View Full Version : Adventures on the fly, or elaborate campaigns?

10 September 2002, 08:24 AM
To all the GM's who care, do you tend to run adventures that were designed for one game session and then they are over, or do you prepare lengthy senarios which the party struggles through for many game sessions, or is it a combination of both.
I was also wondering how often most of the other GM's ran a game session and how long they usually spent preparing for it.B)

Lord Diggori
10 September 2002, 09:06 AM
I do let very little prep work. The players decide how they'll do things and I just put in encounters as they progress so my adventures stretch over several sessions and are closely tied to each other.

I run sessions weekly alternating between D&D and SW. After pre-campaign minor NPC generation (generic thugs, soldiers, scoundral, etc.; about two hours) and major NPC generation (about 20 mins. per character), I review the last session's notes and just brainstorm on what will happen next time.

This is kinda like when you're watching a show about to end and they say "The next time on Farscape...". Cool scenes come up, I list them, and during next session I find ways to bring them about.

10 September 2002, 09:26 AM
I also prep very little. Usually an etire campaign, as well as the individual adventures are made from just 3 things.
1. What is the group's overall goal?
2. What is the problem to getting there?
3. How can I misdirect them from week to week?
I work on the fly very well, and my player seem to have fun.

Tony J Case, Super Genius
10 September 2002, 09:54 AM
I do both, have done both and will probably do so again. It really depends on the mood and now much time I have to put into something.

Often I'll just whip up little one session games with a lot of improv to adapt to the moods of my players at the time. These can be a blast, filled with all kinds of character building moments. These type of games make up the bulk of my campain.

But every so often I like to come up with a structured long term game that'll take several real time weeks to complete. I love the epic quest for the lost artifact of power (or whathave you) with odds stacked against them, bad guys wherever they turn - that sort of thing.

How long do I spend preparing for it? Well, I've had a couple of games that I've been sitting on for quite some time - like a year or two. But those are games waiting for just the right time to spring them. In the meantime, I'll be tinkering and refining and polishing.

But thoses are very few and far between.

For the most part, the average game will take about a week of on and off work - depending on how detailed I want to get. Probably 6 hours over all is a good guess.

evan hansen
10 September 2002, 10:14 AM
Good question. I've always kind of done a combination of both. We've occasionally had players GM for just one game as a change of pace or alternated campaigns to make things more interesting. But, on the whole, we ran campaigns.

However, those campaigns were generally not very planned out. Whoever was GMing would plan out a storyline and maybe a few bullet items that had to happen in order to progress the story. But how those things actually happened were left to chance and to player decisions.

If it said "Hutts start a war to distract the Republic," then the GM knew that the Hutts would start a war. But when was a matter of what the players were doing. For all the GM knows, the players will find something weird in a tavern somewhere and follow a bunch of clues to its possible end. So the Hutt war gets postponed in game terms. If the players float through a session or two, the GM finds a way to toss the beginnings of a war into the story.

They governing principle, though, in my games was generally just "let the actions of the players guide the story from beginning to end."

10 September 2002, 11:32 AM
At first when I start any new game setting, I just do game by game. Then I'll come up with (what I think is) a cool campaign idea. Now I have a overall arc, but I still set down individual games for that arc. Then after enough time passes with that and running games in the campaign on the fly, about 6 months; I find the game has taken a life of its own and for every action the party makes there becomes an opposite and equal reaction. It becomes kinda scary as if I was a medium for that universe!! B)

10 September 2002, 06:11 PM
I tend to prefer campaigns, and thats what I usually run. That said though, I am not a veteran GM and I am still learning to run sessions "on the fly", so preparation for me is a must.

The trouble I always encounter is situations I haven't expected, which practice in improvising will cure though.

I would still prefer to have a fleshed out storyline, even if the sessions are still done on the fly. There will always be an underlying storyline that gradually progresses and builds up over time, and this is what I prefer. Hopefully to hook the characters in bit by bit, and lead to a climactic ending worthy of the Star Wars name.

Thats the goal at least ;)

As for time spent, I might spend weeks or months preparing a campaign, but obviously not full time. An idea here, plot element there, and it all gradually pieces together. Then I would spent probably 10-20 hours laying the groundwork for the campaign and creating key characters/locations, etc. This would leave me with a basic storyline for the whole campaign and the events of the first two or three sessions planned out. Then I would spend a few hours between each session developing it all further.

We try to play once every 2 or 3 weeks, but it doesn't always work out.

10 September 2002, 06:39 PM
I prefer longer stories, so that's what I try to run. Mind you, I'm not sure how much they qualify as a 'campaign.'

I like to think of my games as a comic series: familiar characters, familiar settings, throw in some action and we're good to go. It's more of a Babylon-5 series rather than a Star Trek set of episodes where you hit the 'reset' button at the end so that they're interchangeable. (I know, that's an exaggeration, just take it for what it's worth, please.)

But I have found a pattern that works for me when I start a new group of characters.

First, I lump them together with whatever contrived piece of plot manipulation fits. Then they tackle two or three minor 'throw off' adventures. They usually include one planet-side adventure, at least one in space, and anything else that fits the characters' skills.

This way you find out quickly how the group functions under pressure, what they spend their money on, what things are important to which characters, and if any of them have long-term goals.

Then I can come up with a big behind the scenes plotline and slip elements into adventures until we're off and chasing the end goal.

The nice part is that I usually improvise most of the intro adventures. That way I'm well practiced by the time the group decides to go 'off the map' later.

Reverend Strone
10 September 2002, 10:45 PM
Chalk me up as one of the Campaign fans. My adventures tend to be big, long, convoluted and involved. Gulmyros's Babylon 5 comparison probably fits for me too. I love to give my adventures a feeling of some destiny, with an intricately webbed series of interconnecting plotlines and many characters. They start out small, but build continually, the stakes rising at each turn as the players get deeper in to the story.

Consequently, this kind of game takes a lot of prepping. I work on a system of six months on, six months off, swapping with another DM who runs his campaign for our play group every alternate six months as I prepare for my next shot in the big chair. That means I have six months to write and plan out the next eight or so game sessions, though of course these change and evolve as choices the players make once we get playing affect game sessions planned for further down the track.

Wedge in Red2
11 September 2002, 04:09 AM
I'm a bit of a campaign man :).

Normally, if I'm motivated to run a game it's because there's some idea I've come up with for a campaign. Take my current campaign, for example. I decided I wanted to do something in the New Republic Era with a touch of the X-files, as a Jedi affiliated group goes around trying to uncover many of the secrets lost during the purge.

So, rather than running things on the fly, I like to have some milestones. I know that once my characters reach 3rd level I've got a certain something that I want to happen. At 4th level, I've got something else lined up, and once they reach 6th level, something else again. While some adventures have nothing to do with the main plot, most of the adventures will contribute somthing towards uncovering the main plot.

Hope that helps,


12 September 2002, 03:08 AM
All my games i run on the fly (mostly) i very rarely prepare something but even though i run on the fly most of the games develope into a large story line. I belieave that the players should take themselfs there and i am only a guide + i am lazy as hell and other projects are more important than preparing for the group, if i had complaints from my players i would change but from what i can tell they all enjoy (since starting my 4 diffferant campighns i have turned 2 of my players which were completely anti sw in sw fans, big time)

After the first couple of weeks while playing i will devlope a flexy spine in my head of things that could happen but apart from making npcs i do no real planning


12 September 2002, 08:47 AM
I tend to run most game sessions on the fly, though I do enjoy running campaigns as well. If I run a campaign, it is usually because the game I had planned was too long for the part to tackle in one session. However, all of the sessions follow a general plot or storyline that is going on within the universe.

I usually spend about 6-8 hours a week actually preparing a session. We game every Sunday, unless something comes up. However, we usually play on Saturday or Friday, if we know that we can't play on Sunday.

Thanks again for all your responses, and keep em coming!B)

12 September 2002, 08:59 AM
I know plenty of GMs that GM on-the-fly, but I really like to have at least the plot planned for my adventures.

Each adventure I run is stand alone, but part of a campaign. I draw up my campaigns so that the campaign can continue even with different characters. The Players have several characters which they rotate so as to not let a single character become too powerful. Occasionally I will insist on a certain charcter be taken if I'm planning background information for them or there is an important campaign event that requires them. Eg. when one of the players became head of the Tapani Sector, it was pretty important they be there :)

If you're asking what's the best method, well that's the toughest question in role-playing IMHO. The best method is what suits you.

Nova Spice
12 September 2002, 04:51 PM
I'm a hybrid I suppose. In one respect I like to create a campaign with an overall goal, while in another respect I like to allow my players freedom to explore their characters by engaging in various activities of their choosing.

This is a difficult approach, especially when you are forced to wing a scenario by the seat of your pants. Its quite hard to come up with dialogue and a plot in a few seconds when a PC decides to talk to the fourth person on the sidewalk standing beside the speeder rental. (And yes, my PCs tend to do this every now and then to see how the old GM responds. I think deep down they find this very amusing. :rolleyes: )

Anyway, I prefer planning, but I also know that with my PCs, too much planning only leads to the PCs going off-course and a very frustrated GM. I suppose it just depends on your group. :D

13 September 2002, 05:36 AM
My current campaign was triggered by an on-the-fly game and followed by some planning.

Started with one player, a Jedi Padawan. Together we were just learning the rules and set up a simple scenario. On Coruscant, she was to deliver a datapad from the Jedi Council to the Ithorian ambassador. She got a cab. Cabbie dropped her off in an alley to get mugged by some jerks. I completly messed up on the power levels, the Padawan got her butt kicked. She ended up unconcious and her lightsaber stolen.

The player ws determinded to find the missing lightsaber. So i whipped up the local Hutt crimelord who was in charge of the guys who mugged her and went from there. Got another player. He played a smuggler, and a contact to the Hutt. Eventually they got the ligtsaber back, but the Hutt crimelord is now the major villian in the campaign.

13 September 2002, 05:12 PM
I am also a bit of a hybrid. Geberally I create a vivid campaign that has a life of it's own. I create a host of NPC's with back stories and motivations. I create governing bodies and criminal organizations, along with mysterious races and mystical traditions. I put everything I can in to making it a dynamic and varried campaign. Then I wing it.

In my experience if a camiagn is well fleshed out and the characters are in to it it is wasy to make things up as you go along. That is not to say that I will not plan pivotal adventures to advance the story of th campaign, but fo the most part it is simply a matter of how badly the PC's cam much things up, and how well they can save their butts.

Nova Spice
13 September 2002, 08:28 PM
In my experience if a camiagn is well fleshed out and the characters are in to it it is wasy to make things up as you go along. That is not to say that I will not plan pivotal adventures to advance the story of th campaign, but fo the most part it is simply a matter of how badly the PC's cam much things up, and how well they can save their butts.

Amen good doctor, amen! :D

I think being a hybrid is much more enjoyable sometimes than being one way or another. I'm glad to know that others see things that way too! However, as Dr. Worm said, pivotal adventures need to be planned out well, but sometimes even the best "planning"-type GMs know that winging it may actually be better for the campaign in the long run.

Personally, it all depends on the players if you ask me. That's my two cents. ;)

14 September 2002, 01:49 PM
In SW I have a little xp, as I runned only three sessions, but I follow the same way I use in D&D, that is: I create a main campaing plotline, with recurring NPC (not always villains), but sometimes I insert some quick encounter that drops by easily. This for the regular sessions, that require much more preparation time than the actual playing time;anyway this is not bad, as I enjoy creating adventures and also designing many tiny details (that my players usually don't notice, anyway)

When I have an irregular one (occasional players, for example) I go much more on the fly, or take inspiration from other published material (but I tend to feel unconfortable with it, even wen it's well written). This takes up less time: if I also manage to reuse lesser NPCs (or take them from the Allies and Opponents chapter of RCRB, even if it's full of bugs) it takes less time to design than to play.

15 September 2002, 09:17 AM
Lets see...

1.I come up with a scenario. I get inspiration from some where and I jot it down. I have been GMing for nearly 15 years now and I have learned that no matter how much you plan players will always find something that you didn't think of. (Players are the worse thing that can happen to a great plot. :p )
2. I think of all of the relavent NPC's that may show up and do some stat blocks for them. I tend to like playing NPC's so I make a lot of them for a module.
3.I run the game a little free form from there. Cause if you are to ridgid then the players get bored. and irritable.

Hope that helps a little...

Rigil Kent
17 September 2002, 06:29 PM
I'm such a control freak that sometimes it amazes me that my players actually enjoy my games. When I first started running Star Wars, I did minimal prep time for adventures but did have an overall idea (sort of like a campaign thrust or something) in mind.

These days, I plan immense story arcs ala Babylon 5 that occur throughout the course of a number of adventures. Fortunately, I am able to adapt my campaign goals fairly easily as the characters become more defined.

I absolutely hate "winging it." If necessary, I can do it, but the adventure is rarely one of my better ones.

The older I get, the more I'm able to accurately predict what my players will do and how. I can't remember the last time my PCs did something that caught me by surprise...:D

Mad Tech
18 September 2002, 09:11 AM
My group plays every 2 weeks. I have been running the game for almost a year and we have had about 22 games so far. I try to make each game a stand alone scenario in which the main objective is resolved by the end of the game. But I do have an overall plot for my campaign. Some adventures help move the campaign along and some are just filler games. My campaign revolves around a Jedi Academy and an ancient Sith Fortress during the Rise of the Empire.
I spend several hours preparing for each game. I write up each scenario in detail (4 - 8 pages). I write up stats for all NPCs, vehicles, creatures, etc. and any important dialogue for the important NPCs. I put a lot of time into preperation, but I think it's worth it.
Personally, I don't like games "on the fly". I'm not good at it as a GM and I don't like it as a player. These sort of games usually aren't very good. Of course, the flip side of "on the fly" is "railroading" the players, which is just about as bad.
But that's just my 2 credits worth.

Mad Tech