As the San Antonio GaMExpo starts coming up I have had to put together some one-shots for the games I want to GM for. This really got me thinking about my creative process and how I make adventures. As any of my players can tell you, I make twisted moral choices that make people think “huh I never really had to think about what I would do if that happened until now.” That’s because as a philosophy major in college, RPGs are a great way to create complicated thought problems that people are invested in working through. Even if that’s not your thing there’s still some stuff that any GM should consider when making an adventure. Every game has it’s ins and outs that you have to keep in mind, but today I would like to give some tips to people planning their first sessions.


Know your party, know yourself: When you plan a session it’s important to take your players wishes into context. If you have a whole group of barbarians then don’t make a political mission. I talk about this in “Starting Up Your Game” so I won’t go too much further into this. It’s just important to keep the party in mind when playing. If you misjudge this you might end up with some unhappy players. I’ll use my Star Wars: Age of Rebellion one shot as a standard. My one shot uses the beginning players in the beginner book. I have a well rounded list of characters who, if they work together, can do all sorts of neat things. Plus I’m looking at strangers who want a Star Wars experience and a well rounded mechanical experience for their game. I think I will look for a detail of the Star Wars movies that are cannon but are not too involved so that my players can’t ruin the movies.


20171016_191111.jpgMake the hook: Okay, so you know what you and the party want to do so now all you need is a hook. I think I will have my players capture the Lambda shuttle that is used on episode 6. As far as I know the only cannon involved with that is the Rogue Squadron games. That’s easy to overlook. So now I have my hook. All your players will have different goals, plans, and directions. It’s hard to bring everyone together under those circumstances. You don’t have to be super creative though because there are all sorts of reasons for players to get together. You can give your players a basic plot outline and ask them why they are there. “Someone has been feeding and watering their gremlins all at the wrong times and now someone has to fix it. Why are you there” or just tell you players “you have all come across this overrun town all around the same time and now you have all decided for one reason or another to help.” The hook for my players is that they are all assigned to the same elite task force for this mission.

The hook should have three main things. Why they are there, what the problem is, and the cookie. The cookie is simply stated as the potential reward that the players will get. So for me the players are there because they are part of the same elite special forces unit. The problem is that they need to steal this Lambda shuttle that should have some high level access codes saved to it. Finally the cookie is that the players will be a part of the larger Star Wars story (but you may want to put more into it like cool weapons or money. I’m just doing a one shot).


Decide your mechanics: In your setting you can decide which mechanics you want to use. Do you want players to run and gun or talk or maybe fly spaceships. Think about the general mechanical challenges that you want your players to face in a game. Since I am playing a one shot meant to show off my game system I will hit on all of the major challenges briefly. I want my players to have to talk to people, get in a fight, have to sneak and hack things, and also to fly spaceships because Star Wars.


This comp book is my GM masterpiece

Make your setting: So this is a pretty mechanical step and a lot of things happen here so hold on tight. You have your point A and point Z but you have nothing in between so now you need the setting. This part can be tricky too because even though this style of GMing is a little railroadish it is easy to force your players too much and make the game not fun. So the first thing you need to do is decide where this mission should take place. Motivating my players to go to this place should be easy because they have a clear goal. Steal the Lambda shuttle, the Lambda shuttle is here. That’s too easy though so let’s make setting details and include a few of the challenges we decided to use. First we decide where the shuttle is and why. The Lambda shuttle will be on the planet Mygeeto. The reason why is that Mygeeto has been showing signs of rebel sympathy after the battle of Yavin (they declare independence four years after the battle of Yavin.) Mygeeto is a main production planet of Durasteel, a main ingredient for spaceships in universe. This particular Lambda shuttle is carrying an Imperial Moff who has been charged with ensuring the loyalty and productivity of the planet and he has taken his shuttle, with all of the sweet juicy codes on it, to the planet to inspect a factory near where the players are.

Perfect! Now I have it all. I have my setting (the factory on Mygeeto), my sneaking (around said factory if they choose), my combat (in the same factory when they are probably caught), and my space combat (for the players heroic escape). The only thing I am missing is my NPC interactions but that is easily mended. The players will know which city on the planet the moff will visit, but they will not know which factory. It will be up to them to investigate the situation and figure out the moff’s plans before he gets away.

Now I have all of my challenges and everything makes sense. Now that I have come up with all of this it will be up to the players to experience it. What I’m saying is that they may go in the factory guns blazing, or they may torture a dude to figure out the moff’s plans, steal a ship, and completely ruin my nice little story arc. That’s okay. Just let go. Predict the general actions of the party and then find out the checks they have to make. Stealthing will be x amount of challenge, talking to certain NPCs with have a different one. Fill the setting with as many skill doors as you think necessary and let your players walk into them whenever they want. I will have challenges for sneaking, hacking computers, talking to NPCs, and doing the general combat. Anything else my players try I will have to make up on the spot.

These are the four main baddies that will be on the map

What I’ve done can be seen in a few steps:

  • Pick your backdrop
  • Make your backdrop make sense
  • Incorporate your challenges into your backdrop
  • Populate your backdrop with NPCs

This is also a great time to draw any necessary maps or streets such as this simply labeled one I have made of the factory being inspected, or even record NPC stats.

Back to this again. This game is theater of the mind so I only need a crude map

Commit to your setting: Write down important facts about your world or general things you do not want players missing. It is easy for any normal person to forget little details, but those very same details give life to your world and if you forget them you can cheapen your adventure. I have a small composition book that I write important details down in and depending on the adventure I will have three paragraphs written out or three pages. It just depends on what is important whenever you plan adventures. As you get more and more experience you will probably write less and less. Either way commit the setting to heart or paper. If you wiff waffle ideas (change the details back and forth) then you can confuse and frustrate players.


Free up some workspace: Make sure you have a couple of pieces of paper for various things like enemy stat blocks in combat so you can take care of changing health, and maybe initiative sheets too. You’ll need that space to put non permanent, yet important, information.


And that’s it! You have now made your very first mission (or maybe just tweaked the process a little). One other thing I would say is to read a premade mission and see how they are structured. A game of Mouse Guard and a game of Star Wars are two totally different beasts and the way they organize information is different too.


If this article has gotten you interested in Star Wars: Age of Rebellion then you can find an Amazon link to that product here.


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Happy Gaming!


2 thoughts on “The Noobs Guide to Planning Your RPG Session

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