Achieve Flow with Prepared Facts

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Good Dungeon Masters (DM) are prepared. “Being prepared” means something different to everyone. Even so, every DM can benefit from really knowing the facts of their homebrew campaign, one-shot, or pre-made module. I want to stress right out the gate that good preparation does not preclude clever improvisation. I argue that by establishing your facts you strengthen your ability to pivot and improv, even when (especially when!) the players want to try something you hadn’t conceived. Set yourself up for success session-to-session with mastery over your campaign’s core facts, and thus achieve flow.

Identify what information will empower the players to make informed decisions for their characters. What key knowledge does the party need to know to progress toward achieving their goals? This is the purpose of organizing facts, secrets, and misinformation.

Handwritten notes on a desk, representing a Dungeon Master's campaign notes.
Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

There are two broad categories of facts. Facts you need to know and facts your players need to know. These tend to overlap. I write both types of facts in a sort of abstract, isolation. Most facts I jot down are standalone from a specific person, place, or time. I may tag them with an NPC’s name or some other modifier, but that’s more of a suggestion to myself than a hard rule. When it comes to quick facts and secrets, I don’t want them to be cluttered with a scenario or “if this, then that” instruction. That is the heart of this advice — facts and secrets are floating bits of information you weave in as you go!

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The Freedom to Choose

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Sometimes, as Dungeon Master (DM), we have to be explicit with where to go and what to do next or we risk leaving the party either confused at the lack of direction or hampered by analysis paralysis. It’s important to know when to railroad the party to the next scene or point them the right way to keep the game moving. Often you can preface this with phrases like “you see…” or “you realize…” followed by something along the lines of “…that the only way to proceed is through the oak doors to the north of the chamber” or “…that the criminal you’ve been pursuing has gotten away and you’ll need to regroup at camp.” This is fine and sometimes necessary!

Otherwise, it is vital to give the party the freedom to choose their next course of action. What this looks like depends heavily on context. There should be more than one hardcoded way to proceed, to gather information, to diffuse or overcome a conflict. The important part is not to overwhelm your players with too many options at once.

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