GM Prep Tip: Mapping Decision Points

GM Prep Tip: Mapping Decision Points
One thing I've come across often with other GMs is an issue of pacing that comes from information creep. As GMs we might have a huge game world rattling around in our heads and know the smallest detail, but the players don't need to know that.

I once had a GM who went far too deep into the minutia for my tastes. It wasn't uncommon to take hours (real time) to have our PCs travel down the road just a few miles. We'd joke how he could tell you exactly how many field mice were reproducing right now in every farmer's field the next county over from where we were adventuring.

Of course you could chalk this up as a severe difference between Role Playing and Roll Playing.

I think most of us would agree that the players don't need to know every small detail of every step traveled, just as they don't need to know all the detailed background information of an adventure. I've seen information creep turn a 5 page adventure into a 15 page adventure. Now this isn't as likely to happen to a GM writing an adventure for his own group, but when writing for another table, like at a gaming convention....it is easy to do. At some point you have to just let the table GM "wing it" based on some big-picture background information.

Probable decision points mapped out for this adventureThere is also a seriously diminished risk-reward ratio when you sink too much time into minutia. Quite often the most valuable GM resource is time.

My suggestion...the tip for today...is to simply map out the logical steps or paths the PCs will take
during your adventure. When writing the adventure these mini decision points are places where you may wish to write an entry or simply a bit of flavor text. At the table these places are when you might want to make rolls or describe what the PCs see. If the PCs are in unvarying terrain, these natural decision points would be spread out much father. If they are travelling a long trail or open road, you don't need to describe their travel every hour along the trip and ask if they want to go off the trail. When they come to a river crossing or a crossroad, they would probably like to know, even if they just came across another river or crossroad just a quarter-mile before.

By mapping your adventure this way you can make your GM prep time much more efficient and at the table you can keep the action moving at the player's pace. The PCs will almost always come up with something unexpected and it is a poor use of time (and futile) trying to prepare for every possible circumstance.