Fast prep between sessions for Sandbox D&D

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TL;DR:

Use GM moves between sessions to generate grabby content for the table!

Glossary

GM moves
A way to set up complex situations and ratchet up tension in role-playing, including complexity in tactical, strategic, as well as moral and dramatic terms.

Pre-ramble

My last game session was my best one in a few months! I am blessed with players I can count on for non-stop cleverness and creativity to keep things exciting. The campaign has been building toward something like this for a while, but why did it all come together for an effortless, dramatic impact?

One thing I think made a difference was the way I prepped for the game.

In my last Dungeon World campaign (2016–2018), I finally mastered the concept of Fronts and how to make them sing.

But my current campaign runs on Freebooters on the Frontier, a Dungeon World variant by Jason Lutes, which focuses on the hard-scrabble adventure that happens on the way to the dungeon more than epic exploits of the characters. Our game is Freebooters souped up with a lot of setting-specific stuff.

Two things about our game require a different kind of prep than my previous Dungeon World game.

  1. The FotF travel moves create a much more open-world sandbox for exploration and discovery; and
  2. The intense political intrigue that I would usually express in Fronts is offloaded to a separate domain game. Factions are run by actual players using Kevin Crawford’s domain rules from An Echo, Resounding.

I’m sure Jason Lutes was mindful that the content that is useful to prepare for Freebooters is somewhat different than what is useful to prep for Dungeon World. The Freebooters GM is encouraged to generate dangers and discoveries just-in-time using tables in the Perilous Wilds rulebook.

I’ve tried that, but those tables don’t really suit our setting. I love using randomly-sourced content as an inkblot for my prep, but I’ve found I’m not good at adapting the suggestions from PW to our world.

I stumbled across another method, one that worked amazingly, and it was shockingly close to my fingertips.


The idea is super simple: Using standard Dungeon World GM moves between sessions to generate a small “slush pile” of dangers, discoveries, and drama.

What you need

Optional…

A method of creating “inkblots” that works for you and the established fiction. (This is where the PW tables didn’t quite work: We’ve played 49 sessions in this setting, and a lot of established details rule out classes of content generated by the PW tables.)

I listed some inkblot methods previously in Dungeon BINGO. What I used this time was B.J. West’s Story Forge deck.

Method

Choose 1 GM move (and 1 input from your inkblot method, if you are using one—like drawing 1 card from the Story Forge deck).

Take that move and come up with a situation based on the move. What are some resources, problems, opportunities, or dangers near the freebooters’ current location that might manifest?

Use the GM move, combined with your optional inkblot, to generate an answer.

Important: Jot down whatever ideas come to mind. At this stage, it’s not important if the ideas are any good, just that you get your pen moving.

Then repeat: Pick another GM move, and generate another possible situation based on it.

And iterate: Take the ideas that came up, and notice patterns and connections. You’ll find that meaningful relationships suggest themselves, based on established details, questions you want to explore, and the NPCs, values, and goals that the players care about.

That’s it.

All that’s left is adding some minimal organization to what comes out of it. What I did was list all the NPCs generated or fleshed out in this exercise, and jot down their agendas (and stats, for 1 or 2 of them).

But you could just as easily organize the notes by location—then you have yourself a hex-crawl!

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