Joseph Erwin – Freelance Dungeon Master

Join in the Adventures!

Why I Don’t Over-Plan Sessions

I recall something I heard about Matt Mercer of Critical Role: he once asked his players where they would like to go in a massive city. “The Bank,” they said. Whereupon, Mercer produced a fully detailed map of the bank’s layout. When they asked how he knew they would go there, he said, “I didn’t, so I just planned out the whole city.” Cue awed gasps and praise.

I’m thankfully not alone these days as someone who sees this as setting a bad example for how RPGs and DMing go. Critical role is fine, it’s perfectly ok if you’re into that sort of thing, but it is more performance than actual play, more now than ever.

Planning a session has become a pretty streamlined process for me these days. From the extended campaigns I planned out in late high school, to the rapid-fire middle-school groups I have been running lately, I have felt an increasing need to think on my feet, to plan out only the broad strokes, what the rest of the world is doing while the characters are running around, and that’s enough for me.

And that’s why Mercer sets a bad example. Not that his style isn’t entertaining if you like that sort of thing, but seeing it as a rule of thumb is probably setting oneself up for disappointment.

Players are the best possible storytelling tool. They will come up with amazing new ideas and twists to the narrative, they will question your assumptions and poke holes in your assumed behaviors (only last week I had the party react to a soviet-punk war machine phasing through the wall by giving the crew potatoes), and they will fall in love with characters and ideas you have given almost no thought to.

And you can’t plan for that. Even in my most reliable group, whose behaviors I know very well, I have had to pivot and change where the story is going due to unprecedented behaviors.

Plus, the back-and-forth dynamic of player input and GM output is what keeps the game interesting! If I wanted to run/play a linear story with a set outcome regardless of choice or build, I would play a video game, and at least those will run all the calculations for me!

Published by Joe Erwin

I am an independent creator and GM with a deep love of storytelling and adventure! I desire most to share these things with others, and I hope to do that through my work and my writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: