, I have developed a few techniques over the years to achieve some of these goals.

The first step, once the world is decided and the players set, is to have those players write back stories – the longer the better, but we get what we get. I will read these backstories and compare them against what I know about my world thus far. If they are from city “X”, what kind of story points do I know could occur that would put them coming back home? Do they have family there? Did they escape the city after a big traumatic experience? Most importantly, at the first glance, can any of these characters’ backstories affect the world at large, or can they intertwine with other PCs at some point?

As a player, we all want our moment to shine and our given arc in the story is that moment, so it is up to the GM to not drop that ball and ensure when those arcs are presented they hit the tenants of emotion, character growth, do they feel like this story was meant for them, and the most important tenet of TTRPGs; does the player feel satisfied with the conclusion.

In general, the first mini-arc of a campaign should be solely used for the players to get used to their given mechanics and characters as a whole. As time progresses, you will inevitably have to start to plan ahead as the inevitable unpredictability of session to session planning may cause issues with the overall story of the realm. Ideally, in a perfect world, I try to stay at least 2-3

sessions ahead with the very next session being the most fleshed out, and the ones after being progressively less laid out, eventually with the furthest being essentially bullet points on a Google Doc.

When writing my next session I will have several tabs open:

TAB #1 - The previous session/notes: Having this session and its given notes open aids me in remembering the finer details and events of what will be the most present in the minds of my players. I notate if any names were dropped that were of relevance, as well as potential plans they may have mentioned for the future – amongst other key things I feel at the time.

TAB #2 - The upcoming session: This session, as previously stated is the most fleshed out. I will place into it all the potential monsters/NPCs as well as their Stat Blocks. The session will have a general flow of story (that inevitably the PCs will deviate from at some point) but it is utilized to ensure that should a lull in the session occur; I am prepared to nudge them in the direction of the story.

TAB #3 - The session after: Usually story arcs in a campaign are not satisfied with one or two sessions. So, this is where I begin to plan for the future of a given arc. If I plant the seed of an activity, NPC, or bad guy in “TAB #2”, then how can I hearken back to it in the following session or what can I do to present future story points for this here as well as how they could connect.

TAB #4 - The future of the arc: This is the tab I utilize strictly as bullet points and as time progresses through the arc they slowly become more detailed until TAB #4 comes TAB#1. Who is my bad guy for the arc, what is the big loot at the end, what are the ramifications of this arc being satisfied, and most importantly, does this arc connect to the story of the world as a whole, and if so, how?

It should also be noted that I maintain a Google Doc that I am constantly adding to and subtracting from that is simply titled, “Future Ideas”. This document is what I use if I have an idea for a future arc but they are not close to being able to reach it in the story yet, or an enemy that would be cool to face, perhaps a realm that would make for an interesting visit. Some of the items in this particular document, as well as the aforementioned session documents, never come to fruition, but as a GM we are always, ideally, planning for what is to come.

While my methods may seem scatter-brained, and perhaps they are, they also work for me –which ultimately is the goal. Your methods, which you may find to be beneficial to connecting stories and arcs, may come across to me as utter nonsense. No one planning method is the best, and ultimately you could find that sessions that feel the most off the rails, unplanned, chaotic are the ones that your players remember the most fondly. If you find a simpler way to do what I do when planning, and in half the time, I commend you and tell me your ways, witch

Anthony Zeppetella

Anthony Zeppetella

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