Behind the Curtain: A Game Master’s Notes

Yesterday, my friends and I played the final session of my homebrew Degenesis: Rebirth campaign. It’s only the second time that I actually finished a long campaign, and I’ve been a Game Master for 8 years! My first one went rather abysmally (in my opinion) but this second one was a lot more detailed and polished. This difference resulted in a much more satisfying conclusion for both my players and me.

I thought it might be fun to share my campaign prep notes, to give tabletop RPG players a look “behind the curtain,” so to speak. Be warned, though! Even though my friends know me as a very organized person, I think my notes are a hot mess!

For the first time, I incorporated node-based scenario design into my campaign planning. In terms of tabletop RPGs, the three nodes can be locations, events, or NPCs. Each one provides clues to the other two nodes, and also to the next stage of the adventure. This setup simulates the feeling of choice among players, yet also keeps them on track in terms of the story.

A photo of two early pages of my notes, as I attempted to figure out node-based scenario design.

Another aspect of this campaign that differed from my previous one is that I spent time fleshing out the NPCs. A big failing of my first campaign was that the NPCs were undeveloped. I did not even spend time thinking about why one of them would be so antagonistic toward others. So, for each NPC that truly mattered for this story, I considered each one’s goal and what motivates them to pursue that goal. I didn’t have a good idea of this when I started the campaign, but I got better at identifying these things as the game continued. Unbeknownst to my players, I came up with a lot of plot twists and reveals mid-campaign instead of early on!

A photo of my notetaking for various key NPCs, including the main antagonist.

I made a lot of revisions to my previous ideas. A lot. I am not even sharing all my notes, but I think the photo below clearly shows how much I wrote, only to reject the ideas later.

A photo of my notes for Act 3 of my story. I crossed out huge sections of notes and added other ideas in the margins.

I was even writing revisions within the last three sessions. Originally, I wanted the campaign to visit three major cities: Montpellier, Toulouse, and Aquitaine. However, the majority of Act 3 took place in Toulouse, including the climactic “final battle.” Since the story was ending, I realized it would be inappropriate for me to introduce a third city. It would ruin the feeling of “winding down,” and instead give my players the impression of a fourth act. That is not what I wanted, so I changed my plan at the last minute. I set the final scene in a small village near Aquitaine instead.

Finally, the execution of this campaign would not have been possible without Airtable. Specifically, my friend Erwan set up an Airtable base for tabletop RPG campaign planning, which you can view by clicking this link. Using his framework as a template, I crafted my own Airtable base that I used to keep track of every NPC, every location, and every clue.

I learned so much using node-based scenario design and the Airtable framework. These two things completely changed how I will approach campaign planning and also storytelling in the future. Right now, though, I’m taking a break from being a Game Master. It’s my turn to be a player again and enjoy someone else’s story. But I’m already brainstorming ideas for my next campaign, and I’m more confident now that I’ll be able to execute yet another awesome adventure.

One comment

  1. […] my last post, I mentioned using node-based scenario design (NBSD) to design my most recent Degenesis: Rebirth […]

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