Thoughts on Node-Based Scenario Design for Tabletop RPGs

In my last post, I mentioned using node-based scenario design (NBSD) to design my most recent Degenesis: Rebirth campaign. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can read the original post series on The Alexandrian by clicking this link. To summarize, however, NBSD generates a limited “choose your own adventure” style of game. It simulates the idea of player choice without forcing the Game Master to work within a sandbox. That way, the Game Master can still tell a story, and players can choose how the story unfolds.

I think NBSD is a major improvement from the kind of campaign planning I have done these past few years. Previously, I had to guess my players’ whims, trying to account for every possible option. It frustrated me endlessly. I think games like Dungeons & Dragons set this kind of expectation, unfortunately; many people believe tabletop RPGs are sandboxes where anything can happen. I am just not that kind of Game Master, though, and I needed a system that works for my style.

Some thoughts, now that I have finished a campaign using it:

  • I primarily made nodes that were NPCs, though I know nodes can also be events and locations. NPCs are definitely the easiest nodes to make, but I attribute what I did to a lack of personal creativity. I think the other two would have been doable with a more clever plot. I want to try including more of a mix in future campaigns.
  • During a part of my campaign, I tried to force NBSD when it did not need it (during travel). Looking back, I could tell it was not suitable; I struggled to come up with relevant nodes in the first place. Instead, I should have generated some “random” encounters for the PCs during their journey. (Of course, they would not actually be random.) At the next node, the plot would have continued.
  • This leads me to the understanding that nodes are “plot essential” beats where drama occurs. Otherwise, non-node encounters would be for side quests, or for lore and/or world-building purposes.
  • I organized my nodes and clues in Airtable, as I mentioned in my last post. However, I cluttered it with NPCs relevant to the PCs and story, but irrelevant to the actual node structure. In the future, I will keep these two groups separate.

Originally, I was going to take a break from Game Mastering after my last campaign, but NBSD is too enticing! I want to use it to tell another story! I already have a few ideas percolating in the back of my mind, but it is too soon to share any of them. Perhaps I will later, in another blog post.

Until next time, friends.

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